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Eyeworks: Steven Subotnick

This is the seventh installation of an ongoing series of articles by Alexander Stewart and Lilli Carré, founders of the Eyeworks Festival of Experimental Animation.

Steven Subotnick is well known as an animator and teacher. His writing, teaching and ongoing commitment to formal and narrative experimentation in his animation work make him a real kindred spirit for Eyeworks, and we included his short Hairyman in our very first Eyeworks program. Unrelated to his animation work, we were also very excited to learn that Steven’s father is the pioneering electronic music composer Morton Subotnick. What a cool family!

Subotnick says that Hairyman is based on a Southern folk tale. It has a moody, mysterious atmosphere throughout, as characters and objects are woven together in a loose narrative. Flies buzz through tall grass. A bigfoot creature stalks through the film, but he seems to lack cunning or focus. A contemplative old lady rocks in her chair, chews a bone and puffs on her pipe. A house convulses with some sort of magical energy as a stove spins in place, a phone rings and sugar cubes drop into coffee. Hairyman’s hazy, subtly-interconnected narrative threads become increasingly satisfying on repeated viewings.

The look of this film is also very interesting. The inky black and white design elegantly captures the rough, direct quality of a rural folk tale. Subotnick uses an airy minimalist style for some of his figures and objects that calls to mind the drawings of Paul Klee. In moments, the linework is reminiscent of print techniques like intaglio or lithograph. In other places, soft pencil shading creates smudgy textures of shadows and smoke. Restless, swarming black pencil lines at the end of the film show a moment of violence enacted by the bigfoot, though it may only be in a daydream vision, or perhaps a memory. Hairyman is a beautiful, entrancing short film, and points the way to many more interesting animated films by Subotnick.

Steven Subotnick. Hairyman, 1998. Animaton. 3:28.


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