Possibly the most controversial National Film Board film of all time.
December 10, 2009 3:06 PM   Subscribe

Norman McLaren's 1952 short film [Youtube version] Neighbours uses live actors in a stop-motion film, to great effect.
McLaren created the soundtrack by scratching the edge of the film, which was then read by the projector.
posted by dunkadunc (19 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
posted by chococat at 3:16 PM on December 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Technically, Neighbours is shot in a technique called Pixilation, not stop-motion.

This trivia should not detract from a fine post about a great artist.
posted by Chinese Jet Pilot at 3:17 PM on December 10, 2009

In all honesty I found about this through a friend's post on Facebook, not the Irma Vep thread.
posted by dunkadunc at 3:18 PM on December 10, 2009

Just yankin' your chain. I thought it was kind of funny and coincaduncal is all.
posted by chococat at 3:46 PM on December 10, 2009

The soundtrack is fascinating in the context of the way it was created. Wonderful.
posted by davejay at 3:58 PM on December 10, 2009

(warning: slight spoilers)

This is a Canuck film classic, and certainly one of the best things the NFB put out. The only problem is the ending where the phrase LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOUR is spelled out in multiple languages. You would have to be pretty dim to miss the moral of the film, and in a way having that moral spelled out by the film makers is almost insulting. That said, I've met people who think that this is the best part of the film. Either they get the warm fuzzies from the multi-lingual plea for peace, or they appreciate the upbeat message at the end of a truly creepy film about former friends murdering each other. In any case, this would be a stronger peice of art (in my opinion), if they lopped off those last thirty seconds of words on the screen.
posted by spoobnooble at 3:58 PM on December 10, 2009

Thank You! I perennially try to find this film, after having seen it back in a film animation class I took while a middle school student. It was pretty much a lead in to the exercise where we were going to film each other jumping in the air for a few hours to get a 'flying' effect. Great post!
posted by jrb223 at 4:13 PM on December 10, 2009

That's awesome, particularly for the time. Some of it does seem a bit like playing around with the possible effects for the sake of it, but when they're that much fun, why not? It did surprise me that it was quite so dark, though - that's a rather high body count for such a short movie.

The bit that I really don't get is how the sound is created. Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't the soundtrack on a film essentially the same kind of waveform you might see in something like Audacity? And if so, how in the world could you ever make scratches in the film stock small enough to be able to control the pitch of the sound?
posted by ZsigE at 4:23 PM on December 10, 2009

ZsigE, yes they are waveform-type images on an optical soundtrack that the projector reads. He doesn't scratch them so much as draw them with ink on the film. Later he developed templates for different which he then photographed to speed up the process.
Check out this old hokey clip that shows the idea behind it, and McLaren's technique.
posted by chococat at 4:34 PM on December 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

As long as you don't need to do lots of high frequency stuff drawing on film is not overly tricky, you just figure out the right size blip to draw based on x blips y frames per second and z centimeters per frame. Then all you do is calculate the frequency in hz of the tone you want and you are set.

So like concert a means 440 hz, which at 25 fps means 440/25 = 88/5 markings per frame with 35 mm per frame means (35 / 88/5) = 175/88 or aproximately 1.988 mm per blip.

The funky tones he gets are a result of the clumsiness of the hand drawing, the inevitible inconsistencies and the absence of the larger patterns actual physical acoustic phenomena tend to have (fixed somewhat by putting the signal through a reverb box - that effect is not being done via hand painting I guarantee).
posted by idiopath at 4:55 PM on December 10, 2009

Oops, I looked closer at my source and I see you would have more like 1 mm for a concert a (45/44 or about 1.02). So very tricky for higher frequencies.
posted by idiopath at 5:01 PM on December 10, 2009

I misread that at first as "Malcolm McLaren's 1952 film" and was very confused for a moment.
posted by DecemberBoy at 5:14 PM on December 10, 2009

I don't believe it! I saw this film once when I was maybe 7 years old and parts of it stuck with me ever since. The name and any identifying details had long been lost for me. Thank you so much for posting this- it sent waves of memories flooding back.
posted by Dr-Baa at 5:51 PM on December 10, 2009

I keep forgetting how awesome Wikipedia phrasing can be, after it's been manhandled by multiple people. From the entry:

In spite of the allegations of his monogamy and faithfulness, it appears McLaren's mind may have been elsewhere. It seems that he wrote a series of letters to Willard Maas. In those letters it appears that Norman may have used many metaphors and double entendre to express, as well as share mutual secrets of concerning both of their being homosexuals. It is unknown as to if there was any physical relationship between McLaren and Maas or if this correspondence was merely a purely platonic mutual admiration.

For full effect, imagine it read in the voice and style of Rona Barrett.
posted by jscott at 6:56 PM on December 10, 2009

McClaren also used the technique for the soundtrack of :

A Phantasy
posted by louche mustachio at 7:21 PM on December 10, 2009

McLaren, and the NFB have put out a lot of great stuff over the years. McLaren was Ryan Larkin's (RIP) mentor for which he deserves as much credit as can be afforded to one person as can.
posted by edgeways at 7:47 PM on December 10, 2009

Great fun.

Great post -- thanx for posting.
posted by dancestoblue at 3:06 AM on December 11, 2009

My dad would rent a 16mm projector and whatever films he could get from the local library, years before vcrs even existed. "Neighbours" was one of those films. I loved it, even as it scared the crap out of me.
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 6:32 AM on December 11, 2009

I don't know how I missed this post--I suck at Metafilter.

In case any other latecomers stumble upon this thread, I thought I should mention you can see this and many more NFB films on your iPhone with the NFB's new iPhone app Pretty sure it's free, and they say their intention is to make ALL NFB films available eventually. By coincidence this was the first film I looked for when I downloaded it, and the biggest reason I wanted the app at all.
posted by Hoopo at 9:07 AM on December 11, 2009

« Older The Dry Valleys   |   I live in a van down by the river Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments