Begone Dull Care (Caprice en couleurs)
Begone Dull Care is one of Norman McLaren's better known works. It embodies two main characteristics of his films, which are:
1) the application of colors and images directly onto the film itself, and
2) the use of music as an integral part of the work. Begone Dull Care is the epitome of McLaren-ness, taking these two characteristics and blending them so well, so meticulously, that the viewer is enabled to literally see as well as hear the music.
McLaren was known for being very painstaking with his films, a very deliberate and detail-oriented worker. And it shows gloriously in this particular film, a virtual journey into the essence of a jazz selection performed by the Oscar Peterson Trio, made visible by the use of vivid colors, lines, and shapes, either painted directly on the film or created by the scratching off of some of the film's emulsion to reveal stark white lines and shapes.
McLaren shows us the music by interpreting sounds and tempo into objects visible to the eye. Just as one would associate the color red with something hot, McLaren leads the viewer to make more such associations that he or she might not have even been aware of. For example, to accompany the quick trilling of the piano, McLaren gives us distorted white comb-like images moving with the music and appearing and disappearing as the trilling starts and stops and starts up again. The soft, muted sound of a string bass is illustrated with roundish, translucent blotches of color and light, accentuated with short, tiny lines coming off from them, like legs on a ladybug, hinting at the strings, but meanwhile maintaining the low, muted feel. Also, as the tempo quickens, the speed of the film and the motion of the colors and shapes on the screen do as well; periods of intense sound are accompanied by lots of color and lots of flashing light, whereas periods of silence or periods of minimal sound are in sync with a mostly black screen, with only small areas of color or thin white lines.
Begone Dull Care, while having no "deep" meaning (aside from the message to be happy, and rid oneself of "dull cares") or realistically recognizable objects, apart from the associations which the viewer makes between what is seen and what is heard, is a delight to watch. It prompts instant interaction with the viewer, functioning like a talented dancer on the stage, giving us a glimpse into the innards of music, the vital organs of sound. It is pleasing to the ear as well as the eye.
Begone Dull Care is a carefully structured work. It demonstrates how animation techniques offer the rare possibility to experiment with film's basic elements: lines, movement, colour, texture and visual rhythm (3). It also illustrates “the logical structure of the musical form” (4). Finally, it is no coincidence that McLaren translated the introductory credits into seven languages. Indeed, his demonstration gives a new meaning to music as a universal language. Yet just like language, if such beauty is to be understood, it has to be seen and heard.