This past weekend, animator Brent Green showcased his short films at Cornell Cinema. As a sort of experimental vaudeville, he narrated his films live with accompaniment from four indie musicians: Brendan Canty (Fugazi), Jim Becker (Califone), Alan Scalpone (The Bitter Tears) and Rodney McLaughlin. Before the event, The Sun sat down with Brent and Brendan, to get a sense of the men behind the music (so to speak).
The Sun: How do you feel that animation and music enhance each other?
Brendan Canty: Watching a film with pre-recorded narration is vastly different from watching one where the narration is improvised. There’s a degree of temporality within improvisation.
Sun: What makes temporality important?
B.C.: I think that shared experience is the crux.
Brent Green: I remember hearing a quote from Fugazi [that] said, “The Album is the menu, and the live show is the meal.” Performing live is more exciting and more moving. My work is meant to be consumed live. The recordings and dvds are artifacts so that there will be something left behind after I’m gone.
B.C.: Film generally has a lot fewer question marks; every frame is carefully edited and composed. When you take away a rigid element and exchange it for something that is less careful, that new variable completely changes the nature of the work. It’s the most fun way to watch a film and brings joy back into the experience. Usually there are five levels of distribution between the audience and filmmaker, but tonight, Brent was onstage providing narration for his film that was playing behind him.
Sun: Brent, you have mentioned before that you started out as a musician, but switched to animation. What inspired you to change mediums?
B.G.: When I made my first film, I had more control than I ever did when I was making music. Alan Scalpone [The Bitter Pill] and Jim Becker [Califone] have more scope than I do when it comes to making music. For example, when I would be writing songs, there would be certain terms that I didn’t understand, like what it meant to take a risk. That was a result of a lack of control. When I started making my first film, I had the control that I lacked when I was making music, and when you realize that you have scope in one medium, you realize that you don’t have it in another. You can’t explain it to someone, unless they’ve experienced it before.
Sun: You’ve mentioned that senses of urgency and wonder are two of the things you want people to take away from your films. Why?
B.G.: In terms of the effect I can have on the world, they’re the two things I care most about. I think that people need to pay more attention to the fact that they’re going to die and that everything is temporary. You’re going to fucking die and you need to fucking make something. We only have a finite amount of time, and it’s crazy that there are people walking around thinking, “Jeez, life is weird. I wish someone was driving this thing,” when you’re driving it, and you’re in charge. As for having a sense of wonder, I’m not naïve. I don’t think wonder will solve famine. I think that if people would look around them and see wonder in anything, and see what’s good about it, they could glorify it.
Sun: A lot of your films are based on your life and that aspect of personal narrative adds another dimension to your work. Why do you think it’s important to share personal stories?
B.G.: I’m obsessed with history. Kurt Vonnegut is my favorite writer. I approached the idea of personal narrative when I was working on Hadacol Christmas. It’s about my grandfather. He had an amazing life, and I grew up around him. When he passed away, it was hard for me to deal with the fact that he was gone, and I wanted to create something to celebrate his life.
With my film Carlin, it was the same thing. It was about my aunt, who was his daughter. She had a terrible life and was a terrible person to be around, and I wanted to make something that could turn her life into something that could have a positive effect on the world and to turn something her life into something beautiful.