The Manipulate Festival is a place where big ideas are met, discussed and explored – the nature of love, the sacrifices that life entails, the pain of loss. But amongst all this, the festival likes to let its hair down, kick back its heels and relax with some ‘joy making’ short films. And so we get the charming, and distinctly light programme of Puppets to Music: Images to Film – celebrating some of the most interesting animated music videos of the past decade.
It’s very much a musical selection box. The styles of the animated shorts vary hugely, and personal taste will dictate whether you find a particular look gorgeous, charming, cliched or distractingly bonkers. Though it must be said, with the exception of Daniel, by Deleuxe (frantic, funky, fast-paced) and A Perfect World, by Katie Melua (a straight-up stunning ballad), the same sort of song is played over and over again – indie or indie rock or new folk or that special kind of pop whimsy that seems to suit avant-garde advert. There’s nothing wrong with the music, per se – but it leads to a longing for a thumping bass, a screeching 80’s guitar solo, a muted trumpet – anything to change the tone and tempo.
But it’s the visual art which is really on display here, and much of it is stunning. The above mentioned Perfect World is a gorgeous, all-white rendering (snow made from sugar or sugar made from snow?) of a wintry walk in an increasingly dangerous forest, and showcases the power of the love between a parent and child. The shots of a surprise meeting with an apparently dangerous bear are touching, in a video not short on emotion or pure-hearted beauty.
Tumbleweed, by Scarlet Tanager, is an anarchic cartoon joy, as various Muppet-style incarnations of the band hurtle through a series of set-pieces (such as outer space, a sun-lit forest, a slinky piano bar and a wild west saloon). Behind the scenes moments during the video don’t detract from the end product and they offer a fascinating insight into all the hard work and fun that goes into production.
We get a more in-depth look at the painstaking background for How Can You Swallow So Much Sleep, by Bombay Bicycle Club. A full behind-the-scenes short movie precedes the music video and goes on to detail how one shot (the unravelling of a tiny quilted blanket) took weeks to pull off. It also divulges how certain images (such as drops of water) can be murder to recreate. The song then follows – a transportive tale of dreams, and where they take us – and it’s impossible not to feel a renewed appreciation of the artistry and sheer toil involved, or to gape at how quickly it all comes to an end.
So much work for so little time – it is the story of animation the world over, and this hour-long programme distills the lesson into 3-4 minute bursts. It’s a slighter offering than other things in the Manipulate arsenal – but filled with no less talent.