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Animation conversation focuses on technology in field, filmmaker Humphrey Jennings

Jennifer Jung / Lantern photographer

Cinematic animation is generally associated with the ever-appealing cartoon films that serve to entertain us, but this is not the type of animation Ohio State history of art professor Ron Green deals with. 

“We all know what animation is, right? Cartoons,” Green said. “True, but I’m thinking of animation more broadly; making inanimate things move, like sprockets and gears.” 

To an audience of about 40 individuals consisting of students and OSU faculty members, Green discussed the implications of technological developments on society through film history in an hourlong lecture at the Wexner Center for the Arts’ Film/Video Theater on Tuesday.

If we go back through the “story of making inanimate objects move,” Green said, we eventually understand that “this phenomenon must have an external power source, that is its ultimate animator.” 

Much of the lecture was dedicated to the work of British filmmaker Humphrey Jennings. Jennings produced documentaries during World War II, making connections between wartime and the industrial age, such as in his short films “Listen to Britain” (1942) and “Diary for Timothy” (1945).

Green showed an excerpt of “Listen to Britain,” noting the use of smokestacks in the film. 

“The industrial smokestacks form the funnels of (a ship), a war machine that rules the waves,” Green said. “The war machine in ‘Listen to Britain’ is sublimely positive – or is it?”

“Diary for Timothy” may indicate that negative aspect of the “war machine.” Green said that in the film, Jennings “is equally infused with the machine’s orchestration of everyday life.” Jennings begins to question the side effects of technology, Green said.

“Injured coal miners are compared directly to injured soldiers, insisting that the injuries of coal miners had been an unacceptable condition of everyday life,” Green said. “Not just in wartime, but for the past five centuries.”

Coal becomes for Jennings the “fuel of the war machine,” Green said.

The idea of industry as an element of the war machine, as presented by Jennings, is epitomized in his book “Pandaemonium,” Green said. The book is a compilation of observations about the impact of the Industrial Revolution.

Green’s lecture brought in students who were intrigued about its subject, knowing little about the topic. 

One such student was Anthony Schwab, a fourth-year in film studies.

Schwab is enrolled in an experimental cinema course, and his interest in avant-garde cinema brought him to the lecture. Schwab said he was interested in how this type of cinema “relates to machinery, computers, the digital age – that sort of thing.” 

Chris Wittum, a second-year in film studies, is enrolled in a cinema course of Green’s and was interested in the lecturer’s philosophy on technology.

“You get a lot of dreary philosophies regarding technology, and I think this ties in well with the fact that he’s working in art,” Wittum said. “It’s fundamentally positive, I think.”

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