Richard Williams’ Circus Drawings’ Silent Premiere

Richard Williams at Pordenone 2010

I must admit to being a bit surprised when I discovered that Richard Williams just premiered his long-dormant short, Circus Drawings on the opening night of Le Giornate del Cinema Muto,  XXX ed. (The 30th Pordenone Silent Film Festival) held October 1-8. Pordenone has long ranked as the world’s preeminent silent film event and Williams seems to have a long-standing relationship with it. For instance, in 2003, he gave their Jonathan Dennis Memorial Lecture, a talk by “people who are pre-eminent in some field of work associated with the conservation or appreciation of silent cinema.”

According to the catalog,

[Williams] has always insisted that the silent cinema is a profound influence on the animator’s work, and it is gratifying to think that the Giornate experience may in some small degree have stirred his decision to return to Circus Drawings.

“In 1953 I was a young artist of twenty, living in Spain near a village circus, where I drew the acrobats, clowns and onlookers.

“Twelve years later I filmed my drawings to an original score but didn’t complete the film.

“Now that I’m 77, I’ve finished the film by animating my original drawings.” …

On release, the film will be shown with sound, with Richard Rodney Bennett’s 1965 score. However, uniquely for this performance, Richard Williams wishes to screen the film as a “silent”, with live piano accompaniment by Maud Nelissen.

As far as I can tell, the only online review of the film has been by Antti Alanen here, which is mostly devoted to quoting the catalog’s description, adding:

First the camera moves inside the 1950s drawings, then the drawings get animated, moving from black and white to colour. A fine animation.

Actually, the festival debuted two Williams films, the second being this year’s signal (“logo-trailer”) film.  Williams also got to play trumpet in the pit band opening night for Buster Keaton’s The Navigator.

Speaking of contemporary animators at Pordenone, Peter Lord gave the  2004 Jonathan Dennis Lecture, while John Canemaker, who is something of a scholar, did the honors in 2007, when he also received their Jean Mitry Award for his “contribution to the reclamation and appreciation of silent cinema.”

The photo of Williams is from the festival website.

Author: Harvey Deneroff

Harvey Deneroff is a Los Angeles-based independent animation and film scholar specializing in labor history. He formerly taught at the Savannah College of Art and Design and was editor of Animation Magazine, Animation World Magazine, and Graiffit (published by ASIFA-Hollywood). He is the founder and past president of the Society for Animation Studies.

3 thoughts on “Richard Williams’ Circus Drawings’ Silent Premiere”

  1. A short film several years in the making for the modern audience, and by Williams no doubt! This I gotta to see!

    Hopefull it’ll be released on youtube? ^^

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