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Chris Hinton

Overview of work

Chris Hinton

Music is the Food of Life
By Marc Glassman

Chris Hinton is a stalwart of the contemporary Canadian animation community. Festooned with awards and twice nominated for the Oscar, Hinton is a master of technique, a charismatic professor of animation at Montreal’s Concordia University and a director who moves easily from indie work to commercials to filmmaking at the National Film Board. A fine draughtsman and appreciator of fine art, Hinton works well with pen and ink as well as cel and computer animation. Increasingly, he is combining techniques in his work, making his “scribbles” come alive from ink through digital re-configuring to the screen.

<strong><em>Flux</em></strong> (2002). © NFB<strong><em>cNote</em></strong> (2004). © NFB
Flux (2002). © NFBcNote (2004). © NFB

cNote is that rarity, an eye-opening masterpiece that illuminates the past work of an established artist. Chris Hinton has been making fine films for over twenty-five years but none of his previous pieces had the improvisational magic of this spectacular collaboration with composer Michael Oesterle. Freed by the computer from the older, slower methodologies of animation, Hinton has at last been able to combine his love for music and art into a brilliant abstract film. cNote harkens back to McLaren and Fischinger but also blazes a path for a new generation of animators.

<strong><em>X-man</em></strong> (2002). © NFB<strong><em>Blackfly</em></strong> (1991). © NFB
X-man (2002). © NFBBlackfly (1991). © NFB

Influenced by the Futurist and the Abstract Expressionist movements in art, Hinton lets his imagination flow in cNote. Oesterle, an award-winning “new music” composer, has created a work that is abstract and “difficult,” without obvious melodic lines. Hinton’s response is buoyant and intensely imagistic. In one set of frames, the extreme right and left portions of the “canvas” are painted mainly in red; each area has a black dot, like an eye, near the top and a semi-curved black line, like a smile, near the bottom. If it is smiling, perhaps it’s because Hinton is amused by his creations. In another image, there is a large black shelf; bisecting it is a blue shape that resembles a fish. Rainbows, feet, balls, intense colours and odd configurations abound as Hinton allows himself to match the style and flavour of Oesterle’s composition.

Trained as a mandolin player, Hinton has always been interested in the combination of animation and music. His first film, the Canadian vignette Lady Frances Simpson, depicts the voyage this pioneering women made with her piano to the wilds of colonial Manitoba. X-Man, a very short film made two years previous to cNote, already shows the animator grappling with the combination of modern music and film. And Blackfly, one of Hinton’s two Oscar-nominated films, takes a wild ride through Northern Ontario as folksinger Wade Hemsworth recounts his travails fighting that area’s notorious “critter.”

Another through line in Hinton’s work is his quirky sense of humour, which manifests itself in family comedies like his other Oscar nominee Nibbles, the intensely satirical Watching TV and the hilarious, yet poetic Flux. Of the three, the most philosophical is Flux. Here, Hinton shows us the life of a family in fast forward. The wails of a little girl after she’s fallen off a swing are transformed into a celebration of her sixth birthday; within the expelling of a breath, she has become an adult, moving out of home. Life and death, the continuum of our existence on earth is encapsulated into one short film.

In comparison, Watching TV is Hinton at his most didactic. Here he takes on mass media, attacking the violence fostered by television by creating an animated film that is filled with more deaths per minute than the cruellest anime. Media literacy groups undoubtedly applaud this film but a more interesting critique of mass culture can be seen in the positive approach taken by cNote. If this sort of music is the food of life, then the Bard was right. Mr. Hinton, play on.



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