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Richard Condie

Overview of work

Richard Condie

Richard Condie’s unique creatures, motifs, sounds and situations have astonished and delighted audiences and critics around the world for over a quarter of a century. A brilliant animator, he has created a place like none other, filled with apprentices perpetually running into trees, squabbling Scrabble-playing couples, pig birds unleashing strange bugs on Canada, procrastinating pianists and headless boys who are heedless of risk, until it’s too late.

<strong><em>Getting Started</em></strong> (1979). © NFB<strong><em>The Big Snit</em></strong> (1987). © NFB
Getting Started (1979). © NFBThe Big Snit (1987). © NFB

Slightly dozy Northern cousins of the animation tribe populate his world. They have bulbous noses as big as a punch drunk boxer’s after being stung awake by wasps. Faces are dominated by big teeth; a flosser’s dream, they possess an overbite that could devour a sandwich while carrying on a conversation. Condie’s characters have eyes like loonies; when dumbfounded, like toonies. Their hair hangs with a studious lack of glamour: the men with cowlicks, the women, in a bun. These poor relations dress in old-fashioned garb, the men with bowties or old college sweaters, the women in floral dress patterns that were last stylish in 1957.

<strong><em>The Cat Came Back</em></strong> (1988). © NFB<strong><em>La Salla</em></strong> (1996). © NFB
The Cat Came Back (1988). © NFBLa Salla (1996). © NFB

There are motifs in Condie’s cartoon universe. On the walls hang portraits of geeky ancestors with wide-toothed grins. There are clocks everywhere: sundials, nonsense ones with numbers scattered on the bottom, and cuckoos with hammers that hit the striker on the head. People eat terrible things—bugs, Scrabble pieces, the end of a piano, a flock of insects. On the television, there are strange shows in the afternoon starring screaming men, opera singers and teenagers facing off in competitive sawing. Wild sounds are heard, ranging from gargles and murmurs to high-pitched shrieks and screams.

Condie is a masterful constructor of comic scenes. In La Salla, his mock opera sung in melodramatic Italian, a boy playing with his toys in a room (“salla”) has his head knocked off by a devilish apple. Despite the head’s frantic expressions, his torso lights a cannon, rocketing a tiny cow smack in his direction. Nearly frozen with anxiety, the head considers the devastating result, then sings the aria, “Moments ago, I had everything. Now, I have a cow in my nose.”

Condie’s sensibility is anything but arbitrary; his style is used to illuminate incisive stories that resonate on many levels. His most famous piece, The Big Snit, is as much about a romantic relationship as it is about worldwide devastation. Nuclear bombs may be dropping down on the world but nothing can be more important to Condie than rekindling the love between an old married couple.

Naturally, the film is a critique of warfare. Our indifference to global disaster is made clear when the man looks out a window, sees a chaotic crowd fleeing and mutters, “Is there some kind of parade going on?” He’d rather be watching Sawing for Teens on TV.

What could be a better metaphor for this couple’s marriage than an endless game of Scrabble? The man gets to vent his anger through the board game while his wife can be passive-aggressive, pretending not to care, and then allowing herself to be disappointed, once again, in her imperfect mate. It’s only when he plays the accordion, as he must have done years before, that their love is reaffirmed. They can die happy.

Condie’s films are complex, replete with detail and filled with poetic hyperbole. Since he is funny, with a master comedian’s impeccable timing and a flair for slapstick, it’s possible to ignore the dense nature of his tales. Getting Started is not solely about a pianist procrastinating. Condie admits that he was really focusing on the idea of attention--how little time we spend concentrating on things. La Salla, a brilliant piece of computer animation, is no different from his cel-based creations. It, too, offers many readings, including one where it’s Condie, himself, in the room, playing with a new toy, the computer.

One of the finest film artists ever to emerge in Canada, Richard Condie is too often damned with faint praise as a light-hearted, quirky animator. Look closely at his work: it says much about life, love and relationships. His films will stand the test of time.

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