From the Editors, December 2017
In each issue of Peephole Journal, we ask contributors to pick one shot from a film, TV series or other form of screen media and write 1,000 words about it. For this issue, we asked for essays on animation, which is a difficult topic because many animations don't actually have shots. At the same time however, the GIFs that populate Peephole and visual culture more broadly are themselves always "animated". GIFs are easily broken down into their constituent still images, embodying and making visible the most basic ideas around the "persistence of vision" that make animation possible. GIFs are an old file format, revitalised in the networked age, like digital flipbooks. As such they keenly reflect the discussions and cross-overs between old and new media, mimicry and emulation that we find in this issue’s contributions on animation more broadly.
There's a great moment in the opening credits of a season four episode of The Simpsons that evokes this tricky quality of animation. The Simpsons is famous for its opening couch gag sequences, in which the family attempt to watch television together in their living room but something complicates the process. In this particular episode, the family run into the living room but overshoot their couch and run over the edge of the frame. Homer, Marge, Bart and Lisa run across a black frame and the perforations of a film strip, which leads them into a completely white space. They quickly turn around and return to the saturated colours of their animated world. The episode then begins. This is a great moment in animated television because it reminds us of some of the many ways that animation can emulate other media forms. Some animations emulate the camera setups, lenses, lighting and editing of analogue productions while others, as is the case with this couch gag, emulate the materiality of analogue film itself.
In this issue we gather together some regular contributors to our publication and new voices to discuss brief moments from animated screen texts. Our contributors focus on a diverse range of texts and animation styles, including experimental, stop motion, digital, video game and cel animation.
Three of the articles in this issue focus largely on form and style. In the first Peephole Journal article to focus on a video game, Trevor Cencic looks at the stylistic influences of Studio MDHR’s 2017 Cuphead, through which he reflects upon the game's homage to 1930s animators Max and Dave Fleischer, Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks. Cencic argues that Cuphead's intertextuality is vital, because it "serves as a timely reminder of why homage is a necessary tool in the recognition of early animation." Ruth Richards focuses on Spook Sport (1940), an animated experimental short created by pioneering female animator Mary Ellen Bute. In her discussion of Bute's animation style, Richards reminds us that animation "at its most basic level, is about movement" and that Bute's animation is particularly boundary pushing in its combination of "time, light, movement and sound." Finally, Christopher Holliday looks at the forgotten (not by us!) Pixar feature film A Bug's Life (John Lasseter, 1998), analysing the shifts in focus in the film's opening moments. By highlighting a tension between "poles of realism and illustration, fidelity and imagination," Holliday’s argument is a perfect example of the abilities and ambitions of animators to transpose and emulate the techniques of other filmic media.
Angus Attwood shifts the focus toward content in his analysis of the stop-motion film Kubo and the Two Strings (Travis Knight, 2016). Attwood sets out to consider the role of villains in children's animation. His article highlights the function of villains in imparting moral messages to young viewers, and he suggests that they are necessary for character development. For Attwood, frightening elements remind audience members that "even if things get scary at times, it's still possible to have a happy ending."
Ellen Muller also focuses on content but equally turns her attention to audiences in her discussion of The Simpsons. Muller also fulfils our desire to publish some Christmas-themed content this December by reflecting on the "golden age" of The Simpsons, closely reading the final moments of classic Christmas episode "Marge Be Not Proud" in which Bart is gifted the video game "Lee Carvello's Putting Challenge." Muller suggests that this moment reveals a layered satirical style that is missing in more recent episodes of the longest-running American animated television program (indeed, The Simpsons is in fact the longest-running American sitcom).
We hope that our readers enjoy our final issue of the year. We'll see you again in 2018. Please send ideas, pitches and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. We'll soon be putting out an open call for submissions for 2018 and we'd love to hear from all of you.
Belinda, Kate and Whitney