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- Hog Hill Studio, Rye, UK
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Six pieces of music have been written and recorded during those sessions, to be used as the soundtrack of Paul and Linda’s “Daumier’s Law” project, a 15-minute animated short movie directed by Geoff Dunbar. While the music had been written in 1988 and December 1989, the movie was premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in March 1992, and won the top prize at the British Academy Of Film And Television Arts in 1993. Paul & Linda are credited as co-writers and producers of the movie.
From Club Sandwich 62, by Mark Lewisohn, Summer 1992:
Paul McCartney, the man with more strings to his bow than an average-size symphony orchestra, is about to surprise us all once again. Over the past four years he’s been putting together a short film animating the work of the 19th century artist Honoré Daumier, and recording what the public will perceive as some very un-McCartney like music for it. A private screening of the completed production took place in London in April, followed by an official unveiling at the Cannes Film Festival a month later. While not exactly a secret, the film has been made on the quiet, with few outsiders aware of its existence — until now.
The film, Daumier’s Law is its title, is brought to you by the team behind Rupert And The Frog Song – Paul, Linda and animation director Geoff Dunbar – and it is a quite awesome spectacle, the result of painstaking, brilliant work by Dunbar’s London-based Grand Slamm Productions company. For too long Honore Daumier has been an unsung hero, a clear but usually overlooked influence over artists such as Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec and Picasso. Daumier’s Law will ensure that his work finally receives the attention it so clearly merits.
Linda was the first to be enthused by Daumier – back in her school days. “As an art history major, both at Vermont College and the University of Arizona, I saw, supposedly, every great visual,” she explains. “I went through all periods of different painters and along the way there were several that really grabbed me – Daumier being one of them. He was very satirical about the different classes and fantastic at capturing people’s characters.”
The story rests a while and then leaps forward to 1988 when, as plans for the World Tour began to take shape, Paul found himself with the time and opportunity to record some experimental music. It wasn’t then meant for the film – the project only came into being after the music was completed – and was done solely for self-interest. Paul takes up the story: “I wanted to get into some minimalist music so I came to the studio and started trying to think of very simple-pieces, based around the theme of injustice. I’d read an article about minimalist music and the idea that sometimes people use too many notes. There’s that joke in Amadeus where the king is asked what he thinks of a piece of music and he says ‘Too many notes’ — the article was saying that this is often true, so I got intrigued with the idea of thinking ‘How few notes could I use, then?’ You start off thinking of just one note, you hit C on the piano, but one’s natural feelings lead one to think that that’s too little, so you embellish it a bit here and a bit there, trying to keep in the back of your mind that this is supposed to be as minimal as you can get. And in the end I think I abandoned the idea of minimalism and just got into this slightly experimental music.”
Around this same time Linda was experiencing a re-discovery of her college interest in Daumier, and the two projects – the art and the music – suddenly came together. “I went through every drawing he ever did and really got involved,” Linda says. “I got every book on Daumier and read all about his life and thought that it would be incredible to do a visual thing for Paul’s music. Daumier worked for a newspaper as a satirical cartoonist, as well as being an amazing painter, and went to prison a few times f6r his Art. A lot of his work was about injustice and it’s a theme that is so right for our times, still.”
“I did about 20 minutes of music,” adds Paul, “then Linda and I were looking at some Daumier drawings and getting very into him, so we hooked up the idea of injustice with my music pieces, came up with the basis for the film and got in touch with Geoff.”
“Paul and Linda phoned me at home late one night in 1988 and told me their idea would I like to make a film on the works of Daumier? I said yes,” recalls Geoff Dunbar. “Before Rupert came along I’d made a film about Toulouse-Lautrec so the Daumier idea was very exciting. We talked about it for six months and had lots of meetings and then started work.”
“Paul did six pieces of music and they each had a title – Right, Wrong, Justice, Punishment, Payment and Release. He was inspired. And then we pored through the works of the great man, got everything that was available and structured the story from the material. And where we had to link it we invented ‘in the style of. We’ve hung the story on one character, a man from one drawing by Daumier. It’s rather ambiguous because in the drawing you can’t see his face but the figure is there, and we made him this Average Guy, an Everyman.”
The injustice theme of Daumier’s Law is skillfully put across during the 15 minute film, with our Mr Average wrongfully accused, wrongfully arrested, wrongfully convicted in a particularly powerful courtroom sequence (Act 3: Justice), cruelly punished, forced to pay dues and then, at last, expelled by the tyrannical system, free to re-discover artistic beauty in his midst. “It’s all topical stuff,” comments Dunbar. “You’ve got to pay your Poll Tax or whatever it is, you’re in court, you get done, you get sent down and then you get crapped out at the end and off you go. It’s an heroic tale, I suppose. He goes through the system and comes out in rags, he’s lost all his worldly possessions and his dignity but regains them at the end by finding beauty and music.”
The most visually stunning section of the film occurs in Act 5 (Payment), when Daumier’s remarkable Gargantua, drawn in 1832, is brought so cleverly to life. Depicting the great pear-head of Louis XIV and his swallowing up of ordinary people and their riches, it was a drawing for which Daumier was fined and imprisoned by the French government.
The sheer enormity of work involved in making such an intricate, artistically perfect film as Daumier’s Law is best explained by some vital statistics: production began in mid-1989 and the animation took two years to complete. With between 12 and 24 drawings per second a 15 minute film runs up to 21,000 drawings. Before that, however, they’re all done in pencil too, so that makes 42,000. The celluloids also have to be shaded or painted before being photographed, plus there’s all the preparatory photographs and the layouts of the scenes – add another 3500 drawings – then add the storyboard drawings. “The sequence of the mandolin player (Act 6, Release) alone took one artist three months,” comments Geoff Dunbar, “plus there were scenes, only natural in a film project, that we couldn’t fit in, which were heaved out and confined to the bin.”
The senior animator, leading a team of seven, was Grand Slamm’s Nicolette van Gendt, and it was her task — following the creation of the six-act storyboard by Geoff Dunbar in close collaboration with Paul and Linda — to re-invent the work of Honoré Daumier, to perfectly but positively mimic his style so that his individual drawings could be made to move and advance the story. It’s a mark of the team’s achievement that no difference between his original work and theirs is discernible to the naked eye. “Doing a film like this does have its bonuses because you get involved in a man’s life,” remarks Dunbar, “and one learns so much more than if you just studied it. You’re actually in it, you’ve got to draw it, you’ve got to make it move, to create new scenes which will dovetail with the original ones.”
“It was like pretending that Daumier was on our staff,” agrees Paul, “like he was one of our artists. So we were able to fill in the movement in between his drawings.” Altogether, Paul supplied about 20 minutes of original, purely instrumental music, 15 of which was used. Like so much of his output, it’s hard to categorise: it may not really be minimalist in the true sense of the word, but certainly, in places, it’s pretty minimal. And it changes dramatically depending on the Act, from subtle tinkling percussion effects to more strident piano and electric guitar passages and some lovely acoustic guitar work. It’s all there, perfectly married to the onscreen images. “The great thing about animation is that they need the music before the film,” Paul comments, “unlike live-action films where they need the music afterwards to slot in with the picture. In animation they follow what you lay down.”
“Paul was inspired by Daumier and I was inspired by the music,” comments Geoff Dunbar. “And we do have a good sense of what we’re both thinking and saying. It was the same with Rupert – I found ‘We All Stand Together’ so evocative of Rupert Bear that I remembered all my childhood stories when I heard it. With the Daumier music it’s so much a departure for Paul, such a brave direction to go in, that I had to sit down and listen to it many times over.
“What was especially thrilling was when we did the sound mix and Paul and I were sitting at the back of the theatre. There it was again – the strength of the music was still there. We’d been listening to it every day, sections of it repeated again and again, and it had become an object of work. So for the strength of the music to still be there two years later was remarkable. It was a thrilling moment and we were absolutely chuffed.”
Recession or no recession, good work will usually come your way if you do good work. For Geoff Dunbar, animation has fascinated him since childhood and keeps him very busy in adulthood. “As a boy I use to draw on a piece of celluloid, go under the stairs, use a torch as a homemade projector and make it move. Now I’ve been able to make four films – the first was about Toulouse-Lautrec, the second Alfred Jarry’s Ubu, then Rupert and now Daumier. As Paul said recently, and he’s quite right, we’re really lucky boys to be able to do this kind of work, because in today’s financial world not many get the chance. It’s a marvellous thing.”
Delighted to be “probably the only animator in the world who has a gold disc“, pointing to his award for ‘We All Stand Together‘, Dunbar is usually occupied making animated television commercials, and is presently engaged in caringly bringing to the screen another much-loved British children’s character, Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit, set for transmission later this year.
Daumier’s Law was finally finished just before last Christmas, and the plan is for it to go into cinemas before eventual release on home-video/disc. As for the music element, Paul comments, “I’ve also got two other pieces on the same sort of theme and of similar length, so the idea at some point may be to release everything together on record, the Daumier’s Law music and the other music. We’ll see.”
One thing is for certain, it’s yet another new direction in the career of Paul McCartney – one can only wonder just how he’ll surprise us all next, but he’ll do it, somehow…