Landreth’s ‘Ryan’ is a cutting-edge creation
July 22, 2005
In a recent Newsweek article, Steven Spielberg estimated that it will be five to seven years before film directors like him can do away with actors altogether. Characters, looking like real people and plausibly emoting, will be possible then, he said, through computer-generated imagery (CGI).
The fear-ridden question, naturally, is whether films will be able to connect with human audiences without the use of human actors.”Ryan,” a short docudrama by Canadian director Chris Landreth, doesn’t address all those issues. The 13-minute work, which won this year’s Academy Award for best animated short film, doesn’t try to pass off its characters as flesh-and-blood human beings. But if the narrower question is, can you use CGI to get at deep, adult issues of humanity, “Ryan” helps to allay the fears that computers will trample cinematic emotion.
“Ryan” looks for all the world like a combination of live action and CGI; it isn’t. The characters – Ryan Larkin, a legendary Canadian animator fallen on hard times; and Landreth, an admirer of Larkin’s pioneering work of the early ’70s – are, in visual terms, entirely digital creations. (Their voices, however, were recorded from actual interviews between the two.)For its lack of human imagery, “Ryan” gets to the core of gritty reality. The film is set largely in a dark, seedy conference room, perhaps in the mission home where Larkin resides. Landreth, using a stunningly effective visual technique, introduces Larkin and his work; the two filmmakers then sit down to talk about Larkin’s current existence as a panhandling alcoholic. Also introduced are several significant friends from Ryan’s past. Landreth’s cinematographic style – constantly in motion, making the characters part-human, part-machine and thoroughly transparent – enriches the portrayals immensely. We get a sense of Larkin’s jitteriness and emotional instability, how tentative Landreth is in approaching him.It isn’t the CGI that makes “Ryan” a tour de force, though. Landreth captures the intense fragility that marks all life. “It’s incredibly talented, brilliant artistry – and alcoholism, cocaine addiction – at one point,” said Landreth, by phone from Toronto, of Larkin. “And mental destruction at one point. As one person in the film says, that’s every artist’s worst nightmare – the creativity dries up and you end up on the street. Ryan’s story takes in that worst fear.”Adding a layer of complexity is Landreth’s presence in the film. During their conversation, Landreth says he wants to see Larkin overcome his alcoholism – as he beat his cocaine habit – and become productive again. It is a moment of compelling spontaneity, and there is a hint of Landreth’s own vulnerability and fear: that he could end up like Ryan.
“I was saying that what I saw, his addiction to alcohol, was something I had seen a lot,” said the 43-year-old. “I had grown up in a family where alcoholism existed. I felt it needed to be in the film.””Ryan” is featured in the Best of Aspen Shortsfest program, showing Monday, July 25 at Paepcke Auditorium in the SummerFilms series. Among the other short films, all previously screened at Aspen Shortsfest, are “Harvie Krumpet,” winner of the 2004 Academy Award for best animated short; “A Dios,” “Music for One Apartment and Six Drummers,” “My Head,” “My Parents” and “Two Cars, One Night.”Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org