Hungary / 1980
Ferenc Rófusz’s followed his 1974 short A Ko (The Stone) with his masterpiece A Légy (The Fly). Told from the fly’s point of view, the film seemingly utilises rotoscoping in a realistically-drawn style, from presumably photographs or film taken through a fish eye lens. Through the insect’s eyes, we experience flying around a garden, before going inside a house where the fly is pursued and then swatted by the owner.
The film is quite unique in being from an insect’s point of view, the only other instance I can think of in fact is in the Vincent Price 1958 sci-fi/horror The Fly where they use the (schlocky but fascinating to me as a twelve year old ) technique of multiple circular images to represent the many eyes. But the difference here is it also succeeds in making you actually feel like a fly (rather than a scientist trapped in the body of a fly screamimg “heeeelp meee” in a creepy voice as per 1958 horror film). The jerkily fast camera movements (possibly a result of using many photographs as reference rather than the smoothness of cine film ) feel like the sickeningly fast darting flights of a fly, everything is seen in a kind of lo-fi/lo spectrum muddy palette and the scratchily jarring buzz of the soundtrack starts to quickly get under your skin until you are actually relieved when your/the fly’s nasty little existence comes to an end. And that’s without the film showing you the worst aspects of a fly’s existence, a deep physical relationship with dog turds.
The Fly won the Oscar in 1981 for best animated short although due to Hungary’s totalitarian communist regime, Rófusz wasnt allowed to leave the country to collect his award and unknown to him, someone else received it for him.
Rófusz followed the film with two others showing a death from the first person perspective; Dead Point (Deadlock) (1982) concerns the victim of a firing squad and Gravitation (1984) is about an apple falling from a tree.
These shorts were released by Hungary’s Pannonia Studio, located in Budapest and until 1990 (with the fall of communism) the communist regime’s state owned and controlled animation studio. Although these type of studios restricted freedom of political expression this was somewhat compensated with (as in most government funded films ) more artistic freedom, in the sense that the artistic value and prestige of winning international prizes was more important than commercial success and popularity. So while on one hand you have political censorship, on the other hand you have a liberation from the fear of what large audiences might or might not choose to consume. As Robert Hughes book ‘The Shock of the New’ describes in detail, when governments pay for art galleries and commission art, the motivation is prestige (much the same as when many rich people buy art) and the intention is to be seen as enlightened, intelligent, tasteful, sophisticated and progressive. Which means to an extent that the government funded artists, curators and film makers are actively encouraged to be more experimental and cutting edge and obscure, and less mainstream.
Another famous Pannonia product reflecting this freedom of of artistic expression was William Feigenbaum and József Gémes Hugó, a víziló (Hugo the Hippo) (1973). Supposedly a children’s film , it was so psychedelic, at times dark and strange, and in fact “phantasmagorical,” as it quite rightly says on the poster, that it has become a cult favourite with adults. This was a strange tale of Hippos hired by a Sultan to fight sharks, only for then to go on a wild rampage except for the hero Hugo, who saves the day. Hugo the Hippo was the first international release of a Hungarian feature-length animation and was a far from unique example of a 1970’s film in which seemingly the “turned-on” mindset of its creators was allowed to flow unrestricted onto the screen. Robert Morley and Burl Ives provided voices for the English-language version, while perhaps the most strange and disturbing thing of all was the songs that Marie and Donny Osmond provided for the soundtrack.
Anyway , back to Ferenc Rófusz, who in 1988 moved to Canada to work for Nelvana in commercial animation. He returned to Hungary however in 2002 where he continued his work in the less financially compensated but perhaps more spiritually rewarding genre of short films, producing Cease Fire (2003), A Dog’s Life (2005) and Ticket (2010).
Note: The 100 greatest animated shorts is a list of opinions and not an order of value from best to worst. Click here to see all of the picks of the list so far. All suggestions, comments and outrage are welcome!