STACEY Steers’ short film Edge Of Alchemy lifts Mary Pickford and Janet Gaynor out of the silent-era and places them into a surreal animated tale.
To learn more about this unique and visually fascinating work, Close-up Culture’s James Prestridge caught up with Stacey before the Edge Of Alchemy screens at Raindance Film Festival (29 September and 6 October).
Q: Edge of Alchemy is the result of five years of painstaking work. Can you tell us about your vision for this project when you first started and how that vision evolved through the process?
A: EDGE Of Alchemy is my third collage film utilising a similar technique. By now, I know myself pretty well and I have some confidence in my ability to organically create a film that resonates with me working slowly overtime, allowing the film to form and evolve as I go along.
I basically decide on a vague idea or landscape for the film and then begin working one step at a time. In the case of EOA I knew I wanted to work with the notion of the Frankenstein story, but that I wanted a woman in a lab to create another women. The idea of working with the contemporary reality of bees and hive collapse came a bit later, but ended up complimenting the other material, I thought.
Q: The film is the third in a trilogy examining women’s inner words. Can you talk about the essence of the film and themes you wanted to explore?
A: I suppose that essentially I view all the films as different aspects of my own interiority. They are created intuitively and feel very personal in terms of what drives them. I have thought about relationships, aging, parenting and other themes close to my own experience, but never in a straight forward or specific way. I want to leave the film open to interpretation and there have been plenty of those that surprised me.
Q: Silent-era star Lillian Gish was a character in your last film Night Hunter. In Edge of Alchemy, you use Mary Pickford and Janet Gaynor. Can you give us insight into why you chose these two?
A: I loved using Lillian Gish (and plan to use her again), but I was looking for other powerful female actors from the silent-era.
Mary Pickford was the first superstar although her films were not always that well made. Still I could feel she had an amazing presence and I felt I could capture that. Janet Gaynor is simply an amazing actor and worked with great directors, so the material I had starring her was outstanding.
Q: I can’t praise Lech Jankowski highly enough for the composing the sound and music for he film. At what point did Lech join the project and what did he add to it?
A: I only work with a composer after the visuals are completed. I knew Lech’s work from the Brothers Quay and admired it very much, so I approached him. Lech saw the film and was interested in working with the material.
He recorded all the sound live – so it suits the handmade collage approach I use very well. For instance, the sound of bees buzzing is actually a long row of bicycle wheels he lined up and spun all at once and recorded. He made all the sounds by hand and then combined them. I agree he did a very beautiful job.
Q: This approach uses eight distinct images for every second of animation. What can you tell us about the methods you use and the challenges that come with it?
A: WELL, the most obvious challenge is the time it takes to create material in this way. Somehow it seems to suit me though. I like working with my hands, all my ideas come to me in the process of making things.
Animation has a magic aspect. The literal thing you make is transformed by persistence of vision when you see the collages move by at 24 fps. It’s always created a sense of wonder and amazement in me. I think that’s what keeps me going. Everyday a little magic.
Q: How were you introduced to this form of animation and what do you love about it?
A: I discovered this precise approach on my own. I was aware of the long tradition of collage animation and admired people like Lawrence Jordan and Janie Geiser, but I discovered the idea of taking characters out of early cinematic materials and repurposing them in collages quite by accident.
Q: Have you thought about what is next for you?
I am working on another film. A sort of 19th century space odyssey with women protagonists, as usual! I’m also collaborating on a couple of projects, one with a choreographer.
Q: Can you tell us what it means for you to have the film shown at Raindance Film Festival in London?
A: I have never shown at Raindance before, but I’m a huge fan of the British animation tradition and have the highest regard for it. I’m delighted to screen my film in London, pure and simple.
You can see Edge Of Alchemy as part of Raindance Film Festival’s Short Programme: Animation on 29 September and 6 October