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IN HONOUR OF HONORE
Honore Daumier, French artist, born 1808, died 1879, his work brought to life by the McCartneys 1992. As all but a few ask "Who?" Club Sandwich promptly answers the question and looks into the making of a marvellous new MPL animated film.
By Mark Lewisohn
The sleeve of the 1989 twelve-inch single 'Figure of Eight'/'Ou est le Soleil?' featured a drawing by Daumier presented to the McCartneys by a Swiss museum after they had learnt of their interest in the artist and his work.
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 Honorc 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 Tire 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 skilfully 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 draw-