"Why level downward to our dullest perception always, and praise that as common sense?" 

Drawing dementia

reflections on animation, Memory and Henry THoreau

As a movie, Walden: Life in the Woods is a multi-format experience that moves beyond just traditional film in order to convey different characters’ experience of time. As any reader of Walden the book knows, Thoreau's prose utilizes layered imagistic techniques to alter the reader’s experience of time. In some passages his stream of consciousness feels like a free-associative precursor to twentieth century modernism, with inner monologues like soaring patchworks of ideas that scream through the reader at the speed of thought. In the course of a single paragraph, and following a deep sub-conscious logic, Thoreau will transform one image into ten or twenty more images before breaking out of his trance. We see this for instance, in the sound of a church bell that sets his imagination a-spinning so rapidly and freely in a kaleidoscope of visions and impulses that it feel as though he’s writing on LSD. Time transforms in the peal of that bell, it stretches out along the event horizon, becomes more vast, denser and slower moving – almost as if inside one instant an entire lifetime passes – all this thanks to Thoreau’s magical, unwieldy prose style.

To recreate this technique in our film co-originator, Laura Goldhamer, will make extensive use of stop motion and time lapse photography in her animations. These forms reject the fluidity that traditional film is concerned with. They break film’s illusion of continuity in such a way as to alter the viewer’s experience of time. What happens between each frame becomes more important than what exists on each frame. The choppy fractured quality becomes a new mannerism of the rough-hewn. This drag on the flow of the film creates a drag in time that opens up a whole new dimension of visual rhythm.

still of alice's desk 1.jpg

In particular Laura will work with the “Solitude” story-line which follows the character of Alice. At eighty-one years old, Alice is suffering from mid-phase Alzheimer’s disease. As storytellers we are using the fractured continuity of stop-motion and time-lapse to enter Alice's fractured subjectivity. While she experiences many problems with memory loss and recognition and some language deficiencies, she retains her incredible talent for drawing. We will utilize Alice’s drawings, and the act of drawing itself as a physicalization of her mind and its effort to conjure images and memories that she is grasping and losing throughout the day. Laura will work intimately with a process she has used in the past: stop motion drawing - the stop motion photographic animation of a drawing coming to life or being erased. 

Stop motion drawing animation is a type of drawing that is extremely reflexive about its own condition, that savors the graininess of the charcoal as its blown onto and off of the paper, that luxuriates in the tracks of the eraser and hand smudges, that blurs the frame within which the drawings marks will appear. It is this very density and weight of the drawing, this way it has of producing the hiccup of a momentary stillness and thus dragging against the flow of the film, that opens up the gap between our fantasy-driven desire for smoothness and a surrender to the turbulence of the real world. 

The material condition of stop motion drawing and the physical lived condition of dementia join together in our film to create the kind of meditative malleability that Thoreau was so schooled in. This technique allows our viewers to experience an elasticity of time that brings us deeper into the internal landscape of Life in the Woods. 

Bellow are some of Laura Goldhamer's previous stop motion animations that transform images and shift time-scapes in ways very similar to thoreau. These served as primary inspiration for our project.