The Film Work of Norman McLaren 


by Terence Dobson approaches the puzzles that are set by the film work of Norman McLaren and provides a pivotal view of one of the major film-makers of the twentieth century.

The Film Work of Norman McLaren, 2nd generation

For half a century from the 1930s to the 1980s, the celebrated Canadian animator Norman McLaren made films at a prodigious rate – his output averaged about one film every year. The innovatory nature of his films won him worldwide acclaim, honours and prizes (including an Oscar™). Curiously, there has been a dearth of serious literature that focuses on the film work of Norman McLaren. One reason for this has been the difficulty in identifying constants through McLaren's work. The very scope of McLaren's innovations together with the varied purposes of his films meant that McLaren's films appeared incongruent. There is, for example, the shocking violence of Neighbours and the gentle whimsy of Hen Hop; the didacticism of Canon or Rythmetic and the scintillating abstract energy of Begone Dull Care; the functionalism of Book Bargain and the sublime beauty of Pas de deux. By looking at the nature and span of McLaren's innovations, and by putting his work in the context of his own ambitions and of his era, Terence Dobson approaches the puzzles that are set by the film work of Norman McLaren. On the way, the encounter with McLaren's movies – which features a detailed analysis of some of his chief works – provides a pivotal view of one of the major film-makers of the twentieth century.


The Film Work of Norman McLaren examines his film-work in the context of his objectives. It is divided into three parts, based on chronological divisions in McLaren's life. The first part deals with McLaren's formative years in Scotland and England and examines his early exposure to the social, artistic and institutional influences that were to shape his filmic output. The second part deals with McLaren's maturation in the USA and Canada. The third part examines specific issues in relation to McLaren and his work and as such is concerned principally with his mature output. McLaren's films contain incongruities, conflicts and apparent inconsistencies. In exploring these aspects of his work, this thesis examines the technical processes McLaren used in making his films, the oscillation shown in his films between abstract and representational imagery, and the degree of accord between McLaren's social objectives, his artistic objectives and his filmic achievements.


Source: John Libbey Publishing



ISBN-10: 0861966562

ISBN-13: 978-0861966561



The Film Work of Norman McLaren, 2nd generationThe Film Work of Norman McLaren, 2nd generation


Sons et Lumières (2004) – A History of Sound in the Art of the 20th Century (in French) by Marcella Lista and Sophie Duplaix published by the Centre Pompidou for the excellent Paris exhibition in September 2004 until January 2005.

Curated by the Pompidou’s Sophie Duplaix with the Louvre’s Marcella Lista, the show required a good three or four hours to absorb, with its bombardment of sensory and intellectual input, including painting, sound sculpture, sound/light automata, film and video, and room-size installations. (Frieze Magazine)

Optical Poetry (2004) by Dr. William Moritz is the long-awaited, definitive biography of Oskar Fischinger. The result of over 30 years of research on this visionary abstract filmmaker and painter. In addition to Moritz's comprehensive biography, it includes numerous photographs in colour and black and white (many never before published), statements by Oskar Fischinger about his films, a newly created extensive filmography, and a selected bibliography. (John Libbey Publishing)



Mutations (1972) by Lillian Schwartz, who is an early pioneer in the use of the computer in the Arts and was a consultant at the AT&T Bell Laboratories. Mutations is based on computer images, laser beams diffracted in plastics, and crystal growth in polarized light. The film features a stunning soundtrack by Jean-Claude Risset. (Olsen)

No. 4: Fast Track (1947) by Harry Smith. In No. 4, the influence of Oskar Fischinger on Smith's work becomes more marked. The film works with a black background and white shapes. It begins with two small circles dancing in tandem across the screen, as well as decreasing and increasing in size to give an impression of depth. These are joined, via superimposition, by two simple grilles, and then by a larger grille which swishes from left to right and vice versa at such a speed to produced a blurred effect. (Senses of Cinema)

Jordan Belson (1926-2011) creates abstract films richly woven with cosmological imagery, exploring consciousness, transcendence, and the nature of light itself. (...) His varied influences include yoga, Eastern philosophies and mysticism, astronomy, Romantic classical music, alchemy, Jung, non-objective art, mandalas and many more. He has produced an extraordinary body of over 30 abstract films, sometimes called cosmic cinema, also considered to be Visual Music. ("Jordan Belson – Biography" by Cindy Keefer)

Visual Music: Synaesthesia in Art and Music Since 1900 (2005) traces the history of a revolutionary idea: that fine art should attain the abstract purity of music. Over the past one hundred years some of the most adventurous modern and contemporary artists have explored unorthodox means to invent a kinetic, non-representational art modeled upon pure instrumental music. (Amazon)

Storm de Hirsch was a very important player in the New York Avant-Garde film scene of the 1960s, though her biography and work are generally left out of the history. Despite lack of recognition, she was very present in the underground film movement and socialized with every big name on the scene, filmmakers such as Stan Brakhage, Jonas Mekas, Shirley Clarke and others. (Wikipedia)