Glass Crow is framed by the following event: in 1618, two Catholic ministers were thrown out the window of Prague Castle by a group of angry Protestants. The ministers found rest in the piles of refuse that lined the castle moat. From whence they came, if you will; or, perhaps, for you were made of dust, and to dust you will return. However, they lived. This event became known as the Defenestration of Prague. As if the ministers represented Catholicism and Catholicism represented Prague: all of it out the window! Or, in other words, a damned serious affair. To add absurdity to wild circumstance, the Defenestration was the impetus for the Thirty Years’ War. Obvious irony ensues. War for a moral cause.
In the 2004 animated short film Glass Crow, Steven Subotnick presents these events in a striking and, at times, humorous way. When he’s not using other materials (leaves, dirt, photographs), Subotnick’s markmaking exists as a caricature of itself, an adult drawing with a child’s hand. Which is to say, his animation style is heavily layered. In this way, the film unfolds like a dream where the unconscious forays into the depths of history. Objects form and reform, cross over one another, and become one another. There is rarely consistency. And ultimately, substances are defined by their relative difference in texture. For instance, take the crows. At times, their shapes are a blur, just scribbled lines that give an idea of movement and hint at form, like the animations of Gianluigi Toccafondo or the portraits by Alberto Giacometti. But mostly, the crows are stencil cutouts defined by a void. Their outlines are clear due to the incongruences that make up the actual body. In a sense: the negative space is the wallpaper, the positive is the landscape outside. Similarly, Subotnick formulates the narrative of Glass Crow through associative actions. The film is not interested in presenting the Defenestration or the Thirty Years’ War via historical or dramatic recreation, rather through shifting moods and metaphors. The beetle is devoured, yet so is man. In an interview, Subotnick says that he usually works “intuitively without a plan or a storyboard” (Lullaby). This comes out in Glass Crow in the best way possible, like free jazz – deeply direct, hard to grasp, and always surprising.
Steven Subotnick has been creating independent animations since 1985. A handful of which have received critical acclaim on the festival circuit. (And most of which can be viewed on his Vimeo page.) He is a legacy in the truest sense. His father, Morton Subotnick, is an avant-garde composer considered to be one of the earliest practitioners of electronic music. Morton also happened to go to high school with Stan Brakhage and Larry Jordan, both of whom turned out to be quite influential in the world of filmmaking and animation. Wild coincidence? Absurdity?
Accordingly, Glass Crow shares a great deal in common with the work of Brakhage and Jordan. The most obvious similarities are the artists’ self-aware experimentalism and, for the most part, the disregard for genre, character, and plot. But the same could be said for a whole slew of other filmmakers and animators influenced by or engaged in the “avant-garde.” What brings Subotnick, Brakhage, and Jordan together more keenly is how their films problematize history. Instead of presenting the spectator with mimetic dramatic realism, their work presents history shaped by experience. History is then moved further from fact and closer to mythology, a space where symbol, metaphor, and mood become more important in regards to “truth.” Though Jordan and Subotnick’s films tend to be much more playful, all three filmmakers render history as unfixed and manipulatable, powerless to the filmmaker’s idiosyncrasies.
Watch Glass Crow on vimeo