Barry Purves talks about Screenplay

Barry Purves talks to Sylvie Bosher about his film Screenplay and his future projects.

Barry Purves and “The Narrator”, one of the puppets in Screenplay.

Barry Purves won the Young Jury’s Best Film Award recently at the Bourges en Bresse Festival in France for his film Screenplay. I was lucky enough to see Screenplay at the Ottawa International Animation Festival in Canada where the film also won an award. It was there that Barry Purves, the director and animator, talked to me about the film, his background, and his future projects.

Screenplay is a screen play but not just a play on screen. Part of the story is presented in the form of a play. The visual form changes just as the narrative seems to be about to come to a happy ending and the surprise tragic last act is given a ‘filmic’ treatment.

While in Japan with his film Next Barry Purves had the opportunity to see a five hour production of a Kabuki play which he found overwhelmingly beautiful. We can see the influence of the Kabuki tradition in Screenplay: there is a narrator (with the voice of Michael Maloney) who is present during the play but at times becomes part of it as he wears masks to portray different supporting characters and takes on their roles. There arc the little black imp-like creatures which fan out from behind the narrator with props and disappear back into him. They reappear for the scene changes which involve the moving of props and gliding screens. And the Japanese costumes were inspired by those found in Kabuki theatre.

The action in the play section of the film is confined to a stage in front of us and there was no editing so like a prestidigitator Barry pulled props and characters in and out of scenes on a revolving stage with sliding screens in a staggering interplay of choreography.

Barry Purves’ hand with the puppets from Screenplay, (from left to right) The Narrator, Takako and Naoki. Photograph by Francine Léger.

Several other factors contribute towards the feeling of watching a play: the first sequence of 9 minutes and 15 seconds was continuously filmed so that there is no editing; the lighting has a stage ‘indoor’ quality; the camera remains in the same position; and the props, for instance the red ribbons which represent blood, are symbolic. The most important influence from the theatre is shown by the ‘acting” of the puppets but this is true throughout the entire film. The sensitivity of the animation convinces us that the characters think and have emotions and this makes the story engrossing.

For the last two minutes. during the ‘film’ ending of Screenplay, the camera moves drawing us into the vortex of the violent final scene. Our vantage point is unstable, we have been thrown off guard and now have an awareness of on-screen and off- screen space. When the samurai appears and the visual style is dislocated, we arc momentarily baffled by the complete change and have to make an adjustment in order to read this part of the film as a film and not as a ‘play.’ Along with the change of camera movement, of scale and of perspective. the framing changes. The film is now edited and this quickens the rhythm of the action. The lighting is bright (as if outdoors) and harsh. We are no longer aware of the props as the set seems real. During the first part of the film, time appeared distorted as it sped by and much of the story was covered in the first nine minutes and fifteen seconds whereas the action of the last two minutes conversely seems to take place in ‘real’ time. The puppets appear to bleed real blood and the ending is tragic in a manner reminiscent of Japanese cinema. The visual style changes for the third time as the animation becomes two dimensional and we see the twin souls of the lovers in the symbol of two birds flying up into their places in the willow pattern which is the film’s emblem and contains the whole story in one image.

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