Le Cinéma Club continues March’s Animal Festival with this week’s selection. Although they’re our neighbors and household companions, animals always project an air of mystery: we might read into their behavior, but do we really know what they’re thinking? Regardless, they make a fascinating—and fun—muse for filmmakers, and this month’s selections will begin what we hope will be a recurring series.
Summer sets in with playful pops of color in Jerome Hill’s 1969 short The Canaries. As a group of songbirds flits around a small cage, Hill brings their energetic chirps to life by hand-painting candy-colored clouds—almost like speech bubbles—on the filmstrip. These joyful touches led pioneering filmmaker and artist Jonas Mekas to write in Film Culture that Hill’s art often “exploded with little bursts of ecstasies.”
The Canaries was one of a cycle of films that Hill shot around his home in Cassis, France, on the Riviera. The short pivots between the canaries and sunbathing couples on the beaches; while the restlessness of the birds might seem the opposite of the languid human bodies, both milieus buzz with the electricity of warm weather. Hill plays with double exposures to thicken the muggy air around the birdcage, and the canaries’ pent-up energy brings out a similar insatiability in the lovers on the shore.
“What is this ephemeral present about which one cannot speak? Does it exist? For me, the only real, valid present is the eternal moment, seized and set down once and for all: that is, the creation of the artist.”—JEROME HILL, FILM PORTRAIT (1972)
The exuberance of The Canaries is typical of Hill’s ’60s output: after making vérité documentary portraits like Grandma Moses (1950) and the Oscar-winning Albert Schweitzer (1957), Hill branched out into more mood-driven pieces. Like The Canaries, they often drew on Hill’s talents across other art forms, most notably painting and music (Hill composed the scores for all of his films during this period, including The Canaries’ livewire piano trills). All of these textures coalesce into The Canaries’ sense of wonder at the cycles of nature, which immerse birds and people alike in the vibrations of the same sun.
Born in 1905 in Saint Paul, MN, Hill was drawn to the arts early on: he majored in music at Yale University, studied painting in Rome and France, and produced a book of photography while traveling through Greece. His additional filmmaking credits include The Sand Castle (1961), known for its innovative use of stop motion, and Film Portrait (1972), his influential cine-memoir. Hill is also memorable for his philanthropy, having supported organizations like Anthology Film Archives, the Film-Maker’s Cooperative, and the Living Theatre; his nonprofit, the Jerome Foundation, has awarded grants to filmmakers like Todd Haynes, Spike Lee, and Mira Nair. An archive of Hill’s films can be found on the Jerome Foundation’s website.
Special thanks to the Jerome Foundation.
Text written by Chloe Lizotte.