The Magic Of Surprise, With a Crayon

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The New York Sun

There may be no critical analogy more abused than comparing films to dreams.Yet very little else accurately describes the effect of viewing animator Emily Hubley’s work.Visionary and confessional, elliptical and lucid, abstract yet personal, Ms. Hubley’s films knit together strands of memory, whimsy, and regret into delicate visual tapestries whose texture and shape linger long after the lights go up. Hers is, according to animation historian John Canemaker, a “constantly metamorphosing world of overlapping shapes, textured cutouts, and glowing colors, where Picassoesque characters search for identity and meaning in their lives.”

Ms. Hubley attributes some of her films’ dreamlike resonance to the reverie in which they’re created. “So much of the work I do is done at some subdued level of consciousness,” she explained from the suburban New Jersey home and studio she shares with her husband, two children, various interns, and a bird. “A lot of times the hand will just sort of draw something. I rely on the magic of surprise.”

Since July 5, the IFC Center has been surprising its audiences by screening one of Ms. Hubley’s enchanting short films prior to its regular feature presentations. Tonight, Ms.Hubley and her work take center screen at IFC as the filmmaker presents a program of her work along with a sampling of varied collaborations with her parents and siblings.

Ms. Hubley’s parents, filmmakers Faith and John Hubley, were mavericks of film animation, a medium that, in America at least, has tended to co-opt innovators and muffle idiosyncratic voices. For 40-plus years, Faith and John Hubley endured blacklisting and compromise to create some of the most personal and pleasurable cartoons ever put on screen.

“We just wanted to make small, good films and raise a family,” Faith Hubley once said of her and her husband’s life and work. And though all three of Emily’s siblings have contributed to their parents’ films, she is the only Hubley child to enter the family business. “It’s just what I know,” she said.

Tonight’s program includes a sampling of the senior Hubley films (notably a restored version of the marvelous, Oscar-nominated 1968 short “Windy Day”) alongside Ms. Hubley’s work. Supervising the restoration of “Windy Day” and assembling the IFC Center program has given her a chance to re-examine two decades of her own films in the context of her parents’ work, an experience she described as having, “the same great sense of amazement that you have looking at you family photo album.You know, you look at the pictures and ask yourself, ‘How did any of us ever look like that?'”

The family’s animation look — a deceptively simple, hand-drawn style — is something Ms. Hubley has made her own. “My parents were more practiced as technical artists,” she said. “I’m a lot more of a throw-it-at-the-wall kind of artist.”To some degree, her creative evolution has been defined by the divergent steps she’s taken from the creative path blazed by her father, who died in 1977, and her mother who passed away in 2001. Forgoing the broader examination of social issues that characterized her parents’ work, her films favor an intoxicatingly intimate and playfully ruminative quality.

Yet not surprisingly, John Hubley, a one-time character animator at Disney and a prime mover in the highly influential United Productions of America outline style of animation, and Faith Hubley, a former film editor and script supervisor with a gift for organization and design, have clearly left their mark in the rich personality and subtle rigor evident in their daughter’s work. Indeed, Ms. Hubley, though eager to preserve her own place in the sun and keep a respectful distance from her parents’ long shadow, discovered that curating tonight’s show made her aware once again of their influence.

“We didn’t notice it until much later,” she said of “The Tower” (1984), made in collaboration with her sister, Georgia, “But there are so many unconscious visual quotes in “The Tower”from “Windy Day.” We probably never would have kept them in if we’d realized it!”

Tonight at 7:45 p.m. at IFC Center (323 Sixth Avenue, between West 3rd and West 4th streets, 212-924-7771).

The New York Sun

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