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Mona Lisa Descending A Staircase (and Three Additional Prize-winning Short Films) cover photo

Mona Lisa Descending A Staircase (and Three Additional Prize-winning Short Films) 2004

Highly Recommended

Distributed by Microcinema International/Microcinema DVD, 1636 Bush St., Suite #2, SF, CA 94109; 415-447-9750
Produced by Joan C. Gratz
Directed by Joan C. Gratz
DVD, color, 88 min.



Jr. High - Adult
Animation, Art History, Modern Art, Short Films

Date Entered: 05/07/2009

Reviewed by Sebastian Derry, Temple University

“Clay-painting” is a unique process that blends film and painting, and an innovation that garnered Joan Gratz’s Mona Lisa Descending A Staircase a 1992 Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film. In this true landmark of animation, numerous famous and iconic paintings from 20th century art are “reproduced as exactly as possible but the transitions between these paintings [are] used to communicate the relationship of artistic movements” as Gratz has stated. “In the clay painting technique, which I began developing in 1966, I work by painting directly before the camera, making changes to a single painting, shooting a frame, repainting and shooting, etc. In the end there is one painting with the process recorded on film, the product is the process.”

Pro and Con is in two parts; the first (Pro) is animated by Joanna Priestley, where a line-drawn female corrections officer talks candidly about her work, and her reflections on crime and punishment. Within her animation Priestley incorporates various craft elements that are actual confiscated contraband from Oregon correctional facilities. An inmate narrates the second half (Con), describing what life in prison is really like, with Gratz’s animation seamlessly blending and transitioning in perfect counterpoint to the narration.

With The Dowager’s Feast a colorful musical score of accordion, violin and cello is wedded to equally colorful abstract shapes, endlessly twisting, turning, blending and transforming. In its sequel The Dowager’s Idyll the clay-painting is more symmetrical, the metamorphosis suggesting a view as through a rotating kaleidoscope.

The four works on the disc: Mona Lisa Descending A Staircase/1991 (6:58), The Dowager’s Feast/1997 (5:22), Pro And Con/1992 (8:18), The Dowager’s Idyll/2001 (5:52). This is a disc that belongs in every library.

Highly recommended for all libraries.