A Chairy Tale
Norman McLaren: Hands-on Animation - A selection by Donald McWilliams

A Chairy Tale

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In this Oscar®-nominated short film, a chair, animated by Evelyn Lambart, refuses to be sat upon, forcing a young man to perform a sort of dance with the chair. The musical accompaniment is by Ravi Shankar and Chatur Lal. This virtuoso film is the result of a collaboration between Norman McLaren and Claude Jutra.

As filmmaking, A Chairy Tale is a virtuoso piece. A mélange of single-frame animation of a chair and an actor, multi-speed shooting, reverse shooting, moving time exposures, and the chair-as-marionette, being operated with black nylon thread, for the most part by Evelyn Lambart and Herb Taylor. A chair refuses to let a man sit on it. After many trials, the man (Claude Jutra) realizes that the chair wants the same privilege. The man concedes. Only then does the chair agree to accept his role in life, that of being sat upon. The film, with an improvised score by Ravi Shankar, was a big success, yet co-directors McLaren and Jutra were uneasy. Brilliant though it was, they realized they had in fact made a film about assimilation. The chair was still the loser.

Donald McWilliams
From the playlist: Norman McLaren: Hands-on Animation

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Credits
  • director
    Norman McLaren
    Claude Jutra
  • animation
    Evelyn Lambart
  • music
    Ravi Shankar
    Chatur Lal
    Maurice Blackburn
  • cast
    Claude Jutra

  • sixam

    SCTV did an excellent parody of this film in 1982.

    sixam, 21 Jun 2015
  • pcrondeau@yahoo.com

    Does anyone remember seeing the original short? I saw it in the mid 60s while at the Cleveland Insitute of Art. It impressed me very much. The version I saw was made in the early1900s and I believe was called only The Chair and the chair was decidedly female, the man learning to "ask" before assuming privieges. However much of the process appears identical to this version. Am I mistaken?

    pcrondeau@yahoo.com, 23 Dec 2009
  • pcrondeau@yahoo.com

    I am sure isaw the original of this film while at art school in the mid 60s and it was made in the early part of the century (1900s) As I recall it had a much more subtle relationship between the man and the chair - the chair being decidedly female and he learning how to ask rather than assuming the role of the chair. Has anyone else seen the original film? If so what was it's title? I thought it was simply "The Chair"

    pcrondeau@yahoo.com, 23 Dec 2009