This is another one from my Christmas wish list, this time taken from the excellent first volume of the anthology DVD British Animation Classics (featuring some top notch independent animation which doesn't skimp on the female animators either-Joanna Quinn, Alison Snowden, Erica Russell, and Alison de Vere are all represented).
Purves is a master director, writer, and animator of mainly puppet based animation and has done work with countless animation studios including Aardman, Pixar, Dreamworks etc. Despite the fact that his own independent work only amounts to six short films he has been nominated for countless awards and is highly regarded in the British film and animation industry. He embraces a strong tradition of animation that stems from the likes of Ladislas Starewicz, Ray Harryhausen, George Pal, Lou Bunin, Jiri Trnka, etc, and carries on to the present day in the works of The Brothers Quay, the Bolex brothers, and Suzie Templeton (among others).
Screenplay is one of his two works that embraces the art and tradition of the setting for the story being told. The other example being Achilles which is obviously inspired by Greek art but is also staged like a Greek tragedy.
The title 'Screenplay' literally refers to the used of traditional Japanese screen painting as part of the storytelling process. The story is adapted from the legend of The Willow Pattern, a famous British ceramic pattern designed around 1790. The story is a Chinese romantic fable invented in England which follows the classic formula of star-crossed lovers of a different class who ultimately meet a tragic end.
Purves seems to create a fantastic sense of staging. The play part of the title is also highly appropriate as it feels like this is what we are watching, and the smoothness of the action and of the transitions almost make us forget that we are watching an animation. Scenery changes are swift and inventive and movement despite being stylised (due to the obvious influence of Kabuki theatre on the film, along with the English sign language narration) is fluid and believable. The use of everything from traditional umbrellas and pieces of material to represent everything from water to blood, and the constant use of a revolving/floor set keep the action confounded to one space very effectively.
It seems appropriate that Purves's films were chosen to be shown as part of a special season on Japanese puppet master Kicachiro Kawamoto back at the Watershed in Bristol in 2008, his influence on this film is very obvious although I think Purves adds a certain amount of wit to the tradition as well as making a massive improvement on the usual pacing. The action is quite fast but still you don't miss a beat. A truly beautiful piece of film!
(watch it here)