LACMA's animation screenings have been unusually strong this year, including a sold-out UPA show in March and an upcoming Paramount show on Thursday. But the rarest and most aesthetically significant gems will screen Friday in two programs introduced by the Center for Visual Music (CVM), the estimable Los Angeles archive thanked in the credits of Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life. That film's lauded cosmic and lumia imagery was inspired directly by research at CVM and the work of media artists it promotes, particularly Jordan Belson and Thomas Wilfred.
German-born Oskar Fischinger, whose restored 35 mm short films comprise the first program, was a major figure in abstract animation. His internationally acclaimed Composition in Blue (1935) — featuring solid objects “dancing” in a blue room — precipitated his emigration from Germany to Hollywood and brief work with Paramount (Allegretto), MGM (An Optical Poem), Disney (Fantasia) and Orson Welles (It's All True). This program includes Fischinger's beautiful, early-1930s Study series of hand-drawn charcoal animations synchronized to records, which screened in German theaters to promote new recordings; some consider them the first music videos. Two more highlights: a brand-new preservation print of Spirals (1926) and the spellbinding Motion Painting No. 1 (1947), set to Bach's third Brandenburg concerto, in which simultaneous lines of color (oil on acrylic glass) slowly branch out and intertwine in complex, graceful choreography.
LACMA's second program celebrates the midcentury proliferation of experimental animation in California. While none of it is standard-issue repertory fare, films by Jules Engel — such as Landscape (1971), Mobiles (1978) and Play Pen (1986) — are especially rare. Engel, another Hollywood veteran who worked at Disney and UPA, founded the experimental animation program at CalArts. Equally uncommon is Mandala (1953), a painted-scroll film set to Balinese gamelan music; it's an early mystical work by the renowned Belson, whose later geometric, laserlike imagery influenced both psychedelic light shows and Star Wars. —Doug Cummings
DESIGN IN MOTION: OSKAR FISCHINGER AND ABSTRACT ANIMATION | April 27, 7:30 and 8:40 p.m. | Bing Theater at LACMA | lacma.org