Lines stretch, curve and splinter into shards, dynamically sketching a busy street with tall buildings, flitting birds and, finally, a man and his dog walking in the city: Robert Breer’s ebullient 1957 animation A Man And His Dog Out For Air thrills in the fluid dance between line and figure, as pencil drawings briefly resolve into recognizable images before dissolving once again into abstraction. What may sound like a rarefied intellectual experience is instead entirely raucous and surprising, which is tantamount to Breer’s filmmaking genius. His rich and varied animated films, created over a span of more than 50 years, are a testament to the profound pleasure of experiencing perception as it occurs. Breer began his career as a painter while living in Paris in the 1950s, and this background is evident in many of his shorts, including Recreation (1956), a fast-paced collage film that resembles a moving Rauschenberg, with its mix of ads, painted scraps and drawings. The 1961 film Blazes further exemplifies Breer’s painting background, staging an all-out retinal assault with black-and-white flicker effects and occasional washes of color to briefly soothe the eye. The chaotic film challenges viewers to keep looking at what feels like 10,000 painted, flashing images, and rewards the diligent with a vertiginous headlong rush into the painted screen in a final, vivid flourish.
In Fuji (1974), Breer bounces between live action, rotoscoped images and graphic shapes to depict a train ride that includes a view of Mount Fuji, as a tourist’s journey becomes a magical exploration of visual possibilities. Form Phases, a series of four films made from 1954 to 1956, continues the early work of the European avant-garde from the 1920s, exploring the extraordinary potential of shape, space, rhythm and color. In Form Phases IV, Breer uses primarily black, red and white as his palette, and geometric shapes that move across a two-dimensional plane in playful patterns that intrigue the imagination from beginning to end.
Breer’s more recent work is occasionally autobiographical, as in Bang!, from 1986, which moves from baseball and war planes to World War II imagery and then to the bodies of naked women, returning repeatedly to images of trees with the sound of crickets, as if someone were remembering an American boyhood. In all of his dazzling work, Breer sends you tumbling head over heels along trajectories of meaning, as images and ideas take shape and then evaporate, offering in the end nothing less than a philosophy of being in constant flux. (“Moving Figures: The Animated World of Robert Breer” will screen in three parts, with Breer attending all screenings: REDCAT, Mon., Nov. 10, 8:30 p.m., www.redcat.org; UCLA Film & Television Archive, Sat., Nov. 15, 7:30 p.m., www.cinema.ucla.edu; Los Angeles Filmforum at the Egyptian Theatre, Sun., Nov. 16, 7 p.m., www.lafilmforum.org.)