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William Blake’s Paintings Come to Life in Two Animations

William Blake’s Paintings Come to Life in Two Animations

The poet and painter William Blake toiled in obscurity, for the most part, and died in poverty.

Twenty some years after his death, his rebellious spirit gained traction with the Pre-Raphaelites.

By the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, Blake was ripe to be venerated as a counter-cultural hero, for having flown in the face of convention, while championing gender and racial equality, nature, and free love.

Reclining half-naked on a “a fabulous couch in Harlem,” poet Allen Ginsburg had a hallucinatory encounter wherein Blake recited to him “in earthen measure.”

Blake’s work (and world view) continues to exert enormous influence on graphic noveliststheatermakers, and creatives of every stripe.

He’s also a dab hand at animation, collaborating from beyond the grave.

The short above, a commission for a late ‘70s Blake exhibition at The Tate, envisions a roundtrip journey from Heaven to Hell. Animator Sheila Graber parked herself in the Sculpture Hall to create it in public view, pairing Blake’s line “Energy is Eternal delight” with a personal observation:

Gainsborough and animator Renaldho Pelle worked together to bring the chosen works to life, frame by frame, against a series of London buildings and streets that were well known to Blake himself.

The film opens with Blake’s Ghost of a Flea emerging from the walls of Broadwick Street, where its creator was born, then stalking off, bowl in hand, ceding the screen to God, The Ancient of Days, whose reach spreads like ink across the gritty facade of a white brick edifice.

Auguries of Innocence

To see a World in a Grain of Sand

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower 

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand 

And Eternity in an hour

A Robin Red breast in a Cage

Puts all Heaven in a Rage 

A Dove house filld with Doves & Pigeons

Shudders Hell thr’ all its regions 

A dog starvd at his Masters Gate

Predicts the ruin of the State 

A Horse misusd upon the Road

Calls to Heaven for Human blood 

Each outcry of the hunted Hare

A fibre from the Brain does tear 

A Skylark wounded in the wing 

A Cherubim does cease to sing 

The Game Cock clipd & armd for fight

Does the Rising Sun affright 

Every Wolfs & Lions howl

Raises from Hell a Human Soul 

The wild deer, wandring here & there 

Keeps the Human Soul from Care 

The Lamb misusd breeds Public Strife

And yet forgives the Butchers knife 

The Bat that flits at close of Eve

Has left the Brain that wont Believe

The Owl that calls upon the Night

Speaks the Unbelievers fright

He who shall hurt the little Wren

Shall never be belovd by Men 

He who the Ox to wrath has movd

Shall never be by Woman lovd

The wanton Boy that kills the Fly

Shall feel the Spiders enmity 

He who torments the Chafers Sprite

Weaves a Bower in endless Night 

The Catterpiller on the Leaf

Repeats to thee thy Mothers grief 

Kill not the Moth nor Butterfly 

For the Last Judgment draweth nigh 

He who shall train the Horse to War

Shall never pass the Polar Bar 

The Beggars Dog & Widows Cat 

Feed them & thou wilt grow fat 

The Gnat that sings his Summers Song

Poison gets from Slanders tongue 

The poison of the Snake & Newt

Is the sweat of Envys Foot 

The poison of the Honey Bee

Is the Artists Jealousy

The Princes Robes & Beggars Rags

Are Toadstools on the Misers Bags 

A Truth thats told with bad intent

Beats all the Lies you can invent 

It is right it should be so 

Man was made for Joy & Woe 

And when this we rightly know 

Thro the World we safely go 

Joy & Woe are woven fine 

A Clothing for the soul divine 

Under every grief & pine

Runs a joy with silken twine 

The Babe is more than swadling Bands

Throughout all these Human Lands

Tools were made & Born were hands 

Every Farmer Understands

Every Tear from Every Eye

Becomes a Babe in Eternity 

This is caught by Females bright

And returnd to its own delight 

The Bleat the Bark Bellow & Roar 

Are Waves that Beat on Heavens Shore 

The Babe that weeps the Rod beneath

Writes Revenge in realms of Death 

The Beggars Rags fluttering in Air

Does to Rags the Heavens tear 

The Soldier armd with Sword & Gun 

Palsied strikes the Summers Sun

The poor Mans Farthing is worth more

Than all the Gold on Africs Shore

One Mite wrung from the Labrers hands

Shall buy & sell the Misers Lands 

Or if protected from on high 

Does that whole Nation sell & buy 

He who mocks the Infants Faith

Shall be mockd in Age & Death 

He who shall teach the Child to Doubt

The rotting Grave shall neer get out 

He who respects the Infants faith

Triumphs over Hell & Death 

The Childs Toys & the Old Mans Reasons

Are the Fruits of the Two seasons 

The Questioner who sits so sly 

Shall never know how to Reply 

He who replies to words of Doubt

Doth put the Light of Knowledge out 

The Strongest Poison ever known

Came from Caesars Laurel Crown 

Nought can Deform the Human Race

Like to the Armours iron brace 

When Gold & Gems adorn the Plow

To peaceful Arts shall Envy Bow 

A Riddle or the Crickets Cry

Is to Doubt a fit Reply 

The Emmets Inch & Eagles Mile

Make Lame Philosophy to smile 

He who Doubts from what he sees

Will neer Believe do what you Please 

If the Sun & Moon should Doubt 

Theyd immediately Go out 

To be in a Passion you Good may Do 

But no Good if a Passion is in you 

The Whore & Gambler by the State

Licencd build that Nations Fate 

The Harlots cry from Street to Street 

Shall weave Old Englands winding Sheet 

The Winners Shout the Losers Curse 

Dance before dead Englands Hearse 

Every Night & every Morn

Some to Misery are Born 

Every Morn and every Night

Some are Born to sweet delight 

Some are Born to sweet delight 

Some are Born to Endless Night 

We are led to Believe a Lie

When we see not Thro the Eye

Which was Born in a Night to perish in a Night 

When the Soul Slept in Beams of Light 

God Appears & God is Light

To those poor Souls who dwell in Night 

But does a Human Form Display

To those who Dwell in Realms of day

Orson Welles Narrates Animations of Plato’s Cave and Kafka’s “Before the Law,” Two Parables of the Human Condition

Orson Welles Narrates Animations of Plato’s Cave and Kafka’s “Before the Law,” Two Parables of the Human Condition

You’re held captive in an enclosed space, only able faintly to perceive the outside world. Or you’re kept outside, unable to cross the threshold of a space you feel a desperate need to enter. If both of these scenarios sound like dreams, they must do so because they tap into the anxieties and suspicions in the depths of our shared subconscious. As such, they’ve also proven reliable material for storytellers since at least the fourth century B.C., when Plato came up with his allegory of the cave. You know that story nearly as surely as you know the ancient Greek philosopher’s name: a group of human beings live, and have always lived, deep in a cave. Chained up to face a wall, they have only ever seen the images of shadow puppets thrown by firelight onto the wall before them.

To these isolated beings, “the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images.” So Orson Welles tells it in this 1973 short film by animator Dick Oden. In his timelessly resonant voice that complements the production’s hauntingly retro aesthetic, Wells then speaks of what would happen if a cave-dweller were to be unshackled.

“He would be much too dazzled to see distinctly those things whose shadows he had seen before,” but as he approaches reality, “he has a clearer vision.” Still, “will he not be perplexed? Will he not think that the shadows which he formerly saw are truer than the objects which are now shown to him?” And if brought out of the cave to experience reality in full, would he not pity his old cavemates? “Would he not say, with Homer, better to be the poor servant of a poor master and to endure anything rather than think as they do and live after their manner?”

Plato’s cave wasn’t the first parable of the human condition Welles narrated. Just over a decade earlier, he engaged pinscreen animator Alexandre Alexeieff (he of Night on Bald Mountain and and “The Nose,” previously featured here on Open Culture) to illustrate his reading of Franz Kafka’s story “Before the Law.” The law, in Kafka’s telling, is a building, and before that building stands a guard. “A man comes from the country, begging admittance to the law,” says Welles. “But the guard cannot admit him. May he hope to enter at a later time? That is possible, said the guard.” Yet somehow that time never comes, and he spends the rest of his life awaiting admission to the law. “Nobody else but you could ever have obtained admittance,” the guard admits to the man, not long before the man expires of old age. “This door was intended only for you! And now, I’m going to close it.”

“Before the Law” describes a grimly absurd situation, as does Welles’ The Trial, the film to which it serves as an introduction. Adapted from another work of Kafka’s, specifically his best-known novel, it also concerns itself with the legal side of human affairs, at least on the surface. But when it becomes clear that the crime with which its bureaucrat protagonist Josef K. has been charged will never be specified, the story plunges into an altogether more troubling realm. We’ve all, at one time or another, felt to some degree like Joseph K., persecuted by an ultimately incomprehensible system, legal, social, or otherwise. And can we help but feel, especially in our highly mediated 21st century, like Plato’s immobilized human, raised in darkness and made to build a worldview on illusions? As for how to escape the cave — or indeed to enter the law — it falls to each of us individually to figure out.

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The Philosophy of The Matrix: From Plato and Descartes, to Eastern Philosophy

Franz Kafka’s Existential Parable “Before the Law” Gets Brought to Life in a Striking, Modern Animation

Kafka’s Nightmare Tale, “A Country Doctor,” Told in Award-Winning Japanese Animation

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.