Sunday, 9 September 2012

Madame Tutli-Putli

The eyes are the windows to the soul. And it’s incredible what an effect putting live-action eyes into stop-motion puppetry can accomplish. Madame Tutli-Putli, the breakthrough work from Clyde Henry Productions – commissioned as a result with the expertly-crafted puppetry short Higglety Piggelty Pop! – is unforgettable in aesthetic terms. A real labour of love, it involved not only the laborious process of stop-motion animation, but live-action actors then matching the puppets’ movements so that their eyes could be digitally mapped to the models. And what an effect it has! Not only do the puppets gain an uncanny, unsettlingly realistic quality, but they are able to show emotions in an unprecedented way. A stunning experiment, it is no surprise that this short was nominated for an Oscar in the same year as another astonishing show of hard work, My Love by Aleksandr Petrov, though the winner that year was the Peter and the Wolf Prokofiev animation.

The story is both simple and open-ended: a character we assume is the eponymous Madame Tutli-Putli boards a train with what seems like all the baggage of her life. The other occupants of her compartment are strange – men in the luggage rack watching a chessboard as the movements of the train make the moves for them, a little boy with an adult face reading a book with an unsettling title, and a famous tennis player who makes obscene gestures at her. In the night, the train is boarded and a strange gas fills the air. The last thing our protagonist glimpses is a corpse-like face shushing her as the tennis player’s organs are harvested.

What follows is entirely open to interpretation – did she simply wake to an empty train? Did she die and run to the afterlife? Is the whole thing symbolic of leaving behind a sad life to embrace an exciting new one through metamorphosis, as symbolised by a moth? It is left to the individual – and while some enjoy that depth, my honest reaction was that it was a lazy and disappointing way to end the short, and I certainly wanted more definitive answers after such a beautifully-crafted beginning.  

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