Features Published 30 January 2012

Paper Cinema

Animating Homer’s Odyssey.

Carmel Doohan

If the group see their Lost World adaptation as an “abstract exploration of the history of the caves”, I wonder how they see their attempt to translate Homer’s canonical epic? The challenge of re-telling the cornerstone of western literature without words is one that Nic relishes. For a troupe who happily tour Europe in one banged up old car and carry all their kit in a ‘banana box,’ this is right up their street. They have what he calls the ‘buccaneer spirit’. Constantly developing and reworking their ideas, they are, like Odysseus, embarking on a journey into an unknown future, but at the same time returning to a time that has passed.

His favourite description of their work came from musician Jed Milroy who has played with them in the past. Jed said that watching paper cinema was like finding yourself in a small village in a parallel world; TV has not been invented and instead this is how stories are told. Despite the technology necessary for the paper cinema to happen, there is something in their process and style that predates the modern world. They are putting modern technology to an ancient use and as raw sketches move in the lamp light we might be reminded of cave markings- battles, memories and stories etched and flickering in the firelight. Despite the wires and live link up, the animation we are watching has more in common with the flickering of a zoetrope than with big budget CGI.

Paper Cinema performing Rock Charmer.

Homeric scholarship argues that his original poem is likely to have been composed and delivered in the oral tradition- performed rather than read- and as such it seems a fitting choice of tale for the group. There are few rules to their fluid process but one is that everything must happen live. There is a deliberate visibility of the processes behind the imagery and this stagecraft is crucial to the performance. In stripping down and revealing their methods it becomes clear that what they are making is far more than the sum of its parts.

The spell of what we see and hear seems too powerful to be coming from such simplicity. Like storytelling at its best, the illusion is taking place right in front of our eyes: the magic is real. Raw, but precisely orchestrated, spontaneous yet meticulously planned, as they take on their biggest challenge yet, this journey is one that needs to be seen and believed in.

Paper Cinema’s Odyssey will be presented at the BAC, as part of their Spring Cook Up, from 2nd -25th February 2012. For tickets and further details, visit the BAC website.


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Carmel Doohan

Carmel is an arts journalist and writer who lives in Hackney, London.

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