Neighbours

norman mclaren

Neighbours is a 1952 anti-war film by Scottish-Canadian filmmaker Norman McLaren. Produced at the National Film Board of Canada in Montreal, the film uses the technique known as pixilation, an animation technique using live actors as stop-motion objects. McLaren created the soundtrack by scratching the edge of the film, leaving various blobs, lines, and triangles which the projector read as sound.

In the short, two men live peacefully in adjacent cardboard houses. When a flower blooms between their houses, they fight each other to the death over the ownership of the single small flower. According to McLaren: ‘I was inspired to make ‘Neighbours’ by a stay of almost a year in the People’s Republic of China. Although I only saw the beginnings of Mao’s revolution, my faith in human nature was reinvigorated by it. Then I came back to Quebec and the Korean War began. (…) I decided to make a really strong film about anti-militarism and against war.’

The version of Neighbours that ultimately won an Oscar was not the version McLaren had originally created. In order to make the film palatable for American and European audiences, McLaren was required to remove a scene in which the two men, fighting over the flower, murdered the other’s wife and children. During the Vietnam War, public opinion changed, and McLaren was asked to reinstate the sequence. The original negative of that scene had been destroyed, so the scene was salvaged from a positive print of lower quality.

The term ‘pixilation’ was created by Grant Munro, who had worked with McLaren on ‘Two Bagatelles,’ a pair of short pixilation films made prior to ‘Neighbours.’ While ‘Neighbours’ is often credited as an animated film by many film historians, very little of the film is actually animated. The majority of the film is shot with variable-speed photography, usually in fast motion, with some stop-frame techniques. During one brief sequence, the two actors appear to levitate: this effect was actually achieved in stop-motion; the men repeatedly jumped upward but were photographed only at the top of their trajectories.

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