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A Palme d’Or-winning animation toys with the way our eyes perceive light

Warning: this film features rapidly flashing images that can be distressing to photosensitive viewers.

The celebrated Scottish-Canadian animator Norman McLaren (1914-87) was known for experimenting with visual perception via film. In this short animation, which won the Short Film Palme d’Or at the 1955 Cannes Film Festival, McLaren plays with ‘persistence of vision’, or how the human eye retains an image for a short period of time even after a stimulus is removed. The optical illusion explains why we don’t experience total darkness every time we blink – our brains retain the visual information for a fraction of a second, giving us the impression of continuous light. McLaren’s Blinkity Blank pushes this concept in fun and inventive ways by alternating between the celluloid film’s empty black leader and abstract animations that have been hand-scratched onto the celluloid itself. Sporadic imagery resembling birds and fireworks are accompanied by an experimental, symphonic soundtrack by the Canadian composer Maurice Blackburn, as well as audible scratches made to the optical soundtrack by McLaren. The result is an audiovisual experience that’s sure to leave an impression – if only for a fleeting moment. For more inventive visuals from McLaren, watch Around Is Around.

Director: Norman McLaren

Composer: Maurice Blackburn

Website: The National Film Board of Canada

18 October 2021

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