Rythmetic (1956) by Norman McLaren and Evelyn Lambart: Saturday Night Short Film #13
Fights and math. So, basically like the 2+2=5 controversy this year.
Saturday Night Short Film is a weekly series that dabbles in the overlooked category of cinema, the short film. This is not meant to be a review but instead a more bite-sized commentary on a specific film that is chosen. Rythmetic is Saturday Night Short Film #13.
This selection for Saturday Night Short Film stems from conflicted feelings. My experience with Norman McLaren is minimal but inconsistent. Another collaboration between McLaren and Lambart yielded the great Begone Dull Care but my sensitivity towards the other two flicks I’ve seen–Synchromy and Mosaic–is colder.
Even though it’s only one film in a vast filmography, this is an attempt to stabilize the turbulence and rectify my lack of knowledge about him slowly. Unfortunately, the more I’ve seen the less enthused I am. Well, both he and Evelyn, since they also created Mosaic together.
Rythmetic has a decent premise. Arithmetic is basically playing 8-player Smash Bros. with itself on the screen, animated in a playful and occasionally amusing manner. Numbers fight for dominance as the screen fills up with them, and to its credit, it’s clever. Admittedly, I did laugh a time or two.
However, the gimmick ran its course quick. It’s under ten minutes long but within one or two I was already tired of it. The intrigue of seeing how it would unfold–how they would manipulate digits intelligently–wore off and I was left wanting it to be over. At its inception it was pleasurable waiting to see how these numbers would be transformed and moved, but eventually it became torturous once I knew that I’d have to wait for the formula to repeat itself. It didn’t last long each time and yet it felt sluggish.
There was no part of me that wanted to dislike this as much as I did. McLaren is a fellow Canuck. He’s a legend who helped pioneer the template of various forms of animation; Lambart constructed a respectable career with him and then later on by herself, as well. But I have to call it like I see it: Rythmetic is a slog.
He can do simple math.