Director – Ottó Foky – 1976 – Hungary – 12m
A metal space bird approaches the bean planet to observe various aspects of life upon it before being discovered then shot at with a missile in this remarkable stop-frame short – out on MUBI as part of the animated shorts season Fables, Folklore, Futurism: Visionary Hungarian Animations on Monday, September 20th
Framed by a story of a giant alien metal bird observing a planet from space, this is primarily an excuse to create numerous scenarios using animated kidney beans and butter beans to stand in as people in a 3D, model animated world. It’s the sort of film where you constantly marvel at the inventiveness of shooting scenes in a particular style of animation which, were they shots in a live action documentary, would simply appear banal – but in the form here presented prove completely compelling.
A crescent moon resembling nothing so much as a croissant floats past the planet. The approaching giant bird looks like it could have wandered in from the Clangers stop-frame BBC TV series (Oliver Postgate, 1969-72, 1974) except that it’s less a character like that show’s fabled Soup Dragon than a tech-equipped space opera craft with a visual recording device that has a calibrated viewfinder like a camera or a periscope. In some ways, this device is superfluous because what really impresses are not the craft itself but the scenarios it sees.
Through streets of towering architecture comprising items taken from supermarket shelves and a monument resembling London’s Piccadilly Circus made out of a goblet flows traffic consisting of fast moving sardine cans, cigarette boxes and similar-sized packaging, in between which move the upright pedestrian kidney and butter beans.
A white bean pushes a spoon containing a little bean (a child in a pram) which a red bean pauses to admire, pick up, hold and swiftly put back down in the spoon again. You notice other beans with little beans (kids) dotted around, and little beans standing in groups. A wider shot reveals this to be near a statue surrounded by a circle of balls of mostly green and occasionally orange wool (trees in a park or a similar municipal space).
Back on the street, a sardine can collides with a kidney bean which falls and oozes green blood. Beans gather round to gawp, the traffic flow changes direction to go around this commotion, an ambulance (a box for a medicine like you might buy from a chemist’s) with a red cross on the side pulls up sirens blaring to take the injured bean away for treatment.
Razors cross hayfields like combine harvesters and at night an amorous bean couple sneaks into one of the hayricks. Elsewhere in the night, two black beans leave a box of chocolates dragging a length of key-chain, an item of stolen jewellery, before being blasted buy a match (a gun) help by the furious, robbed bean owner.
A bible propped open like an inverted ‘V’ between two green cognac bottles encrusted from the top down with spent candle wax form a cathedral into which flock bean multitudes to listen to a bean preacher in pulpit backed by the ornate, red-stained and polished cross section of a tree. Two teams of beans battle it out in a wicker basket sports stadium. Two sardine cans collide in a motorway crash. Beans relax in half walnut shell boats or swim along on a boating lake consisting of a mirror with an ornate frame.
An aerosol doubles as a factory horn ushering bean workers into work. Construction worker beans use ropes to pull a huge cuboid tower block into an upright position. A bean plummets to his death falling off the roof with a loud scream. Bean crowds riot in the streets to be repulsed by a soda siphon (water cannon) while beans wearing bottle tops like hats (riot police) arrive to stand ready for any confrontation while their chief – a bean with a thimble for a hat – barks orders to the rioting populace.
In an attempt at narrative closure, beans gather round a telescope and spot the space bird, images of which are printed by a printing press for dissemination before a missile is launched at the alien craft to scare it away.
The technical ingenuity alone is enough to make this worth watching. It’s the sort of short which, having viewed once, you may want to go back and watch again immediately or in a few days time. Truly remarkable stuff.
Scenes With Beans is out on MUBI on Monday, September 20th as part of the animated shorts season Fables, Folklore, Futurism: Visionary Hungarian Animations.