May 27, 2017

A Showcase of Animated Works from Female Animator: Faith Hubley and Emily Hubley

The first Hubley’s animation I saw is an animated segment in the film version of the Off-Broadway rock theater hit Hedwig and the Angry Inch. The director of the film, John Cameron Mitchell, hired female animator Emily Hubley to created this animation to accompany Hedwig’s theme song “The Origin of Love.” Not to praise how perfect the animation fit for Hedwig’s punk aesthetic, or say how coherent it embodies the story of the song. I was deeply attracted by its distinctive hand drawn characters, the changing of the shapes at inspired whim, the original color……

Faith Hubley, The Origin of Love

Later I decided to develop a showcase of selected animated shorts of Emily and her mother, Faith Hubley, both of who have illuminated the art of animation in a unique and hypnotic tone. Patrick McGilligan, the biographer and film historian, once tried to put the artistic success of Faith and her husband John Hubley briefly: John and Faith Hubley broke away from Hollywood in the mid-1950s to form their own independent, small-scale studio in New York City, making animated films in an anti-Disney visual style that was closer inform and spirit to European surrealism and impressionism. They pioneered the use of name performers and of their own children with improvised dialogue. They sponsored marvelous jazz and new-music soundtracks. The themes in their(mostly short) films are not about entertaining children with talking animals, but about adult and philosophical: the absurdity of war, the nuclear threat, environmental concern, over-population, love, marriage, childhood development, spirituality, and feminism.

Faith’s experience of childhood and adulthood plays a pivotal role in her career of independent animation and her artistic subjectivity, while her parenthood is the primary issue to interpret how her children, the younger Hubley, inherits her and her husband’s animation style and spirit. Faith Hubley was born in New York City in 1926, neither of her parents painted or drew, her father was a dentist who is a Russian-Jewish immigrant, and her mother played the stock market. To fight against her parents’ request of which wanted her to be a dentist, she dropped the school and started doing theater at 15(adopting the name Faith Elliott). After she ended the hasty marriage with her first husband, a radio announcer, she went to Hollywood and became a messenger at Columbia Pictures. In that period, she subsequently worked as a sound-effects, music editor and script clerk in different companies. Several years later, she met John Hubley, who left Walt Disney Studios in a so-called artistic peak and became a founder of UPA(United Production of America). They get married after being the close friend for a long time. Because John was in the anti-Communist blacklisted during McCarthy years, they broke away from Hollywood and established their own independent studio in New York City in 1955. They had a mutual pact to produce at least one short film per year according to their artistic standards. During this collaboration, they have created twenty-two films. Seven of these were nominated for Academy Award, and three of these, Moodbird(1959), The Hole(1962), Tijuana Brass Double Feature(1965) were awarded the Oscar.
However, John died in 1977, leaving Faith struggle with her terminal cancer. 

Fortunately, because of her optimism and the little support from her children(they have four children, Mark, Ray, Emily, Georgia), she has continued to make passionate, independent films that confront relevant social issues. As the Hubleys' children grew up, they became more involved in the animation process: painting, inking drawing, music. Emily and Georgia were animators and artists on many of their mother’s film, and today, Emily is an established director of her own animation studio and has made films for Nickelodeon and Lifetime Television. Georgia, who is a sometime animator and a full-time drummer, singer, and songwriter with her husband Ira Kaplan(their backing rock band Yo La Tengo), has composed music for recent films by Emily Hubley.
Although the elder Hubleys never pressure their children to follow in their footstep, Emily once indicated that they were growing up with animation, films made by her parents were burned into their brains. After her father had died, her mother did not have an easy time setting out on her own as an animator. She needed someone she could trust, luckily, Emily was there. As for the initial of Emily’s career, she made her first film in high school to get out of some school work. Then, at Hampshire College(Amherst, Massachusetts), she pursued the medium, battling her own fears that her untrained hand would never make anything anyone want to see. But people did want to see what she made, and the 10 films she has created have been included in archives, museums and dozens of festivals.

To interpret Hubleys’ animation in a more accurate way, I have selected five of their animated shorts made from the 70s to the 90s with a family collaboration:

 W.O.W Women of The World(1975)
Director: Faith Hubley
Music by: William Russo
Animated by: Ruth Kissing
William Littlejohn
Barry Nelson
Earl James
Spencer Peel
Kate Wodell
Camera: Dickson/Vasu
Produced for the World Council of Churches
Associate Producers: John Taylor
John Hubley
The animation spans the history of women in all ages around the world and embodies an anti-war message within a feminist fantasy. One the surface level, it depicts the fighting of warriors and the sadness of gods(most of them are the goddess), audiences can easily recognize the figure of Virgin Mary and Buddha with tears. But it ultimately suggests the history of women’s changing relationships with man and gives a future portrait for human liberation.

 Yes We Can(1988)
Director&Producer: Faith Hubley
Animated by: Emily Hubley
Georgia Hubley
William Littlejohn
Music by: Don Christensen
Michael Ontkban

To Suggest a conception of environmental protect and to narrate a story with the educational purpose. The film depicts the GAIA, the female incarnation of the earth(earth mother) is being plundered and dying. All the beings on the planet decide to unite a common goal and help GAIA heal herself. In one sequence, when the GAIA is suffering from severe damage, she looks in the mirror, an ugly skeleton is smiling and waving to her. “When I look in the mirror my face frightens me,”she said, “I am afraid of myself.”

 My Universe Inside Out (1996)
Director&Producer: Faith Hubley
Music by: Don Christensen
Animated by: Emily Hubley
Faith Hubley
William Littlejohn
Associate Producer: Emily Hubley
Painters: Amanda Gvsack
Lina Moroney
Jay Bastian
Lynne Smilow

The film is Faith Hubley's animated self-portrait intercut with a parallel story of the universe. Moments in the filmmaker's life connect with the unfolding of the universe as she recalls infancy, childhood, adolescence, adventurous youth, life with her husband John, and with their four children and so on. I might want to emphasize the very moment of feminine temperament in the film. Such as, leaving her home and escaping from her first marriage as a teenager girl, finding herself have trouble to be pregnant, being surprised by having her first baby boy, accepting herself as a terminal cancer patient and struggling against the disease.

One Self: Fish/Girl(1996)
Written, directed&Animated by: Emily Hubley
Music by: Georgia Hubley&Ira Kaplan
Supported by: Threshold Foundation&Geraldine R Dodge Foundation

To echo with the whimsicality of its drawing style, the narration might inspired from a feeling, a sentence in girl’s diary, a piece of music, an abstract idea or an internal effort to deal with the world and overcome self-doubt. The metamorphosis is central to all Emily work. In One Self: Fish/Girl, when a character says the word ''artist,'' Flowers grow out of her head, and then in a graceful transition her head transforms into a bed on which she herself is reading.

It is rather remarkable that, in these films, Faith and Emily have depicted the particular female character or feminine temperament. In Faith’s work, she narrated her contemplation of philosophy and humanity from a female perspective. Whereas in Emily’s, just as Jonathan Fried described, she speaks to a contemporary generation. Her works are less political, less about class or group, but more about personal reflections of her generation, about her thoughts of being a woman.

Patrick McGilligan, Faith Hubley: An Interview, Film Quarterly, Vol 42, 1988
2 Jonathan Fried, In Person; Family Picture, Frame by Frame, Feb 27, 2000, The New York Times,
Emily Hubley Hubhub Inc,
4 Emily Hubley, The Origin of Love

Ni Lei

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