Gopo's Little Man (see Short History - click on Scurta istorie to see movie)
I have been studying the Gopo archive belonging to the National Film Archive for some years, and now the first volume goes to print. It contains only a part of the legacy left by the film genius, Ion Popescu-Gopo (1923-1989). The archive contains over 5000 drawings, most of them unpublished, plus many other invaluable documents. Gopo's art orbs around the famous Little Man who brought him a Palme D'Or at Cannes 50 years ago with Short History (click on Scurta istorie to see movie), and which made him a landmark in world encyclopedias. Still, Gopo's work is cultural, mature, subtle, philosophical, like in a naive sui-generis frame of mind, much like Japanese paintings or Brueghel's art. Yet, it talks to the child in any of us, based on the nature of the human being – its eternal wondering spirit, always finding the answer to the question "why"? Childhood is a frame of mind, and Gopo is a master at drawing it. Yet, childhood is also an age, and Gopo did create for the little ones. Especially when he was a young artist, working for Tomtit magazine or Children's Universe, together with Pascal Radulescu, his second artistic guide, the first being his own father, Constantin Popescu. Radulescu helped him bring to life his first animated movies: Naughty Duck and The Bee and the Dove. His next animated film, Two Bunnies, is colored, and it is produced with the help of both his father and brother. This, along with other animated movies such as Marinica, Cranky Hedgehog, The Smart Fish and Marinica's Screw are actually animated parables which target children.It is this moment in Gopo's life that made him realize he would become an illustrator for children. In the anniversary issue of Luminita magazine, celebrating 20 years from its first edition in June 1969, Gopo showed his skills in making children understand the essence of time by illustrating it with numbers. Still, the consistent part of his animated works relies on parable, casting real actors such as in A Bomb Was Stolen, Faust XX, Galax or A Day in Bucharest. Gopo's sketches can easily be harvested into self-sustainable books. One of them could be the series of drawings that illustrate a letter sent by a duck to a piglet (Folder 4, p. 171-184). The illustrations for Labis's poems Joker and In the Land of Rabbits speak of Gopo's ingenuity. The Adventures of Happy Augustin is a comic published in Tomtit, along with Charming Prince Danila. The science fiction cartoon for children, Plutonia, is an illustration of V. A. Obrutchev's novel, published in Red Scarf magazine along with several original drawings in pencil, ink, china ink. The most valuable are the ones starting to introduce the idea of an animated film about ideograms.All these works prepared the way for the Little Man, his greatest artistic achievement. Illustrating one of Octav Pancu-Iasi's writings, The Unbelievable Story About a Father, a Boy and a Finger, where fingers like Bigfinger and Smallfinger set out in a series of adventures much like in Tom Thumb (1958), George Pal's movie, built a path to the identity of the Little Man as well. This seems to be Gopo's source of inspiration for the primary sketches of the Little Man, who may be seen as a miraculous thumb, with the ability to change his shape, his roots, steady or loose, "a grain from the sun," such as Puck or Ariel, obedient to their masters' words, Oberon and Prospero. Gopo was a friend of Disney's and eventually pictured him in an anthological portrait. He was like Brancusi in a way: deeply original, but very different from his master, and with a fresh vision on the evolution of animation. He even created his own Flintstone family which he entitled The Gops-Movietone Journal, an overt reminder of the famous American studious where Chaplin and Buster Keaton made their debut. Gopo was convinced that he belonged to Hollywood, where his work could have found its true expression. Though, had Gopo made movies in Hollywood, he would have not been himself, his work would have been purely commercial. His genuine style is rooted in an original frame of mind that stimulated his imagination and helped him escape into the fantasy world, the world of ideas. All evidence leads to the fact that Gopo's most famous, mature works draws on the animation for children. The comics gave birth to the real filmmaker. It was the exercise of drawing for children that taught Gopo the technique of serial drawings. The Little Man, the thinking character from A Drop of Sun, the initial name of Short History, was born this way. However, Gopo never lost his passion for creating for children long artistic movies where animation meets real acting, to musical fairy films such as Maria-Mirabela and Maria and Mirabela in Transistoria. All these are movies with, and for, children.Gopo is at his best in approaching childhood as a source of inspiration when he sips from the works of Ion Creangă, the writer who made any other childhood look a pale imitation of real life. The writer and the animator belong to the same aristocracy of ideas, Gopo relying on Creangă for inspiration for his debut animation movie in 1949, The Purse A'Tuppence. He even met his end while working on an animated story based on Creangă's folk tales. CREANGOSTORYAEminescu said once that a great story teller knows no other teacher than nature itself. This was a quality with Shakespeare, Molière, Goldoni, Hugo, Gogol, Slavici, Anton Pann and especially with Creangă. He used to say that "Creangă's style needs no guidance," "human typology copies nature" as with Gogol. Eminescu considered that Creangă's originality of style lies in "the way he tells the story in that pure Romanian language tailored to the time and space they exist in." Creangă's stories are "literature in the popular language of the masses."The oral quality of Creangă's works make them so original and nothing else can be more real and contemporary as the viva voce of the story. From The Mother in Law with Three Daughters in Law to Memories from My Childhood, all this storyteller wrote bears the mark of the oral dramatic style, of natural conversation, like in real life. His work made the object of movies, cartoons, slide shows or puppet plays. Gopo took them one step further, directly to Transistoria, the world of cybernetics. What is the reason for this transfer? Creangă knew how to extend the savor of language and its vivid colors to the entire nature. Everything is a live story with Creangă. The dialoguing human nature becomes the second nature of nature itself, whether it be reality or fiction. All walks of life speak to each other in Creangă's works, and Gopo took the lesson further. The Goat with Three Kids, The Purse A'Tuppence, The Bear Tricked by the Fox, The Story of Stan, Danila Haystack-Peg, where the devil's interfering with the humans' world makes the story irresistible. The didactic stories such as The Needle and the Hammer, Linen and Shirts or White Moor naturally combine the humans' world with the realm of fantastic creatures that help our hero, or the odd, grotesque characters who resemble the wise men – or the fool – of the village, the mixture of good and bad spirits. GOPOSTORYAHow did Creangă's fabulous world take life on the animated screen? Well, this is another story to tell.
Elisabeta Bostan opened the path to making movies based on Creangă's Memories from My Childhood with a very nostalgic dramatized story. Ball of Clay (1990) speaks of Creangă's personality in time. Mircea Daneliuc transformed The Cough and the Pang (1992) into a political lampoon. The documentaries made Creangă look different with every new interpretation, and the animators experimented widely with his work. Remakes prove that Creangă is an essential ingredient of Romanian moviemaking. I personally approached Creangă in my movie The God of Creangă, produced by Romanian Television (1996), from an unusual point of view – a religious one. His late stories are rooted in his sermons, in his outlook on liturgy. They are Creangă's masked, anecdotal reaction to his clerical experience. But, with God's ("my beloved darling God," as he addressed Him) help, Creangă won the wager, both with the earthly world and the eternal world above. Gopo made his attempt at such a double bet with himself and with the world of movies. He chose Creangă because he seized the grain of naive art in his stories, and he associated it with his Little Man. Almost the entire bodz of his fiction revolves around Creangă's ideas. At least five titles of long movies! His Little Man is a kind of Nica, naughty and curious. Gopo's first work based on Creangă's story, If only I were... White Moor, premiered one month before Elisabeta Bostan's movie, on November 15, 1965. This story is a cultured, scholarly expression of the very personal Gopo style. Gopo may have been our only chance to have a film school with folk roots. Yet his unconventional spirit did not serve either popular art or national mythology, on the contrary, they were supposed to serve him, to nurture his living structure, always changing, ready to fight any taboo. Yet, folklore demands obedience to tradition. Gopo's nature was non-canonical, digressive. This is how he approached Creangă's literary work. The national trend was surpassed by this transgression of tradition. Gopo opposes the popular spirit's depth of thinking to the beautiful shallowness, myth-breaking mimeticism, the game of neologisms. In his last movies – The Story of Love (1977), Maria-Mirabela (1981), Galax (1984), The Bet, Maria and Mirabela in Transistoria (1989), invention occurs on the border of two languages: animation and real-actor movies. Fairy tales, myth, fantasy, science fiction take a new shape precisely through the amazing mixture of classical and modern means. Gopo appears as a wise man who blends an enormous range of humans and objects before the camera and proposes a new image: better, healthier, more rational, and happier. Optimistic, wise yet naive, stilted but accessible, gratuitous but at the same time committed, Gopo is the creator of a sui-generis naive art. The viewer's taste must be educated for the reception of art that constantly relies on parody, parable, the unconventional, everything that can be called a reaction to the traditional way of communicating through movies. This is how we should read Gopo's Little Man versus Disney-type art. This is Galax against western sci-fi creatures. This is The Bet, a form of "total art" compared to classical genres, combining in a parody the musical, fantasies, cloak-and-dagger, folklore, fairy tales, sci-fi, love movies, and many more.
by Grid Modorcea
Gopo's Little Man (see Short History - click on Scurta istorie to see movie)