Empire State Of Pen

One week. Five pens. One pencil. A million cups of tea. One iPhone and one repetitive strain injury.

Patrick Vale gives you... lower Manhattan from the Empire State Building.


We've all seen them, the stop-frame films of artists doing their work, showing the magical progress, the visual journey from bland white page through an ever-increasing pictorial amplification to a crescendo with the perfect soundtrack and then silence, finished, done.

We all know how long it takes, how many hours are sweated under the lights, how panic and thrill occupy the making of a picture - not your normal picture, no - but a drawing that is recorded in all its veracity; a drawing that shows the artist's creativity as a whole and therefore shows his shortcomings whether they're lacking in skill, ideas or the pedestrian use of CGI. (Have you seen the Curry's/PC World ads?). This took great effort - a week of relative stillness, fatigue, toil and injury - RSI, not CGI - and takes one minute-nineteen to to leave you gasping.

Patrick Vale's film of a view of downtown Manhattan as if from the famous Empire Stare Building suffers from none of that. We know it's an honest film; a film whose lack of pretension is a relief from all the shouty, boorish, idiocy we have to endure every ten minutes on TV, the internet, cinema. This short piece of joy transcends all that. If you were to put a logo, any logo, at the end of this film, folk would think the brand were cool. The copywriter could put "Our Gum Is Really Cool." "This Mazda Is Really Exciting." "Intel i7 - Proud To Be Part Of Something That Is As Beautiful As This Film."

We're pretty sure it's been drawn from photographs (so what, pedants?); the scratchy sound of marks on paper enhances the fervency; we can see the sublime madness of inanimate tools of the trade seemingly scurrying around the space like modern-day creatures on crystal-meth. It's all fun and wild and eye-popping, all well and good, but then you have to play it again and look at the drawing. The life of drawing a drawing. I love the pyramidical turret on the left not being up to scratch late in the film (no - this won't do, he thinks) and then it's erased and made good again. The blacker, thicker lines are added at the end and you jump in agreement. It gets deeper, more 3D. Makes you think of work, trial and error, the pursuit of quality. And the music builds all the while.

I've watched this film many times and I haven't tired of it yet. It is, in fact, like one of those magical favourite songs - it improves your day and makes you happy.

©Paul Davis 2012.


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