Watch The Idea, the First Animated Film to Deal with Big, Philosophical Ideas (1932)

A vague sense of dis­qui­et set­tled over Europe in the peri­od between WWI and WWII. As the slow burn of mil­i­tant ultra­na­tion­al­ism min­gled with jin­go­ist pop­ulism,  author­i­tar­i­an lead­ers and fas­cist fac­tions found mount­ing sup­port among a cit­i­zen­ry hun­gry for cer­tain­ty. Europe’s grow­ing trep­i­da­tion fos­tered some of the 20th century’s most strik­ing painter­ly, lit­er­ary, and cin­e­mat­ic depic­tions of the total­i­tar­i­an­ism that would soon fol­low. It was almost inevitable that this peri­od would see the birth of the first deeply philo­soph­i­cal ani­mat­ed film, known as The Idea.

The Idea first emerged as a word­less nov­el in 1920, drawn by Frans Masereel. Masereel, a close friend of Dadaist and New Objec­tivist artist George Grosz, had cre­at­ed a stark, black-and-white sto­ry about the indomitable nature of ideas. Employ­ing thick, aggres­sive lines obtained through wood­cut print­ing, Masereel depict­ed a con­ser­v­a­tive polit­i­cal order’s fight against the birth of a new idea, which even­tu­al­ly flour­ished in spite of the establishment’s relent­less attempts to sup­press it.

Set­ting to work in 1930, a Czech film-mak­er named Berthold Bar­tosch spent two years ani­mat­ing The Idea. Bartosch’s visu­al style remained true to Masereel’s  harsh, vivid lines. His ver­sion of the sto­ry, how­ev­er, took a decid­ed­ly bleak­er turn—one that was more rem­i­nis­cent of the writ­ings of his com­pa­tri­ot, Franz Kaf­ka. Where­as Masereel believed that the puri­ty of good ideas would over­whelm their oppo­si­tion, Bar­tosch, work­ing a decade clos­er to the Nazis’ ascen­dan­cy, was wary of such ide­al­ism.

Above, you can watch what film his­to­ri­an William Moritz has called “the first ani­mat­ed film cre­at­ed as an art­work with seri­ous, even trag­ic, social and philo­soph­i­cal themes.” Paired with a haunt­ing score com­posed by Arthur Honeg­ger, the 25-minute fea­ture is a pow­er­ful­ly mov­ing med­i­ta­tion on art, strug­gle, puri­ty of thought, and pop­ulist sav­agery that remains untar­nished after eight decades. It will be added to our col­lec­tion,4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More.

via Bib­liok­lept

Ilia Blin­d­er­man is a Mon­tre­al-based cul­ture and sci­ence writer. Fol­low him at @iliablinderman.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch Franz Kaf­ka, the Won­der­ful Ani­mat­ed Film by Piotr Dumala

Orson Welles Nar­rates Ani­ma­tion of Plato’s Cave Alle­go­ry

The Tale of the Fox: Watch Ladis­las Starevich’s Ani­ma­tion of Goethe’s Great Ger­man Folk­tale (1937)

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