Nikolai Gogol’s Classic Story, “The Nose,” Animated With the Astonishing Pinscreen Technique (1963)

A mild-look­ing bar­ber slices into his morn­ing loaf of bread to find a human nose embed­ded with­in. You might imag­ine this image open­ing the next David Lynch movie, but it actu­al­ly sets up a more light­heart­ed, much old­er, and much more Russ­ian sto­ry: Niko­lai Gogol’s “The Nose.” (Find it in our Free eBooks and Free Audio Books col­lec­tions.) The sto­ry soon intro­duces us to the man to whom the nose belongs, a gov­ern­ment offi­cial who wakes to find noth­ing but a smooth patch of flesh in the mid­dle of his face. The quest to reclaim his nose takes him to the archi­tec­tural­ly impos­ing, col­umn-inten­sive hall in which he works, where he finds that the organ through which he once breathed has not only grown a body of its own, but already risen above him in the ranks of the civ­il ser­vice. To find out how this increas­ing­ly bizarre, dream­like sce­nario resolves itself, you can either read Gogol’s sto­ry in the Eng­lish trans­la­tion free in Project Guten­berg’s copy of the Gogol Col­lec­tion The Man­tle and Oth­er Sto­ries, or you can watch Alexan­der Alex­eieff and Claire Park­er’s 1963 short above, which adapts “The Nose” by means of some­thing called pin­screen ani­ma­tion.

Ian Lums­den at Ani­ma­tion Blog describes Alex­eieff and Park­er’s par­tic­u­lar method as a form of “shad­ow ani­ma­tion in effect where­by Alexan­der works on the pos­i­tive side of a large black can­vas full of pins and Claire on the neg­a­tive side; the more the flat head­ed pins are pushed in the lighter is the effect, cre­at­ing the look of mez­zotint with its tex­tured shades of grey.” Lums­den adds that he “can scarce­ly con­ceive of a more labour inten­sive form of ani­ma­tion par­tic­u­lar­ly giv­en that pins num­bered in their hun­dreds of thou­sands are used.” Just try to pay close atten­tion to some of the effects The Nose achieves and try not to wince at how demand­ing and painstak­ing an effort the ani­ma­tors, push­ing these tiny pins in and out to adjust the visu­al tex­tures just so, must have put forth to achieve them. Russ­ian lit­er­ary his­to­ri­an D.S. Mirsky calls the orig­i­nal sto­ry “a piece of sheer play, almost sheer non­sense,” where “more than any­where else Gogol dis­plays his extra­or­di­nary mag­ic pow­er of mak­ing great com­ic art out of noth­ing.” In these fun­ny and daz­zling but no doubt hard-won eleven min­utes Alex­eieff and Park­er express that sheer play with the most inten­sive ani­mat­ing work pos­si­ble.

You can find “The Nose” on our list of Ani­mat­ed Films, part of our larg­er col­lec­tion called 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Revered Poet Alexan­der Pushkin Draws Sketch­es of Niko­lai Gogol and Oth­er Russ­ian Artists

George Saun­ders’ Lec­tures on the Russ­ian Greats Brought to Life in Stu­dent Sketch­es

Two Beau­ti­ful­ly-Craft­ed Russ­ian Ani­ma­tions of Chekhov’s Clas­sic Children’s Sto­ry “Kash­tan­ka”

Three Ani­mat­ed Shorts by the Ground­break­ing Russ­ian Ani­ma­tor Fyo­dor Khitruk

Watch a Hand-Paint­ed Ani­ma­tion of Dostoevsky’s “The Dream of a Ridicu­lous Man”

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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