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Short Vision, A (1956)


Main image of Short Vision, A (1956)
35mm, colour, 6 mins
DirectorsJoan & Peter Foldes
Production CompanyBritish Film Institute Experimental Film Fund
ProducersJoan & Peter Foldes
Written byJoan & Peter Foldes
Music Mátyás Seiber
CommentatorJames McKechnie

Wild creatures flee in terror as a strange missile flies overhead. As it passes over the sleeping city, the world's leaders and wise men look upwards. The missile explodes, destroying humans, wild creatures and the Earth itself.

Show full synopsis

A Short Vision became one of the most influential British animated films ever made when it was screened on US television as part of the popular Ed Sullivan Show. Although children were advised to leave the room while it played, it still caused outrage and alarm with its graphic representation of the horrors of nuclear war. But it also caught the mood of the times, since the mid-1950s was the height of both the Cold War and nuclear paranoia, as depicted (sometimes allegorically) in such American films as Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) and The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957).

That said, there is no explicit reference to atomic warfare in A Short Vision. The narration is calculatedly allegorical, even quasi-Biblical, talking about a mysterious "it" appearing in the sky, terrifying animals but ignored by most humans. Not that this makes any difference, as "their leaders and wise men", though aware of the situation, are powerless to do anything about it - since every living creature, regardless of species or age, is subsequently annihilated. The sequences of human faces disintegrating into skulls, their eyeballs popping and flesh peeling back from muscle and bone, are what gave the film its primary notoriety, as did its the utter extinguishing of any hope at the end (the final images show a moth flitting around a dying flame).

Budapest-born Peter Foldes (1924-1977) was one of a number of Hungarian artists (another was the film's composer Mátyás Seiber) who ended up working with fellow countryman John Halas on the latter's animated films after he moved to Britain in 1946. After leaving Halas, Foldes made a number of animated films in collaboration with his British wife Joan (b. 1924), starting with the allegorical Animated Genesis (1952) and the lyrical On Closer Inspection (1953). Foldes later moved to Paris, where he became an early pioneer in computer animation.

Thirty years later, nuclear holocaust would form the basis of When The Wind Blows (d. Jimmy Teru Murakami, 1986), a film that is just as bleak if not quite as concentratedly terrifying as A Short Vision.

Michael Brooke

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
Complete film (6:03)
Production stills
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Jellyfish, The (1974)
The BFI and Animation