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Love on the Wing (1938)

Courtesy of Royal Mail Group Ltd

Main image of Love on the Wing (1938)
35mm, Dufaycolor, 4 mins
Director/animatorNorman McLaren
Production CompanyGPO Film Unit
Producer (uncredited)Alberto Cavalcanti
CameraJonah Jones
CameraF. Gamage
Colour byDufaycolor
MusicJacques Ibert

Abstract animated publicity film for Empire Air Mail.

Show full synopsis

Norman McLaren's first major masterpiece must be one of the weirdest advertisements ever made for a public utility, and it was duly treated with extreme mistrust by his GPO paymasters (the Postmaster-General claimed it was too erotic and too Freudian) and given restricted distribution.

Suffused with Surrealism - then one of McLaren's major obsessions - it overlays virtuoso hand-drawn animation over complex coloured backgrounds shot with the aid of a multiplane camera to add an impression of depth (a technique McLaren would constantly return to in his later Canadian work). These range from views of recognisable buildings (naturally including the Post Office) to far stranger landscapes reminiscent of the work of Giorgio De Chirico and Yves Tanguy, Surrealist painters with an unusually strong sense of architectural space.

But it's unlikely a first-time viewer will notice them, as so much is going on in the foreground. McLaren created the animation by drawing directly onto 35mm film with pen and black Indian ink - when laid over the negative of the background the final result took the form of thick white lines. An envelope opens and seals itself before morphing into an umbrella, a man (who sprouts wings), a giant floating eye, a dancing woman, two pairs of lips, a snail, a flying bone, two letters (which dance an oddly erotic pas de deux), a skull, a horse, an axe, a bee, a candle and a strange springy creature that bears a marked resemblance to Zebedee from The Magic Roundabout (BBC, 1965-77), albeit anticipating him by three decades.

McLaren was contractually obliged to include an advertising message, but manages to incorporate it seamlessly into the animation and present it almost entirely visually, the final morphs involving a weight, some coins and an airmail envelope. The music was a lively pre-existing piece by the French composer Jacques Ibert, which proved a perfect match for the endless flow of images.

Michael Brooke

*This film is included in the BFI DVD compilation 'We Live in Two Worlds: The GPO Film Unit Collection Volume 2'.

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
Complete film (4:15)
Cavalcanti, Alberto (1897-1982)
McLaren, Norman (1914-1987)
The GPO Film Unit: 1938