There's something about being surrounded by dead bodies that adds zest to any storytelling session. Maybe that's why so many of my gigs are beside coffin-filled catacombs (West Norwood cemetery), pickled moles (The Grant Museum), mummified social reformers (UCL main campus) or the irresistable stuffed Ursus Arctos of the Cuming Museum. And maybe that's why I'm such a huge fan of Walter Potter.
My favourite Potter piece is the frogs playing on a swing. I love the way the frogs are perched, stiltedly on hind legs. Their little green bodies have been given a second, synthetic life; sprightly in the clutches of death, almost as a post mortem photo might wish to be.
Its pastoral air reminds me of a short film which I saw at a festival in the early '90s. This film has haunted my dreams for years, though I only saw it once. I never expected to find it again, especially as I'd forgotten its name. Even with youtube, every possible search term drew a blank.
The action had real pickled animals, animated via stop motion, climbing one by one out of their jars and frolicking, wind-in-the-willows style by the riverside.
Imagine my joy when I stumbled on it last week!
It turns out that the creator of this cinematic gem, Andrew McEwan, has directed only one film – this one.
Of course he is not the only person to have this idea. But he is almost the only person. For some reason, the field of dead-animal-stop-motion is fairly clear, the only other notable is Vladislav Starevich. Starevich made brain-twisting films in pre-revolutionaly Moscow with dead insects and other animals. When he moved to Paris in the '20s, he started to use puppets as well. All are all worth a look. I love Frogland (1922) with its re-creation of a world of frogs – all stalking on their hind legs just like Potter's amphibious creations. It also has a terrifying dark finale.
But I am a storyteller, and no matter how sinister the tale, I can always find a happy ending. So here is one for you – Starevich's The Insect's Christmas. The ultimate feelgood treat. Enjoy!
This guest post is by Vanessa Woolf; you can find out more about her work at www.londondreamtime.com