Loved, Loving, and a Little Bit Bubbly

The animated Faith Hubley

Received wisdom calls Walt Disney, the Warner brothers, the Fleischers, Winsor McKay, et al. the giants of animation, but contemporaries of these men were women innovators who have never been properly acknowledged. (Lotte Reiniger's brilliant 1926 The Adventures of Prince Achmed, for example, predates any of Disney's films as the first animated feature.) Another pioneer whose career has displayed as much variety and invention -- and certainly longevity -- as any of her male counterparts is Faith Hubley.

Born in 1924, Hubley was raised in the legendary cultural stewpot of New York's Hell's Kitchen, a setting that no doubt fueled some of the fabulously varied imagery of her later films. A political radical and a gifted artist, she was conventional enough to marry; her husband, John Hubley, was an ex-Disney animator and a co-founder in the late '40s of the UPA cartoon studio, which freed commercial animation forever from the tyranny of the fluid line and the linear narrative. After their marriage in 1955, the Hubleys created their own studio to take complete control over their work, though as always in such unions of powerful personalities, there were artistic clashes. The Hubleys also had to make TV commercials to fund their more avant-garde projects, which typically were experimental shorts that melded simple, vibrant imagery reminiscent of Klee and Miró with playfully absurd story lines.

While the two publicly declared the studio was a partnership, Faith Hubley was viewed suspiciously by some as the lesser talent. (It didn't help that their joint films were typically credited as her husband's alone, or as created "with Faith Hubley.") But her work after his death in 1977 shows that hers was probably the major sensibility behind the Hubley Studio. The SFIFF is generously sampling both the Hubleys' joint work and Faith Hubley's solo career in three programs, most notably a double bill of The Cosmic Eye (1985) and My Universe Inside Out (1996). The Cosmic Eye, Hubley's only feature-length film (well, 72 minutes) is a dazzling distillation of world mythology, creation myths, Jungian dreamscapes, whimsy, and froth told against the filmmaker's constantly changing watercolor backgrounds and punctuated by world beat music. One of the film's delights is an improvised dialogue between Father Time (Dizzy Gillespie) and Mother Earth (Maureen Stapleton). My Universe Inside Out packs a lifetime -- Hubley's own -- into its 25-minute running time. Hilariously told by the filmmaker herself, it samples her quirky childhood ("I'm an outdoor baby raised with Billy the dog"), later traumas (overcoming what had been believed to be terminal cancer), and pleasures ("I feel loved, and loving, and a little bit bubbly"). Hubley views the world as a living body rife with color and change, and her simple, stylized characters limn that world in a few enchanting lines.

The Cosmic Eye: Tuesday, April 25, 7 p.m., AMC Kabuki

"Appreciating the Universe": Sunday, April 23, 5 p.m., PFA; Thursday, April 27, 7 p.m., AMC Kabuki

"Bangs, Dances and an *":Saturday, April 22, 11:30 a.m., AMC Kabuki; Saturday, April 29, 11:30 a.m., Rafael

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