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Film: 13 Cantos of Hell

In perhaps 1954-1955 King began to work on ideas for an animated film, using the shadow-puppet techniques he learned from Lotte Reiniger. His notebooks reveal extensive planning for the film, and also documentation of the figures, soundtrack, and storyline. He chose to animate the first thirteen Cantos of the section devoted to Hell in Dante's Divine Comedy, a choice that may have reflected his troubled state of mind at that time.

The film was completed through an award from the British Film Institute, and screened at the ICA. BFI documentation show that the project was approved in July 1955.

A considerable part of the collection comprises sculptures, works on paper, cut-out figures (film puppets), film stills and correspondence connected with the making of the fim. Two prints of the film are known to exist, one in the BFI collection, and one in the collection of the estate. It is twenty minutes long. The photo above shows a framed glass plate from the film.

The photo opposite shows a page from one of King's notebooks including two 'Silhouettes used in the film': a Profligate and a Hound. The articulated film puppets show the use of lead weightings on the limbs, a device for preventing the unwanted drifting of the puppet under the camera.The typewritten text at the top of the page reads:

13 CANTOS OF HELL is based on images aroused in the sculptors mind by the reading of the first thirteen Cantos of Dante’s Inferno. The technique of the animated silhouette allowed the artist to use forms intimately associated with his sculpture and thus the visual part of the film consists of a series of images in which these forms move and act the story of the descent into hell.

The figures are moved directly on an illuminated glass screen and photographed frame by frame from above.

The background consists of various densities of toned cellulaid (sic) and monotypes. Sets are moved horizontally under the camera for ‘panning’ but there is no tracking.

The sound track uses the technique of ‘Musique Concrete’ and consists of ‘outside’ recordings (the Zoo, subway etc) continuity being provided by percussion effects from a number of African Instruments.

The artists designed animated and photographed the film. Recorded ‘played’ and edited the sound track on a grant of $2.000 from the British Film Institute.

It is not clear why King stated the BFI grant in dollars, as the amount awarded was £600. Documents from the BFI show the progression of his award, and also the subsequent application for a grant for a second film.

The photograph right shows King working on the animation of 13 Cantos. For his second film he wanted to work in a less narrative style as this extract from his application to the BFI, dated 20th September 1956,shows:

While making the film THIRTEEN CANTOS OF HELL I recorded, cut and synchronised a sound track in two weeks. I should like to spend at least three months recording and editing material into a “Musique Concrete” track. Afterwards a suitable track of say thirty minutes could be cut from the material and an animated silhouette visual keyed to it.

I seems important to develop the the technique of “Musique Concrete” as sound track material and I know from the interest aroused in the track of the last film that a number of people would welcome the opportunity of doing so if the equipment were available. I am fortunate in having an ideal place for use as a sound studio.

In making the visual I should be far happier keying it to the sound track than attempting to keep to a literary theme as I found that in making THIRTEEN CANTOS OF HELL the more freely I played with the silhouettes the better the result.

I have now my own equipment for filming animation and so the overall budget could be considerably less than last time.

Unfortunately he did not live to undertake this second film.

The photo right shows one of the animation puppets. Black card is jointed and weighted with lead, and small celluloid elements added with monotype designs.









The photo right shows a series of sketches for the Stygian boat featured in the film.