A Man and a Dog Out For Air: inventive and original experimental animation piece

Robert Breer, “A Man and a Dog Out For Air” (1957)

Why have I never heard of this wonderful animator before? This very short animation piece is wonderfully imaginative and minimalist to the point of experimental abstraction. In this 2-minute wonder, a man takes his dog out for a walk and through their eyes we experience what they encounter on their amble through the neighbourhood. What they see isn’t out of the ordinary – they see birds in the sky for one thing and that’s about it for objects overhead (sorry, no fleets of alien spacecraft come all the way from the other end of the Milky Way galaxy to take over our planet) – but the cartoon held me spellbound thanks to the extreme minimalist approach used.

Well yes, the background is plain white paper and the lines are no more than moving serpentine scribbles that emerge from two straight lines drawn on the page. To the accompaniment of mechanical bird calls and occasional traffic sirens, the scribbles move quickly and gracefully to portray landscape, weather, animal life around the man and his dog, various other objects they see and finally a set of stairs. Before the film ends on the word “End”, we are treated to a couple of views of the eponymous portly gentleman and his pooch.

The film takes on the quality of abstract drawings as the lines shift and what actual drawings emerge are usually in naif or primitive form. The pace is very fast and some viewers might need to see the short a few times to realise that they’re seeing things from the man and dog’s points of view and that they have to use their imaginations to make sense of the squiggles and lines as they fold and unfold constantly over the screen.

Remarkably “A Man and a Dog Out for Air” isn’t even the most experimental of Breer’s shorts, the fellow did more animation that’s even more breath-takingly original and creative. I wanna see it all!

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