Odyssey in Paper

Paper Cinema's Odyssey

Paper Cinema’s Odyssey

This article reviews Paper Cinema‘s Odyssey in 43rd Hong Kong Arts Festival

Homer’s Odyssey has been retold in many times and in many ways but have you ever thought of presenting the story in black and white papers? That’s what Paper Cinema has done: staging the heroic journey of Odysseus in paper, and paper only.

Granted, the staging is accompanied with live music. They made the puppets with papers and other materials like pencils, photocopies, glue, cereal boxes, plastic milk bottles and chocolate wrappers. Drawings are in black and white. They cut them out and maneuvered them in front of two cameras whose images are then projected onto a white board.  Equipments are kept to a minimum.

The effects they can produce are surprisingly multifarious. There is the usual effect where illusion of depth is created by overlapping an image by another (Puppet Telechamus behind the window cutout). More ingenious is using pinhole camera and some bubble thoughts to create the worrying look. Genuine lightning can be created by something as simple as a flashing torch, and thunder by beating metal foils. Slightly more complicated is the special theoretical effects during Odysseus’ stay in Hades.

Nicholas Rawling, the founder of Paper Cinema, stressed in the interview that the staging is not an animation but a ‘pivot between music and image’ and ‘it is the nature of live performance that is the drive, being in the room, a communal experience’. To me, the performance is hardly distinguishable from cinematic effects in  Le Voyage Dans La Lune

That lies the problem of Paper Cinema’s Odyssey. It is more of a play of style and technique, and so a person unfamiliarized with Homer’s Odyssey would quickly lose track of the story. After the performance, I overheard someone saying ‘I like the effects. They are interesting. But I don’t understand the story’.

Unlike the rash Achilles, Odysseus represents resourcefulness and wit but this is altogether lost when the Cyclops is simply shown as killed. The trick that Odysseus played on Cyclops (“no one is hurting me”) needs such a narrative power that mere play of papers cannot offer.

Paper Cinema’s Odyssey is an interesting presentations of Homer’s epic but you must know the story to appreciate it.

Extended reading: The Odyssey – Review (The Guardian)

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