Ryan Larkin’s Oscar-nominated short Walking is widely recognized as his masterpiece, and with good reason: It’s a beautiful film with a sympathetic, observational eye, and a joy that radiates through every frame. It was also a breakthrough for him—after two accomplished but relatively staid black-and-white sand animations, it embraced a more colourful, playful and freewheeling style that feels much more in keeping with the spirit of the 1960s.

But the overwhelming love for Walking sometimes overshadows the final film of Larkin’s original run at the NFB, and the last film he completed in his lifetime (Spare Change was finished by friends after Larkin’s death in 2007). Street Musique is less focused than Walking, but every bit as visually inspired. A visual improvisation on the music of a group of sidewalk musicians, the film passes through multiple movements and varying levels of abstraction.

Early on, it’s a morphing landscape made of simple line drawings and bursts of warm watercolour. In it’s midpoint, Larkin slowly transitions between a variety of psychedelic watercolours, blissfully floating through their abstracted worlds before settling into a peaceful Canadian lakeshore. The last section blends the two approaches masterfully, adding more colour and intricacy to Larkin’s playful linework.

Larkin’s life took a darker turn through the rest of the 20th century, as bad habits and addictions kept him from fulfilling the promise of Walking and Street Musique (if you haven’t seen Chris Landreth’s excellent short doc, Ryan, you should fix that right away). But that doesn’t dull the brilliance of his art, or his reputation as one of the shining lights of the National Film Board in his day.


Street Musique

dir: Ryan Larkin

syn: Visual improvisation on music performed by a popular group presented as sidewalk entertainers. The illustration is by a young film artist and animator who sees life with an amused and imaginative eye. His take-off point is the music, but his own beat is more boisterous than the musicians. He ranges from the most convoluted of abstractions to caricature of familiar rituals, including the bath. 

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