Jerusalem Four tour de force

The ‘Four Hands’ exhibition at the Tower of David Museum chronicles the making of the 14-minute film ‘Jerusalem,’ offering a glimpse of how animation was produced in a more gently paced world.

Animated film Jerusalem 521 (photo credit: Courtesy Tower of David Museum)
Animated film Jerusalem 521
(photo credit: Courtesy Tower of David Museum)
For millennia, foreign powers have invaded Jerusalem, destroyed it and rebuilt it before being turfed out by the next incoming army. But the work of a couple of Italians has ruled the roost at the Tower of David Museum for around two decades, and shows no signs of flagging.
The foreigners in question are the late animators Emmanuel Luzzati and Giulio Gianini, whose delightfully crafted animated film, Jerusalem, offers visitors to the museum an appealing whistle-stop history of the capital.
The Jerusalem-born Meir Shalev wrote the accompanying text, and Yossi Banai narrates it in his peerless dulcet tones. Fittingly Banai, who died in 2004, came from a veteran Jerusalem family. Popular cross-genre songwriter-pianist-vocalist Yoni Rechter composed the music.
Now Liat Margalit has decided it is time we learned more about the talented Italians and how they put the film together.
Margalit is the curator of the “Jerusalem for Four Hands” exhibition at the Tower of David Museum, which runs until July.
“When the museum was opened in 1989, the directors decided they wanted something that tells the story of Jerusalem in a slightly alternative way,” she explains.
“They decided they wanted an animated film that relates the history of around 3,000 years in 14 minutes.”
Fast forward around 18 years, and the museum decided to let the public in on the secrets behind the creation of the film. The exhibits in the cavernous display area enable visitors to get a handle on the definitively non-hitech approach Luzzati and Gianini took.
“We wanted to understand how they made the film, and to place all the pieces in a context of creativity,” says Margalit.
That undertaking was performed deftly and with great care, and today visitors of all ages can scrutinize many of the original parts that the animators assembled to make the 14-minute whole.
Jerusalem is, in fact, the product of a cross-disciplinary synergy.
“The film was made by two Italian animators who were very well known in their country and had already done all sorts of important work in the field before they started with the Jerusalem film,” Margalit continues. “One came from the world of cinema, and the other came from theater.”
Luzzati was born in Genoa, Italy, but in 1938 he moved to Switzerland with his family after the introduction of the Fascist racial law interrupted his academic studies.
Over the years, he was a painter, stage, set and costume designer, illustrator and potter, and after he met Gianini, the two created animated films.
Luzzati’s impressive CV as an international set designer includes work for the London Festival Ballet and the Glyndebourne Opera Festival in Britain, the Chicago Opera House and the Staat-Opera of Vienna. He also produced illustrations for children’s books, and sometimes wrote the texts as well. In 1955, he started making panels and tapestries for luxury liners and public buildings in Italy and elsewhere, and this laid the groundwork for his subsequent confluence with Gianini. He started working with newspaper and book clippings, photographs, pieces of paper and a variety of fabrics to create his signature collage technique. He created his backdrops by painting paper with oil pastels, then coating it with turpentine.
As the two Italians embarked on the Jerusalem project, says the curator, “they started to play around with things. They turned the whole thing into a playground.
They took all sorts of dolls and puppets – that was a legacy of their theatrical background – to see how far they could go with movement and the virtuosity of the figures on a screen.”
Jerusalem was one of the last films that Luzzati and Gianini produced. Their creative collaboration spanned 30 years and included two Academy Award nominations, for The Thieving Magpie (1965) and Pulcinella (1973). In their work, these two Italian artists exploited the distinct qualities of animation, tempo, movement and color to create a rich, multicolored world of the imagination. Their artistry is especially impressive considering that they created everything by hand, with great attention to detail, and generally used the most basic techniques. Much of the scenery for the film was of the most rudimentary nature.
“They played around with different planes,” observes Margalit. “Look, here there is a slit between the two levels, where they inserted a stick attached to a figure so they could move it around to help tell the story.”
It was painstaking work. There were no computerized graphic shortcuts, and it took Luzzati and Gianini around two years to complete the commission.
“They moved, say, the head of a figure, and took a photograph, and then moved it again and took another,” says Margalit.
“Four Hands” is actually something of a misnomer.
Besides their own 20 digits, the animators benefited from a long-serving assistant and several other helpers who got in on the act from time to time.
“It is a world of fantasy,” declares the curator. “They moved between operas and children’s books and the story of Jerusalem in a diffused manner. They made all these cutouts by hand and attached them with fishing chord, which allowed them to move each part independently, and to play around with movement and different positions.”
The two were resourceful and totally immersed themselves in the project.
“They had a studio in a basement, shut away from the outside world, and they built a sort of photocopier to take shots of the scenes,” explains the curator. “They were very inventive and they had lots of stamina. You need a lot of that to keep working on something like this for two whole years.”
In this age of instant computer-generated art work and movement, Jerusalem and the “Four Hands” exhibition offer a glimpse of how animation was produced in a more hands-on, more gently paced world. Small children are fascinated by the exhibits and the computer-aided demonstrations of the Italians’ work, as are their older siblings and parents.
“Everyone who comes here is drawn into the world of how the animators worked, and how rich their world of creativity was,” says Margalit. “That is a timeless gem.”
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