Christen Bach’s animated film Bear_Untitled follows the classic, highly emotional break-up story between one who is ‘no longer loved’ and one who is ‘no longer loving.’ Broaching the universal fears of loneliness, meaninglessness, and inevitable death, the film flaunts all the qualities of a Shakespearian catastrophe. Bear_Untitled is also a 1 minute 25 second short, with the look of an old-school video game. An 8-bit hunter loves an 8-bit bear and the 8-bit bear doesn’t love him back anymore. We spoke to Christen about how he came about creating the film, his provocative aesthetic choices, and the ways in which video games might humorously yet poignantly comment on real life.
Rooftop Films: Although the film clearly uses video games as a basis in terms of aesthetics, the film also subverts the genre in a really interesting way. What made you initially decide to use the video game structure for your film?
Christen Bach: Actually this particular project came about out for various reasons. I have been working with animations for most of my life – and animation is so much hard work. Then about 1,5 years ago I got fed up with these tedious processes and set out to try and find a way to reduce the distance from initial idea to finished product. This resulted in a series of quick’n’dirty experiments where I would try keep the process spontaneous while trying to tell good stories and still keeping up the quality of the work.
At the same time as I started this series of small playground experiments, my dad stumbled upon a stack of floppy discs in the attic with some early, quite crude 8 bit animations I had done way back in my early teens. By watching these it dawned on me how amazingly 8 bit animation lends itself to exactly what I mentioned before. This is due to the fact that the low resolution leaves you with a way faster and more intuitive work flow. And limited animation has an old school feel to it – which further reduces your time schedule. I found a freeware program to animate icons for your desktop, and figured out a way to tweak it to create glorious HD animation. Because of the primitive state of the program, I did miss some tools from time to time. But there is something quite charming in having to battle the tools a bit – Somehow it calls forth a good old primitive 8 bit spirit.
So I actually didn’t pick the video game structure for the film, It just kind of volunteered itself and from there I had to build up the story over the video game skeleton. I found the idea of using the quite cold and static 8 bit sound & graphics to tell a very emotional story quite appealing. The entire film (Yes all 1min and 25 seconds) is a play between various cliches – just combined in a very non-cliche way.
RF: Bear Untitled has become somewhat of an internet hit but at the same time it has been attacked and criticized as meaningless. Have you been surprised at any of the reactions which the film has received or did you intend it as a kind of provocation?
CB: I actually find the debate quite entertaining. I have had a series of really good conversations about Bear_Untitled since it ended up at the Guggenheim last year. A lot of people seems to be provoked by it, which was never my intention. I don’t believe in making movies with the purpose to provoke (It is just an added bonus if it does happen though). To me it is all about making personal pieces that I care about and that I would like to see – then people can take from them what they want. And as you so well point out people were quite fast on the trigger to redeem BU meaningless and just stupid. But as soon as I would point out the underlying theme of the breakup story; the play between the well known (breakup situation) and the absurd (the settings), the emotional theme Vs the very robotic unemotional Graphics/sound and I would tell people that it is a comment on the very iconic roles people slip into during a breakup situation – most would actually accept it as something more than just a stupid meaningless rant from an idiot somewhere.
But now with all that “brain talk” being said; If you watched it as a stupid senseless film and you were entertained… That is good enough for me…
RF: Bear Untitled is being shown as part of our Kill Screen series which looks into the cultural significance of video games and gaming culture. How do you feel your film fits in with the cultural legacy of the video game?
CB: Its awesome. I am a part of a whole generation of artists that grew up with gaming and pop cultural cinema. I used to be quite a serious gamer back in the day. I used to love the old adventure games like Secret of the Monkey Island, Grim Fandango, Space Quest, Day of the Tentacle and Full Throttle etc… I actually think that Bear Untitled has a lot in common with these old games both in terms of aesthetics, humor and absurd scenarios…
See Bear_Untitled as a part of tomorrow’s Killscreen Film Festival, where we’ll explore the question “What does it mean to play games?” through short films, discussion, and live independent video game play. Tickets and more info here.