recess radio program

08/03/06
Tale of Tales/Little Grey Wolf
    by Stephanie Boluk

Brief Sound Clip:

You're listening to a little of the lullaby that opens up Russian animator Jiri Norstein's animated short film Tale of Tales. Although now twenty-seven years old, Tale of Tales was declared the "greatest animated film of all time" at both the 1984 Los Angeles Olympiad of Animation and the 2002 Zagreb World Festival of Animated Films. Tale of Tales is a surreal and poetic dreamscape loosely based on Norstein's experiences growing up in pre and post-World War II Russia.

The film was originally titled The Little Grey Wolf Will Come, which is taken from the lyrics of the lullaby you just heard, in which a wolf sneaks into homes to steal infants from their cribs. In Tale of Tales, Norstein's childhood alter-ego appears as a version of the baby-snatching wolf -- although an extremely un-menacing one with his large, liquid eyes and a snuffly nose. This little wolf burns his paws cooking hot potatoes and uses the foot pedal of an abandoned sewing machine table as a swing.

Tale of Tales does not have a self-evident plotline, but it is a short film about remembering childhood. Its images, enigmatic and lingering, are of mythic proportions. Ghostly men march to the frontlines to the rhythm of a tango, a young boy shares his glistening green apple with some friendly crows, and the squealing tires and blinding headlights from a nearby highway invade the tranquility of a forest. The nonlinearity and inscrutability of Norstein's storytelling made the USSR State Committee for Cinematography wary of the film and nearly resulted in Tale of Tales never being released. But, because it was awarded the prestigious State Prize, in part because the judges were oblivious to any conflict with the official censors, this recognition had the effect of pushing the film through. And so Jiri Norstein's little grey wolf succeeded in sneaking past the authorities to steal away the hearts of audiences around the world.

Copyright 2006 Stephanie Boluk

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Friday, 30-Jun-2006 16:40:57 EDT


"Recess!" is a co-production of the University of Florida's Center for Children's Literature and Culture and WUFT-FM, "Classic 89."