Frank Film is a 1973 American animated short by husband-and-wife animators Caroline and Frank Mouris. The film won an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film and was inducted into the National Film Registry in 1996.
It’s an autobiographical narrative – Mouris narrates his path from his birth to becoming an artist, and making this film – with a list of words beginning with the letter “f” and 11,592 collages, illustrations, graphics and photographs that he collected from magazines over five years.
In less than nine minutes an amazing amount of information hits you. As one critics put it, it’s “a nine minute evocation of America’s exhilarating everythingness”. We get to experience Frank’s place in the universe and gain insight into our own.
The couple deployed two audio layers, and ran those simultaneously, so that the audio, too, “is a form of collage, mixed by Tony Schwartz so that one channel generally predominates over the other, but at times too dense to fully comprehend,” writes Daniel Eagan in America’s Film Legacy: The Authoritative Guide to the Landmark Movies in the National Film Registry (2010).
The effect is as if we’re experiencing the spontaneous, and though perhaps improvised to a degree it’s never random. So it could be viewed as an experiment in neuroscience, in which we get to look inside Frank’s head as he shows us things and speaks both “a dry, self-deprecating autobiography” in “a free-form, stream-of-consciousness monologue that plays off images on the screen as well as details of Mouris’s life.”
As he riffs and reasons with himself and the images become hypnotic, Frank makes us feel by linking our conscious mind with the sensory acts of watching and hearing. We get to know Frank though our body’s mechanics and intuition. As Emily Dickinson wrote:
The Brain — is wider than the Sky —
For — put them side by side —
The one the other will contain
With ease — and you — beside —
The Brain is deeper than the sea —
For — hold them — Blue to Blue —
The one the other will absorb —
As sponges — Buckets — do —
“The financial benefits of winning the 1973 Oscar for Frank Film were more indirect than one might have expected,” Frank told Animation World magazine in 1999. “Our distributor sold and rented many prints to most of the major libraries, museums and universities, so we had a nice income supplement for a few decades, but it certainly wasn’t enough to live on….
“The commercial work offered right after the Oscar was either repetitious/simplistic (the titles for Rhoda), or risky (weekly bicoastal commutes for Bicentennial Minutes; helicopter footage of a trip across the USA), so we turned it down. Later, we enjoyed doing quickie television commercials (is there ever enough time?) for Levi’s Shirts and Nickelodeon Toys, but mostly others just knocked off our style and did it for cheap. The Oscar probably helped us get freelance animation work (Sesame Street, MTV, VHI, HBO Comedy, Nickelodeon, Nick at Nite, Nighttime Entertainment, PBS, ITVS, Cartoon Network, PETA, Disney and Universal TV), but showing Frank Film and our evolving showreel was at least as important.
“Caroline and I did Frank Film just to do that one personal film that you do to get the artistic inclinations out of your system before going commercial.”
Would you like to support Flashbak?
Please consider making a donation to our site. We don't want to rely on ads to bring you the best of visual culture. You can also support us by signing up to our Mailing List. And you can also follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. For great art and culture delivered to your door, visit our shop.