Alexander Alexeieff and Claire Parker - Writer

ALEXEIEFF. Director and animator. Nationality: Russian. Born: Alexander Alexeieff (also spelled Alexandre Alexieff) in Kazan, 5 August 1901. Family: Married 1) actress Alexandra Grinevsky, 1923 (divorced); 2) Claire Parker in 1941. Died: 1979.

PARKER. Director and animator. Nationality: American. Born: Boston, Massachusetts, 1907. Died: 1980.

1921—Alexeieff moved to Paris to study linguistics; scenic designer for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes; 1920s—active as artist, book illustrator, and stage designer; 1931—Claire Parker, then his student, collaborated with Alexeieff and his wife Alexandra Grinevsky on first pinboard ("l'écran d'épingles") animation; 1933— Night on Bald Mountain a commercial failure, Alexeieff turned to advertising films for theatrical exhibitions; 1935–39—with collaborators Georges Violet and others, Alexeieff and Parker produced 25 films, mostly for sponsors or advertisers; some of these feature original scores by major composers such as Poulenc, Auric, and Milhaud; 1940—emigrated to U.S., married following year, continued work as illustrators; 1947—returned to Paris; 1952–64—produced 21 advertising films using "totalization" technique; 1957—designed logo used on films of distribution company Cocinor; 1962—produced animated prologue to Orson Welles's The Trial ; through 1970—illustrated books (some using serial photos made on pinboard) total more than 40.

Films as Directors and Animators:


Une Nuit sur le Mont Chauve ( Night on Bald Mountain )(+ pr)


La Belle au bois dormant (Puppet film)


En passant


Prologue to Le Procès ( The Trial ) (Welles)


Le Nez ( The Nose )




Tableaux d'une exposition ( Pictures at an Exhibition )


Trois Themes ( Three Themes )

Advertising and Sponsored Films:


Lingner Werke ; Opta empfangt


Le Trône de France ; Grands Feux ; Parade des chapeaux ; Franck Aroma ; La Crème Simon


Les VĂŞtements Sigrand ; Huilor ; L'Eau d'Evian ; Les Fonderies Martin ; Balatum ; Les Oranges de Jaffa ; Les Cigarettes Bastos


Gulf Stream ; Les Gaines Roussel ; Cenpa ; Le Gaz (unfinished)






Nocturne ; Pure Beauté ; Esso ; Rimes


La Sève de la terre ; Le Buisson ardent


Quatre Temps ; Bain d'X (Bendix)


Constance ; Anonyme ; Osram (4 films); Cent pour cent




La Dauphine Java


Divertissement ; A propos de Jivago



Alexandre Alexeieff , exhibition catalogue, National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh, 1967.

Alexandre Alexeieff , exhibition catalogue, by G. Rondolino, Cinema Incontri Abano Terme, Este, 1971.

Alexandre Alexeieff , exhibition catalogue, edited by G. Bendazzi, Ente provinciale per il turismo di Milano, Milan, 1973.

A. Alexeieff , C. Parker: Films et eaux-fortes, 1925–75 , exhibition catalogue, Chateau d'Annecy, 1975.

Entretien avec A. Alexeieff et C. Parker , by N. Salomon, Annecy, 1980.

Pages d'Alexeieff , edited by G. Bendazzi, Milan, 1983.

A. Alexeieff ou la gravure animée , exhibition catalogue, Chateau d'Annecy, 1983.

By ALEXEIEFF and PARKER: articles—

"Circuit fermé!," in Cinéma 57 (Paris), no. 14, 1957.

"L'Écran d'épingles," in Technicien du Film (Paris), no. 27, 1957.

"Reflections on Motion Picture Animation," in Film Culture (New York), no. 32, 1964.

Script , no. 10/12, 1964.

"Synthèse cinématographique des mouvements artificiels," in IDHEC (Paris), 1966.

Image et Son (Paris), no. 207, 1967.

"The Synthesis of Artificial Movements in Motion Picture Projection," in Film Culture (New York), no. 48–49, 1970.

"Chère Marthe," in Bulletin d'Information ASIFA , no. 1, 1972.

"Le Chant d'ombres et de lumières de 1 250 000 épingles," edited by H. Arnault, in Cinéma Pratique (Paris), no. 123, 1973.

"Alféoni par Alexeieff," edited by L. Olteanu, in Nous Mêmes , ASIFA, Bucharest, 1973.

"Cinema d'animazione: strategia e tattica," in Filmcritica (Rome), no. 31, 1980.


Starr, Cecile, Discovering the Movies , New York, 1972.

Russett, R., and C. Starr., Experimental Animation , New York, 1976.

On ALEXEIEFF and PARKER: articles—

Cheronnet. L., " Une Nuit sur le Mont Chauve , film en gravure animée par A. Alexeieff et C. Parker," in Art et Décoration (Paris), no. 63, 1934.

Alberti, Walter, in Il cinema di animazione , Rome, 1957.

Martin, A., "Alexandre Alexeieff et les cinémas possibles," in Cinéma 63 (Paris), no. 81, 1963.

Philippe, P., "Alexeieff nez à nez," in Cinéma 63 (Paris), no. 81, 1963.

Starr, Cecile, "Notes on The Nose ," in Film Society Review (New York), November 1965.

Rains, R. R., "The Road Less Travelled," in The Lens & Speaker (Univ. of Illinois Visual Aids Service), 15 January 1977.

Jouvanceau, J. P., and C. Gaudillière, "A. Alexeieff," in Banc-Titre , no. 25, 1982.

Robson, A. G., "Alexeieff's The Nose ," in Purdue University Film Studies (Lafayette, Indiana), no. 6, 1982.

CinémAction (Conde-sur-Noireau), no. 51, April 1989.

Bendazzi, G., "Le courage de se nomer artiste," in Plateau , no. 5, 1984.

Vrielynck, R., "A. Alexeieff herdacht," in Plateau , no. 5, 1984.


Alexeieff at the Pinboard , produced by Cinema Nouveau, Paris, 1960 (English version produced by Cecile Starr, 1972).

Pinscreen , produced by the National Film Board of Canada, 1972.

Annecy Impromptu , produced by S.F.P. Films, Paris, 1976 (English version distributed by Cecile Starr).

* * *

Even a brief scrutiny of Alexeieff's cinema must acknowledge his preliminary activities in other spheres, initially the severe challenge of designing and painting sets for the theatrical production companies of Paris. He also took up engraving, woodcuts, etching, and lithographs for book illustration, all of which profited from the assistance and critiques of his first wife, actress Alexandra Grinevsky, whose painting skills complemented his own.

Although Alexeieff and Claire Parker, who arrived in 1931, were participants in the avant-garde movements of Paris, as artists they remained largely separate from these spheres; their art is mainly a synthesis of their own experiences and conceptions. The key to their work lies in Alexeieff's engravings, especially a three-volume edition of Dostoevsky's Brothers Karamozov for which he created 100 lithographs. Until his edition of Pasternak's Dr. Zhivago in 1959 with 200 pinboard illustrations, the Dostoevsky work remained the most powerful example of "static film," i.e. a series of images joined together serially to create an implicit sense of movement, providing a visually powerful interpretation of the verbal narrative.

From this impetus Parker and Alexeieff conceived a desire to animate his engravings, to employ chiaroscuro with even more refinement than was possible with engravings. The blurred contours and indistinct forms of their poetic and anti-narrative films reflect the Freudian preoccupation with dreams of avant-garde cinema in the 1920s, to which they added a sense of theater and spectacle that invested the engravings with vivid drama.

At the same time as Alexeieff planned the pinboard with Parker, his student from Boston, Berthold Bartosch created L'Idée , described in its premiere announcement as "animated engravings." Less an influence than an inspiration, L'Idée became for Alexeieff and Parker an example of poetic animation, great art, arduous craftsmanship, and imaginative techniques.

All the pinboard films build their visual poetry upon the stimulus of a musical track devoid of dialogue. The only apparent anomaly in their use of the pinboard as a medium of visual poetry is The Nose , based on Gogol's short story. It is, however, more an homage to Gogol than a duplication of his narrative. Reducing his narrative to a slight strand, they build a finely detailed illustration of 19th-century Russia centered on a breathtaking realization of Kazan Cathedral. The story of an overreaching czarist clerk serves as the occasion for exploring spatial definitions in a new way.

Their final two pinboard films are derived from a single Mussorgsky composition. In the spirit of their first Mussorgsky-inspired film, four decades earlier, they continued to explore animated orchestrations of movement and time with their minds attuned to basic issues of mathematics and physics. In their first creative decade, Alexeieff and Parker focused more sharply on the ability of their medium to represent the free play of time and space, the intuitive interaction of visual and musical modes in a continual metamorphosis of contrapuntal relationships. Pictures at an Exhibition lacks the nightmarish quality of the initial film, but possesses quite different strengths. One pinboard in front of another establishes a visual dialogue, juxtaposing past and present in a sinuous and melancholy poetry that captures through interlaced allusions, the paradoxical relationship between youth and maturity.

In no pinboard film, least of all in their final one Three Themes , do Alexeieff and Parker try to simulate what they would call photographic prose. Their texture is suggestive rather than explicit, a three-part complementing and contrasting sonata; their goal is a heuristic creation of reality's depths where the mind and heart correspond freely. Three Themes is a fiftyfold slowdown of the normal scherzo pace of animation, a meditative elegy.

—Arthur G. Robson

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