In Pretty, Dead Jeff Scher plays with all the stuff film noir dreams are made of: the hardboiled private eye and the femme fatale; the revolver, the slouched hat, the alley brawl, and the twisted corpse; sweat, paranoia, fatalism, destiny. All this is to be found among the nearly four thousand collages and paintings in watercolor and gouache that compose the work.
But Scher is after more than movie nostalgia. He juxtaposes a surreal montage of scenes from Hollywood crime films of the 1940s and 1950s with images of children in danger. The innocence of his cheerful colors and the jauntiness of Shay Lynch’s musical score contrast with images that convey the underlying fears and jittery energy of modern life. Scher also incorporates home movies of his own sons, snippets of orphaned films rescued from flea markets, and, in Pop-art fashion, torn scraps of advertising, discarded store receipts, and even a MoMA admission ticket (blink and you’ll miss it).
To make the film, Scher used a cherished, 100-year-old animation technique called rotoscoping, which involves tracing and painting on paper from projections of sequential frames of live-action film. Rotoscoping was invented and patented by Max Fleischer in 1917 for his Out of the Inkwell series, and has since been used for cartoons and special effects in such classic films as Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), George Dunning and the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine (1968), and George Lucas’s Star Wars (1977).
Pretty, Dead joins MoMA’s extraordinary collection of animated films spanning the entire history of cinema.