This week I’d like to share a personal favorite: the Academy Award Winning animation, “The Critic,” by Mel Brooks and Ernest Pintoff. The short film was based on an experience Brooks had in the spring of 1962:
Brooks was out about town doing one of his favorite things: attending a movie…It was a surrealistic abstract cartoon made by Norman McLaren, the noted Canadian animator. According to Brooks, “Three rows behind me there was an old immigrant man mumbling to himself. He was very unhappy, because he was waiting for a story line and he wasn’t getting one.”
Brooks could not help but eavesdrop on the noisy patron, and from the man’s rambling an idea sprang into Mel’s fertile mind. Within a short time, Brooks contacted a friend, Ernest Pintoff, who had written, directed, and sometimes produced short subjects…He asked his pal to provide the visuals for a McLaren-type cartoon. After Pintoff agreed to the request, Brooks warned him, “Don’t let me see the images in advance, just give me a mic and let them assault me.”
Kevin Murphy of Mystery Science Theater 3000 best described Brooks’ short:
On the screen, we see the kind of abstract pop-art animation we kids were subjected to in art class and on the non-funny Sunday morning “educational” shows. Over the droning soundtrack of nondescript jazzy baroque ditty comes an old man’s loud, croaking voice, “Vat da Hell is dis?” And he doesn’t stop, even at the urging of his fellow viewers (of course a violation of riffing etiquette). See, all he’s doing is saying what everybody’s thinking.
Now you can argue with me all day about the Sanctity of the Artist and His work, about the audience’s role in the experience, which is-what, to sit there, shut up and take it? What if the Artist and His Work roundly suck? I mean, just plain awful? What then? Why are we compelled just to sit there, shut up and just take it?
Brooks' characterization of the critic as an outsider, not a member of the avant garde art house scene, is what makes this short so compelling. There are many parallels between the old man in The Critic and the users of modern interfaces. He offers a voice that practicing designers won't hear in their meetings, but should take heed of.