A Year in Shorts Day 122: "A Chairy Tale"
The Great Oscar Baiter kicked off 2021 with a bang by covering Norman McLaren’s Neighbours, a darkly hilarious short which made great use of the form of stop motion known as pixilation. Well five years later, McLaren would team up with Claude Jutra (an important and, unfortunately, controversial figure in the world of Quebec cinema) to make Chairy Tale. And while it might lack the morbidly satirical edge that made Neighbours so great, it more than makes up for it with a healthy dose of excellent physical comedy.
The premise for A Chairy Tale is as simple as it is bizarre. A man (played by Claude Jutra) wants to sit in a chair and read a book. The chair, however, has other ideas. What follows is ten minutes of the most absurd fight you've ever seen between a man and a chair, as Jutra tries all sorts of methods to get the chair to relax. All of this is set to a score by none other than Ravi Shankar and Chatur Lal, whose use of classical Indian music provides a nice sense of rhythm to the short as well as yet another layer of non sequitur humor. After all, what does classical Indian music have to do with a man fighting a chair? Absolutely nothing. But of course, it's not as if any other type of music would be necessarily more fitting. It's just another piece of the very strange puzzle that is A Chairy Tale. If you find yourself asking how much comic business can be made of a man fighting a chair, the answer is- a lot!
On its surface, A Chairy Tale is not really a complex short. Oh, there have been some readings into it that try and make it so (including one interpretation that the film is about the difficulties of gay sex; speaking as someone who reads homoerotic subtext into everything, I think that's taking it a bit far), but to me the short is best enjoyed for what it is- a short about a man fighting a chair. And honestly, what's wrong with that? Behind such a simple surface there lies a lot of hard work and complicated craftsmanship, from McLaren's masterful use of pixilation to that tremendous score. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and if the cigar is really damn good, that's perfectly fine.
Unfortunately the years since A Chairy Tale's release has marred the film somewhat, as some pretty disturbing allegations were made about Claude Jutra after his death. I won't go into the details here (they're easy enough to Google if you're curious), but suffice it to say they were horrible enough to cast a dark shadow over his legacy. These situations are always terrible, and there's no easy way to reconcile them, nor is there any right or wrong approach to separating the art from the artist.
Still, I try my best to let the work stand on its own, and I feel that A Chairy Tale is strong enough to overcome its star's horrible behavior. Besides, a lot of not shitty people worked on this film too, and we shouldn't throw out their contributions just because of him. So while there's always going to be a little bit of darkness surrounding this film's history, I won't let that take away the enjoyment this film brings to me. And hopefully you won't either!
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"A Chairy Tale" is available to watch on Amazon Prime.
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