The Whitney brothers were excited by the technical brilliance of Fischinger’s films, but somewhat disturbed by his use of symphonic music, which seemed old-fashioned to them. John constructed an animation stand and other equipment in the apartment they shared in Pasadena. James designed geometric shapes on small index cards and created positive and negative stencils that could be painted or air-brushed onto the cards. They intended these modular elements to function like tones in Schoenberg’s musical theories, and submitted them to musical permutations (such as inversions, counterpoints, chord clustering and retrogressions). John worked on inventing a mechanism to create sound, while James continued to make visual Variations, through hundreds of hours of hand animation. This work culminated in the 1942 Variations on a Circle, a film that achieves a truly musical beauty, ranging from dynamic flickers of contrasting colors to sinuous movements cutting through circular shapes. -William Moritz
James Whitney (December 27, 1921 – April 8, 1982), younger brother of John, was a film director universally regarded as one of the great masters of visual music.
James Whitney was born December 27, 1921, in Pasadena, California, and lived all his life in the Los Angeles area. He studied painting, and traveled in England before the outbreak of World War II. In 1940, he returned to Pasadena.
James completed a number of short films over four decades, two of which required at least five years of work. James collaborated with his brother John for some of his early film work.
The first of the brothers’ films was Twenty-Four Variations on an Original Theme. Its structure was influenced by Schoenberg’s serial principles.
James spent 3 years working on Variations on a Circle (1942), which lasts some 20 minutes, and was made with 8mm film.
James and John created their series of Five Film Exercises (John #1 and #5; James #2, #3 and #4) between 1943 and 1944… read more