Review
Norman McLaren: The Master's Edition
© National Film Board of Canada
What the Masters Edition set does is present every film McLaren made, from his live-action beginnings in Glasgow in 1933 to his work made while living in New York through to his final NFB film in 1983. The set also includes documentaries, unfinished films, tests, outtakes, and audio excerpts from radio interviews, adding up to over 14 hours of material brought to bear on a body of work whose effect is still being felt, even in our CGI-addled world.

Sheer volume of material is only part of the equation in a set such as this one, and special mention must be made of the DVDs' architecture. Each disc is organized around a theme, with films accessible either from an index, or within thematic categories. For instance, the third disc, which relates to dance, groups the films in four categories: Dance, Vincent Warren, Grant Munro, and Thematic Documentaries. Dance contains all of McLaren's films from that disc, and the two following categories contain the subset that relate to those particular collaborators. A film's alternate takes and commentaries are always directly accessible from the same screen as the film itself—the way all DVDs should be organized. And, as per the NFB's standard procedure, each disc's contents are available in English and French.

For the most part, the format works well. It has enough structure that it's easy to zero in on a particular film of interest, but the variety in groupings makes it easy to explore a particular thread. The DVDs therefore work for the casual viewer and the enthusiast.

The problem with the format is that the structure leads to some redundancy. As a result, films that fit more than one theme can be found on more than one disc. Neighbours, for example, appears on discs three, four and five. It's an unavoidable sacrifice in the name of usability, but I couldn't help thinking of the material that I'd have liked to see instead of duplicated films. In particular, I'd like to have had the option of listening to complete audio interviews instead of just excerpts, and a side-by-side comparison of McLaren's exposure sheets (works of art unto themselves, if the fragments we see are any indication) with the finished films. I suppose I'll have to wait for the day that McLaren's work is released on HD DVD or Blu-ray, formats which will have enough room and better interactive controls to accommodate the sheer breadth of material. But that's looking to the future. Right here, right now, Norman McLaren: The Master's Edition represents the best that can be done within the constraints of the DVD format—resulting in a box set that no student of animation can afford to ignore.
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