The Art of Poetry Film with Cheryl Gross: “Western Civilization”

Western Civilization
poem by Peter Jay Shippy
directed and animated by Alicia Reece (MotionGnome) for Motionpoems
lettering and lead actor: Emory Allen
make-up: Ashley Burke
music: Joey Verskotzi
additional animation: Valerie Lockhart

Western Civilization is a well-produced, breathtaking piece. Based on a poem by Peter Jay Shippy, it was one of many short films to debut at the 2014 Motionpoems premiere. The design, poetry and voiceover work flawlessly together. This is as close to perfection as one can get.

I’ll begin with the design. Alicia Reece works with a limited color palette, then switches to black and white, then back to incorporating color against a scratchboard-like background. Add an old scratchy film effect, and we are taken back in time. If I’m not mistaken, the animators used actual video footage and applied the cartoon (special effect) using the Adobe program After Effects. This is a nice, smooth way to simulate animation. It appears that Reece does a lot of commercial work, which is apparent judging from the execution.

The poem is wonderful. It’s hip-hop coupled with American twang. Sort of like Paris, Texas meets Rihanna. The voiceover fits perfectly. I’m back in the 60s or 70s, tripping on mushrooms or peyote and looking for god. Or in this case Keith Moon (former drummer of The WHO.) The reference to popular music is a bonus. This makes the piece a total postmodern experience—or pop-culture experience if you will.

The combination of styles and the use of type all blend successfully, which clearly communicates how we can know, and have known, the American west. I’m ready to get in the car and drive all the way to New Mexico, or in this case Utah. I think it would be fun meeting up with a shaman who is familiar with rock music.

Western Civilization is truly a beautiful piece with a wicked sense of humor.

Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Cheryl Gross (website, blog) is an illustrator, painter, writer, and motion graphic artist living and working in the New York/Jersey City area. She is a professor at Pratt Institute (where she received her MFA) and Bloomfield College.

Her work has appeared in numerous festivals and publications as well as gracing the walls of many galleries, corporate and museum collections.

“I equate my work with creating and building an environment, transforming my inner thoughts into reality. Beginning with the physical process, I work in layers. I am involved in solving visual and verbal complexities such as design and narrative. My urban influence has indeed added an ‘edge’ to my work.”

Cheryl has often been compared to “Dr. Seuss on crack.”