Exhibit / July 18, 2017
Object Name: Contact
Maker and Year: Vladimir Tarasov (director), Soyuzmultfilm, 1978
Object Type: Short animated film
Description: (Richard McKenna)
Released in 1978, Vladimir Tarasov’s Контакт (Contact) is a short Soviet animated film that attempts to tackle the question of how communication between two sentient species—one of them extraterrestrial—might occur. At the time, global interest in alien life was at a peak—the previous year, Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind had proved hugely successful in cinemas, twin space probes Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 were launched, each carrying a golden record introducing the people of Earth to their presumed alien counterparts, and astronomers at Ohio State University received the Wow! signal, which seemed to indicate the existence of intelligent extraterrestrial life.
In Contact, a painter strolling through the countryside in search of inspiration lays down by a lake, unaware that a spacecraft containing a glowing, shape-shifting, slug-like alien creature with triangular eyes has landed nearby. As the painter hums a tune to himself, the alien approaches and tries to make contact. Terrified by the sight of the extraterrestrial and convinced it intends to abduct him, the artist flees, leaving behind his boots, hat, paintbox, and pipe, which the bemused alien attempts to return to him. When the creature eventually catches up with the painter, it attempts to repeat the melody it had heard him humming earlier, and the man realizes he has nothing to fear. The two sing the melody together and walk off as friends, observed through the compound eye of a cricket sitting on a stalk of grass. (The tune is Italian composer Nino Rota’s “Parla Più Piano,” known in the US and UK as “Speak Softly, Love“—eventually used as the love theme for 1973’s The Godfather.)
Realized in what to contemporary Western eyes looks like an incongruous mixture of styles—art director Nikolay Koshkin takes clear inspiration from George Dunning’s Yellow Submarine (1968)—Contact won awards at the International Film Festival of Science Fiction Films in Trieste and the International Festival of Short and Documentary Films in Lille. Director Tarasov studied at the Moscow Fine Art and Design University before beginning work at Moscow-based animation studio Soyuzmultfilm (“Union Cartoons”) in 1957 at age 16. Prolific and respected around the world—and in 1980 employing around 500 skilled staff—Soyuzmultfilm’s golden age came to an end with the collapse of the Soviet Union, when the disappearance of government funding, along with the profiteering of the new management, brought about the company’s demise.
Tarasov’s other sci-fi films include 1980’s The Return (a poignant study of a cosmonaut returning home, not to be confused with the same year’s disjointed UFO adventure of the same name), 1985’s Contract, adapted from a short story by Robert Silverberg, and 1988’s The Pass, all of them focusing on the recurring themes of interstellar isolation and the search for a universal language—which in Contact is represented by music.