of Fire is the second film in Hykade’s “Country
Trilogy”, comprising We Lived in Grass,
Ring of Fire and The Runt, in which he explores what it means for him to be a man in
the context of his Catholic upbringing in Altotting, Bavaria.
Hykade subjects male sexuality to
merciless scrutiny. In his world, masculinity is a problematic burden, and its
integration into a fully functioning selfhood is a moral challenge. Hykade has
been accused of misogyny, but in fact he tends to idealize women – Ring of Fire’s water-haired love object
is a personification of the female principle as life-giving and of central
importance. And the gipsy prostitute is a majestic figure, allowing access to
her mysteries only on her own terms.
The women denote strength and power on
the one hand and joyful kindness on the other. Meanwhile, the men are abject
creatures, slaves to their gonads. The clumsy cowboy is the hopeless husband on
TV ads, incapable of living without leadership. The sharp competent cowboy is
the Id-man, un-conflicted in the pursuit of his own desires. To him, sex is
conquest and penetration is the angry fist. The clumsy one ultimately attains
nobility through embracing his female side, while the sharp one is destroyed
through his inability to acknowledge the power of the female principle.
If there are any dodgy sexual politics
here, it is in Hykade’s idealization of the female.
The more abject images of sex seem to be
clearly a projection of male desire. The world the two cowboys live in is a
sexual fairground. It is all about the moving parts, friction and lubrication.
There is pleasure, but no joy. Through their eyes, we see the world of sexual
relations as an excessive carnival of disembodied body parts offered for
commerce. This commerce depends on a performance of masculinity, from which the
inept cowboy runs, humiliated, only to stray into the heroine’s territory, marked
by a vagina of architectural proportions. Here, he is bathed in the generous
waters of the female principle. The beautiful heroine is suborned and raped by
the competently evil cowboy, while the inept cowboy enters the gipsy’s tent,
where he is awe-struck and overwhelmed by the infinite revelation of her sexual
Hykade’s ability to balance the drawn
line on the point between figuration and abstraction allows us to be involved
with the characters’ story, and simultaneously to meditate on what he is
telling us on a more universal level. His drawing is permitted by its extreme
stylization to show sex graphically and in a perverse and dizzying variety. But
the most intense expression of eroticism in his film comes in the form of a
metaphor, that of the pouring of water. The end of the film, where the softer
cowboy washes the damaged heroine, is at once erotic and moving. Here we see
the equal erotic exchange between a man and a woman as healing and life-giving.
For Hykade, sound and music are at the center
of emotional life. And for him, Americana has been a powerful formative
influence. The film is, in a way, a love poem to the music of Elvis, Bob Dylan
and Johnny Cash, (who is referenced in the title, but who refused to do the
voice-over once he had read the script). These singers surely provided him with
early ideals of masculinity. The composed music and the bass American voice of
the spoken soundtrack evoke the world of the Western, with its portentous
privileging of the masculine.
A decade and a half later, Ring of Fire is still an exciting and
challenging film, but it marks an early point in Hykade’s still-growing career.
This was his first film after college, supported by the Mercedes Benz Award on
the strength of his graduation film, the chaotic masterpiece We Lived in Grass. Hykade is surely one of our most exciting
contemporary animators. His work seems to speak loudly and clearly from the Id,
but is mediated through a strong intellect, a muscular morality and a sense of
humanism, which puts him, for me, on a par with Yuri Norstein and Caroline
Leaf. Maybe this becomes clear only when we see his work as a whole. Each film
seems progressively simple, even simplistic, but what is happening is, I think,
Hykade paring his work down to essentials as he becomes a better film maker.
His films have become lighter on the surface, while (even in his delightful
children’s series, Tom) the undercurrents
of the power and complexity visible in his early work remain.
Hykade always depicts himself in his drawings
as a small and insignificant manchild, with genitals dangling ridiculously
below his triangular shift as he looks, bemused, at the world. And his
worldview is maybe that of a child savant, an earthy innocent.
of Fire is a film, in the end, about the
centrality of love in any worthwhile life.
Ruth Lingford was born in London, and taught Animation at
the Royal College of Art, the National Film and Television School and,
since 2005, at Harvard University. She has made several award-winning
short films and Music Videos, and has worked on several documentary