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Grant Munro

Overview of work

Grant Munro

A star of Neighbours, one of the most acclaimed productions in NFB history, Grant Munro lent his talent and charm to a variety of films in a career that lasted four decades. Part of the first generation of artists to join the Board in its nascent years in Ottawa, Munro, like Colin Low and Wolf Koenig, displayed an impressive versatility as a filmmaker. Munro was a great team player, always willing to contribute amiably to the collective creative process that was acknowledged worldwide as the great strength of the Film Board. Not only skillful as a director of animation and documentaries, Munro often displayed his prowess on screen as a dancer and actor. Munro’s career at the Board sparkles with highlights showing off his diverse talents.

<strong><em>Stanley takes a trip</em></strong> (1947). © NFB<strong><em>Two Bagatelles</em></strong> (1964). © NFB
Stanley takes a trip (1947). © NFBTwo Bagatelles (1964). © NFB

It was as an animator that Munro first made an impact. His animated cut-outs for the songs “My Darling Clementine” and “The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze,” both made in 1945 to entertain wartime Canada, still captivate with their lively rhythmic sense and joyful response to melodies. Collaborating with George Dunning and Bob Verrall, Munro was the one of the trio that directed and animated the darkly humorous safety film The Three Blind Mice (1946), which stands up as the exemplar of the genre of cut-out films created by the Board in the mid ‘40s.

<strong><em>Canon</em></strong> (1964). © NFB<strong><em>The Animal Movie</em></strong> (1966). © NFB
Canon (1964). © NFBThe Animal Movie (1966). © NFB

Munro cemented his reputation in Norman McLaren’s Oscar-winning Neighbours (1952). The legendary anti-war film used pixilation, a stop-motion technique which “animated” actors, in order to achieve its wide range of effects. Munro and fellow animator Jean-Paul Ladouceur start off as the best of neighbours until their lust to possess a flower transforms them from comrades to adversaries to mortal enemies. Superb in his role, Munro also painted the neighbours’ houses and came up with the idea of having the duo don war paint as matters reach their deadly conclusion.

Later that year, McLaren and Munro collaborated on Two Bagatelles, another pixilation which they both directed. Munro stars in the duo, performing exuberantly in In the Backyard’s fast march and gracefully in On the Lawn, which consists of outtakes from Neighbours.

A decade later, McLaren and Munro reunited for A Christmas Cracker, another Film Board hit that was nominated for an Oscar. Munro plays a jester whose antics introduce episodes animated by himself and McLaren as well as Gerald Potterton and Jeff Hale. The funny film quickly became a holiday classic viewed by children in Canada and around the world.

The next year saw McLaren and Munro working together again on Canon, a complex production intended to demonstrate a composer’s “round.” A multitude of Munros merrily move to melodies in this marvellous depiction of musical meaning. Grant Munro’s dancing was praised by no less an authority than Lincoln Kirstein, one of the founders of the New York City Ballet.

In 1966, Munro directed his own anti-war statement, Toys. In it, war toys in a store window come to pixilated life in front of awestruck children. As in a real war, these toys deal death and destruction to each other. The camera records the devastation impassively, allowing the shocked eyes of the youthful window shoppers to underscore the horror that is warfare.

Munro’s directorial work shifted to documentaries after The Animal Movie (1966), a delightful animated film for children, which he co-directed with Ron Tunis, and the darkly comic anti-smoking live-action short Ashes of Doom (1970).

Tour en l’air (1973) provides an insider’s view into the life and work of Anna Marie and David Holmes, the dancers who starred in McLaren’s classic Ballet Adagio. Animated Motion, parts 1-5 (1976-8) and McLaren on McLaren are indispensable documents of the great filmmaker explaining his work and philosophy. See You in the Funny Papers (1983) is a humorous and warm depiction of the free-flowing life and career of cartoonist Lynn Johnston.
The real gem in Munro’s doc work is Boo Hoo (1975), a beautifully realized profile of a New Brunswick cemetery superintendent. Working with cinematographer Barry Perles, Munro has captured a great storyteller in situ: the rambunctious old character rambles through the graveyard while telling great tales of some of its inhabitants. It is a fine film and one of Munro’s personal favourites.

Grant Munro’s career defies easy analysis. A great all-rounder, he showed immense creativity on a number of projects. Perhaps his finest attribute, versatility, works against an assessment of Munro’s work. Collaborating in so many styles and genres meant that Munro never developed a consistent output. Still, if charm and talent count—and they do—then Grant Munro’s delightful presence will be appreciated in the years to come.

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