A Curious Phenomenon

The 64th Edinburgh International Film Festival is to open on Wednesday with The Illusionist directed by Sylvain Chomet. It is a hand-drawn animation about a magician working in Edinburgh and is apparently sold out. Edinburgh citizens obviously, are keen to see their city on the big screen. Yet, from all the stills appearing in the press, it is not views of the city that have caught my attention but one of Oban station situated by the sea which appeared in The Scotsman Magazine. I showed it to members of my family and with a little prompting, asking them to focus on the ferryboat, got the response I expected. All said it was too big for its position on the water.

The Scottish National Gallery has a painting by William McTaggart of boys in a dinghy entitled The Young Fishers. I like it very much but others have made the identical criticism, that the boat is over-scaled. I have heard the same comment on a small McTaggart painting in Aberdeen Art Gallery. Why I don’t share the reservation about all these works is that I was brought up in Stromness in a house overlooking its natural harbour. I know very well that there is an optical illusion in this setting that boats loom large and appear unnaturally close. Returning last summer to the Orkney Islands after an absence of nearly forty years, I noticed it again. I am sure an illustrator showing the ferry crossing Stromness harbour would have been tempted to scale down the ferry as it appeared.

I have noted something similar in the response of the ordinary viewer to acutely observed figure drawings. An etching of a nude woman hanging in my house by my friend John Binning is often thought by visitors to be out of proportion. I have even heard the same criticism made of works by Titian and Rembrandt. There is a tendency to look for a sort of lay-figure type of normality. The figures in The Illusionist are a bit like this. When twenty-four drawings have to be made for each second of this type of film, it could hardly be otherwise. The view of the harbour at Oban can be more authentic.