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Artist

Len Lye

Christchurch-born artist Len Lye (1901 - 1980) was an internationally renowned modernist filmmaker and kinetic sculptor. Recognised as a front-running innovator in setting music to film, e.g. Swinging the Lambeth Walk (1939) and Free Radicals (1958), he travelled extensively in the South Pacific in the 1920s, then moved to London. There Lye began making films for the GPO Film Unit, including A Colour Box (1935), one of the earliest direct films. In 1950 he became a US ctizen. His clips were posthumously programmed on MTV Europe; a retrospective of Lye's work screened at Centre Pompidou in Paris in 2000.  

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Len Lye

Director, Innovator

Globetrotting New Zealander Len Lye was a gifted innovator in many areas of the arts — film, painting, sculpture, photography, and writing. Inventing ways to make films without a camera, he became one of the pioneers of the genre later known as the music video. Later he moved to New York's Greenwich Village and became a leading figure in the kinetic art movements of the 1950s and 60s. 

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From Len Lye to Gollum - New Zealand Animators

Television, 2004 (Full Length)

Presented by an animated pencil, but no less authoritative for it, From Len Lye to Gollum traces the history of Kiwi animation from birth in 1929, to the triumphs of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The interviews and animated footage cover every base, from early pioneers (Len Lye, Disney import John Ewing) to the possibilities opened by computers (Weta Digital, Ian Taylor’s Animation Research). Along the way Euan Frizzell remembers the dog he found hardest to animate and the famous blue pencil; and Andrew Adamson speculates on how ignorance helped keep Shrek fresh.

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Doodlin' - Impressions of Len Lye

Television, 1987 (Full Length)

This documentary, made seven years after the death of legendary filmmaker and kinetic artist Len Lye, tells Lye's story: from being a young boy staring at the sun, to travels around the Pacific and life in New York. It includes excerpts from many of his films, and interviews with second wife Ann and biographer Roger Horrocks. Len Lye himself is often heard, outlining his ideas of the ‘old brain’ and how Māori and Aboriginal art influenced his work. The grandeur of his ideas are only matched by their scale, with steel sculptures designed to be "at least 20 foot high".

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Collection

The Animation Collection

Curated by NZ On Screen team

Animated plasticine. Talking chickens. Dancing Cossacks. Plus old favourites bro'Town, Hairy Maclary and Footrot Flats. From Len Lye to Gollum, feast on the talents of Kiwi animators. In his backgrounder to the Animation Collection, NZ On Screen's Ian Pryor provides handy pathways through the frogs, dogs and stop motion shenanigans. 

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Collection

Artists on Screen Collection

Curated by Mark Amery

For this screen showcase of NZ visual arts talent, critic Mark Amery selects his top documentaries profiling artists. From the icons (Hotere, McCahon, Lye) to the unheralded (Edith Collier) to Takis the Greek, each portrait shines light on the person behind the canvas. "Naturally inquisitive, with an open wonder about the world, they make for inspiring onscreen company."

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Collection

Kiwi Ingenuity

Curated by NZ On Screen team

'No 8 wire' Kiwi ingenuity is defined by problem solving from few resources (No 8 wire is fencing wire that can be adapted to many uses, an ability that was particularly handy for isolated NZ settlers). Embodied in heroes from Richard Pearse to PJ, Kiwi ingenuity is a quality dear to our national sense of self. It has been memorably celebrated, and sometimes satirised, on screen.

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Collection

Sculpture

Curated by NZ On Screen team

Sculpture is arguably more present in people’s day-to-day lives than many art forms. Frequently found in public places, it transforms our surroundings and enriches the community. At times it polarises the public, challenging society and creating controversy. This collection celebrates distinguished New Zealand sculptors, both nationally and internationally recognised: including Paul Dibble, Chris Booth, Greer Twiss, Neil Dawson and the legendary Len Lye. The controversial ‘Virgin in a Condom’ also features (in the first episode of Backch@t).

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Collection

Top Five Collection

Curated by NZ On Screen team

NZ On Screen is a treasure trove of titles from Aotearoa's screen history. From time to time we've asked people to select their personal Top Five titles on the website. Click on any of the pictures below to sample a wide and varied list of titles as chosen by a wide and varied list of people: including A Dog's Show, Shortland Street, Len Lye, Outrageous Fortune, Billy T James, Boy — and music from 60s rock to Chris Knox.

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Swinging the Lambeth Walk

Len Lye, Music Video, 1939

The Lambeth Walk was a popular 'swing jazz' dance in London in 1939. It included a hand gesture with the Yiddish "Oi!". New Zealand-born filmmaker Len Lye edited together different versions of the music (including Django Reinhardt on guitar and Stephane Grapelli on violin), and combined them with a variety of abstract images painted and scratched directly onto film, without using a camera. The colourful, dynamic animation was made with public money — for the Ministry of Information in the United Kingdom — scandalising some government bureaucrats.