Lawrence Jordan, ‘Once Upon a Time’ – Review

Come, I am your guide, Lawrence Jordan, Once Upon A Time

Come. I am your guide.

Lawrence Jordan once more impresses this time with the 12-minute horror short Once Upon a Time (1974). This is another film teeming with Jordan’s signature cutout people and sets composed of old art pieces; it tells a story of a young man’s despairing journey through a earthly realm and a haunted house. Unlike Cosmic Alchemy, this particular short features narration from multiple voices, ranging from our main character, the spirits wandering through the castle, and the “Great Lady”. The Lady’s voice is very pleasant to listen to, and one cannot help but to perceive wisdom from this entity.

The backdrops within the film give a possible hint as to what ails our protagonist; the turmoil that exists on earth–death and cruelty. He wanders through the woods, and his heart is heavy as he knows there is something “better.” It appears the Great Lady is searching for him. Interestingly enough, she has a spacesuit helmet on her head.

“I had been intrigued for many years at the idea of filming a haunted castle. In turning to a set of very old platinum-plate photographs of the Fontainbleau interiors, I was finally able to approach this subject through animation. The palace is actually haunted by fragments of Buddhist tenets (heard on the soundtrack).” – Lawrence Jordan

Why have you sought me out?

Lawrence Jordan, Once Upon A Time

Buddhist tenets are also known as the Four Noble Truths, and are as following:

  • Life means suffering.
  • The origin of suffering is attachment.
  • The cessation of suffering is attainable.
  • The path to the cessation of suffering.

The protagonist is suffering and the castle is a projection of his thoughts, and troubles. An interesting interpretation of this could relate to the choice of setting itself; it is a royal domicile. The signs of bats and other spooky imagery within the castle could imply such a place being one of the origins of suffering in this life–perhaps the wealthy inflicting suffering upon the rest of the populace?

Once Upon a Time is more colorful than Cosmic Alchemy, using multiple color filters heavily throughout the film. The soundtrack (composer unknown) varies between the haunted royal chateau theme–dark and mysterious, however, fitting into the classical music genre–to triumphant and promising. Pessimism and optimism are presented in the score, and the track at the end is especially delightful.

Those interested in avant-garde forms of horror will find this film a small treat, and the rich colors are sure to appeal to almost all audiences. A pleasant surprise contained in the film, was the zoom in and out effect exhibited in Cosmic Alchemy wasn’t used, adding to a more eased viewing experience and the icing on the cake of a tale of pain and rebirth.

Below is an excerpt from the film American Avant-Garde: The Lawrence Jordan Album.

Source – Mubi

Once Upon A Time
  • Editor Rating

  • Rated 4 stars
  • Excellent

  • Once Upon A Time
  • Reviewed by:
  • Published on:
  • Last modified: 2012-09-14

Review Summary:

Created in 1974, the film, filled with Jordan's signature cutout people and sets composed of old art pieces, tells a story of a young man's despairing journey through the earthly realm and a haunted house.

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