North of Blue is kind of like the last 20 minutes of 2001: A Space Odyssey if Stanley Kubrick had a sense of humor. The first feature-length work from Portland animator Joanna Priestley is completely abstract. Instead of any kind of narrative, North is a collection of shapes and colors that shift together to create a trippy symphony of images. Made with 2D computer animation, lines whizz across the screen and form geometric structures. Humming blue dots pulse in and out of frame. It's backed by a dreamlike soundscape of synths and glass-like clinks.
Priestley doesn't operate within the ordinary. The Portland animator has been making films since 1983, when she used rubber stamps to create a seven-minute moving canvas. Since then, her vow to make a film a year helped her create a huge portfolio of 27 films.
But in North of Blue, which premieres this week, Priestley dives even deeper into abstraction. At almost an hour long, it's a lot to ask of even a patient viewer.
Thankfully, North has plenty of personality. A structure of triangles morph into a collection of red patterns, while a rainbow of flower petals combine to form clock-like architecture. Priestley frequently imbues her work with a sense of humor—one of her works is titled Blue Balls. While North is devoid of direct jokes, there's a childlike sensibility throughout. Some objects are personified into faceless characters, like a red rectangle that laughs as it slinks off-screen, or a green blob with red tentacles that releases a whale-like moan.
North works on a purely aesthetic level thanks in part to the score and sound design by Portland composer Jamie Haggerty. As the geometry onscreen morphs and turns, Haggerty adds noises like record scratches and the gentle drop of marbles to make each of the forms feel like living abstractions.
North is more concerned with being transfixing than gripping. But as a visceral experience, it's calming and endlessly interesting. North is fascinating to watch, if only to gain a peek into Priestley's imaginative mind.
SEE IT: North of Blue is at Hollywood Theatre, 4122 NE Sandy Blvd., hollywoodtheatre.org. 7 pm Thursday, Sept. 21. $8-$10.