Crac! is an enchanting 15mn animated short by Frédéric Back originally released in 1981 and featuring a great collection of songs and tunes from the traditional French Canadian repertoire performed by folk group Le Rêve du Diable. Borrowing its name from a traditional reel of English/Irish origin (the devil’s dream), the band was formed in Lévis (Québec) in 1974 and was instrumental in keeping the dynamic French Canadian oral tradition alive while encouraging the creation of similar bands such as La Bottine Souriante for instance.

Still active today, Le Rêve du Diable have just released their eighth studio album Avec Tambour et Trompette in November 2013 and are getting ready to celebrate their 40th anniversary in 2014.

Frédéric Back - The Mighty River (1993) / All Nothing (1978) / Crac! (1981)
Frédéric Back – The Mighty River (1993) / All Nothing (1978) / Crac! (1981)

Born in Germany in 1924, Frédéric Back emigrated to Montréal in his mid-twenties and went on to enjoy a successful career as a painter, illustrator and animator with CBC/Radio Canada. Between 1970 and 1993, Frédéric Back produced nine short animated films which earned him four Academy Awards nominations and two wins for Crac! in 1982 and for The Man Who Planted Trees in 1987, the latter film cementing his international reputation as a major film director.

Focusing on a rocking chair, “Crac!” chronicles the life of a family in Quebec and by extension, the rapid modernisation of the province. While celebrating a bygone traditional way of life as well as Quebec’s artistic and musical culture, the short “implicitly asks: Should we be so eager to trade in time-tried values for every latest fad?” (Frédéric Back).

Still from "Crac!" (1981)
Still from “Crac!” (1981) – © Frédéric Back

All of Frédéric Back’s animated films are literally handcrafted. Working alone, Back developed and perfected over the course of his career his own trademark animation techniques. From the late 1970s onwards, instead of painting on transparent sheets of cellulose acetate (cel), he started using wax-based coloured pencils and chalk pastels on frosted sheets of cel. Combining these drawing techniques with the use of loops, multiple layers and complex camera movements gave Back’s films their inimitable warmth, fluid movement and vibrant colours. Designed and composed by Normand Roger and performed by Denis Chartrand and Le Rêve du Diable, Crac’s delightful soundtrack is taking centre stage:

Back always found it fascinating to see his images come to life through the appropriate sound and music and, indeed, feels that the success of Crac! is at least in part due to the traditional Quebec folk music that propels the film and delights the audience.

RIP Frédéric Back (1924 – 24th December 2013)