An array of antique tops on a tabletop greets us at the opening of a short, seven minute, film, buoyant with life and color, with a charming score by Elmer Bernstein. The surprise for me is that it was made by Charles and Ray Eames in 1969. I did not know that the Eames made films, thinking of them as the great designers....
...of innovative furniture, such as these chairs. It wasn't until I watched the fascinating PBS documentary, Eames: The Architect and the Painter, that I learned how involved they were in designing exhibitions and in film, including a multi screen project for the IBM pavilion at the 1964 New York World's Fair.
What most caught my attention in the documentary were snippets from a small film about a small toy, Tops, which you can see in its entirety here on Youtube. They made another sweet film about old toy trains, Toccata for Toy Trains (1957), which you can see here. The tops, of all different shapes and colors, spin merrily along.
They are part of cultures around the world, a toy that seems to be part of a universal language.
We are shown many different ways of winding string around tops....
and different mechanisms for spinning them.
Then there are the games that are played with tops.
And childhood memories of the surprise in the box of Cracker Jacks. Tops color-and-shape-shift as they twirl, acting magically to stay aloft on their fine points. If we're lucky we can get them to spin for a long time, even hop across surfaces, until they wind down and finally collapse. They are such a simple toy that they will keep going and going, again and again.
It may be that I loved this short film because of the two tops in my collection of old things. I've never tried to play with them, but I admire their swelling shapes and their worn colors. All the tops are beautiful little sculptures, kinetic or still.