East Bay View (a blog about several things)

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Monday, March 07, 2005

The Animation Show 2005: Histories of cinema

Like any compilation of shorts, The Animation Show 2005 has its ups and downs, but here the ups are so up, I want to focus on them exclusively.

Third prize: Ward 13 by Peter Cornwell. After a car accident, Ben wakes up in hospital. Not knowing where he is or what is going on, he starts exploring the corridors, only to find that the staff don't have his health in mind... The gags will be familiar to anyone who's watched a few "Treehouse of Horror" episodes, but they're crisply executed, and the ten minute chase through the hospital corridors is as thrilling as any claymation not done by Nick Park. It even got an award from noted killjoys FIPRESCI for "its criticism of the power of doctors and the refreshing cynicism of its treatment of genre cinema."

Second prize: The Meaning of Life by Don Hertzfeldt (who was at the screening.) The crowd scenes, featuring dozens of distinct characters mouthing off in frame, are a tremendous technical achievement - although in this context, Hertzfeldt's disavowal of computers seems less an invigorating aesthetic decision than masochism. Then it goes cosmic, in a manner less like Bob Eggleton than Abraham Ebdus, Jonathan Lethem's fictional filmmaker and Hugo winner from The Fortress of Solitude. Then we see a gallery of fantastic creatures, evolving or devolving. In all the most beloved fantasies, the achievement is the creation of another world with its own rules. Hertzfeldt plays off this in two ways: first, regardless of how unfamiliar it is, it's not another world, it's ours - like Steve Zizzou or Jack Goldstein, he reminds us of how unfamiliar most of our world is to us. Second, he strips all inessentials like plot, character, setting, morality. To make up for this absence, Hertzfeldt next gets one of these creatures to explain the meaning of life to another. Then more Ebdus, and that's it. What lingers is the scale - no movie I've seen has ever made time pass like this before. Don told us he got a B+ from UCSB Film Studies for Billy's Balloon; this would get him tenure. But I don't know if it's better.

First prize: When the Day Breaks by Wendy Tilby and Amanda Forbis. The "pregnant moment" short story is rarely attempted on film, because a director needs to be a Scorsese-level craftsperson to visually represent what's going in the protagonist's head. Tilby and Forbis (who more recently did the United Airlines "Interview" ad) merely come up with a workaround, but what a workaround - swirling through the town like a pepped-up city symphony, or more particularly like "22 Short Films About Springfield." Stream of consciousness gets dubbed by stream of existence. Of course, that's not the way it works - individuals represent communities, not vice versa. This sidestepping leads to a resolution that Alice Munro fans may consider a little pat. But any psychological loss is drowned by the sheer gorgeousness, from the songs by McGarriglites Martha Wainwright (album finally finally finally coming out next month) and Chaim Tannenbaum, to the quirky yet completely appropriate visuals - in retrospect, how could the main characters not be a pig and a rooster? And for her assertion that in an urban setting, community necessarily exists, I want to kiss that pig.


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