This week’s feature was actually a collection of shorts, and was preceded by two unrelated shorts.
Midnight Dance is a 1996 charcoal animation by John McCloskey following the dreamlike exploits of our skeletal protagonist while set, Fantasia-style to Danse Macabre by Camille Saint-Saëns. Click here for a YouTube version.
A Close Shave (1995) was Nick Park’s third 30-minute claymation film featuring Wallace and Gromit. Wallace is an absentminded (and some might say lousy) inventor with a fetish for Wensleydale cheese, and Gromit is his silent, longsuffering dog. In this episode, Wallace falls in love with wool-shop owner Wendolene, whose jealous and apparently malfunctioning robotic dog Preston frames Gromit in a sheep-rustling scheme, getting him sent to prison. No worries, though, because Wallace and some sheep come to the rescue, busting out Gromit in time to rescue Wendolene and the rest of the sheep from being turned into dogmeat by Preston. Whew!
Bitter Films, Volume 1
Written, Directed, and Animated by Don Hertzfeldt
Bitter Films, Volume 1 is a compilation of animator Don Hertzfeldt’s six major short films produced between 1995 and 2005. Hertzfeldt is a minimalist artist (and some would argue “not a good artist”) who insists on hand-animating and hand-photographing (on film!) each frame of his films. As a result, his output is quite sparse, which is a bit of a shame as he has a unique, sick and twisted voice that could generally do with more exposure.
Ah, L’Amour is the first film in the collection, and was also Hertzfeldt’s first animated film, produced at 18. In this short, our male protagonist is exposed to a series of humiliating (and sometimes painful) rejections from various women. Ouchie. Note how sympathetically the women are drawn. The eyes, the smile. Herztfeldt is clearly a connoisseur of all things female.
The second film is Genre, wherein this poor rabbit (above) is cycled through a painful series of genre films, including the pretentious student film (a category into which Genre presumably falls).
Third comes Lily and Jim, which takes the form of an interview of the two title characters following an unforgettable (in the bad way) blind date. If at the end of a blind date, this attractive (well, you have to imagine that part) girl asks you up to her apartment for coffee, can you really say no? Even if you don’t drink coffee? Even if you’re allergic to caffeine? Maybe the coffee was a bad idea, Jim.
The fourth film is Billy’s Balloon, possibly Hertzfeldt’s most famous film. Above we see Billy, happily being lofted into the clouds by his red balloon. Don’t worry, the happiness ends soon, as the balloon drops him from a horrifying height. Or descends from the sky and pummels him into oblivion. Or drags him into the path of an oncoming jet plane. The methods which the balloon finds to “kill” Billy are finite, but only hardly so. Some have commented that this film is brutal, but really, it’s no different than what the Roadrunner used to dish out to Wile E. Coyote every weekend.
If Billy’s Balloon isn’t Hertzfeldt’s best-known film, then Rejected is. Hertzfeldt has, throughout his career, strongly resisted the idea of doing animations for the purpose of advertising, despite multiple offers from interested sponsors. But in Rejected, he imagines what might happen if he were to accept offers from advertisers only to submit the worst and most ridiculous efforts in an attempt to get rejected. “My spoooooon, is toooooo, biiiiiig!” says the man with the tiny bowl of cereal. “I am a banana!” his counterpoint replies. This is exactly what the Family Learning Channel wants in its promo spots, right?
Well, whether or not it’s what was wanted, things get worse and worse, with ticks being fired out of nipples and bleeding anuses, and finally the artist gradually descends into the madness of crumpled and torn paper. It’s disturbing, on the whole.
Finally, we have Hertzfeldt’s tour de force at the time, The Meaning Of Life. Here we get 12 full minutes (that’s four years’ worth of work!) of…umm…well, crowds milling about, mostly.
They mill about, and mill about some more, and every once in a while treat each other badly, they evolve into alien-type-things, I think they keep milling about…his twisted sense of humor comes through rarely if at all. This is one moment where Hertzfeldt would have been better served to have an animation team – because SOMEBODY would have spoken up and told him to quit wasting his time before he spent four years on this forgettable film. So it goes.
I give it 6 bleeding cotton balls out of 10, but that number is pretty dragged down by The Meaning Of Life.