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The Animation Pimp: Can’t Escape You

The Animation Pimp discusses his recovery from alcoholism and the animated films he found that discuss the subject.

Insignificant and occasionally interesting contributions to the cognition of reality

Illustration by Andreas Hykade. Courtesy of Chris J. Robinson.

Illustration by Andreas Hykade. Courtesy of Chris J. Robinson.

So such is life that it writes itself Trying to right itself But there's nothing wrong with it There's nothing wrong "Christian Animation Torch Carriers" by Robert Pollard of Guided by Voices

Its a lovely irony. I stopped drinking in February 2001, yet since then Ive received more reader comments suggesting that I must be intoxicated while I write this stuff (and, of course, only a month ago did I notice that little subtitle Drunken ramblings from the North under the Pimp heading) than ever before.

Quitting

Anyway if youre like me, youre a recovering alcoholic; one who did not follow the AA route. I went a few times over the years (from 18-34) and each time I found it depressing as hell. Sobriety, for me, should be a celebration of sorts (sometimes), and the last thing I want to do is hang out in a gymnasium with a bunch of somber, chain smoking, coffee guzzling people as they take turns reciting horror stories from their drinking years before holding hands and thanking God. I always left feeling thoroughly depressed and even sort of freakish, like an outcast from society. I didnt want to feel that way. Drinking already gave me that feeling. Drinking already made me feel like physical and mental excrement most days. Being sober was supposed to be a good thing, a happy occasion. Anyway I stubbornly refused (and still refuse) to attend AA. It works for some people. Great. Groovy. Dandy. But heyI got myself into this mess (although there are some who argue that it is an illness or a disease) and Im sure as hell not gonna sit on my ass and let God or some other higher power take the responsibility of sorting my own shit out for me.

I wont go into what motivated me to quit. Lets just say it was an incredibly sappy nostalgic moment. Real cheese quality. It was anti-climactic reallyeven a mysterious broken ankle the year before failed to prevent me from returning to the cause. After I quit, I went to a few more AA meetings but then decided to find a counselor to help me one on one; someone who could give me tangible tools to deal with going to a festival, for example, (where I had really become a brilliant drinker), and not drinking. Those weekly one-hour meetings did the trick. I didnt buy into all the spiel I was given, but I got what I needed to get through my days and nights without booze. Grantedthe first festival (in Finland of all places!) was a nightmare. I was moody, depressed and lost. I didnt miss the boozebut I found that now I had added almost 12 hours to my dayand I didnt know how to fill them. I also realized that festivals had become little more than sitting around bars to talk, eat, and mostly to drink, between screenings (when I actually made it to a screening). AnywayFinland was hell. I remember screaming at my travel agent on a payphone in Turku begging for him to find me a flight home. I remember that during a panel on festival organization, I spoke from a horizontal position atop a bunch of metal chairs. I was also rude to the Quay Brothers, but thats okay, I would be today too.

Depictions of Hell

What really helped me through the whole process were, first of all, a few animator friends who were recovering themselves, but mostly I found therapy by just writing about it (I wrote articles on Paul Fierlinger, actor Sterling Hayden and am currently writing a book on an old hockey player, Doug Harvey all alcoholics). I also found some form of comfort (or an illusion of it) in a variety of songs, books, movies, plays, poems, etc I rented Drunks (some Richard Lewis film), The Lost Weekend (an amazing depiction by Billy Wilder), a Canadian film The Woman Who Drinks, and Pollock (which by the way is an amazing alcoholic film its almost like that film was made for alcoholicsa little series of secrets that only us freaks would dig). I read Charles Jacksons The Lost Weekend, Long Days Journey into the Night, every Nick Tosches word, and even found obscure titles like this 1940s German book called The Drinker. And best of all there are songsso many to choose frombut my favorites: Drunk Again (Willie Nelson), However Much I Booze (The Who), Angel Eyes (Frank Sinatra), Hey Brother Pour The Wine (Dean Martin), Blood Shot Eyes (Wynonie Harris), almost any drink song by George Jones, Bowlegged Drunk Again (Lonnie Johnson), and two alcoholic masterpieces: Now To War by Guided by Voices and I Cant Escape You by Hank Williams. Seeking out alcohol stories became my therapy and yesof courseanother addiction.

While I was in Finland last May (2001), I had organized a screening of films about hell. Initially it was just gonna be one of those cartoony horn rimmed demon hells, but then I thought it might be interesting to do a screening of animations that dealt with the personal hells of the creator (films about desire, war, stress, and alcoholism). Along the way I found, not a lot, but a strong body of films related to alcoholism.

That there is a strong connection between alcoholism and animation (and art in general) is not really a surprise. There is a long list of bottle friendly animators (from Tom Oreb, Pat Sullivan to Norman McLaren to Ryan Larkin and John Callahan although everyone tries to deny McLarens problems as if its a friggin pestilence further contributing to that prevalent societal belief that alcoholism is a character flaw or some sort of immoral activity which, my friends, is utter bullshit). And hey it makes senseartists, any good ones, are obsessive, compulsive, self-centered and quite often anti-social (especially without a substance) people. HellWilliam Faulkner wrote his best (and worst!) work while tightacademics spout on about his stream-of-consciousness or symbolic stylebut they were just beautiful, often, incoherent ramblings of a drunk (prolly not unlike Pollacks so-called Abstract Expressionism). Animation, in particular, is an intense art that often involves a lot of isolation, patience and concentration. Why do you think there are so many parties at animation festivals?

Animated Tales of Booze

Okay...sorryIm digressing again (seeya dont have to be drunk to ramble)while I was digging through all these personal hell films (which really was just an excuse for me to confront my own addiction), I found a handful of interesting animation films about alcoholism: And Then Ill Stop by Paul Fierlinger (1990), I Think I Was An Alcoholic by John Callahan (1993), One Way Street by Bernard Longpré (1980), Michèle Cournoyers The Hat (1999) and, strangely enough, I even found a listing of two Estonian animation puppet films about alcoholism. Both Seven Devils (1985) and A Tale about His Majesty (1974) are directed by Heino Pars -- one of the grandpas of Estonian animation.

Now Michèle Cournoyers The Hat (La Chapeau) is not directly about alcoholism, but sexual abuse. As a stripper dances, she recalls an encounter with a faceless man with a hat. We see that this man has perhaps abused this woman as a young girl. And yet, and this is what makes the film so bloody courageous, there is a suggestion that this girl-woman desires the sex as well, as if she is addicted to it. She knows its not good and yet she wants more of it. In a sense, sex abuse is just a beard here so that Cournoyer can get to the crux of the matter a woman addicted to something that gives her pleasure and simultaneously destroys her.

When we screened One Way Street (Les Naufragés du Quartier) during the opening of the Ottawa '02 festival, I was immediately struck by how much The Hat (La Chapeau) had been influenced by the thick line metamorphosis style that occurs throughout this story (especially when the daughter becomes a stripper) about the destruction of a family through alcoholism. One Way Street is an absolutely stark and unforgiving film that deals with alcoholism as both an environmental and hereditary sickness. The father drinks to forget his lousy job. His daughter drinks to forget her lousy childhood.

I havent seen Seven Devils, but apparently Heino Pars was simply looking for a subject matter and learned about a man in treatment for alcoholism at a neurology hospital in Tartu, Estonia. The man was apparently having visions of devils and wanted to get rid of them through treatment. Pars, obviously not an alcoholic, fails to see that these devils are common traits of delirium tremors, which an alcoholic often suffers during the few sober moments between drinking bouts.

Before he made Seven Devils, Pars made another alcohol tale called A Tale About His Majesty (Priit Pärn even worked on it). The story takes place inside the body of an alcoholic where a team of workers (á là the What Happens During Ejaculation scene in Woody Allens Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex) attempts to deal with the mans generous helping of booze while out on the town with a lady. This heavily moralistic tale traces the decline of the man as he continues to consume heavy amounts of alcohol. Its one of those good scare films for teenagers, but probably not enough to convince a veteran guzzler.

What can I say about the stick figure film I Think I Was An Alcoholic? Its one of the funniest films Ive seen about an alcoholic becoming a quadriplegic.

Next to Callahans film, Paul Fierlingers And Then Ill Stop, is probably the most known of alcohol related animation films. Using the interviews with rehab patients, each story takes us through the habits, downfall and subsequent acknowledgment and recovery of each addict. Fierlinger gives each voice their own drawing style ranging from dark, grey sketches to Steinberg influenced geometric drawings. Accompanying the story is a haunting, minimalist track. The power of the film lies with the combination of Fierlinger's strong graphics, the soundtrack and the frank, unsentimental stories of these real people. There is not a drop of sentimentality in this film. The films biggest twist comes at the end when we are introduced to a new character, Paul. It turns out that during the making of the film Fierlinger himself quit drinking.

A New, Strange Road

I guess its like what I said about death. It aint goin' anywhere so why try to ignore it. Just accept it as part of life. I know some milquetoast ex-boozers who wont go near bars or cant stand to be around other people drinking. That doesnt bother me at all. Alcohol is ubiquitous, I cant run from it so instead I just try to face it head on and embrace the tales of those whove been drunk by it.

Sobriety is a strange roadbut I must sayits been pretty dandy overall. Ive lost weight, I dont wake up with a stinging headachethose late afternoon drink cravings are behind meI dont get thrown out of bars anymoreI dont jump sound men at concerts because the band sucks. I dont puke. I dont stick my tongue down strangers throatsI dont have blackoutsI dont do as many stupid things anymoreand it's a great feeling to say, Ill meet you at 9 a.m., and actually be there. Hell...its a great fucking feeling just to wake up in the morning.

But ya know I also dont want to transform into some self-righteous, all hail the big book, recovery salesman. I had a lot of good times with alcohol, especially at festivals. Problem was that I tried to bring my festival drinking fountain home. Not a good move. And I admit I found it really hard to socialize in Ottawa this year. Alcohol can be a great social tool and theres no better example than when you go to a festival. It loosens up inhibitions and helps people step outside themselves for a few hours so they can better engage in some chitchat with others. I think thats a damn fine thing. I have a lot of good drinking memoriesbut the problem is that I also have too many memories I dont recall. Too many nights where you keep drinking and drinking until youve gone from stepping outside yourself to losing yourself altogether. Too many nights of not giving a shit what I was drinking as long as it got me where I needed to go. And on many times, I drank into blackness. There is nothing more frightening than a blackout, until the next one.

During Ottawa '02 there were a few encounters with people who said they liked the Pimp columns (yeaha few slobber jockeys cornered AWN publisher, Dan Sarto and demanded to know how he could justify printing such hateful and racist material as the Pimp. Strangely these crusading backboned bastions of morality didnt mention their objections to me the entire week.), but the sweetest, most chillaxin words emanated from those mouths that expressed surprise at how different I seemed from the Pimp they envisioned (heydont feel bad...even some of my friends now think I wanna talk about Greeks, titties, Kant, and Jimmy Neutron too). That be snug on the ears mon chums(and PART of the reason why you see this new Pimp logo). Naturally there is a large chunk of me in the Pimp. How could there not be? But its just one snot from the mucus, one shake from the spurt stick. That being saidbefore I quit drinking I was certainly closer to the Pimps temperament. As some of you know, one of the biggest worries alcoholics have is that well become a mediocre herbal tea drinking Enya lovin slug; all that hipness and superior intelligence we firmly possessed as alcoholics will follow the Canadian Club down the drain. But hey, a raging, bloated, lecherous, bombastic puke stained drunk aint exactly a rare bird. And whatever unvarnished ire I inherited before has simply become more polished (or at least gets read twice now before being sent to the editor). Beyond that, nothings changed, I still use writing as a vehicle to try and sort through all the confusion, ugliness, ignorance, anger, beauty and horniness, that feeds this Stuff within which you and me, being we, piss, shit and breathe.

Chris Robinson is but a man. His hobbies include squirrel taunting, goat thumping, meat dancing and elderly peeping. You can find the results at http://asifa.net/robinson

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