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Fresh from the Festivals: June 2006’s Reviews

In part two of AWNs in-depth Cars coverage, Bill Desowitz discovers the roots of Route 66 in creating the highly detailed, luscious and complex world.

Within the world of animation, most experimentation occurs within short format productions, whether they are high-budgeted commercials, low-budgeted independent shorts or something in between. The growing number of short film festivals around the world attest to the vitality of these works, but there are few other venues for exhibition of them or even written reviews. As a result, distribution tends to be difficult and irregular. On a regular basis, Animation World Magazine will highlight some of the most interesting with short, descriptive overviews.

If you have the QuickTime plug-in, you can view a clip from each film by simply clicking the image.

Bob Log IIIs Electric Fence Story (2004), 2:25, directed by Stock N Wolf (Tinka Stock and Sébastien Wolf). (Germany). Contact: Sébastien Wolf [E] sebastienwolf@gmx.de

El Doctor (2006), 23:00, directed by Suzan Pitt. (U.S.) Contact: Suzan Pitt [W] home.earthlink.net/~suzanpitt/

It Pains Me to Say This (2006), 9:45, directed by George Griffin. (U.S.) Contact: George Griffin [W] www.geogrif.com

Olis Chance (2005), 10:00, directed by Saschka Unseld and Johannes Weiland (German). Contact: Studio Soi [T] +49.7141.9743670 [W] www.studiosoi.de [E] contact@studiosoi.de

She She She Shes a Bombshell (2005), 7:37, directed by Ben Levin (U.S.). Contact: Ben Levin [W] www.benlevin.net [E] levin.ben@gmail.com

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Ill speak my mind, although It Pains Me To Say This. © George Griffin.

It Pains Me to Say This

George Griffin makes art. The QuickTime movie attached to this article is a small piece of it. See? Art. I respect that a lot. I, on the other hand, have no illusions about this thing Im doing for you now. This isnt Art, its creative accountancy at best. Animation is art this is ready-reference. In general, in fact, I have very little patience for professional criticism. Movie critics are our cultural scapegoats, bravely enduring all those terrible, terrible films so that you dont have to. They find fault for cash. I never put up with a critic with no sense of humor, and lately that criterion has sieved nearly everybody out of my media-mixing bowl.

Writer/actor/director Stephen Fry said of critics in the London Daily Telegraph 15 years ago that no one would volunteer for this dreadful trade, but the kind of worthless and embittered offal we do, by and large, get. Sadly the trend is consistent: too many critics are just assholes. Consider the tosser who recently called the new Pixar film Cars, a perfect if perfectly conventional comedy, bland: he/she/it also said in 2000 that Robert Altman hasnt made a decent movie since The Long Goodbye and, in 1998, called A Bugs Life a high-tech bore. Fortunately asshole critics are like potholes; once you spot them, theyre easy to avoid.

You know this already, of course, for youve been reading reviews for years which means you also probably know the rule that when the reviewer begins by writing about something other than the matter at hand, the review is probably negative. Dont jump to any hasty conclusions, though I dig George Griffin a lot, even if Im not in love with It Pains Me To Say This, his latest I only opened with that sidebar because the short itself is so Meta in its self-critical approach that I had to follow suit. Griffin, he of the signature boxy-head single-stroke-eyes style of minimalism, is the creator of many comic and abstract shorts I hope you remember fondly, including Its a So-So Life, A Little Routine and LAge Door.

It Pains Me To Say This is both a work of art and a critique of it, which is always handy for deflating pretensions. First, the work: George Griffin creates a short animated film in which Ken and Celeste attend a reunion. Celeste reminds Ken of how he called her cunt at last years gathering. He evades the issue. She insists. He says he was drunk/said something else/is now in love with her. It escalates. He pulls his dick out. She pulls out a gun and mows him down. Then she puts on a nametag and looks for conversation elsewhere.

Here is the critique: Griffin continues his animated short by pulling back to reveal an audience thats just finished watching the adventures of George and Celeste. The audience boos violently. Cut to a public-affairs TV show: a series of talking heads debate misogyny and gun culture. The shows host declares Ken, the cartoon actor, a surrogate for the filmmaker, driving Ken to therapy. The therapist traces Kens problems to the films design boxy and unrealistic. Kens wife Rachel puts him on trial for being a sexist pig. Ken moves on. The film ends with Ken and Rachel in bed Ken shirtless with tufts of hair poking out beneath his arms as Rachel complains, Were the hairy armpits really necessary?

All very inside stuff but beyond the fact that the voices and faces are probably all people Griffin knows, this is something that any artist pushing the envelope of acceptability can relate to. Im sure Neil LaBute probably lived something hauntingly similar to this scenario. The voice acting isnt extremely dynamic, but its honest. The digitally-manipulated traditional animation is rough-and-ready. And the opening and closing tune is by Joel Forrester, and I dearly love any opportunity to sample a new tune by a member of the late and lamented Microscopic Septet. Bearing in mind that rarely do we get a chance to see any short animators back catalogue, Im pleased to report that Griffin has a DVD called Griffiti with 146 minutes of goodies from his filmography.

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Come closer, children of the Black Hills, and hear Bob Log IIIs Electric Fence Story. © Stock N Wolf.

Bob Log IIIs Electric Fence Story

Good stories are free, and animation can come at virtually the same price, as proven by the goofy clay animation miniature Bob Log IIIs Electric Fence Story. Bob narrates the story himself: Hes driving with friends at night through the Black Hills, and, as they pass fields of sedentary cows, he asks, semi-drunk in the passenger seat, if any of his buddies have ever heard of cow-tipping. They have not. Bob explains: A cow sleeps standing up. Sneak up, be quiet, push hard, run away. Presto: amusement.

They pull over and Bob weaves drunkenly across lanes to a wire fence separating him from a field of dozing cows. He climbs over the fence, which immediately electrocutes him. He is not stopped by this. Somehow he clambers over this ornery obstacle and lands, howling in agony, in the paddock. He attempts to approach the bovines to engage them in tippage. But his plan backfires when he discovers that a) he is knee-deep in cowshit, making quick movements difficult; and b) his shouting has woken all the cows, who are now on to him.

Amusement has not transpired. So he climbs back out of the paddock. On his way he electrocutes himself yet again. The next morning he lies in bed for a moment without remembering a thing. Then he sees the stains on the sheets.

Bob Log looks like it was shot for about $1.50, which only makes it funnier. Plasticine figures with spindly appendages and similarly Gumby-like articulation stumble through countertop sets; a cars headlights are giant elongated white cones reaching from the grill to the pavement; electric shocks are suggested with a combination of lighting sparklers and turning up the brightness real high. The whole thing is captured on digital video with a heavy grain, and its all over in about the time it took you to read this, giving it a brilliant efficiency. Im especially in love with the shot of a group of cows crumpled on the ground, laughing hysterically. Now we know where that cheese comes from. Directors Tinka Stock and Sebastien Wolf created the short for inclusion in a live-action documentary called Slide Guitar Ride, all about Bob Log III, a Tucson-based one-man-band.

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The headlines will shout ¡Milagro! for El Doctor. © Suzan Pitt.

El Doctor

El Doctor is a glum yet colorful excursion into the head of an emergency room doctor south of the border whos letting a particularly Catholic brand of magical thinking influence his technique. The short opens with some lyrical establishing shots of street scenes before revealing the Doctor of the title passed out in a local cantina. He dreams of a powerful horse and a beautiful maiden, and when he wakes he staggers to his car and pukes. He imagines a little shadow-play of innocents battling the forces of darkness, all acted out in the grime of his windshield, before getting inside the car and shutting the door.

Two orderlies approach and beg for his help; its a busy night at the hospital and theyre swamped with patients. Under protest he follows and finds a gunshot victim whos still on his feet despite a dozen cartooney Swiss cheese holes, golfball-size windows allowing a clear view straight through him. The sick man lives just long enough to beg for help before collapsing on the floor. His lover, whos been standing nearby the whole time wearing a red dress and still carrying the murder weapon, bemoans her crime of passion, and in the first of a series of devotional sequences. she invokes the name of a saint, takes her own heart from her body and prays for deliverance. The cops come and take her away.

The doctor leaves the hospital, walking past a pair of gargoyles, one of which comes to life temporarily to play Greek chorus to the doctors woes, suggesting he off himself and end his misery. The doctor goes to his car to sleep it off but he has psychedelic visions, complete with a disembodied voice of a woman/child taunting him. Hes left the headlights on, and they slowly fade. Later he wakes and returns to the hospital, to see a young girl on a bed with multicolored flowers springing out of her in a dozen places. The doctor imagines hes a bug pollinating the flower and then he cries out Milagro! to the girls startled parents the girl is a miracle.

Moving to another room, the doctor operates on a man with a distended belly. He disembowels him, decides his intestines are tangled, and has his assistants unravel the intestine out the door and down the hall until its taut. Then they roll it up into a neat ball and return it to his torso. The doctor breaks out a magnifying glass and admires the rainbow carnival of bacteria and parasites in the patients chest, then sews up.

Down the hall theres a room with bedroom furnishings, and in the bed is a woman with a horses head. The doctor offers the standoffish woman/horse some purple candy, but before the two can enjoy any amorous adventures the attendant grabs him yet again; hes needed in obstetrics. Out of a pregnant womans massive belly the doctor then removes a dozen tiny beasties of various sizes, shapes and colors, which scamper about. Leaving the operating room, the doctor is overwhelmed by a new conviction that a light in his heart is illuminating the universe. But though we fade to white and the music swells, the final scene is of the doctor unmoving in his car, never having left it, as people wander by in the street wondering if they should do anything.

Visually El Doctor is a rich bouillabaisse of a half-dozen animation styles. The dominant technique of traditional cel animation, reminiscent of the work of John Schnall (Goodnight Norma Goodnight Milton), is interrupted by cutout animation, scratched emulsion, and wild splattery abstractions akin to Stan Brakhage. Unlike director Suzan Pitts previous abstract animations, there are dozens of characters on-screen in El Doctor, and in such a strongly narrative and character-driven format the works effectiveness hinges on the character acting, which is weaker than it deserves to be in something as clearly ambitious as this.

The soundtrack, though, is stuffed with richly evocative vintage pop songs, and I really liked the work of the actor playing the gargoyle, who comes off sounding like a Latino version of Patrick Bauchau, gravelly-voiced character actor from A View to a Kill and Panic Room. El Doctor was featured in the theatrical omnibus Cartoons: No Laughing Matter? from Filmforum last month, and Los Angeles viewers will get a chance to see the film with all of Pitts work at the Egyptian later this month.

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Lucky Oli has a brush with death in Olis Chance. © Studio Soi with support from Deutsche Bahn AG.

Olis Chance

The most painless educational film you may ever see is Olis Chance (Lucky Oli), assuming (as with everything in this miserably un-followthrough-able column) youre lucky enough to see it at all. If youre living in Europe your child may actually see it before you do. It was produced by Studio Soi, makers of fff05_SheSheSheShesABombshe.jpg

Dude, its I you know like She She She Shes a Bombshell! © Benjamin Levin.

She She She Shes a Bombshell

I dont want to write about She She She Shes a Bombshell, I just want to watch it over and over and over. But you need to know what the thing is, so heres the thing in a nutshell: Boy, boy, girl. Chris, Simon, Shannon. Night. The concerts over. Meeting back at the car. Chris had a fine, fine time. Simon and Shannon, less so. Simon and Shannon hop in the car. Simon fiddles with a Discman. Shannon waits. Outside the car is Happy Boy Chris. Chris is trying to get in the car. Dude, unlock it. Dude, take your hand off the latch or it wont unlock.

Finally Chris is in the backseat and begins to regale his friends with a story of a girl he met. Girl girl girl. Regale regale regale. Monologue. Chris doing the monologuing. Chris is oblivious. Simon and Shannon in the front seat scowling and futzing with the Discman. Cassette deck adapter is in the dash and disc is spinning and why cant we hear the goddamn CD and SMACK SMACK SMACK the dashboard.

Monologue continues. Oh this was some girl, man.

SMACK! SMACK! SMACK!

Okay so her taking a pee by the car was a little hick but I bet shed be the kind of wife who

SMACK! SMACK! SMACK! SMACK!

could have a buncha kids and still make out with you with a horror movie going on and I forgot to get her name and she probably doesnt have a phone or Im sure she does actually and shes drawn on it with Whiteout

SMACK! SMACK! SMACK! SMACK SONG SONG SONG goes the song, as some loud and friendly aggro-pop ska goodness finally comes blaring out of the stereo, which drowns out Chris.

Who keeps talking.

The end.

I may personally bootleg this DVD and send copies to everyone in Hollywood; so urgent is the need to get this boy a deal. Remember the buzz you get from seeing a Quentin Tarantino film for the first time? Its the characterization. Its the dialogue so good it sings. Its the impeccable timing. Its not having a damned clue where this is going and loving it. Its the quick cutaways to the coffee cups in the cabinet in Jackie Brown or Esmerelda Villalobos taxi license in Pulp Fiction. Take that flavor and import it into traditional animation and youve got Bombshell. Now watch the clip. Mr. Levin may own the world or at the very least a small chunk of weekly airtime before you know it. Meanwhile, you knew him when.

Taylor Jessen is a writer living in Burbank. He works part-time in the lumber department at Duh Depot, where its always a No-Brainer.

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