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Fresh from the Festivals: November 2005’s Reviews

Taylor Jessen reviews five short films Backbone Tale (Une Histoire Vertebrale) by Jeremy Clapin, The Curse of the Voodoo Child by Steven Woloshen, Meeting Me (Wie Ich Mich Traf) by Angela Steffen, The Mysterious Geographic Exploration of Jasper Morello by Anthony Lucas and Perfect by Sally Arthur. Includes QuickTime movie clips!

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.a

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

Backbone Tale (Une Histoire Vertebrale) (2004), 9:08, directed by Jeremy Clapin (France). Contact: Sylvie Martin, Strapontin, 6 rue Henri Feulard, 75010 Paris, France [T]; [F] [E] [W] Distributor: Premium Films, 130, rue de Turenne, 75003 Paris, France. [T/F] [E] [W]

The Curse of the Voodoo Child (2005), 3:30, directed by Steven Woloshen (Canada). Contact: Steven Woloshen [T] 514.270.3563 [E]

Meeting Me (Wie ich mich traf) (2004), 4:41, directed by Angela Steffen (Germany). Contact: Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg, Mathildenstr.20, 71638, Ludwigsburg, Germany [T] 0049.7141.969.0 [F] 0049.7141.969.299 [E] ]W]

The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello (2005), 27:00, directed by Anthony Lucas (Australian). Contact: Deirdre Berry, Monster Distributes, Ltd., The Monster Mews, Rear 51 Merrion Square, Dublin 1, Ireland. [E]

Perfect 2004), 3:00, directed by Sally Arthur (U.K.). Contact: Sally Arthur [T] 0044.117.939788; [E] sally@world of [W]


A man, a dog, and a backbone search for love in Backbone Tale (Une Histoire Vertebrale). © Strapontin.

A Backbone Tale (Une Histoire Vertebrale)

There is a delicate art to the judicious concealment and revelation of information, and A Backbone Tale (Une Histoire Vertebrale) is an object lesson in same. The tiny star-crossed love story is animated traditionally with 3D elements, and takes place in a quiet urban neighborhood with a canal, a movie palace and a lonely man with a head pointed forever down at the pavement. The man walks through his neighborhood unable to see trees or sky, endlessly inspecting his shoes as he makes his way to his third-story apartment.

His dog greets him and he takes a look at his mail; there are some X-rays, confirming what hed already guessed, that not only does his neck turn sharply perpendicular from his spine, theres a little crossbar of bone preventing straightening. Depressed, he turns instead to his movie magazine. In front of the cinema across the street, a cardboard cutout of a pretty lady beckons patrons inside. He steals it, playing out imaginary movie-lover poses as he takes her passionately in his arms and tries to plant a kiss on her mug.

Sadly the angles dont work and first he bends, then breaks the cardboard girls head completely off her body. He goes to sleep in the usual way, sitting up with his pillow hanging from the wall, unaware that someone has moved into an apartment one floor below him.

The following morning the first reveal is made, as the pet bird of the new lodger flies up out of her second-story window and lands on the depressed mans third-story window, then returns to her owner a woman who, wouldnt you know it, has a similar but exactly opposite neck condition and can only look straight up. In a montage of cross-cut scenes, we follow them both through their daily routines as again and again they casually miss each other he taking the stairs, she taking the elevator; he fishing in the canal while she gazes up at a string of balloons. When, at last, the anxious pet bird drives them both to stick their heads out the window at once, they finally see each other, and the bloom of potential love bursts onto their faces.

Only then does the story deliver its diabolical reveal of something the director has coyly hidden thus far. The vignette doesnt go so far as to cynically punish the viewer, but this is a microscopic version of perennially great gotcha pictures like Deathtrap where your first viewing is something you can never get back. Youll spend your second go-around looking at all the clever ways the director hid that thing without letting you suspect a thing was hidden at all; and by your third trip you should simply be able to enjoy this great short.

The wordless scenario was written and animated by Jeremy Clapin, and is the first independent short project for the freelance animator/illustrator following stints at Duran and Vivendi Interactive. The melancholy music and the muted greens, blues and browns of the desaturated color scheme complement the initially bleak mood, and make the shorts later up moments all the more bittersweet.


Can the young daughter of a Canadian animator confront the sheer terror of The Curse of the Voodoo Child? © Steven Woloshen.

The Curse of the Voodoo Child

From Steve Woloshen, the animator of Snip, comes more avant-garde distressed-celluloid eye candy. Woo woo! The Curse of the Voodoo Child is an inter-media mashup between a 1957 Hammer horror flick with Peter Cushing and a seminal scorcher from Jimi Hendrix Electric Ladyland.

For the visual half of his new abstraction, Woloshen has lifted chunks of footage from an 8mm print of The Curse of Frankenstein and stretched it to a CinemaScope aspect ratio, mutilated it, scratched it, sanded it, drawn doodles on it, left huge fingerprints, and finally color-reversed the whole schmear. This he has smashed into an edited track of all the instrumental bits from Voodoo Child (Slight Return), and for the first time the rainbow alligator teeth of Hendrix guitar have a really compelling visual complement in the zoom-zip of multicolored film scratches that dart around the screen.

The film clips are out of sequence and entirely subvert the source movies narrative, but the impression is of a man and a woman and their amorous adventures, their non-sexual hours of simply hanging out, and possibly the little girl that came later. Not surprisingly the film is Woloshens homage to his girlfriend and 15-month-old daughter, and he made the short in the early-morning hours before they both got up.


The child inside the adult animator meets herself in Meeting Me (Wie Ich Mich Traf) . © Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg.

Meeting Me (Wie Ich Mich Traf)

I had a childrens book a long time ago about dinosaurs, and the last page was a painting of a desert valley at night with a stegosaurus skull peeking up out of the dirt, signifying the mysterious disappearance of all the dinosaurs. There was a high plateau in the background, and because of a printing error there was a little white hole in the color plate that in my kids brain became the headlights of a 1967 Mustang convertible, inside which were Mary and Joseph with coat-hanger haloes waiting to drive down into the valley and people the Earth. I lost the dream for years, and then I finally got it back, and it felt good. Meeting Me (Wie Ich Mich Traf)feels much the same way, and although the animator is in her twenties and had the dream only recently, it still has the authentic tang of an artists first fantasy, Dream One.

Meeting Me is a transmutation recounted in a poem, metaphysics for toddlers done with pencil and paper. The heroine is made entirely of spheroid sections her feet inverted teacups, her head a bowl with dots for eyes, her mouth and limbs simple lines. The narration is recited by a child: Winzig klein/und tief im Schlaf/träumte ich von Sonnenschein/wie er mich traf (Tiny small/and deep in sleep/I dreamed of sunshine/how it met me). The girl wakes to the sun, the wind carries her away, and she transforms into a bird, and then a caterpillar. She even becomes the storybook beast Ungetüm by which she is then eaten.

Falling to pieces, she wakes in a rippling pool as the various versions of herself circle her. Das war alles/und wie ich mich traf (That was all/and how I met myself). All transpiring in what looks like a peaceful wood, this is existentialism without any of that pesky adulthood angst. Rising out of the pool, the dream moves on without her: Ich war so viel/und doch so leer/das ich dann fiel/ ns schwarze Meer (I was so full/and yet so empty/that then I fell/in the black sea). But she doesnt panic, and instead lets time pass, the night moving into day, and embraces the whole world: Das/und alles/ist was ich mag (That/and everything/is what I like).

The animator, Angela Steffen, is a student at Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg, and Wie Ich Mich Traf is her second-year film under the direction of teacher/animator Andreas Hykade (We Lived in Grass, Ring of Fire). Steffen animated using pencil on paper, and then composited in Animo. Wie Ich Mich Traf was the fifth short in her C.V., following Teufel und Engel (2001), Shadow Play (2002), Sandale (2003), and Miss Mary Mac (2004). Her forthcoming short from this year is called Loko Mare.


Come sail the heavens blue on The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello. © Monster Distributes Ltd.

The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello

The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello is a wonderful throwback to King Kong-era adventure/horror flicks done in a super-clean modern digital milieu. In 27 minutes this three-act tale of terror on the high, high seas has more than enough spectacle, plot twists and character nuance to support a feature (which it may someday).

The story concerns a ships navigator, Jasper Morello, who is haunted by a past mistake where a difference of one degree caused the loss of a crewmembers life. Jaspers world is the vast sky of a planet whose surface is never seen, a city sheathed in clouds aglow in the oranges, greens, and blues of daylight shining through an ever-breaking storm. Barring the occasional TV screen and a mysterious means of levitation, the technology of this age is strictly Industrial Revolution, with huge ships built from steel girders, propellers cutting the air and steam driving everything. Jasper is called to navigate for an experimental mission headed by a Doctor Claude Belgon, who is doing research to help cure a dread flesh-eating disease thats killing off the population.

Leaving behind his wife, a nurse, Jasper boards the ship and takes it along well-traveled trade routes while the Doctor does his experiments. But a terrible storm knocks them off course, and, fumbling in zero visibility, they ram a second ship, and their own vessel drops like a stone into the nothing below. This new ship looks abandoned at first, but they soon make a grisly discovery of hundreds of de-fleshed skeletons below decks. Having lost his compass, Jasper tries his best to navigate back to the shipping lanes and safety desperate to rejoin his wife, who in a garbled transmission begins to cough uncontrollably in what she insists is a cold, nothing more.

On their travels they reach a floating rock island, alive with the cries of the jungle. A ferocious bug-like creature attacks them, and they subdue it and eat it. A sailor whos unexpectedly caught the flesh-eating disease is given a broth of roasted creature to eat, and, to everyones surprise, the monster turns out to be the long-sought cure for the plague. The doctor insists they bring back a specimen for the institute, and they start their return journey but the creature hatches and demands blood, which the Doctor has to procure through unconventional means, often against the crews interests. Jasper finds himself trying to preserve his ship and his own body as he struggles to return the obsessed Doctor, their horrible cargo and hope of a cure back to his home world.

Jasper Morello is an independent long-form short subject directed by Anthony Lucas, director of Slim Pickings and a number of other winning shorts. Jasper Morello is a continuation and expansion of a stunning 2D/3D silhouette milieu that he first tried in The Shadowlands: a gothic, backlit fantasy world of eternal late-evening light full of spindly skeleton-on-the-outside 19th-century architecture. The voice of Jasper is Joel Edgerton, whose unseen face youve seen as Owen Lars in the second and third episodes of Star Wars.

With very little face work, the animators get great mileage out of mime and their stunning and insanely detailed production design. Not to ruin an ambiguous ending, but this is the first in what Lucas promises is a trilogy of pieces starring the intrepid navigator.


The wedding gifts drove them apart but at the time, they seemed so Perfect. © Arthur Cox.


Perfect is an exquisite bit of moving graphic design that delivers a whirlwind appraisal of years in the life of a husband and wife, driven to separate sections of their suburban property due to the Home Depot Factor. As man and woman open their wedding gifts in 1968, the acute observer can already see the rift coming shes counting the tableware, hes looking for a place to hang the tools.

Over the years the encampments of culinary arts and home improvement begin to fortify and spread. She makes meringues into art, he tinkers with spare parts. Theres the semi-detached her domain and the shack out in the garden his and, hilariously, in a series of inter-titled flash-forwards the two actually move apart over the years, connected as they are by only one extension cord.

At a dinner party she parades one amazing recipe after another, all accomplished despite having to throw out the electric mixer earlier in the day; but he puts out his cigarette in the empty dishes and heads for the workshop. Hes not the man I married, she grouses to their guests. Bloody hell, its so wasteful! he gripes, rescuing the broken mixer from the trash. The marital fireworks, when they come, are both literal and figurative.

Perfect isnt illusion-of-life character work as much as moving illustration, but its so richly textured in its visuals and the delivery of the two vocal leads that you hardly notice that the main characters faces are only visible and partly obscured for a few seconds in the shorts three minutes. Those three minutes go by at a sprint, by the way, and director Sally Arthur freely admits she barely had time to fit the story into such a small space a stylistic choice that appeals just like a great MTV interstitial and makes the results even funnier.

Working from source visuals gathered in digital video, Arthur and her crew detour out of photographic reality and replace familiar objects and backgrounds with textures from vintage wallpaper, linoleum designs, and construction materials. The husband and wife disappear or turn into outlines as necessary while drills and irons, the real motivators of the story and true loves of their lives, do the thinking and the acting for them. The colors are bold and saturated, and every frame is a groovy living collage of the paisley remnants of a vanished age of British consumerism.

Taylor Jessen is a writer living in Burbank. Wackiness ensues.