ANIMATION WORLD MAGAZINE - ISSUE 5.12 - MARCH 2001

The Scarves of Sundance
(continued from page 6)

Day 5
In the morning I have a live Web-streamed interview with Streaming Media magazine and Res magazine -- they've set up a table at the digital center. The interview is run by Rae Zander and Scott Smith, both great folks, and the interview is actually kinda fun. Then I get to turn the tables, and conduct an interview myself, with Eric Henry and Syd Garon, the directors of Wave Twisters, which is running as part of Sundance's midnight screening series.

Wave Twisters is the anti-Fantasia/2000; both take pre-recorded music as the basis for animation, but where Fantasia/2000 looked backwards -- both in terms of the use of respectable and safe music, and in its storytelling sensibilities, which harken back to cozy '50s conventions -- Wave Twisters is incredibly fresh, new and forward-looking. The soundtrack that provides its aural spine is an album by DJ Qbert. The film is an insane piece of work. The "story" involves a space orthodontist spreading the gospel of turntable culture -- and every scratch, beat and sample has a visual correspondence. So much information flies at you -- in a combo of 2D animation, 3D animation and cheesy video effects, scrambled together in an appropriately "turntablistic" collage that the first time I saw it (a rough cut shown at RESFEST), I felt like my brain was vibrating in its skull case, overloaded past the limit of absorption.

The one place where it falls down, is in its sexual politics. It's always a disappointment when something stylistically avant-garde is politically retro and the female "character" in it is just a pin-up, given nothing interesting to do. The filmmakers feel awful about it, too. They were working off a soundtrack where the female vocal samples were all along the lines of "save me" and "help me," stuff lifted off old adventure and sci-fi records which comes off satirical on the CD, but they didn't cut against it in the visuals in a meaningful way, and the spoofing aspect of the vocals doesn't come through. In the interview, Eric says morosely: "I have no excuse. I went to Oberlin."

Because I've done the interview with Eric and Syd, I've managed to wheedle my way onto the guest list for the big party tonight, which is both for Wave Twisters and a documentary on turntablism called Scratch. The large bouncer guarding the door announces to the throng outside that: "Only those people on 'the list' will get in -- this is a private party, not open to the general public." We have to wait out in the cold for several minutes before "the list" arrives. People are surly, trying to cut line, throwing attitude right and left. One person leaves the line, then elbows her way back, giving Kristin an evil eye, asking her if she "has a problem." Some French lady behind me keeps saying "Zees ees incredible. Zey said zey would have sree girls checking zee list, but zere is only one! Zees is so ineeficient. Zey said zey would have sree girls. Oh, I don't know why I am putting up weef zis!" A mystery for the ages. "I feel like I'm in New York," Kristin says. I say, "I feel like I'm in High School."

We get inside and knock back a few drinks -- this being Utah, the alcohol content is lower than the norm, and despite the deoxygenating compensations of high altitude, you have to knock back quite a few to get a decent buzz going. The Beat Junkies are up first, throwing records down one after another, the two of them swapping duties across two turntable setups. The work they're doing over the turntables is mysterious work, with perhaps a little deliberate mad-scientist mystification -- they attack the vinyl as a combo of musician and performance artist. It's not sufficient, for instance, to just slide a used up record off the turntable, and tuck it back in its sleeve -- the record's gotta be lifted with a quick snap, and twirled on the axis of two index fingers -- the record suddenly not a disc but a brief blurred globe -- the spinning longitude lines tracings of music. Both Beat Junkies bob on the stage like two pistons in a motor, synched on the same axle.

It's great fun to dance to, because the music is "played" by being interrupted and interpolated -- you have to listen closely, to keep track of where it's heading. After a while, Qbert gets up on stage to do a little scratching, before heading out to the Wave Twisters premiere. I have no idea what record he has up there, for scratching purposes -- he warps the sound all out of shape, peeling hidden noises out of the original grooves. The record screeches up like tires in a car wreck -- then dissolves into a flock of mechanical birds. The crowd whoops it up.

At the screening itself, they've got a two turntable setup for Qbert to give a scratching demonstration. On one turntable he runs the beat, on the other he's got a Barbie record -- something that came with a picture book -- he runs the phrase, spoken in insipid whitegirl diction: "Turn the page when you hear the sound of the chime" (and then there's the crystal ding! of the chime). He proceeds to spin the phrase fast, then slow, then backwards; then he makes up rhythms from repetitions -- the audience responds to the conceptual kick of it -- eloquence through stuttering. "Turn the page t-t-t-turn the page Turn Turn Turn the page." He finally launches full bore into it, running the line "when you hear the sound of the chime," then pulling out the chime into a long, complex, fluttering arpeggio -- that ends with a perfectly timed and clear ding!

It's a perfect intro for the film, which unfortunately gets off to a rough start -- there's no sound at first. They rewind the film and start it over again. This in itself is a great advertisement for digital projection -- if Wave Twisters had been projected in 35mm, there would've been no way to reel it back. It's a testament to the out-there aesthetics of the film, that when it starts rewinding, running backwards and getting all pixelated, most of the audience thinks this is actually part of the movie.

 

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