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The Animation Pimp: The Beginning of The End of The Beginning — Part 2: Revolver

The Pimp goes on another journey to the past a journey that leads to life in animation.

Read the first The Beginning of The End of The Beginning.

Illustration by Andreas Hykade. Courtesy of Chris Robinson.

I wanna be either old or young Dont like where Ive ended up or where I begun I always feel I must get things in the canI just cant handle it the way I am
Misunderstood by Pete Townshend
Idiot wind, blowing through the buttons of our coats, Blowing through the letters that we wrote. Idiot wind, blowing through the dust upon our shelves, Were idiots, babe. Its a wonder we can even feed ourselves.
Idiot Wind by Bob Dylan

So where was I?

Yeah okay Raimund Krumme, Crossroads and Ottawa 92. Hmm after that okay well... kept ripping tickets at the Canadian Film Institute, projecting films, was a teaching assistant at Carleton U. and slowly getting my degree. Winter 93, I moved in with Kelly and her merry band of roommates. It wasnt so bad. We became a little dysfunctional family. Kelly got work at Carleton U. That was great cause they had a massive collection of films on VHS. When it became clear that some union wank was gonna push Kelly out of the job, we brought home as many tapes as possible each night so I could dub everything. For a while we amassed a pretty decent library of rare stuff (days before DVD).

There were good days and lots of bad. Getting thrown out of clubs. Screaming matches with strangers. Drinking increasing. Vomiting in cab cars. Before or after 1994? Cant even remember. Around that time, 1994 came. Finally graduated at least I think I did. Did an indie study on the early films of Ingmar Bergman. That prof of mine, Peter Harcourt. Guy was a real legend in Canadian film studies. I admired the fuck out of him because he was a guy who wrote and taught from the heart. He was a passionate, sensitive, self-centered guy who, for me, injected some humanity back into film studies, which was increasingly being dominated by scientists with all their theories. I like the theories a bit more now, but in the day I just couldnt grasp the idea that taste or judgment shouldnt exist, that we couldnt simply say we liked or disliked a film.

Sure, I get it. I know what theyre saying about examining films in a larger, more complex context, but fuggit, I got a brain, a heart, a soul. I aint no robot. If I dont like a film, I dont like a film. So be it. Harcourt was in this vein. He was more interested in the psychology of the filmmakers, of their characters what it all said about life. Just writing that sentence I realize how much influence Harcourt still has on me. Strangely, he didnt like me. I mean yeah Im difficult at times what were Brendas last words to Nate in Six Feet Under (man am I glad that show is over. Loved it, but enough already)? Youre a narcissus, you cant commit to anyone not even yourself. Im still brushing off the dust of thinking I know everything.

Still I was Harcourts #1 fan. I wrote articles (hmm another root I started writing reviews and small shit for the Carleton U. newspaper and oh did I tell you I had some stories published in an Ottawa Weekly circa 1991. One was called Pylon Man. Was about an idiot who figured that if put a pylon on his arm, hed have superpowers. Wrote another about a man who turned into a fruit. State of mind circa 91 Did an interview with Harcourt proclaiming him as the departments great guy. No thanks, nothing. What was my sin? I didnt pretend to be sophisticated. I was a slug. Harcourt, for all his talk, wanted to be an aesthete he loved the role of prof was like a Philip Roth scholar just looking to get laid and applauded.

See that was the biggest issue I was a guy. I didnt have titties. So finished my indie study. Harcourt said the paper itself was an A, but the effort was a B, so he gave me a B+. That still irks me a bit (not much). If the paper was that good despite the lousy effort shouldnt I get an A+? Well... bygones be. Hes retired. Just got some order of Canada. I aint doin so bad myself. Graduated. Immediately planned to go to grad. School for Canadian studies but backed out. Wasnt up to it. Couldnt handle structure.

Back at the festival, 1994. This was another real turning point. Had the same job. Sorting out entries and babysitting the selection committee. Difference was that this committee was great. Among the four members were Marc Glassman, Otto Alder and Linda Simensky. Three pretty decent friendships grew out of that. They were funny, smart and patient.

That year we had problems with the projectionist. We were saddled with a knob who didnt know anything about 35mm film. He burned a print one day, came in late another because he was having problems with his girlfriend. Ha I remember when we were showing Derek Jarmans Blue. Its just a bluescreen with a voice over for 70 minutes. Someone the projectionist managed to get, some white in there. There were a lot of delays and yet these guys were patient.

Well okay Otto wasnt, but it was funny. Hed seen many of the films, so hed vote to move on pretty quickly. Marc and Linda were often more patient and wanted to see more of a film. Otto would start doing handstands in the back of the room or saying COME ON!! How can you watch this shit!!?? The come on line remains today. He did it in a friendly way and often just left to go for a smoke. Linda was quiet most of the time, but was easygoing. It wasnt until we saw her doodles after the selection that we realized what a nifty sense of humor she had. Marc was mr. Fast forward. He wanted to be sure about everything and always asked to fast forward through the film to make sure we werent missing anything.

We had time for dinners I got a chance to hang out with Otto a lot and really liked how down to earth and honest he was. He didnt hide his feelings. It was really refreshing. By the end of the week, I really loved these three. I was excited to go to work every day and hang out with them. All the while I thought Linda was gonna be some stuck up TV executive (She was at Nick) but she was anything but. She never complained (even if she wanted to!) and was funny, modest and human. If more TV execs were like Linda oh man things would be oh-so-good.

Ottawa 94 was a much different experience. I was there day and night. My job was to be the stage manager and make sure the projection went well. It was a stressful job. I knew many of the films, but I was dealing with union people. They were okay, but a couple of them hated to work and like most projectionists, the idea of checking for sound and focus was a foreign concept to them. We had a few problems which the directors remember to this day.

Steve Dovas :10 ID for MTV was shown without sound. John Hays hillbilly series for MTV was shown without sound (twice) and that prompted the audience to make their own dialogue and sound effects. I think we fugged up a JJ Sedelmaier shortie too. Oh God I remember the looks on their faces when they were introduced following their film. Through the glare of the spotlight they stared up at the projection window, anger dripping from their nostrils. All three guys remember the fug up to this day.

Also the site of my first worst hangover ever. After a red wine night with Marc Glassman, I showed up the next day for my shift looking purple or something of that sort. My breakfast was a muffing and a bottle of pepto bismal. Oh yeah forgot to mention that Kelly was working for us now. She was pretty much running the show as festival producers did in those days. I never drank red wine with Glassman again. Just beer.

I was smug. More so. I was impatient with some of the staff and resented one guy coming in from out of town to do work. Guess its a testament to the OIAF, but shit man so many people think they own the festival. I remember sorry Prescott Wright hovering over me all the time in the booth telling me what I should and shouldnt be doing. Annoyed the fuck out of me. Who the fuck was this guy anyway? I was later told, by him, that he basically invented the OIAF (untrue). Tom Knott told me to ignore him, but fuck a duck what was I to do? And man the guy farted all the time. Between him, the projectionists and my hangovers, it was a funky-smelling booth.

I think Wrong Trousers won that year. Now I like that film a lot and its a worthy winner, but in my books, its a safe choice. For me, the film of 94 was Filmtecknarnas hypnotic and disturbing black-and-white dreamscape, Revolver. Rumor has it that four of five jury members wanted to give Revolver the Grand Prix. Because the lone member of the opposition was so steadfastly opposed to the Swedish film, the only other film they could agree upon was Trousers.

By this time I knew Knott was leaving the festival. Warner Bros. was gonna hire him to recruit. I decided then and there that I wanted his job. I didnt know sweet fuck all really, but I knew I wanted to be with all these people, even the smelly ones. Before Ottawa 94 was out, I was lobbying people to support me as OIAF director. What a schmuck. These people had no power do to nothing.

It was a strange year and one that I only understand better now because Im seeing one of our own staff members acting pretty much the way I did. I remember a moment. McSorley and I are sitting in the Oasis (ha). It was the cafeteria/restaurant we hung at every day at the university. Sitting with us was one Will Straw. He was THE prof at Carleton. Very hip guy who made Lacan, Foucault and Bourdieu sound interesting and approachable. Will was the rock of the department. The guy who cared about his students.

He organized trips to New York (with Mark Langer) and was always socializing with us. He was a real mentor to us all. We wanted to be like Will smart, funny, hip and cool. That day though, Will looked at us and said that he was 40 years old and felt lost and unsatisfied with his life. It was a shock to hear this. How the fug could he feel this way? He was a tenured prof all the students adored him Christ he had it all.

I didnt understand.

I saw the CFI and OIAF as deadbeat in those days. Everyone seemed tired. The CFI had been routinely dismantled since the mid-1980s and was down to just a handful of people now. Money was very tight. Because the place had been saddled with a massive debt thanks to a previous director, Knott was faced with the task of putting on the OIAF with very little money and a lot of debts to pay.

I treated him like crap in those days. He frustrated me. I treated McSorley (remember I was working for him during the off-year of the OIAF managing the cinema) like crap. I treated everyone like crap. I thought I knew everything and saw these guys as deadweights saw them as guys whod been their too long and were crippled by fear. I figured I the master of nothing could rejuvenate the place. I got angrier and felt more and more stifled by the situation. If only I was given the chance, I could show them and everyone what I could do, who I could be.

Chris Robinson is little more than a man. In his spare time he cares for the elderly.

Chris Robinson's picture

A well-known figure in the world of independent animation, writer, author & curator Chris Robinson is the Artistic Director of the Ottawa International Animation Festival.