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The Animation Pimp: Carnivale

The Animation Pimp talks about seeing angels and JJ Villard s film, Son of Satan.

Illustration by Andreas Hykade. Courtesy of Chris Robinson.

do you suppose she could change your life?if she could then i wish shewould do you suppose she could save my life?if she could then i think she should
Cut out Witch, Guided by Voices
Theres a dark and a troubled side of life Theres a bright and sunny side, too.Though we meet with the darkness and strife, The sunny side we also may view.
Keep on The Sunny Side, The Carter Family

I started reading a book about angels. I found myself fascinated with them recently. I got tired of demons. Now, dont sweat it, I dont have visions of glowing angels hovering around my room or any such stuff. I kinda like to think that angels are something more innate, a feeling or that gut reaction we often talk about when we make a decision. Maybe its coincidence or conscience. And hey, I dont need winged messengers visiting me. When I stop and take a good look at my life, I see MANY living, breathing angels around me.

In fact, last week I was telling one of them about this angel thing. He said he thought that we were made of demons and angels, that we have the potential for both. And yeah there it is again an extension of our old pal Heraclitus who doesnt seem to want to leave and his belief that harmony and conflict all come from the same comb. Same line. Ying yang and all that. And thats to my liking because I dont believe in that either/or option. I dont believe in some completely 100% grade A top of the heap being. Perhaps, said my friend, a demon is an angel betrayed.

Ive been searching for the meaning of mother and father cause well ya gotta have one to know one and well I had stand-ins understudies. Anyhow just what are they (we) supposed to be doing. And while reading this stuff about angels, I think that actually parents are supposed to be like angels. I dont mean that they must be perfect and pure but they should love, protect, trust and guide their children. Faith. Sure there will be stumbles, plenty of them, but at the end of the fucking day a child should KNOW that they are loved. Its a big world filled with strangers and if you cant count on your parents who can you have faith in? Fortunately I had grandparents.

Its not often that a film just picks me up my neck, but JJ Villards

However, when you string all the rusty bits together, Son of Satan transforms into something special a raw, urgent punk scream against the pain of abuse, bullying and the cyclical nature of violence and stands firmly against those who believe that animation must be clean, precise, polished and oh so fucking sweet.

I wasnt so much a bully really, but I had a nasty temper that got me into all sorts of trouble. I stole, lied, hurt you name it. What slammed me in Son of Satan was the final scene with the father. His hovering, menacing presence is a little too familiar. Its a scene Id lived out many times.

Now, okay, this is a Charles Bukowski story so Villard is starting with some pretty strong material from the get-gobut the fact that he picked that particular story says a lot about his nature. There is always a temptation to just portray, for example, violence without any attempt to understand its roots. Bukowskis story not only gives us the roots, but also the doubt that penetrates the sons mind as he and his two chums are picking on the freckled kid. And its that moment of awareness and doubt that gives the film hope that first shows us that this boys angel is still fighting. I felt like letting him go. Maybe he hadnt fucked anybody. Maybe he had just been daydreaming. But I was the young leader. I couldnt show any sympathy.

The disjointed feel of Son of Satan adds to its powerful effect.

That angelic interlude doesnt last and the boys come close to killing the freckled kid. Now up to this point, our sympathies are clearly with this freckled kid, a boy who did nothing to deserve this treatment. But then the tables turn. When bullyboy returns home, we see a dark, demonic figure in the doorway his father. By the end your feelings change, you actually feel sorry for the boy even though he has almost committed murder. We now know where his hate and anger come from that the fathers reaction is not just stemming from this one act, that this is a home of hate and violence and anger.

At 19, my mom met a stranger. Nine months later I get spit out. The stranger is long gone. The mans parents take no responsibility and tell my mom to fuck off. This must have been devastating (I later learn that bio dads mother had done the very same thing as my own mother). Meantime my grandparents become my parents when it becomes clear that my mom isnt ready, willing or able. She even puts me up for adoption at the Childrens Aid Society. The grandparents are like angels. They are going to adopt me. Then my mother changes her mind and keeps me. Not sure why (other than a possible fear of hillbillyness). Within a few years she meets a man and moves me to the city with them. Light turns to dark. Its at once quiet and loud. Im scared. I want to harm people.

When I was about seven, not really my pops (a cop) came into my room and told me to get in the car. As we drove, he took pleasure in telling me that I was never going to see my family or friends again. He parks the car, gets out and tells me to wait. After a few minutes he returns and says theyre closed. We drive home. Nothing is ever mentioned again about why I was taken to an adoption agency again. Three years ago I asked him for an explanation. Your mother bore tremendous anger at your biological father and was going to just ignore you forever, he said. I finally agreed with her that we should go to the CAS, the actual thought was to scare the crap out of her not so much you. It worked for her anyway. At the time, I did not think that it would ever come back to haunt you.

I just wanted someone, anyone, to grab hold of me and tell me that everything was going to be okay.

I cant say that I forgive my mother. I just cannot pretend that all is resolved or that it ever will be. I do have sympathy. I am at least able to see where my hate and anger and self-loathing came from AND I have also begun to see the roots of all my parents behavior. I turned out ya know maybe not a-okay but lets say m or n okay.

For years Ive obsessed with darkness, with demons and fuckups. Finding like-minded people gave me an excuse to keep bathing in their muck. I hated myself. I blamed myself and everyone else for every fuck up (just as Bukowski blames the freckled kid). That cycle of hate led to even more foul-ups. The pit just got deeper and deeper. In a sense I became like my mother, the cop and biopop. I took no responsibility and carried their hate and anger within me as Bukowski did with his father. What kept me from falling farther was that memory of my time with my grandparents, a time when I felt loved, protected and safe. It wasnt some fucking glowing hand reaching down to pick me up.

It was my own stubborn, feverish, addictive, desperate desire to return to that world again. With my grandparents gone and boy when they sold their house... that really put an end to it. And I remember bawling and bawling over the sale of that home. It was the only home I had (except this one)... and I think in the end that was good It forced me to look to the here and now... and rather than replicate a house of blame and hate I chose to replicate one of love and safety for my own son.

What elevates Villards work from mere adolescent angst is its soul. His characters (check out his other real fine shorts, Chestnuts, Icelolly; God is so Close; and the aforementioned 9 Chimneys) are lost and sometimes angry, but they have a spark of faith in themselves. They see that life can be shit, that it can sometimes pummel them into the dirt, but they dont give up. They fight back. There are no suicidal moans here. In the end, its that acknowledgement of the darkness, the conflict and the willingness to fight it that makes his worldview life affirming. Sure the boy in Son of Satan is sitting under the bed with his menacing father within reach. Hes probably going to get another beating. But he forgets for a moment and instead listens to the birds and cars, the sounds of life going on around him. The angels.

The conflict between demons and angels is the essence of life. Each moment is just a minor and major battle in a war that never ends until we do. Villards films are raw, sloppy, intense and honest reflections of that battle. Hes only in his mid-twenties and yet the guy seems to GET IT. Where there is light there is darkness, and darkness, light. Villard shows us that were flawed and that ya know thats life

Thanks to J.H. D.E. and R.R. for input.

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.