Sunday, September 26, 2004

Days arise to be replaced, lines are drawn and lines erased

So as it happened, I managed to see more screenings at the animation festival than I'd thought. Friday night, I saw Competition Screening #4 and #3, in that order. I'd worried #4 (the children's-animation show) would, well, be full of kids. I don't like kids. I could barely tolerate myself as a child. My fears were misplaced; it was only the same average-thirtysomething crowd as at the other evening screenings, and it was, on the whole, better than I expected. Tired Out Tom: Simplistic, but that's what Flash animation is good at. Nicely circular, both in narrative and visual design, and quirky in a delightfully British way - despite being a German production. Nicktoons 'Kat Id's': Nickelodeon's station identification bumpers are beautifully iconic and slick. They're yet another reminder of how much more professional American cable networks are than ours. Desmond's Trashed Apple Tree (Desmonds trashade äppelträd): This would be a gold mine of societal information for a historian from the distant future. It's a children's film featuring an archetypal EU bureaucrat (a sleepwalking elk), a community more concerned with holding meetings and making joint decisions than solving problems, and characters constantly partaking of healthful saunas (!). The claymation isn't particularly refined, but it conveys a lot of character - more than the high-pitched Swedish monotones of the voice actors. Wicked Willie, the whiny poser of a local bad boy, is amusing. Helping Little Kitten: Apparently made for Sesame Street, this short is more sweet and cute than anything. Bonus points for kittenmambo. Codename: Kids Next Door ‘Operation: Support’: I'd seen this (I don't really care for Codename: KND, but I'll watch it if nothing else is on), but it worked a lot better in a theatre with the aforementioned thirtysomethings wildly guffawing over the episode's many double entendres and an amusing Cliff Huxtable cariacature. The show as a whole could use more internal narrative logic, but it's not terrible. It's nice to hear Cree Summer working, anyway. Bruno ‘Hats’ and Bruno ‘Marching': Overly simplistic, even for the intended audience of toddlers. It is cel animation, but you'd never be able to tell it from bad Flash. A Musical Shop: Richly detailed backgrounds, soft, warm tones, and intriguing design are only half the appeal of this Russian short. I suspect the subtitles may have been badly translated, but the ending - an entire town of anthropomorphic insects, including two music-shop-owning crickets, deserting their homes to escape obnoxious, lazy and atonal flies - seemed almost allegorical, and certainly deeper and more poetic than most children's films. Happy to be Nappy: Meh. I'm not big on bizarre hairstyles, or lighthearted animation celebrating them. Okay, I guess, but it would probably be far more entertaining for children. That's a failure, in my mind, if adults can't also be entertained by a piece of animation, no matter how slightly. My Life as a Teenage Robot 'Speak No Evil': I'd also seen this. If there was any justice, My Life as a Teenage Robot would be the Tartakovsy-McCracken-style-ripoff to get prime placement in international markets, not Atomic Betty. Teletoon ‘Chicken,’ 'Sheep Factory,' 'Space Dinner': Familiarity breeds contempt, and these were Teletoon's station ID bumpers for the past year, though I don't recall ever seeing the third. They still seem amateurish compared to the Nicktoons versions, above, or any of CN's. Badger's Parting Gifts (Leb Wohl, Lieber Dachs): Ever written fanfiction set in the "Wind in the Willows" universe where Badger dies in his sleep in the first act, and Toad, Mole and their friends then fondly remember everything he did for them? Jürgen Egenolf and Theo Kerp have. Wistful and touching, but just a bit weird, and (dare I say it, stereotypically) depressingly German. PBS 'Share a Story': This works only due to the catchy soundtrack by They Might Be Giants. Concert For A Carrot Pie (Kontsert Porgandipirukale): Sheer lunatic brilliance, which seems to be a hallmark of Estonian animation. A jaunty folk-song/march soundtrack makes this bizarre film - featuring a blind rabbit, overly dramatic mice, giant carrots, and a quite mad, barefoot retired general of a grandfather - even more energetic than its frenetic and quirky animation might suggest. Only the most hardened heart could avoid breaking out in a broad grin by about two minutes in. See a clip here. Still cheerful from the last short, I hiked the short distance from the National Gallery to the NAC; the trade show floor had opened up by then, and I was pleased to score some logo'ed and branded swag in the half-hour before the next competition started. Despite the screen being fairly small compared to the capacity of the auditorium, I enjoy watching films in the NAC's Southam Hall. I imagine it, with its multiple levels, broad and wide mezzanine floor, and boxes, to replicate something of the experience of the old movie palaces. The 3000-seat Capitol Theatre hasn't been three blocks away since thirty years ago, and it's sorely missed. I suppose Southam Hall is an acceptable substitute, but not by much. But I digress; 9:00 offered Competition Screening #3. Ryan: Animator Ryan Larkin was the John Lennon of the National Film Board for a time in the late 60s and early 70s, creating the overrated Walking in 1968. Then he became a cocaine addict and more or less ruined his life, ending up as a panhandler in Toronto until being urged to clean himself up by old friends and the director of this biopic. I don't find the animation especially appealing, but it's neat nonetheless; emotions are rarely visually portrayed so well. There's some dark layers in the characterization of both Larkin, and the writer-director-interviewer Landreth. Calypso Is Like So: Stop-motion Robert Mitchum is kidnapping and murdering unlucky travellers to be the cast and crew of his fever-dream final film, in a cargo-cult set somewhere in the desert. Funnier than it sounds, mostly due to sharp character design and well-timed movement. Hewlett Packard 'Change': I realize that CG'ed video work is just as much animation as anything else in the competition, but this just felt gratuitous. It wasted opportunities to portray a real passing of time in buildings rapidly changing, a la the passage-of-time montage in Futurama's "Space Pilot 3000," to randomly replace modernist glass hulks for similar modernist glass hulks. I'm also not sure what Embracing Change has to do with HP, other than being a precisely vague mission statement. Creature Comforts 'Cats or Dogs?': I can't believe this series hasn't been imported by any North American network. The Wallace & Gromit shorts and Chicken Run seem to do well enough here; why not Aardman Animation's more recent work? Highly amusing, substantially due to the familiar Aardman character style, but primarily due to the great voice work. Franz Ferdinand ‘Take Me Out’: A few months back, a friend asked at a party if anyone liked Franz Ferdinand. I inquired if he meant the band or the archduke. He seemed surprised that I was the only other person he knew that realized the significance of this utterly pedestrian group's name. (And I only even knew that there was a band going by such a name from seeing a poster in the window of Compact Music at Bank and Slater.) I don't like them, I didn't like the song performed in this music video, and didn't think the animation was fantastic enough to make up for it. Guardian 'Calf': A calf learns its testicles will become the contents of meat pies for hungry Manchester United fans. Smirky and entertaining in emulating the style of Bambi for the sake of an arguably sick joke, and not long enough to become tiresome. Fast Film: Absolutely brilliant. A moving collage of images from an entire century of film tells a universal story through the faces of many actors and their actions. There are so many layers of meaning here, so much to interpret and argue; this is proof that animation can be as complex and deep as it wants to be. You could teach an entire film theory course based on the interpretation of this short, dissecting exactly what every scene (from, as near as I could tell, something more than a hundred films) used means in context and in a general cinematographic sense, and I don't doubt some enterprising professor at some institution will, at some point. Excel 'Gorilla': Slight and unfunny. Harvie Krumpet: Clever and appealing; the terribly unlucky life of a silly self-made man, in smoothly produced claymation. Kind of a downer overall, but funny enough to be worth it. How to Cope With Death: Death comes for an old woman. She knows kung fu. It does not end well for the reaper. I enjoyed the quasi-anime-like hyper martial-arts sequence (a good Dover Boys-esque zip stretch is hard to come by otherwise, nowadays), and the pitch-perfect design of a depressingly run-down apartment suddenly turned into a battleground. That's all I can bear to write about tonight; reviews of Saturday's and Sunday's shows will also soon be forthcoming.

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