January 22, 2008

Park City Dispatch. 5.

Brian Darr on the highlights of this year's Animation Spotlight at Sundance.

Lapsus Not only has one of the shorts in this Sundance's Animation Spotlight the audacity to channel the spirit of the Chuck Jones masterpiece Duck Amuck, but it actually turns out to be worthy to stand in its self-reflexive shadow. Lapsus, made by Argentine animator Juan Pablo Zaramella, is funny, elegant, and very aware of animation as an arena where an artist can make up laws of nature (or seem to) as he or she goes along. It's a 4-minute monochromatic piece about a nun with an amusing mantra, but revealing much more is liable to spoil the surprises and/or the laughs. What I will say is what Zaramella said about the film's title in the Q&A after the program: that it's Latin for an unconscious error. It would be a Lapsus to let this one slip by you if you've got a chance to see it.

The Animation Spotlight program this year is somewhat stronger, if more consistently macabre, than last year's edition. No one film bowled me over quite as forcefully as last year's Everything Will Be OK, but by the end of the afternoon I was bowled over all the same. Some absolutely terrific titles more technically ambitious than Lapsus include The History of America, Yours Truly and Madame Tutli-Putli. And every selection in the program has something to recommend it. Chonto has a hilarious deadpan voiceover narration. For the Love of God has a singularly depressing worldview. Dog has brevity, The Pearce Sisters has a great sense of atmosphere, and 1977 has me scratching my head to figure out exactly what I was watching. (I think I liked it...)

Madame Tutli-Putli

Chris Lavis and Maciek Szczerbowski's Madame Tutli-Putli surely deserves an Oscar nomination in the animated short category, and by the time you read this you'll probably know whether it earned one or not. In addition to a fun, suspenseful story, this Canadian film is a compendium of classic locomotive film references; there's an Arrival of a Train, Strangers on a Train, and a Great Train Robbery, for starters. But it's also a beautifully seamless combination of traditional stop-motion puppet animation with eye-popping computer-aided imagery.

I asked Osbert Parker, director of Yours Truly, if he was familiar with the films of Janie Geiser, and he assured me he wasn't. Nevertheless, Yours Truly shares a similar aesthetic to the likes of Immer Zu and The Fourth Watch, though with a slightly more straightforward narrative approach. Classic film noir cut-out images of Humphrey Bogart, Barbara Stanwyck and Dana Andrews are placed into a dark shadowbox world of nefarious plots, urgent messages, dizzying car chases, and horrifying revelations, to soundtrack excerpts from Max Steiner and Bernard Herrmann. If the noir cycle was the closest Hollywood came to unmasking the smiling sheen of Truman- and Eisenhower-era America, Yours Truly uses animation-only images (like vacuuming up bloodstains) to ask what might have been seen when peeling yet another layer.

The History of America

And then there's The History of America. There's no way I can do this one justice in a few sentences, but it's amazing, even when it doesn't seem to know when to stop. I'm glad it didn't. Forget Beowulf - this is the season's must-see epic of mayhem and mythology, also a live-action/animation technological mutt. The film chronicles this country's great battle between the forces of the cowboys and the astronauts - it wasn't so long ago, as you probably recall. But I'm sure you've never seen these landmark moments, like the astronauts' raid on the cowboys' fortress of Las Vegas, depicted with such vibrant color, exhilarating camera movements, and completely unrestrained imagination. Even President Elvis Presley himself would enjoy this one, I bet.

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Posted by dwhudson at January 22, 2008 1:57 AM