High and Low: In 'Learn Self-Defense,' the devil puts in an appearance.
'Spike and Mike's 2006 Sick & Twisted Animation Festival': Hey, what happened? It's pretty good.
By Richard von Busack
HOW BEST to describe the new Spike and Mike 2006 Sick & Twisted Festival of Animation? It is as if a dreaded annual mudslide suddenly unearthed a buried box of gold coins. Perhaps the boom in podcasts and websites as a market for short animation is responsible, but the work here shows care, expense and ambition—three things often missing from this annual lineup.
Returning films include San Jose State University's Debbie Brune and Natalie Repp's Peep Show, a synchronized orgy of pastel marshmallow Easter bunnies. The film is witty, kind and weirdly erotic, and it shows how dead-end the mistreatment of cute creatures is, as in, for example, the tedious Crappy Tree Friends series—two past-their-expiration-date episodes of which appear in the compilation for the easily amused. By contrast, Repp and Bruce show what a real challenge it is to make something sincerely sweet.
Don Hertzfeldt's Rejected, the Duck Amuck of the No Logo movement, remains funny on its nth go-round. The film serves as a thundering rejection of the corporate whoring some of the slicker talents in this fest will be doing before long. (Attitude means so very, very little. You can call your audience "biatch" all you want, but most animators end up wearing the hot pants and the net stockings sometime.) Donkey Bong is relatively funny, even though it traffics in the old SNL gaff about the actors rebelling against the sketch in midperformance, which was fresh about 30 years ago. Save Virgil, about a devilish infantile squirt, presents an appallingly overproduced mix of live action and animation that shows how dead some supposedly transgressive material can be. Two comments: Gary Coleman isn't an anti-celebrity anymore: he is a real celebrity. When coming up with a wacky porn title, think of something better than Indiana Bone and the Temple of Poon.
Stop-motion animator PES (eatpes.com) does commercials, but he has managed to keep his artistic identity, as seen in his one-minute film KaBoom. There was a time when male children used to make drawings of airplanes assaulting a city. PES' film demonstrates how shapes suggest more than details will: toy plastic planes attack a city of antique oil cans and cocktail shakers, which blossoms into explosions of yellow-ribbboned bows. Here is the monstrous playfulness of a substantial talent. Learn Self Defense by Chris Harding is a sneaky political allegory in the form of a fab-1950s animation pastiche. A solid citizen, significantly named George, wanders into a bad neighborhood and gets roughed up. The folksy narrator coaches George in the techniques of dirty fighting and pre-emptive assaults. I doubt if UPA's John Hubley could have done a subtler or sharper job.
So much solid technique is on display that the more disgusting material almost gets overshadowed. But Tongue Twister, Horned Grandma and Magic, by three different animators, all achieve Korean-horror-movie levels of gross-out. The appalling self-mutilating magic show in the last of these three is accompanied by a smooth jazz tune called "Sophisticated Loner" by the Hain Feldman Trio. Nothing like a high tone to complement a hideous display.
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