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Inspired Chaos

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Animated shorts are silly, sensuous, sick and sordid

By Richard von Busack

I DON'T WANT to sound like a snob about English work. But two of the most impressive cartoons in the General Chaos: Uncensored Animation lineup are from England's Channel 4, which has replaced the National Film Board of Canada as the world's best sponsor of serious animation. Oh Julie! by Frances Lea depicts a very drunk couple's first night in bed together. Scarred, bulging cloth puppets that they are, the two try to keep up appearances even while stripping for each other. Julie, the plastic-breasted heroine, is held together with wire clips and has a selection of artificial mouths for every occasion. Her nameless, faceless date is way too plastered to get it up. The soundtrack mirrors their clumsy groping with distorted ambient noise like the revving of a motorcycle underwater and operatic trilling to express Julie's approval of what she sees. The seemingly sordid scene is redeemed by tenderness--Lea convinces us that this deluded but happy coupling is romantic, after all.

The Saint Inspector is by Mike Booth, ex of the Bolex Brothers, the animators who did 1993's The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb. The story: a huge worm in a derby hat comes to look over a vegetating, obese hermit, sitting splay-legged on a platform in the sky like St. Simon Stylites. The worm, who has a camera for a proboscis, is a sort of half-mechanical Devil's Advocate, checking even the thoughts of the saint--which are as hellish as his vast, fat body is inert.

There's no question that the program in General Chaos is a cut above the usual omnibuses of sick and sometimes bloody cartoons that pull in and out of town like freight trains. There's inspired animation here, although there is also inane subadolescent stuff, and sometimes the attitude toward women approaches a near-psychotic dread, as in Vince Collins' 1982 Malice in Wonderland, with its hideous female demons sprouting snakes and vagina dentata. At other times, the plain silliness is embarrassing; animated characters hide in the crevices of a live-action nude woman, for instance, in the 1987 Body Directions..

But Tony Nittoli's Junky is a million-dollar idea if ever I saw one, a sort of remake of The Basketball Diaries starring a stuffed parrot puppet with a navy watchcap and a Crispin Glover whine. Little bursts of Bill Plympton's gag-panel-like cartoons are scattered throughout. Plympton's apparently five-second-long A Nudist's Nightmare is a smashing switcheroo gag (the naturist has another one of those terrible dreams that he's fully clothed in a crowd of naked people). The valley's Laurence Arcadias directed the nightmarish Donor Party. Arcadias used Apple Computers' Inkwell software to bring alive a collage of vintage engravings of autopsy, pathology and 1800s surgical techniques to create a house of horrors. The effect is like an animated version of Max Ernst's A Week of Goodness. Conveying horror, wrath, disgust and sensuality without a word of dialogue is no easy trick. This something-for-everyone selection is more evidence of how much more there is to animation than its use as an artistic funnel used to aim sugared cereal into children's mouths.


General Chaos: Uncensored Animation (Unrated; 90 min.), Manga Entertainment.

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From the March 19-25, 1998 issue of Metro.

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