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'T.R.A.N.S.I.T.' Glorious

[whitespace] Geri's Game
Chess Nut: A contemplative moment from 'Geri's Game.'

Piet Kroon's 12-minute masterpiece highlights festival

By Richard von Busack

SOME SERIOUS stuff is included in Spike & Mike's Classic Festival of Animation. Piet Kroon's T.R.A.N.S.I.T. is a 12-minute masterpiece set across Europe between the wars. This dialogue-free mystery story is told backward, with shifts in location (Cairo, Baden, Venice and finally The Orient Express)--all held together through the travel stickers on a leather suitcase. What we suppose at first to be a tale of espionage turns out to be something different; real pain and tragedy take the place of the Agatha Christie/Graham Greene entertainment we were expecting. Kroon has made T.R.A.N.S.I.T. ambitiously, sensuously beautiful, but he also takes apart the illusions of the time. After he delivers an aerial view of a white luxury ocean liner, with shuffleboard games and attenuated passengers, he dives into the smokestack to show us the stokers in the belly of the ship, working in the flames and the darkness.

Even the Aardman Animation studio offering is grimmer than usual. The clay-animated Stage Fright, by Steve Box, owes more to Clive Barker than to Gumby. Its settings are the world of dying vaudeville and early talkies. The dough-faced, lipless characters that Aardman made famous in the beloved Wallace and Grommit series ordinarily represent paleness and Pinter-like shyness. Here, they mirror Lon Chaney Jr.'s peeled-skull makeup in The Phantom of the Opera and London After Midnight. The dwarfish "Tiny," a dog trainer, cowers under the snarls of Arnold, a beefy, Archie Rice-like entertainer, before Satan settles the score.

On a less shattering note, two other noteworthy shorts are on display. Pixar's sweet Geri's Game, about an old geezer's game of solitaire chess, is delightful to all of us lousy chess players. Also impressive is the playful grimness of the young Santa Barbara animator Don Hertzfeldt, whose Lily and Jim is the story of the mutual misunderstandings on the first date of two stick-figure characters.

Spike & Mike's Classic Festival of Animation (Unrated.)

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From the April 23-29, 1998 issue of Metro.

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