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How Low Can It Go?

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Cut and Paste: The infamous short that launched the TV hit 'South Park' is the centerpiece of the new edition of 'Spike and Mike's Sick & Twisted Festival of Animation.'

Forget the popcorn and bring a barf bag to 'Sick & Twisted' festival

By David Templeton


Writer David Templeton takes interesting people to interesting movies in his ongoing quest for the ultimate postfilm conversation. This time around, he heads out to see Spike and Mike's Sick & Twisted Animation Festival along with animator/educator Gene Hamm.

EVERYONE WANTS our barf bag. Spike and Mike's 1997 Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation is about to begin, and the late-night capacity crowd is revving into a high-pitched frenzy of anticipation and dread. The full-color program being handed out the door promises, "Bonus! You get a FREE BARF BAG with each admission. You might need it."

Alas, the theater had run out of bags earlier in the evening, so when I produce my own "air-sickness container"--snagged from the seat pocket of an airplane during a recent trip--we are instantly the object of widespread envy and respect.

"Better hold onto that thing," cautions my guest, animator Gene Hamm, right after the guy sitting behind us leans over, nearly drooling with covetous desire, to ask where we got it and if we know where there are any others. We don't. And he can't have it.

Hamm, a professional animator and instructor--he teaches a course titled "Animation Short Cuts, Formulas, and Cheap Tricks" at Cogswell Polytechnic Institute's Center for Visual Image in Sunnyvale--has worked the fringes of the animation industry for years, with stints at Hanna-Barbera and Roger Corman Films; he also worked on Ralph Bakshi's Lord of the Rings and the iconic Gumby TV series. Hamm has been intermittently attending Spike and Mike's annual bad-taste roadshow ever since its inception over a decade ago.

"I had a short turned down by them once," Hamm admits with a good-natured shrug. "It wasn't gross enough."

Hmmmm. God knows that gross is a vital element in a Sick and Twisted show, as tonight's giddy gag fest aptly demonstrates. The quality of the animation--which runs the gamut from crude stick-figure drawings to beautifully realized stop-motion work--is not the point here. The point is to be disgusting, rude, mean-spirited, distasteful and ugly. And funny. And like it or not, many of these clips are hilarious.

" 'Bar Flies' was a kick," Hamm pronounces after the show, as we take our barf bag out to dinner at a nearby hamburger joint. "Bar Flies," an Australian entry about two drunken flies becoming gradually dismembered during a night of beer slurping, is a highlight of the festival, as is an adaptation of "The Devil Went Down to Georgia"--here sung by Primus' Les Claypool--and the original cut-and-paste "Christmas card" on which the hit TV show South Park was based. Titled "The Spirit of Christmas," it features an evil snowman--"That snowman just killed Kenny!"-- and a kung fu battle between Jesus Christ and Santa Claus.

Lowlights are the one-joke "Jurassic Fart," featuring loud flatulent dinosaurs, and something called "Sloaches Fun House," an X-rated romp so full of flying body fluids that I almost had to use the sick bag myself.

"Andy Warhol once said, 'Boredom is a valid emotion,' " Hamm remarks. "I guess that nausea, to the point of actually losing one's lunch, has become a valid emotion, too."

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AS WE PASS the barf bag back and forth, taking turns sketching a forlorn face on one side, Hamm muses, "I don't know. I just wish the animation were better. You'd think after all this time that work would be evolving and that Spike and Mike would be seeing better and better things. Then again, it really isn't the animation that draws a crowd to this show, is it?"

"So, what is the attraction?" I ask.

"I think it's a public ritual," he laughs. "A rite of passage to see how much disgustingness a person can endure. It serves the same purpose as getting some secret body part pierced. The Spike and Mike festivals probably serve as a psychic piercing. Or maybe it's like that scene from Blade Runner, where the robot is dying and he rams a spike through his hand, just to be able to feel something. Maybe, as a society, we're becoming so numb by the media's constant assault on our senses that we need a spike, a Spike and Mike, to remind us that we still have feelings."

As we talk, our sketching has given a personality to our sad little barf bag, to which Hamm has added the caption "Please don't take me to Sloaches Fun House!"

Now we flesh out the scenario. "A big drunken slob could be chasing the bag," Hamm suggests. "The bag crawls all over but is finally caught, and the guy upchucks."

"Then for revenge," I add, "the bag can sneak up behind the guy ..."

"... and expel the contents back on the slob!" Hamm shouts, adding, "I think we may have a Spike and Mike hit on our hands."


The 1997 Sick & Twisted Festival of Animation shows Dec. 19-Jan. 8 at the Towne Theater in San Jose.

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From the Dec. 18-24, 1997 issue of Metro.

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