Monday, March 24, 2008

Poor Little Animated Shorts: Gothic Horror Edition

Title: Vincent (1982)
Director: Tim Burton
Time: 6 minutes
Availability: Bonus feature on the “Nightmare Before Christmas” special edition DVD or on YouTube here.
You can see elements of most of his later films in Tim Burton’s “Vincent,” a humorous story about a boy named Vincent Malloy who wishes he was Vincent Price. He fantasizes a macabre environment and tortured existence based around the plots of old Price horror movies, visually rendered in “Cabinet of Caligari”-esque expressionism full of high-contrast shadows and gloomy fatalism. Vincent Price himself provides the rhyming narration.

A perfect pairing for “The Nightmare Before Christmas” (you can even see the prototype for Jack Skellington if you look closely), Burton really displayed his budding talent for gothic charm. Despite the kid-friendly atmosphere and underlying silliness, Burton has the intelligence to fit his film with a tragic arc rather than deflate his miniature masterpiece with a punchline. The stop-motion effects and minute sets were way ahead of their time.

Title: The Tell-Tale Heart (1953)
Director: Ted Parmelee
Time: 8 minutes
Availability: Bonus feature on the “Hellboy” DVD or on YouTube here.
UPA’s adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” is narrated by James Mason. He does an excellent job delivering the inherit creepiness of an insane man who doesn’t consider himself insane, just a little nervous. Except that most people who are just high-strung don’t become obsesses with the bulging eye of an old man hey take care of. The deranged protagonist plots to savagely slay the elderly gent and bury the body under the floor. Now if only his heart would stop beating, beating, beating.

UPA (United Productions of America) teamed with Columbia Pictures to become a sort of edgy alternative to Disney realism and Warner Brothers wackiness. Though several of their animated shorts like “Gerald McBoing Boing” (available on the “5000 Fingers of Dr. T” DVD) have achieved cult status, few of their films ever matched story, image and audio so perfectly as this short. The odds transitions, bizarre angles, dark lighting and mature themes were the result of cheap animation techniques and a genuine desire to expand their audience. Adults took notice and hailed the film, but they kept their kids at home. In fact, British censors slapped it with a X-rating, a first in the animation industry.

Title: Street of Crocodiles (1986)
Director: The Brothers Quay
Time: 21 minutes
Availability: “The Brothers Quay Collection” DVD or pretty much any Quay anthology. You can also turn it up on YouTube though you’ll lose much of the textural detail that lends the film its unique atmosphere.
“Street of Crocodiles” is a stop-motion adaptation of brooding Polish writer Bruno Schulz’s (the same author who penned “The Hourglass Sanatorium”) short story. The Brothers Quay beckon it to life with their trademark tactile detail and haunting despair. The story, though vague, seems to be about the tentative adventures of a marionette who comes to life after his strings are severed by a man shutting down a theater during a live-action intro. The silent puppet wanders through a dreary rundown habitat covered in dust, grime and mechanical clockworks. He observes the tawdriness of his artificial world and eventually encounters a race of baby-faced dolls that conduct mysterious operations.

Probably the most acclaimed of the Quay’s work, the film is still not particularly accessible and moves with the slow, monotony of a funeral dirge. The pace fits the doom-laden locale which is meticulously sculpted from an assemblage of discarded newspapers, glass, lightbulbs, nails, rags and dolls. It is ultimately less of a story than texture/tone poem full of technical virtuosity. The brothers were early pioneers in the delicate craft of adding camera movement and focus pulls to stop-motion. The short would go on to influence Terry Gilliam (who called it one of the ten greatest animations of all time) and the brilliant Nine Inch Nails music video “Closer” amongst others.

1 comment:

Mad Dog said...

I remember a prince character in the Beetlejuice cartoon that was named Vince that looked and acted almost identically to the Vincent in the animated short.