Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Poor Little Animated Shorts: Surrealism Edition

Title: Heaven and Earth Magic, Number 12 (1962)
Director: Harry Everett Smith
Time: 66 minutes
Availability: The Anthology Film Archives in New York City owns and occasionally exhibits the original print. There is also a rare VHS copy, though this might be the hardest short to find of any I mention.
“The first part depicts the heroine's toothache consequent to the loss of a very valuable watermelon, her dentistry and transportation to heaven. Next follows an elaborate exposition of the heavenly land, in terms of Israel and Montreal. The second part depicts the return to Earth from being eaten by Max Müller on the day Edward VII dedicated the Great Sewer of London.” –Harry Everett Smith describing his film. This relatively tongue-in-cheek explanation helps communicate the type of free-association that propels this bizarre paper cutout animation. Skeleton horses, a magic hammer, spoon-people, unpredictable eggs, tarot cards and all manner of alchemical, satirical and occultist mayhem surge across the screen in this phantasmagorical nightmare.

Harry Everett Smith was the most well-known animator in the New York City experimental underground of the 1960’s and many consider this film to be his masterpiece. Its inscrutable plot and symbolic density make it hard going even for lovers of surrealism, but its boundless originality is undeniable. The “lengthy short” reflects the broad range of interests of its creator, who is also famous for anthologizing folk music, practicing modern alchemy and Occultism (including compiling a book on the angelic language of Enochian), collecting tens of thousands of Ukrainian Easter eggs and tripping on all manner of drugs.

Title: Quasi at the Quackadero (1975)
Director: Sally Cruikshank
Time: 10 minutes
Availability: Kindly uploaded on YouTube by Sally herself here. She also has a blog called FunOnMars.
The adventures of two reptilian ducks (Quasi and Anita) and their robot pet are chronicled through a handful of mind-bending animated adventures. In “Quasi at the Quackadero,” the trio visits a theme park with all manner of unnatural attractions like a hall of mirrors that reflects your image at different ages, an artist who will paint your thoughts and, fatefully, a zoo of holes through time and space. The art is rendered in Cruikshank’s signature psychedelic style, full of rich color clashes and everyday monsters. The circus-pop music and oddball voice-acting contributes to the air of otherworldly strangeness.

Sally Cruikshank made a mark on 1970’s animation with her creative series and her generosity with making many available on YouTube (where she frequently responds to comments) have given her work a second life. Though her best work deals with many adult themes, she later worked on animation for the children’s show Sesame Street.

Title: Destino (2003)
Director: Dominique Monfery and Salvador Dali
Time: 7 minutes
Availability: Available on DVD from Disney’s “Treasure” series on Nov 11, 2008.
“Destino” originated as an unlikely collaboration between Walt Disney and Salvador Dali back in 1945, but the project was never finished until Roy Edward Disney rediscovered the project in 2003 and cobbled it into a polished finished product. I saw it run before “Triplets of Bellville” several years ago and it outshone even that fine feature. After a bit of dawdling, Disney is finally preparing it for DVD.

The short follows a ballerina through a series of bleak Dali-esque landscapes of spindly ruins, melting objects and warped artifacts. It captures the unsettling charm and evocative vision of the great surrealist, complete with his irreverence, weirdness and, above all, imagination.

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