Title: Elegy to Connie
In February of 2008 Charles Lee Thorton walked into Kirkwood City Hall and killed six people, including council member Connie Karr. Elegy to Connie is a grassroots, experimental animated documentary about the neighborhood, the shooter and most importantly, Connie, a hardworking down-to-earth public servant who brought people together and improved the city she loved.
Elegy to Connie is up front about being an elegy, or even more accurately a tribute, which is both good and bad. It is filled with a genuine sense of love and loss for Connie (who ironically had many of Thorton’s issues at heart), a local crusader of the type that rarely gets the recognition they deserve. It also means that this is not an intimate character study or nuanced profile, but a reverential treatment of a private and public figure whose untimely death was a tragedy to friends, family and community.
I couldn’t help wanting this film to be more though. It is so formally artistically bold (more on that in a second), and yet structurally and politically shy. The information on Kirkwood’s history is a good start, but feels light. The sections on Thorton and the shooting spree didn’t tell me any more than my memories of the news coverage. At a time when St. Louis is dealing with the Michael Brown shooting and having some hard-hitting debates on race, poverty, crime, zoning, city planning and corruption, it might be time for the kid gloves to come off. And yet, this film is likely in keeping with Connie Karr’s own style: a light touch backed by sincerity and conviction; an understanding instead of inflammatory approach.
And now to the animation! This is where the film blew my mind. Director Sarah Paulsen, working with a very small team of assistants, has managed to present a sort of crash course of animation styles that writhes with creative energy and visual originality. Paper cutouts, photos, puzzle pieces, mosaics, stop-motion, traditional hand-drawn, wet paint on glass, etc., etc. This film literally brimming over with techniques, and fresh ways of seeing and yet they are blended together and united in tone such that the film never feels incoherent or disjointed. This is animation that is honestly more interesting than 90% of the multimillion dollar productions that come of big name studios and I hope Paulsen goes on to create much more of it!
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