Tuesday, August 5, 2008

#38: The Animation Show, Vol. 1 & 2


The Animation Show Volumes 1 and 2
Curated by Mike Judge and Don Hertzfeldt
Released 2003 (v.1), 2005 (v.2)

"Damn the illusion of movement! Damn the illusion of movement to hell!

The Animation Show is the name given to the collection of animated shorts that animators Mike Judge and Don Hertzfeldt toured around the country in attempt to get these pieces seen by as large an audience as possible. The touring show started in 2003 and is currently on its fourth "volume." Tonight's double-disc DVD represents the first two tours, in 2003 and 2005.

It's an admirable thing these two guys have done, highlighting an aspect of entertainment that we so rarely get to see these days. Decades ago, people would get a little more for their entertainment dollar when they went out to the movies, with one or two short films played before their main attraction. That was one of my favorite things about the theatrical release of Grindhouse: the fake movie trailers were not only a throwback to those old double features, but they were also these little short films made for no other real reason than for the love of making a short film.

I suppose that now with things like YouTube so ever present, there's a sort of rise in popularity of the kind of thing you can email your friend and say, "Check this out!" Hell, many of the films in this collection can be found on YouTube, which makes it easy for me to show you the hilariously surreal Hertzfeldt introduction to the Volume 1:

The beauty of The Animation Show is finding what appeals to you, and maybe even seeing a particular style of animation and storytelling that you'd never seen before. It's a visual mix tape. You might find some of the pieces transcendent, brilliant or simply hilarious. Others you may find off-putting, boring or bizarre. For example, you might find Koji Yamamura's "Mt. Head," where a stingy man's refusal to throw away the pits from his cherries results in a tree blossoming out of the top of his head, moving. I found it annoying.

One of the more enthralling pieces for me was Jeremy Solterbeck's "Moving Illustrations of Machines," a commentary on cloning done in what appears to be a combination of computer and hand-drawn animation. Of course, you may find it annoying.

The admirable thing about these short films, whether they succeed or fail, is that they are all labors of love. No one makes a 5 minute cartoon with the intent to strike it rich. The people who made these animations somehow felt compelled to make them. They spent days, weeks and years of their lives putting these movies together. Commerce was, at best, secondary. Realistically, commerce was never even in the picture. They just envisioned something that had to come out of them. Sometimes, that compulsion is even more interesting than the art itself, whether you're watching Georges Schwizgebel's operatic "La Course A L'Abime" (set to the music of Hector Berlioz's "The Damnation of Faust") or Hertzfeldt's sublime "The Meaning of Life." (It's pretty safe to say that, among many great contributions, Hertzfeldt is clearly the star of both volumes presented here, with a number of hilarious pieces including "Billy's Balloon" and "Intermission in the Third Dimension".)

With so much to choose from over the course of these two discs, you could even put together your own "program" to share with others, especially if you have a couple of friends over for the night with the intention of tying on one. (I must make an aside here and strongly insist that you NOT be sober if you intend to watch this collection. I'm not saying my sobriety affected my viewing in a bad way, but I just know that I could have enjoyed it on a whole other level with a buzz on.)

Using my mix tape analogy, it's hard for me to review a collection of short films like this. Of course, you could say the same thing about this site and the entire roster of movies I will wind up reviewing. One man's refuse might be another man's paradise. The motto, both for this entry and the site in general, is essentially, "Your mileage may vary."

Unless we're talking about California Dreaming. Some things just aren't subjective.

For more on The Animation Show:
- The Wikipedia entry on the touring show and the IMDB page for the first DVD, and the second.
- Check out what's going on with the most current program, and tons more, at the official Animation Show site

The Academy Award nominated "Das Rad (The Wheel)", another favorite from Volume 1:

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