Beyond Bugs Bunny
Magic Movies Festival at Off-the-Wall Until February 1
ANYONE WHO THINKS that Tom and Jerry and the Road Runner represent the supreme achievements of the animator's art should pay a visit to Off-the-Wall's Second Annual Magic Movies Festival of Animation and see what sophisticated fun creative adults can have with kid's stuff.
The 12 filmmakers whose works make up this program of cartoon shorts combine imagination and technology with a wicked sense of visual wit to come up with this series of fantasies that should beguile even those who hated Fantasia. Like the best of Disney's minions, these animators take the laws governing commonplace existence, turn them inside out and render the impossible persuasive.
The programmers at Off-the-Wall have concentrated on obtaining recent and rarely shown works by the best artists working in animation. Several of the short subjects come from the Ottawa International Festival of Animation, "the equivalent of Cannes to the animation world," according to the program notes. Works by European and local Boston-area directors are included. Most of the works run under ten minutes. The shortest, All in a Woman's Day and Success Without College, by two Hampshire College students, are pithy visual epigrams that last not much longer than it takes to blink an eye.
The program proves that the animation technique need not impose any stylistic formula on the animator. The mood and subject of these short essays range from the melancholy romanticism of Raoul Servais's Sirene, a tale of love between a mermaid and a flutist after a holocaust, to the wry wit of Kick Me by Robert Swarthe in which the protagonist is a pair of headless legs.
John Whitney exploits the wizardry of computer graphics in Arabesque to create an elegant essay in formal design. To the insistent rhythms of an electronic sitar, Whitney creates an Oriental kaleidoscope of pulsating colors and lines. Roll'em Lola, a product of Southern California's Department of Film Graphics is a fast-paced car chase through a liquified Peter Max landscape that keeps changing into the sinuous humps and valleys of an Ingres odalisque. And Will Vinton simply uses animated clay to tell a sly parable of nature's revenge on three musicians who "groove too high" on their electric guitars.
THE FESTIVAL'S highlight is the complete version of Ladislas Starevitch's The Mascot, a fairy tale of innocence astray in a wicked world. The film, made in 1934, is a classic of puppet and object animation. A dew-eyed puppy puppet--who bears a vague resemblance to Alfred Hitchcock--is brought to life by the tears of a dollmaker who is too poor to buy her sick daughter the oranges she dreams of. The dollmaker sends the puppy to be sold in a toy store. He manages to escape his new owner there as well as his fate as a windshield ornament. The rest of the story follows his efforts to get back to the little girl with the oranges that will make her well. Along the way the puppy encounters a sloe-eyed South American ballerina and her raffishly murderous boyfriend; he is betrayed by his best friend, a stuffed cat, and he wanders into a devil's convocation of puppets and paper dolls straight out of a Heronymus Bosch painting. The special effects save a perilously sentimental story line and everything comes out happily in the end.
SEVERAL OF THE animators pay tribute to other artists and their works. Gail Banker's Mime Antics is a short and sweet valentine to that art form. John Haugse honors Magritte, Dali and a host of other surrealists in his ironic This is Not a Museum.
Two other short subjects by women filmmakers are included on the Magic Movies bill. All in a Woman's Day by Jessica Sphon and Amateur Night by Thalia Goldman both strike unfortunate and harsh notes in a program characterized otherwise by cool sophistication and robust humor. Spohn at least handles her satire of women as sex objects with a deft control of her visual material, a collage of advertising images and photographs. But the stress on sadism and bodily functions is insistently strident. Goldman, an Israeli living in London, succeeds only in making her audience uncomfortable with a sketch that involves a humiliating striptease by a skinny ballerina and two fat women. The final shot of the film reveals that the members of the audience, who have been shouting "Take it off!" to the women on stage, have also exposed themselves. It is unclear exactly who or what is the object of Goldman's bitter attack--besides the viewers of the film.
The embarassment of riches offered by the Magic Movies series threatens to overwhelm the viewer at times. A dozen shorts in quick succession results in so many visual images that they tend to blur together by the end of the show. An intermission which breaks the program into two halves helps somewhat and the atmosphere at the Off-the-Wall theater (which is also a coffee house and photo gallery) is low-keyed and convivial. Until short subjects become a regular part of movie theater programming, Off-the-Wall's approach is the most rewarding, if exhausting, way to see these films.