Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Everyone says they want short subjects, and several startup-company discs
( like N9, reviewed last year) have tried
to fill the gap. There are decades' worth of creative
and entertaining animated films still untapped: anyone who attended college
after 1965 knows how popular were the veritable festivals of animation that
were shown at all kinds of theatrical and non-theatrical venues. But
this popularity hasn't transferred well to television or even home video. Bravo
cable television, when they used to be a no-commercials haven of great
foreign films, once showed interesting European animation whenever a feature
didn't fill out an even-hour time slot. Other than that, just about the
only time you can see oddball experimental animation is if you haunt film
schools or live in Los Angeles or New York, where they get shown for Oscar
There's always the Film Board of Canada, but their blossoming Best of the Best
animation DVD series is just getting
started (Just for Kids, Romantic
Tales & Strange Tales), and you aren't going to see any alternative American
Animation or work from the traditionally excellent Eastern European animation
masters in their compilations.
Cartoon Noir appears to be an effort to fill the gap. It's name might make one
expect the animations to be about detectives or crime, but they're not. In this case the
noir refers to an attitude and a mood. There's nary a joke to be had in any
of these six works. They aren't about standard entertainment values. The critical
raves on the cover say the usual things ("...beyond Disney
clichés..."). while perhaps overstating the impact of the selection. Avid animation
fans might find a treasure here, whereas those looking for pretty pictures or cuteness on any
level will be left out in the noir, so to speak.
The First Run packaging barely mentions the directors of these pieces, so
I've added some extra info about where and when they were made, which includes some
guesses. The framing on a couple of shorts cropped some info out of my
monitor's picture area, and other titles were sometimes too small to read or in foreign
languages that I had to guess at. For instance, The Story of the Cat and the Moon is
from Portugal, I think, because there were mentions of Madrid in the credits, but none for
Brazil. If collections of short subjects like this are to succeed, we really need to know
a bit more about who made them and where. Any kind of context will help, if you're not
Charles Solomon and already an expert on every school of animation trend on the planet.
Paul Vester, USA? Date?
All the films on this disc are odd, but this one clearly has a plan, if not a plot. Several
alien abduction testimonials (heard in authentic-sounding tape recordings) are illustrated
with animations that appear to mimic the scribbled drawings provided by the abductees themselves.
This provides an interesting dimension to the phenomenon that is the flying saucer cult,
because the abductees's visions reflect more of their own psychological states
than any real events that may have happened to them. Or maybe they were all abducted and
probed nasally and genitally by these little almond-eyed guys from saucers right out of
Ray Harryhausen. A thoughtful piece that could have used a little more context; perhaps this was
an intentional ploy to remain neutral on its subject.
Julie Zammarchi, USA? 1992
This short piece is the sickest on the disc, but not to any overt purpose besides fulfilling its
own unsavory tone. Two unpleasant people argue about their daily meal, which consists of one
cooked monkey. Eventually the subject comes 'round to an accusation that the wife is having
sex with the monkey corpse before chow time; it's not as shocking or as provoking as it sounds, but
more of a mentally oppressive expression of human relationships. The color
style changes for a moment where the wife garnishes the monkey with a flower, so the tone isn't all
ugly faces and off-putting dialogue. Savant has seen some intentionally horrid & nasty
animations (thanks to some unscheduled awfulness at Savant Secret Cinema) and this is neither that
bad nor without possible merit. However, the film might be a good icebreaker for a get-together
of uncommunicative serial killers.
Club of the Discarded
Jiri Barta, Czechoslovokia? Poland?/ Date?
The DVD package rightly relates this pixillated found-object animation to the work of Jan
Svankmajer. It's long and repetitive, but has a couple of running gags that
might appeal. A grim loft in a decaying building is home
to a collection of old-fashioned mannikins, who live sysyphus-ish lives of clearly existential
meaninglessness. One tries forever to hear something from a broken radio, another peeps
through a crumbling wall at a naked dummy at a window. You get the drill. Eventually
movers deliver a crate of modern mannikins with wild hair, sexually explicit features and extreme
facial expressions, which leads to a predictable clash of lifestyles. A violent orgy of
results in the creation of a hybrid race of dummies made from mix'n match parts. They now can
watch TV. Obviously allegorical and 'meaningful,' the one is still a chore to watch despite
some handsome photography.
Piotr Dumala, Poland, 1985
This selection has the most interesting animation in the artistic sense; as slow and grim as some of
the others, it's always fascinating to watch and comes up with some beautiful textures. A
bearded man appears to oppress a delicate, alienated woman in a dank set of rooms. Although
almost nothing happens that amounts to a narrative, the rich visuals evoke real emotional
responses, as opposed to the cooler intellectual games played by most of the other
selections. A tiny spider grows to a hairy monster as if representing the domestically-enslaved
woman's reaction to sex with this domineering man. Objects keep transforming into beds where
either hopelessly resigned to his advances, or growing ever more ill. Strangely enough,
drama is played out in the context of the woman already being dead, with the man in sincere
the resulting sadness is remarkable for such an abstract short subject. You get the feeling
that there's a strong personal or
autobiographical connection here: this 'cartoon' has an overpowering feeling of remorse.
Suzan Pitt, USA, 1995
This is the most conflicted show on the disc. It has terrific work combined with
some less-than-compelling sections, is too long and ambitious, yet actually pays off nicely by
daring to be hopefully optimistic. A despairing woman in a film-noirish room
has what seem to be romance problems (can't get him on the phone). She smokes and drinks and
obsesses over the hopelessness of it all until she collapses on the bed. So far, the cliché
factor is pretty high; this is the subject of so many lightweight art films that want so badly to
be heavy. But in her sleep, a cartoonish character from a ceramic ashtray comes to life and tries to
get her attention, entertaining her by distorting his features grotesquely. After the crude
animation style of the opening, this section is inspired - the flop-eared 'thing' moves like Pinocchio
crossed with a Fleischer character, but differently ... well, Savant's never quite seen a fully
animated character who behaves this way. For once the attempt to mix morbidity into the stew
is compelling, as the valiant 'thing' grows and carries the limp (dead?) girl out to the park, to
try to get her to see beauty and hope. Some of the animation here just gets too bizarre to
maintain the tone, but the wrapup is rewarding. Defeated, the ashtray 'thing' brings her
home, and the story finds an ending that makes this long and uneven piece pay off nicely.
The Story of the Cat and the Moon
Pedro Serrazino, Portugal, Date?
The least noir and the most charming, this exercise in silhouettes is still a bit too
pat. A cat's lifelong unrequited love affair with the moon is accompanied by beautiful
music. At different stages in his life he tries new strategies to get the moon's attention,
until old age makes waiting patiently his only option. There's a surprise and a nicely
handled finale. It's not particularly noir, but this one is the most elegant of the six.
To be really memorable, to inspire word of mouth, short films have to
make solid home runs, just knock you out. To be frank, none of the films above quite reached
that status for Savant. But that's individual taste. Savant's seen enough 'meaningful,
dark, allegorical' films of all kinds to last lifetimes. And another reason to be suspicious
of Savant's taste is the fact that just like the unenlightened hordes, Savant responds favorably
to 'funny' animation. I'm no populist Spielberg, no sir, but I got my fill in college. And
every time I tried to 'create', my friends would ask me questions like, "Is this another "The Ground
Was Cold and Wet" movie?
Animation fans and freaks may find some real inspiration here. Comedy joyriders, forget it.
Kids, no way. You're too twisted, Paul, Julie & Piotr!
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Cartoon Noir rates:
Packaging: Snapper case
Reviewed: , 2001
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2001 Glenn Erickson
Go BACK to the Savant Index of Articles.