Though she's only created three short films in as many decades, artist Suzan Pitt has helped to extend the boundaries of animation with each successive effort. Her first film, Asparagus (1979), played alongside David Lynch's landmark Eraserhead on the Midnight Movie circuit, racking up several independent film awards in the process. This sexually charged short feature employs several different forms of animation---including traditional paint on cels, of course---and is told from a distinctly feminine point of view. Like the bulk of Pitt's back catalogue, the 18-minute Asparagus favors music and sounds over dialogue and narration, floating between images and scenes in the same way one might daydream. Colorful, surreal and surprisingly polished, this animated oddity is a strong debut for the painter turned animator.
Her sophomore effort, Joy Street (1995, seen above), is a much darker tale from start to finish. This nightmarish tale follows an isolated, suicidal woman as she smokes and drinks her way through her seemingly hopeless life; after collapsing on her bed, a colorful character shows up to try and revive her. Though it's often confusing and not without a few slow spots, this 24-minute film offers a hopeful ending that makes all the darkness worth wading through. Even if the subject matter is a bit morbid for most audiences, it's easy to see that a lot of love and patience went into Joy Street. It walked away with a few awards during the year, including "Best Short Film" at the Naples Film Festival and the "Golden Gate Award" at the San Francisco International Film Festival.
Pitt's most recent effort is El Doctor (2006), written by her son, Blue Kraning (who also co-directs the documentary included on this disc). This 24-minute tale of an alcoholic Mexican doctor is a bit more ambitious in scope and style, employing sand animation, oil paintings, dialogue and other elements to tell its story. Because of this, El Doctor was the first of Pitt's films that required a small crew to complete, most of which was comprised of local talent. The dialogue was even recorded in Mexico, where the artist regularly lives for a portion of the year. Balancing the surreal and divine, it's a strong follow-up to the slightly weaker Joy Street. Upcoming screenings for the film can be viewed here.
All three of Pitt's award-winning films comprise The Films of Suzan Pitt, First Run Features' collection of all three in one handy package. The technical presentation is about as good as expected, while the light bonus material offers a solid amount of support for the main features. It may not be a collection for all tastes, but those who enjoy animation off the beaten path should find this to be a satisfying collection from start to finish. Let's take a closer look, shall we?
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality:
Presented in their original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, all three films look fairly good for their age and budget. The color palette seems accurate, black levels look solid and no digital problems were spotted along the way. There's a bit of dirt on the prints, especially during Asparagus, but it's kept to a minimum and doesn't interfere much.
The audio is presented in standard Mono and Stereo mixes; like the video presentation, it seems to improve over time. Music and sounds are relatively crisp throughout, while the scattered dialogue in El Doctor is muffled but decipherable. As the majority of the content is without dialogue, no subtitles or Closed Captioning options are included.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging:
Seen above, the curious animated menus feature smooth, simple navigation and an appropriate atmosphere. Each of the three films is presented without chapter breaks, while no apparent layer change was detected during feedback. This one-disc release is housed in a black keepcase and includes a promotional insert for First Run Features.
In lieu of a commentary from the director, the main supplement here is "Suzan Pitt: Persistence of Vision" (23:59), a short documentary directed by Blue and Laura Kraning (the former of which also wrote "Shay's Rebellion" from 10 Days That Unexpectedly Changed America). This documentary isn't especially unique in format or structure, but frequent comments from the artist and footage of her at work in the studio help make it worthwhile. This is a solid complement to the short films, as Pitt discusses the various animation techniques used (including sand art, modifying the film negatives, traditional cel painting and more), not to mention the inspiration behind some of her stories.
Also included is a Gallery of artwork from each of the three films, as well as an additional collection of rainforest paintings. Closing out the brief but appropriate extras are Production Notes from Pitt and a Text Biography for the author. All extras are presented in 1.33:1 format; unfortunately, they don't include subtitles or Closed Captioning support.
They're certainly not for all tastes, but fans of quirky, surreal and creative animation should get some enjoyment out of Suzan Pitt's short films. El Doctor, Joy Street and Asparagus represent focused visions from three different decades; each is unique and personal in its own way, even if they seem distant and detached on the first viewing. The DVD presentation by First Run Features is basic but well-balanced, pairing the short films with a decent technical presentation and a few appropriate bonus features. This collection may not be worth a blind buy to all but the most adventurous fans of animation, but it's still a release worth looking into. Rent It.
DVD Talk Review Link: Cartoon Noir featuring "Joy Street" (Written by DVD Savant )
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects and works in a local gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, second-guessing himself and writing things in third person.