Shocked, shocked! to find some pretty cool animation

April 29, 1994|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

So, you think you want to be a movie critic? Let me tell you what movie critic hell is. It is -- or was -- slogging down to the Charles once every two weeks or so (it felt much shorter) for a new installment of an International Tournee of Animation.

You knew you were in trouble when the director's first name was Pavel and his last was something without vowels that had a lot of little squiggle marks above the letters and his film had a title like "Etude in Nocturne, No. 35." Oy and vey, little dark mutating shapes set to obscure operatic scores or the latest by John Cage's fifth protege. It was always dedicated to the memory of Franz Kafka. And it seemed that . . . every single one . . . ran "Godzilla Meets Bambi."

Then you had to go back and write it: "Pavel Khtcvickbckf's 'Nocturnal Etude Opus No. 35' presents some extremely provocative dark mutating shapes that suggest the soul in angst over the prospect of writing movie reviews about collections of obscure cartoons full of little dark mutating shapes." Then they took you away to that estate on the Eastern Shore where all Sun nut cases are shipped for therapy.

Anyway . . . when I saw "The 24th International Tournee of Animation" on the Charles' new schedule, my heart fell. Not back to . . . the farm? Not more "treatments" with Nurse Tom?

It turned out not to be so bad. In fact, it turned out to be pretty good. This is certainly the best animated collection in many a year, and the deeply talented Mr. Khtcvickbckf is nowhere in sight. Maybe he's off etuding his nocturne.

Instead . . . some really cool stuff.

My favorite was "Prehistoric Beast," by Phil Tippett, which features some of the most astonishing pure, naturalistic, stop-motion work I've ever seen. Nothing herky-jerky -- just fluid, scary animals hunting each other in a misty primal glade. Tippett ultimately did a great deal of work on "Jurassic Park," but his creatures here are far more authentic and frightening than in the Spielbergerized fable.

Then there's an amazing Swiss film, "The Square of Light." It puts the audience behind the eyes of a boxer in a nearly chiaroscuro evocation of the fury and power of the ring, complete to the blurred jangle that attends when you get hit hard in the head.

For those who like it painted black, there's the very, very chilling "The Sandman," which takes the child's fable and twists it so far into the direction of the macabre in so short a time that it may keep even the grown-ups awake.

The twisted world of the famous Playboy cartoonist Gahan Wilson is represented in "Diner," a morsel about a strange crew that goes about the back roads of America turning killer-diners into robo-diners. Wilson makes Chas. Addams look healthy.

John Callahan, the recovered alcoholic paraplegic and cheerfully bitter cartoonist, is represented in "I Think I Was an Alcoholic," a -- brief but pungent account of the artist's own wasted and nearly fatal first 30 years. Best bit: "I began to exhibit the classic pattern of a problem drinker," says Callahan, and the film displays Patterns A through D, all of which consist of Callahan face-down, passed out like a corpse.

The film finishes with a lengthy tribute to the Will Vinton studios, those Claymation fools! Some of the stuff is industrial, some is commercial -- variations on the famous California raisin ads -- some is just pure entertainment, but it is all unbelievable. They start with nothing, syncopate to music, and by sculpting clay and manipulating it one frame at a time, come up with astonishingly supple and resonant images.

Only one big dud: "Little Wolf," an endless thing about a wolf who hangs on a star, from Britain. No wonder they lost their empire! And some crummy music videos. Who cares about that?

XTC "The 24th International Tournee of Animation"

Produced by Terry Thoren

Released by Samuel Goldwyn



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