Trashmaster (Big Smash! Productions)
Paper Plastic runs May 4 - 7 at the Park Theater.
As hugely expensive high-tech 3D cartoons take over the multiplexes, Paper Plastic, Winnipeg's fourth annual festival of offbeat animation, celebrates the old-school, the low-fi, the no-budget, the neglected and the just plain odd.
The indie films in Plastic Paper use handmade DIY aesthetics like paper cut-outs, jittery stop-motion and puppetry (or, as we Thunderbirds fans like to say, "supermarionation"). While most mainstream animation barely dents the medium's possibilities, often chasing with lunkheaded literalism after visual realism, these films think up entirely new worlds, packed with boundary-busting optical possibilities. And if the stories of commercial cartoons seem to have been decided by Hollywood committee, these indie films tend to be driven by feverish creativity and magnificent obsession.
(One word for parents: Just because this is animation does NOT mean it's suitable for children. There is a kid-friendly Saturday Morning All-You-Can-Eat Cereal Cartoon Party, but the evening programming features plenty of toon-style sex and violence. )
Festival highlights include a personal appearance by Ralph Bakshi, lifelong renegade American animator whose work on the '60s Spider-Man cartoon series set the template for this blogger's sense of cool. (Those Abstract-Expressionist skies! That jangly surf-guitar soundtrack! Spidey's sardonic asides!) Bakshi introduces his 1981 masterwork American Pop, a super-multi-media saga of four generations of Russian-Jewish musicians, as well as opening an exhibition of his visual art at the Exchange District's RAW Gallery.
Some other works to check out:
Viva the 'Nam, a bizarre Vietnam satire that uses dolls -- um, I mean action figures - to evoke a hilarious heart of darkness, and The Trashmaster, a dark tale of vigilante justice made entirely using the game engine of Grand Theft Auto IV. Think of it as Taxi Driver for the video generation.
The Beast Pageant, a black-and-white quasi-live-action film that examines the plight of any human heart in a decaying post-industrial society. With equal doses of oogy menace and goofy humour, there's a bit of Terry Gilliam's dystopian Brazil and a smidge of David Lynch's crazed Eraserhead here, as well as an adorable, dumpster-diving vibe. (Costumes and sets are often literally held together with duct tape.)
Keiichi Tanaami (Big Smash! Productions)
A retrospective of Keiichi Tanaami, a postwar Japanese Pop artist whose works combine trippy, hallucinogenic images with driving techno soundscapes for visceral effect. (Some of these wild animated shorts made me so dizzy I felt like I was going to pass out.)
American: Bill Hicks, a hybrid bio about a comedians' comedian, whose critiques of a complacent, consumerist culture became a big influence on American stand-up before Hick's death in 1994 at the age of 32. What might have been a conventional talking-heads documentary is transformed with innovative animated techniques that bring old photos and video clips to strange, surreal life.
The Florestine Collection 9Big Smash! Productions)
The Florestine Collection, a moving elegy for the late animator Helen Hill, an American who lived and worked in Halifax before moving to New Orleans with her Canadian husband, Paul Gailiunas. What was meant to be Hill's animated tribute to the creativity and resilience of the people and the city she loved becomes her husband's lament for his dead wife, who was murdered in a random home invasion in the chaos of post-Katrina New Orleans. Heartbreaking, inspiring and beautiful.
Alison Gillmor, CBC reviewer