Idiots and Angels

[Screenshot]This is a rather odd creature: a silent, honestly fairly technically crude little allegory about good and evil, and how gifts are used. Because the art’s not deeply expressive and the characters don’t speak, emotion and attitudes have to be pretty simple and simply presented, so at any given point, each character is basically an archetype, and these archetypical modules get plugged together to form a story, which actually mostly works. It’s simplistic, but somehow rather affecting in its simplicity. It feels perhaps a bit long for what it is (in spite of not being all that long by feature-film standards) simply due to a certain monotony of style and slightness of story, but in spite of its crudity, there’s a sense of effectiveness about it in delivering its little fable. The lack of details creates a certain ambiguity in characterization and motivation at times, which perhaps serves to create a certain amount of suspense early on: what’s wrong with these people, we might wonder, to make them act as they do? All in all, this was an absorbing and quite imaginative take on animation-craft, and worthwhile. Bill Plympton is apparently best known for his shorts, and it kind of shows here, in that it starts to drag slightly, but his art is fundamentally sound.

A side note: Netflix really wants movies to have a cast, and was kind of flummoxed by the lack of either voice actors or body actors, which may be why they decided that this movie starred Tom Waits and Pink Martini.

See also: IMDB.

The Mezzanine, by Nicholson Baker

The Mezzanine is an undeniably peculiar novel, but it was peculiar in ways I found interesting; others would probably find it maddeningly trivial and minutiae-obsessed. Nothing of extraordinary importance happens in the book: it’s basically a stream of low-drama reminiscence and musings. I like it because it’s a very familiar kind of slice of thought: it’s a very geeky thing, and one I’m plenty guilty of, to let fairly commonplace events spin one’s mind into thinking about why things happen that way, how they’ve changed over time, and how to do them better. So our nameless protagonist, a forty-something middle-class man probably named “Nicholson Baker”, spends his lunch breaks thinking about how milk cartons have changed and about the stress factors that cause shoelaces to break. If that sounds undirected and meandering to you, you’re absolutely right, and yet it’s actually a far more interesting read than this description makes it sound like, because our narrative voice has such an undiluted sense of wonder. There’s something refreshing about our narrator’s boundless enthusiasm for practically everything (He loves shoelaces and milk cartons, as mentioned. And mechanisms of all types. And footnotes. There was one page of the book which had two lines of actual book text and then about 90% of a page taken up by an extensive footnote declaring undying love for ridged things that interlock and articulate, like escalator steps) and willingness to pursue the sort of silly, somewhat trivial exploration of day-to-day activities that surely many people have but most people never actually vocalize.

The Mezzanine hit all my sweet spots, because it was excited about the same kinds of things I am, and conveyed that excitement effectively. I’m not sure if it works nearly this well for people who are not me.

See also: Wikipedia.

Pixar short films, volume 1

Pixar is a wonderful company. We can get that out of the way right away. It helps that they can do top-notch animation, but what seems to set them ahead of the competition (besides their insanely good mathematics) is their sense of fun. We see that here. Even in their crude, early pieces there’s a sense of whimsy, a sense that even if they can’t get the polygon count up they want to use this medium to do something authentically entertaining. Thus it is for this odd Pixar collection, which include all of their shorts through 2006, most of which I’d never seen before. One odd distinction from their feature-length films is that almost none of them have any dialogue, which means they rely almost entirely on expressive visuals to convey emotions. Any computer animator can do a perfect-looking lamp, but convincingly doing a dejected-looking lamp, or a joyful lamp, as Pixar does in Luxo, Jr., is the work of an artist. These works are almost uniformly charming, and explore different enough themes to be non-repetitive. Particularly memorable ones include Knick Knack, the aforementioned Luxo, Jr., and For the Birds. For the reasons I mentioned above, the later, vocal ones draw me in less. Using a voice track to convey meaning almost feels like cheating.

See also: IMDB (Andre and Wally B., Luxo, Jr., Red’s Dream, Tin Toy, Knick Knack, Geri’s Game, For the Birds, Boundin’, Jack-Jack Attack, Mater and the Ghostlight), Wikipedia.