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My Spoon is Too Big! The non-invisible Don Hertzfeldt.

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I just got home from the the San Francisco International Film Festival where they awarded animator Don Hertzfeldt their (somewhat cloyingly named) “Persistence of Vision” award. The presentation featured a 90 minute long selection of his works followed by a (too) brief question and answer session.

I had already seen almost all of the films that were screened.  Billy’s Balloon still brings tears to my eyes, even if it does go on for about 45 seconds too long (it’s a student film, what do you expect?). His latest work (Everything Will Be OK, and I Am So Proud Of You, the first two chapters of an eventual trilogy) is vastly more ambitious. Hertzfeldt has proven himself to be much more than a one gag film maker. He’s adapted his surreal, non-sequitor sensibilities to tell aching stories of isolation, regret, and possibly insanity. This is a far cry from the usual Sick and Twisted gross out fare that surrounded his earliest films. The fact that neither of these films received Academy Award nominations is further evidence of the questionable worth of that category.

His short Rejected (which WAS nominated for an Academy Award) features some very non-invisible film making. The first two thirds of the piece are typical of his early work, surreal, a bit shocking, and very funny. But in the last minutes of the piece, we start to see Hertzfeldt develop into a much more serious filmmaker.  The very medium that the characters inhabit starts to turn against them. The paper is torn, crumpled, as the fabric of their existence is threatened. One particularly haunting image is of two stick characters banging at the paper as if it was a window trapping them in. It’s shocking and scary and brilliant.

Hertzfeldt possessed a charmingly awkward stage presence as he discussed his work, occasionally breaking into surreal anecdotes about classmates chopping off bits of their digits in elementary school art class, or being mistaken for Johnny Depp while sneaking into a Monty Python reunion. He discussed how he became an animator (he wanted to do live action, but live action uses more film stock than animation which made it too expensive), past projects (an ill fated feature for a big studio) and future projects (finishing up the trilogy and then possibly a non-studio feature!)

It’s kinda amazing. Don Hertzfeldt has managed to create a living for himself solely by selling DVDs of his self produced animations, ancillary products, and speaking fees. He doesn’t do any commercial work at all (although if Kellogg’s had any integrity whatsoever they’d send him a check for each Pop Tart they sell).  How many animators can say that? How many filmmakers can say that?

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Newsflash: Crappy Movie Wins an Oscar

Yeah.  I know it’s not news. I’m used to the best film not winning, but it really galls me when the WORST film nominated gets the prize. Sure, none of the nominated films were all that great, but jeesh, what was the Academy thinking? Logorama is really the best animated short film of the year?Continue ReadingContinue Reading

4 Responses to Newsflash: Crappy Movie Wins an Oscar

  1. anonymous says:


    maybe that will change your mind about logorama. but I agree that david’s film was the best of that year.

  2. Brian Rosen says:

    Thanks for the link. It definitely doesn’t change my mind. In some cases, it makes me dislike the short even more. So “all van drivers have mustaches” is the reason that Mr. Pringle is the van driver? The author contends that this is evidence that “The film is not just a haphazard amalgamation of commercial symbols though. It is a carefully instigated scenario that took on challenging artistic as well as technical decisions.”

    I remain unconvinced. These guys have nothing to say.

  3. oscar the grouch says:

    PSS was hands down my favorite last year. IMO Logorama’s victory was predictable however given the value placed on political message in the Oscars of late.

  4. James says:

    Please Say Something made me completely change my mind about 3D animation, I had been completely put off 99% of it (probably because of the low quality soulless 3D films Hollywood has been churning out ) until I saw PSS.

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Is opera kid’s stuff? Or just silly?

A friend of mine commented on Facebook that “the bulk of [his] generation’s exposure to classical music has been through Looney Toon cartoons.”  Upon reflection, I think he’s absolutely right. A quick search shows that listverse has already compiled the “Top Ten Uses of Classical Music in Classic Cartoons” list for us. And who doContinue Reading

5 Responses to Is opera kid’s stuff? Or just silly?

  1. Peter says:

    Wow, my daughter (and son now) watch Wonder Pets at the grandparents. At first it really annoyed me, because of what you mentioned. But now I sort of appreciate the style it uses to communicate to the youngins. So much so, that we borrowed the CD from the library. It’s a frequent request now.

  2. Natalie says:

    I used to use “What’s Opera Doc” as a teaching tool for the college music appreciation classes I taught. It was the easiest way to explain the form of Grand Opera in 6 minutes (instead of 4 hours). It is an absolute piece of genious, that little 6 minute cartoon.

    I wonder about this idea of the need to repeat oneself textually to go with music. Because certainly there is plenty of musical theater (including modern opera) that does NOT do this. It was, of course, the style in previous eras (good lord how many Handel arias have I sung that are 7 minutes long and only have 3 LINES of text????) — but did the music demand it or was that a stylistic choice, a convention? The arias were used as a vehicle for showing off the voice as an instrument, more than for progressing the plot of the opera, it would seem. Were they really TRYING to be theatrical in those moments?

  3. Brian Rosen says:

    I think you’re exactly right, and I’m starting to write out a post about how later styles of opera tried to get around this repetition thing. But the more I think about it, the repetition thing may not be endemic to the music. Did Mozart do a lot of it?

    It may just be that we’ve heard the “What’s Opera Doc” so often that the silly repetition has lodged into our collective minds as that “thing that opera does.” And since most Americans have never heard an opera in a language they understand, they have no idea whether or not opera actually does that.

  4. Eph says:

    I’m no expert on opera as a whole, but I don’t think Puccini repeats lines all that often. And he uses arias to advance the drama and develop characters. One of my favorite examples is “Dovunque al mondo” from Madama Butterfly. I particularly love the fact that Pinkerton interrupts his aria to offer his guest a drink (“Milk Punch, o Whisky?”)

  5. Brian Rosen says:

    Eph, absolutely. Puccini has a much more modern approach to theater. Remember, Madama Butterfly is a 20th century opera (1904)! Wagner composed over half of the Ring cycle in the 1850s, before Tristan even.

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