More Plastic Paper Interviews, Previews & Press

From CBC: Manitoba Scene May 3, 2011

Film Review: Winnipeg’s “Plastic Paper” offers festival of offbeat animation

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.)

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, 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

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From Uptown Magazine May 5, 2011

Exploring the blueprints of CGI
Code in Motion is a mind-warping, eye-tricking collection of innovative early computer animation circa 1961 to 1981

The heady days when Eastern mysticism, pictorial formalism and beatnik experimentation met algorithms that could generate complex geometries and computers capable of such boggling calculations are visited in Code In Motion. Curated by Clint Enns, this collection of early computer animations from 1961 to 1981 shed light on the innovative beginnings of CGI.

Using the targeting mechanism for a Second World War anti-aircraft gun, John Whitney Sr. built a “mechanical analogue computer” that enabled him to mathematically plot the separate movement and rotation of many “design templates” and cameras at once. His demo reel, designed to advertise Whitney’s services to the feature film industry, was later released as a film. Aptly titled Catalog, it’s a sequence of dazzling abstract effects set to Whitney’s own avant-garde string composition.

Code In Motion also includes synethesic work from Whitney’s younger brother, James. A swirling mandala of hand-painted, computer-plotted dots set to shimmering sitar chords, Lapis is new-age psychedelia at its peak. Previewing this tripped-out, glowing kaleidoscope on Enns’ Pentium 3 in his bedroom, I can only image the queasy sensations seeing it projected large in a dark theatre will provoke.

Just why are artists attracted to making work using computers? Time saving is one clear and obvious reason. Peter Foldès’ La Faim pioneered the use of keyframes, using the computer to fill in the frames in between. Foldès’ spare and expressionistic line drawings are stretched and transformed in comical and grotesque ways, illustrating the obscene appetites of a man (who occasionally becomes his car!) in this allegorical 1974 Oscar winner.

A documentary on computer animator Lillian Schwartz, The Artist and the Computer, points to another reason: the addition of random, unanticipated results (in other words, mistakes). Schwartz gleefully appropriates code and graphics cast off by scientists. Her work was gorgeous, innovative and had socially relevant content that has aged well; even with its bouncy synth soundtrack, this doc provides an excellent overview of this artist’s pivotal works.

Crass but kinda cool, Robert Abel and Associates’ TV commercials are interspersed throughout the program and show another side of early computer animation — one funded by corporate big bucks rather than research councils and university labs. The highly polished surface and craft of advertisement is a refreshing contrast to the formal investigations and serious ideas advanced by the artists in Code In Motion.

Through an enjoyable and wide sampling of genres, Code In Motion shows how the computer can be used to warp the mind, trick the eye and break the rules of physics. Oh, yes, and make awesome art!

– Sandee Moore

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From Uptown Magazine May 5, 2011

‘It’s incredible what I can get away with…’
The Montreal Mirror’s comic-strip/film-review columnist Rick Trembles descends on Winnipeg to discuss his incomparable work

What a shock it was for Montreal cartoonist, musician and animator Rick Trembles to learn he’d gotten a Canada Council for the Arts grant.

After all, he’d only sent in an application for a, er, provocative animated short titled Goopy Spasms — whose Montreal premiere was at the 2004 FanTasia International Film Festival — as a joke.

Today, however, the man behind Motion Picture Purgatory — a “hybrid-comic-strip/film-review column” Trembles has been regularly cranking out for the Montreal Mirror since 1998 — says he neither tries nor needs to deliberately shock anymore.

“The messy topics that the better films out there try to tackle these days can easily supersede whatever I can come up with,” says Trembles (real name Richard Tremblay).

The self-taught artist is in town this week for Plastic Paper: Winnipeg’s Festival of Animated, Illustrated + Puppet Film; he’s presenting Rick Trembles’ Motion Picture Purgatory: Decensortized, a slide show about his life, work and the “gory, dirty, convoluted details” of his various (and unsurprising) censorship battles. Uptown caught up with Trembles for the occasion.

KS: When you started doing your cartoon reviews, were you aware of anyone else doing it?

RT: I’ve been doing mine since the mid-’80s, but editorializing using comics is certainly nothing new. Rube Goldberg was reviewing boxing matches with cartoons a century ago, before his name became the dictionary definition for convoluted contraptions.

Experimentation in comics was tolerated more within the mainstream back in the medium’s infancy. Novelty was the name of the game.

I’ve written the occasional text-only film-related article/interview for the Mirror and various webzines. I’ve always liked both horror movies and comics, so why not merge the two?

Film and comics grew up in tandem so I don’t know why comics still has a lowbrow stigma among the general populace (especially in North America) compared to film. It’s my choice of language, and comics is a language all its own. Drawing comics to me is just as legitimate a means of communication as personally writing to someone.

In fact, it’s better because some things I can convey more clearly through illustration. Humorous drawings can soften a blow, aerial views can explain trajectories, and X-ray cutaways can dissect a situation better than mere words.

But comics has a specific relationship with words, too. It’s a complicated marriage.

KS: How would you describe your cartooning style?

RT: Candy-coated stick figures.

KS: Why have you been doing this for so long, for what is certainly a lot of time and work for little money?

RT: Rub it in why don’t you.

KS: Why were you kicked off the Mirror years ago for your horror-movie comic-strip reviews?

RT: I explain it in more detail in my slide show, but the gist is that, after working at the oppressively politically correct first version of the Mirror for a few years, I got fired circa 1988 when they deemed some of the slasher films I was reviewing “sexist and misogynistic” and decided to tar and feather me likewise.

Fast-forward 10 years, when sensibilities had completely flip-flopped and a change in editorship occurred, and I was welcomed back with no censorship whatsoever. I have total freedom when it comes to sex, violence and other controversial topics, but I believe this is an aberration particular to Montreal.

It’s incredible what I can get away with, considering the Mirror’s free and available to anyone on the streets. I attribute it mostly to comics in general still not being taken very seriously. Maybe my strip’s text-heaviness averts impatient busybodies.

Whatever the miserable case may be, let’s keep it that way because it’s nice to vent fury and accolades however I choose, unhampered.

I don’t consider myself abnormal so I figure whatever I like should be readily accessible for the rest of humanity to enjoy. I happen to like esoteric cinema so I cater to those with similar tastes, and there are apparently a lot of us out there.

KS: Can you see yourself continuing to do this gig for years to come?

RT: Why not?

KS: Final question, when did you make your trademark shades a seemingly permanent part of your face?

RT: When I realized I could peer at people without them knowing it.

– Kenton Smith

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From Uptown Magazine May 5, 2011

He made us laugh — and think, too
American: The Bill Hicks Story is a revelatory and visually imaginative doc about a too-short comedic career

A friend of the late comedian Bill Hicks says in this documentary that, from the moment they met, it was all about laughs. Indeed, watching the film, one reflects it could have been titled Bill Hicks: A (Short) Life in Comedy.

American: The Bill Hicks Story surveys the life of the tragically short-lived comedian, who died at 32 in 1994. It uses an engaging alternative approach to the typical talking- heads format, employing animated techniques to enhance both archival footage and photographs, as well as testimony from Hicks’s surviving family and friends.

It remains fitting that we see the faces of those narrating voices when the film comes to Hicks’ death from cancer: it underlines the loss. Hicks, perhaps the most celebrated comedian of his generation, is one of those legends who departed just when his star was turning supernova.

We see Hicks at his best, including some of his most famous bits — like his answer to a waffle restaurant waitress who asked him, “Whatcha reading for?” Then there’s the famous “Freebird!” heckler incident, which may showcase Hicks at his most unbridled.

When he was good, he was very good. He wasn’t just funny, but a sly social and political commentator. Perhaps his most on-target bit ever was a suggestion to some disgruntled Christian rednecks who didn’t like his religious jokes: “Forgive me.”

Unfortunately, his wit was often duller — as when he suggested certain pop stars be killed by shotgun. Or his self-righteous rant about how those in advertising should kill themselves. Unlike the master of socially aware comedy, the late George Carlin, Hicks could seem arrogant and disdainful.

So, he had stuff he could have improved on. Part of the posthumous lionization may be on account of what one interviewee describes: comedy clubs were actually “de-evolving” at the time of Hicks’s rise. His breed was, at the time, rare.

Yet that’s not to sell him short, either: as we see from footage of teenage performances, Hicks was a natural. He looked like a pro from the get-go. By age 22, he’d already been a comic for seven years. “Bill should have been famous right away,” someone says.

The film’s narrative approach is straightforward, tracing its subject’s life from cradle to grave. He wanted to be a comic from a young age and worked hard at it. After high school, Hicks hit the road and did the necessary work, in front of countless audiences, to hone his skills.

Surprisingly, we learn he never swore in his early days at L.A.’s famous Comedy Store — he was the clean-cut guy. It was during one drunken performance that he crawled out on the edge and found his voice. It took a while to find that line between anger and funny, however.

And it’s a line that he might have refined further, had he lived. Bill Hicks’ legacy and influence endure, but he left the world wondering what heights he might have touched. That’s his enduring fascination. Not to mention some memorable lines.

– Kenton Smith

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From Uptown Magazine May 5, 2011

A weapon of mass derision
Eight years in the making, stop-motion epic Viva the ’Nam is a riotously fun war satire and hymn to DIY filmmaking

Yes, this stop-motion animated film lacks slick execution. Yes, its figures’ lips don’t even move. How could they? They’re action figures — G.I. dolls from Japan, according to Twitchfilm.com.

All that notwithstanding, the stilted quality and rough-edged aesthetic of Viva the ’Nam are precisely its selling points. They’re what make the movie, which took eight years to complete, such a hoot.

Juxtaposed with the hilarious dialogue and voice work, the crappy aesthetic is funny in and of itself, with those static lips effecting all the greater absurdity. (Such a product shouldn’t be alien to many viewers: Robot Chicken has been doing it on TV for years.) The writing, too, is just funny on its own.

And with fairly brutal accuracy, Viva the ’Nam also captures the monstrous reality of the last half-century’s American war machine. There’s a lot of laughs in this crude little picture, but you sense the filmmakers intend it as the only feasible antidote to despair.

Joe Holmes, whose doll face resembles Richard Gere, belongs to an American family that’s had a male member die in every American war. Now it may be his turn in the jungles of South Asia, though this film’s history belongs to an alternate reality in which Jane Fonda shoots down the visiting Bob Hope’s helicopter.

Holmes is turned into a mindless and efficient killbot, but is then captured instead of killed himself. This wasn’t in the script. And speaking of scripts, the film’s climax has the army try to then propagandistically film an attempt to rescue Holmes.

The film is basically a parody of Vietnam movies such as Platoon, Full Metal Jacket and Apocalypse Now. Even the war scenes from Forrest Gump get the treatment.

Directors Paul Hanley and Kieran Healey don’t stop there, however, also referencing M*A*S*H*, Predator, The Running Man and Terminator 2. Those last three are due to a hilarious Schwarzeneggerian figure that eventually appears, personifying the buffoonish American action hero.

And that dialogue. I liked an R. Lee Ermey-esque drill sergeant’s rallying cry: “You’re Marines now! Go get killed!” Or an anti-American French prisoner in the enemy’s jungle prison, who declares: “I will name the next 37 of my bowel movements after each of your presidents!”

The film is somewhat reminiscent of Team America: World Police, except more thoughtful. And it’s serendipitous it arrives in town as news of Osama bin Laden’s death has Americans literally celebrating in the streets: it’s the same kind of “America, fuck yeah!” mentality the filmmakers are so mercilessly skewering.

It may actually be doubly ironic that the film uses G.I. Joe figures; look up the opening of the original cartoon series, which describes Cobra as “a ruthless terrorist organization determined to rule the world!” It’s startling to realize how the precise same beat has been played for decades.

Despite such overtones, it’s amazing how much affection Viva the ’Nam nonetheless inspires. You realize, with every shot, how lovingly hand-crafted it is.

– Kenton Smith

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Certain table scraps do not a movie make
The Trashmaster is a creative product of video game dumpster diving — but does it work as a movie?

How viable a method of filmmaking is this?

Depends. Mathieu Weschler’s The Trashmaster, French-made, full-length machinima, was created using imagery from the video game Grand Theft Auto IV. So, it’s not unlike oddball cult film Turkish Star Wars, which lifted footage from the ’77 original and used it for its own purposes. (Weschler even swipes part of the movie’s score from Lethal Weapon.)

So, if you want to create a calling card to impress potential producers, this is one way to do it — and eliminate a lot of overhead, for sure.

But while The Trashmaster is certainly creative, is this how most filmmakers would want to make a movie — by denying themselves so many tools of cinematic storytelling craft? Further explanation follows.

Basically a whodunit film noir thriller, the story begins with the titular trashman — the film’s hero — using his garbage truck to intercept some armed robbers. The Trashmaster takes out the garbage, all right. Then a serial killer starts killing strippers, including one the hero has seen and has a soft spot for. And so the garbage man turns vigilante, to bring the fiend down.

In telling this simple story, the harvested footage has been ordered coherently and sometimes edited quite effectively for narrative impact; visual flourishes, like slow motion, re-juxtapositions of time, and dramatic angles — as in one notable murder by car — are employed just like a conventional director might use them.

The film also immerses us in a specific milieu that operates according to its own set of rules — and through the narration provides (something of) a character with a distinctive voice and perspective. All very impressive, given the film’s meager resources.

But does it involve us? In its plot, perhaps — at least for a time. We want to know who the killer is, and what happens next.

In a feature-length film, however, which needs to hold our attention from beginning to end, characters can’t merely be pieces in a game of Clue. And the problem with the footage is this: the characters haven’t been designed to engage us the way real actors or well-animated characters — usually modeled after real actors — do.

A lot of it is in the eyes, which never reflect a hint of soul. For that matter, the characters’ faces are limited to maybe one or two fixed looks, severely limiting their range of expressiveness. Nor do their lips ever move.

Of course, that’s true also in Viva the ‘Nam, the stop-motion epic using G.I. Joe dolls that’s also playing the Plastic Paper Festival. But that quirk actually enhanced the film, augmenting its comic absurdity.

In this case, it detracts; it creates a distancing effect that accumulates as the film progresses. The narration — not to mention the effective scoring — actually has to make up the deficit.

An animated film is undoubtedly better when it’s truly animated — that is, its characters and story brought to fuller life. The Trashmaster is an interesting curiosity, but there are better films on this program.

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~ by cineflyer on May 5, 2011.

2 Responses to “More Plastic Paper Interviews, Previews & Press”

  1. Canadian director Dan Zukovic’s Vancouver shot feature “DARK ARC”, a modern noir dark
    comedy called “Absolutely brilliant…truly and completely different…” in Film Threat, was recently
    released on DVD by Vanguard Cinema (http://www.vanguardcinema.com/darkarc/darkarc.htm),
    and is currently debuting on Cable Video On Demand. The film had it’s World Premiere at the
    Montreal World Film Festival, and it’s US Premiere at the Cinequest Film Festival. (It has also
    played at the Calgary and Edmonton Int’l Film Festivals, won Best Production Design at the
    Nickel Film Festival in Newfoundland, and screened at the Vancity Theatre in Vancouver.)
    Featuring Sarah Strange (“DaVinci’s Inquest”, “White Noise”, Leo Awards nominee for Best
    Actress for “Dark Arc”), Kurt Max Runte (“Little Brother of War”, “X-Men”), and Dan
    Zukovic (director and star of the cult comedy “The Last Big Thing”).

    TRAILER : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mPeG4EFZ4ZM

    ***** (Five stars) “Absolutely brilliant…truly and completely different…something you’ve never tasted
    before…” Film Threat
    “A black comedy about a very strange love triangle” Seattle Times
    “Consistently stunning images…a bizarre blend of art, sex, and opium, “Dark Arc” plays like a candy-coloured
    version of David Lynch. ” IFC News
    “Sarah Strange is as decadent as Angelina Jolie thinks she is…Don’t see this movie sober!” Metroactive Movies
    “Equal parts film noir intrigue, pop culture send-up, brain teaser and visual feast. ” American Cinematheque

  2. […] has some more press reports regarding Winnipet’s Paper Plastic animation festival, which was held a few days […]

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