June 17, 2007
We're now a month into Hollywood's summer movie season (although summer isn't for a few days yet), which means that with Surf''s Up and Shrek the Third in cinemas and Ratatouille and Bee Movie on their way, we're well into that time of year when animation innovation is measured in the number of hairs on characters' heads. But short films are where the real breakthroughs take place in terms of both storytelling and technique, and the latest reminder of that is in a pair of DVDs from German studio Film Bilder.

Volumes one and two of Film Bilder Box feature ten of the studio's independent shorts between them, from their very first independent film (1989's Flugbild) to their latest (2006's The Runt). Most, if not all, are festival favourites. Each disc works out to just under an hour of running time.

Normally I would mention standout pieces, but it's hard to do in this case because each short is excellent (though I'm not as keen on Great Is the Mystery of Godliness, in which a potato comes to our two protagonists and proclaims that he is God, then nonsensical chaos ensues). However, I will mention two shorts that people have asked me about in the past:

- If you watched MTV's Liquid Television in the early 1990s, then you saw two-thirds of Flugbild, in which a constantly moving camera takes us through an eerie, boldly coloured landscape of interconnected events. The events unfold once, then repeat; it's on the second fly-through that some of the connections begin to take shape. In the MTV version, Flugbild stops after the second fly-through. In the original version, there's a third identical cycle, and surprisingly it makes a difference.

Phil Mulloy's The Final Solution, the third part of the Intolerance trilogy, was co-produced by Film Bilder, hence its inclusion here. Part I (simply titled Intolerance) appears on the fourth Best of the British Animation Awards disc, but I don't know if you can get Part II (Invasion) anywhere separately. Fortunately, Film Bilder has the entire trilogy available in their store.

While it's a pleasure to see a studio that consistently produces good work show off its talents, it's a little disappointing that each disc only features five shorts, with no extras of any kind. It's also disappointing that the liner notes don't really provide much information. The studio's website has plenty of material to explore, but even there you won't find much from individual directors. That said, these are still films worth having on your shelf. The two discs are in PAL but region-free (if you don't have a multi-format DVD player, you can watch them on your computer), and are available from Amazon's German site or Film Bilder's own store.

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