Festival Watch
Fantasia International Film Festival 2004
Bill Plympton's Guard Dog tickles the funny bone
Bill Plympton presented two of his latest works: The short film Guard Dog, and his latest feature, Hair High. I've always loved Plympton's short films, especially the vignettes like 25 Ways to Quit Smoking. His sense of the absurd and his comic timing are perfect for short-form work, but they don't entirely pan out beyond ten minutes. (I think the longest of his films I love without reservation is the seven-minute, nearly dialogue-free One of Those Days.) His first feature, 1992's The Tune, was a collection of his gag material strung together by a flimsy narrative. While it was entertaining, it left me with that Looney, Looney, Looney Bugs Bunny Movie feeling—the pieces were better than the whole. Unfortunately, every one of Plympton's features that I've seen since have been like that, even when they're using all-new material.

Seeing Guard Dog (though it was still unfinished) and Hair High together really brought the point home. In the former, Plympton uses the setup-gag-setup-gag rhythm as naturally as breathing. In the latter, you feel the movie moving from set piece to set piece. It's better than The Tune¸ but it still feels like he's working against his instincts.

The Square Jaw Theatre program, a collection of superhero-themed shorts, had only two animated entries, both of which were outstanding. One was Rex Steele: Nazi Smasher, a brilliant ten-minute film in which the lantern-jawed Rex and his spunky female sidekick Penny Thimble foil the monocled, maniacal Eval Schnitzler and the über-stacked Greta Schultz. It's a note-perfect (and justly awarded) sendup/tribute to the heroic movie serials of the 1930s, and it should be noted that while it is available on DVD from the director's website, it really is better to watch it in a cinema full of enthusiastic fans.

The other short was a promo for an animated version of Nexus, based on the Mike Baron/Steve "The Dude" Rude comic. The Dude's artwork for Nexus has always had a strong Hanna-Barbera–Alex Toth–Space Ghost flavour, so it's only fitting that the promo used Jonny Quest-style limited-animation techniques and liberal doses of the Hanna-Barbera sound library. It's not what I expected, but exactly what I wanted.
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