El Doctor, Joy Street & Aparagus: The Wonderfully Strange and Surreal Animation of Suzan Pitt
Mark Mayerson · November 25, 2006 | Suzan Pitt is a painter who realized that her images suggested specific moments in time. She began to wonder what those images would look like in the moments before and after she painted them and that led her to work as an independent animator. Her background as a painter informs everything she does. She is far more interested in the value of the image than in narrative or character.

Asparagus (1979) is full of sexual imagery, beginning with a snake coiling around a bare female leg. The snake's tongue then extends to spell out Pitt's name. The main character is a woman whose face is not seen for most of the film. When we do see it, it appears to only have a mouth. At the end of the film, that mouth fellates a stalk of asparagus, which undergoes a series of transformations. Between these sexual images, the woman gathers up various mystical objects in a valise and releases them in a theatre to the wonderment of the patrons. As a character, the woman is as blank as her face. She functions more as a way for Pitt to connect the images that she's interested in.

El Doctor, Joy Street & Aparagus: The Wonderfully Strange and Surreal Animation of Suzan Pitt
Directed by Suzan Pitt
First Run Features, 2006
110 minutes

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Joy Street (1995) is about a suicidal woman who recovers from her depression to appreciate life. Here again, the imagery is more important than characterization. No explanation is given for the woman's initial state of mind. Neither is there any logic in her recovery, which is motivated by a mouse figurine on an ashtray. The mouse comes to life and carries her from the apartment to a park. The park metamorphoses into a colourful tropical jungle full of flowers, monkeys and insects. The woman awakes in her apartment and leans out her window, smiling, having broken out of her isolation and ready to rejoin the world.

Neither of these films contains dialogue and both are mixed media. Asparagus contains clay animation and painted three-dimensional sets. In Joy Street, the city backgrounds are photographs. The music in each film (Richard Teitelbaum for Asparagus; Roy Nathanson for Joy Street) is similar in approach to Pitt's visuals; it's more concerned with the emotional effect of sound than in conventional melody.

Where Pitt wrote the above films, in El Doctor (2006) she worked from a script by Blue Kraning. This film is more conventional, containing dialogue and allowing us to get closer to a character, the titular doctor, than Pitt has previously allowed. The film is set in Mexico and the doctor is drunk, depressed over a lost past. After the death of a patient, the doctor has a heart attack in his car, leading to visions of miracles: a child sprouts foliage, a woman with a horse's head offers a romantic invitation and another woman gives birth to 100 babies, not necessarily all human. Before the doctor experiences his visions, the Saint of Emptiness says, "Life is sad, but beautiful," a summation of Pitt's worldview.

The DVD also includes a gallery of paintings from the films, a written essay by Pitt on El Doctor, a written Pitt biography and a documentary called Suzan Pitt: Persistence of Vision by Blue and Laura Kraning. The documentary is an excellent introduction to Pitt and her work where she talks about her past, her artistic concerns, and her techniques. If you are not familiar with Pitt, I suggest watching the documentary before viewing the animated films as it will enrich your viewing experience.

Pitt is squarely in the fine arts stream of animation. Her paintings are richly coloured and textured and her images are original and idiosyncratic. While much of contemporary animation remains yoked to reality, Pitt is not afraid to abandon it in order to express herself and remind the audience that there are other ways of looking at the world.

DVD Features: 4:3 aspect ratio; English language track; Region 1.

DVD Extras: Suzan Pitt: Persistence of Vision documentary; galleries; director's notes and biography.
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