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Director: Igor Kovalyov
Release Date: 1996
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Made during his stay at the Klasky Csupo studio ‘Bird in the Window’ is Igor Kovalyov’s first film made in the US.

Despite his contemporary commercial work on e.g. Rugrats and Duckman: Private Dick/Family Man, Kovalyov’s independent style has lost nothing of its enigma. ‘Bird in the Window’ is a film in several very short scenes with mutual relationships that are hard to decipher.

A man returns home to his house in the countryside, but his wife clearly hides something for him. Why can’t he see the child that’s running around? What’s with the two Chinese characters playing chess? And what’s the role of the gardener? ‘Bird in the Window’ certainly suggests a lot without clarifying a thing. Even the opening scene in which a bird violently chases a winged bug is as disturbing as it is puzzling. ‘Bird in the Window’ may be less obviously surreal than his celebrated ‘Hen His Wife’ (1989), Kovalyov’s way of story telling still is one of suggestion, not explanation.

Note how Kovalyov uses seemingly trivial images to tell his tale: the man throwing an apple at the gardener, the man eating all the grapes, the woman lying in a bath, a cockroach creeping – all these short scenes contribute to the ominous feeling, full of suppressed eroticism.

The tense atmosphere is greatly enhanced by the great sound design, which offers us many noises not seen on the screen: cows mooing, a plane flying by, a clock chiming, the woman running down the stairs and slamming doors, a dog barking etc.

Watch ‘Bird in the Window’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Bird in the Window’ is available on the DVD ‘Desire & Sexuality – Animating the Unconscious Vol.2’

Directors: Donovan Cook & Bob Hatchcock
Airing Date: July 6, 1996
Stars: Duckman
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

The final episode of season three sees the return of Duckman’s arch nemesis King Chicken, not seen since ‘Color of Naught‘, episode four from the same season.

This time King Chicken is not behind some evil scheme, but simply turns out to be the father of Tammy, Ajax’s new girlfriend, whom Duckman, Aunt Bernice and Ajax are visiting one night. During the episode we never see Tammy, but the visit turns out to be surprisingly interesting.

For this finale episode the creative team once again returned to comedy based on the personas and their mutual relationships, and the result is rewarding. The awkward visit proves to be much more interesting than mindless absurdism of the previous two episodes. The team even manages to make the ending a particularly poignant one, ending the series on a surprisingly emotional tone, at a time I thought they were forgotten how to do that.

Watch ‘Cock Tales for Four’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Duckman episode no. 42
To the previous Duckman episode: The Amazing Colossal Duckman
To the next Duckman episode: Dammit, Hollywood

‘Cock Tales for Four’ is available on the DVD-box ‘Duckman – The Complete Series’

Director: Gil Alkabetz
Release Date: 2004
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Morir de Amor © Gil AlkabetzTwo parrots in a cage relive the day they were caught, while their owner is asleep. Unknowingly, they betray a secret to their owner, with deadly results.

‘Morir d’Amor’ (the title comes from a Mexican song of the same name) is a funny and sweet film about love. It is told basically through the imitations the parrots make of real sounds, which evoke their memories of that fateful day. The film contrasts the dull present (in black and white) with their colorful memories of the forest.

Alkabetz shows some impressive handling of perspectives that is reminiscent of the work of George Schwizgebel. Despite the fast montage, the film suffers from a slow timing, however, and perhaps it is a bit too long. Nevertheless, its gentle humor makes it one of Alkabetz’s most accessible films, lacking the experimentalism of much of his earlier work.

Watch ‘Morir de Amor’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Morir de Amor’ is available on the DVD ‘International Animation: Modern Classics’

Director: Bill Plympton
Release Date: October 11, 2013
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Cheatin' © Bill Plympton‘Cheatin’ is Plympton’s sixth feature – no small achievement for an independent animator who insists on drawing everything on his own.

‘Cheatin’ is no exception to his rule. True, for this film Plympton had hired some staff to reproduce the looks of his watercolor illustration style, but he still drew every single frame himself. According to Plympton*, the costs of the extra staff broke him, and he had to go for a (luckily successful) Kickstarter campaign to be able to finish his film. Unfortunately, distribution in his homeland, the United States, will remain problematic, as, according to Plympton, ‘Cheatin’ is 1) no computer animation film, and 2) it’s not directed at children. Both ‘handicaps’ are enough to alienate the average American distributor. Add the absence of dialogue, and ‘Cheatin”s chances become mighty low, indeed…

This is a pity, for Plympton is in great shape in this film. His sketchy drawing style is as virtuoso as ever, and his human protagonists are drawn to the extreme – using weird camera angles and outrageous exaggeration. Practically every single frame is a beauty.

‘Cheatin’ is a surprisingly lighthearted love story. It tells about Ella and Jake, who meet each other at a bumper car stand – and it’s love at first sight. They marry shortly after, and nothing seems to stand in the way of their happiness. Unfortunately, more women take interest in the muscular Jake, and one of them frames Ella – making Jake belief she meets other men. Prostrated with grief, Jake decides to take revenge, and to pick up as many girls as possible himself…

At this point, the film starts to falter a little. Plympton steers away from reality to plunge into a weird plot using a strange machine to get to his happy end. This is a pity, for his outrageous portraits of the common aspects of love are perfect in itself. To me the film would have been better if he’d stuck to a more familiar pattern of love, rut, adultery, and revenge. For example, Plympton’s depiction of Ella opening her heart to let love in is the most endearing sequence in the whole film. And his depiction of the married couple’s happiness accounts for the film’s most stream-of-consciousness-like sequence, accompanied by the drinking song from Giuseppe Verdi’s ‘La Traviata’.

When Jake starts cheating, Plympton focuses on his behavior at the EZ motel. However, it remains a rather unclear how Jake behaves at home. He has clearly become cold and distant, and denies Ella the love and sex she desires. But at no point in the film there’s any trace of irritations, rows or fights between the two lovers.

Plympton says the film is based on a experience of his own, in which he discovered he wanted to strangle and to make love to his girl at the same time. There’s indeed a scene depicting this feeling. However, it gets a little lost in the strange plot twist. What it does show is that Ella’s desire to hurt Jake is weaker than her desire to be loved by him. Although both characters look rather cliche, in the end Ella is a far more interesting character than Jake, who remains a rather simple strong man loaded with testosteron. Plympton doesn’t show much of Ella’s character, but her more complex inner feelings can be distilled from several scenes.

Despite the plot flaws, ‘Cheatin’ remains a well-told film throughout, making clever use of Nicole Renaud’s gorgeous score, and of some classical pieces –  apart from Verdi, e.g. Leoncavallo’s ‘Ridi Pagliaccio’ sung by Caruso, and Maurice Ravel’s Bolero. The absence of dialogue never becomes a handicap –  on the contrary. And the emotions of the characters are played out well – sometimes grotesquely cliche, like Jake’s ride of grief; sometimes subtle and sincere, like Ella’s suffering from Jake’s rejection.

Plympton calls his film ‘anti-Disney’, but ‘Cheatin” is in no way a reaction to Disney’s world. One can say it’s decidedly non-Disney: the film stands on its own and shows us an animation world totally different from Disney’s, one in which American animated features are not synonymous to family films, but can be as wildly diverse as live action features.

I certainly hope Plympton’s world will once come true.

Watch the trailer for ‘Cheatin’ yourself and tell me what you think:

* quotations from Bill Plympton are taken from his introduction to the film at the screening at the Holland Animation Film Festival, March 19, 2014.

Director: Władysław Starewicz
Release Date: November 9, 1912
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

The Cameraman's Revenge © Ladislaw Starewicz‘The Cameraman’s Revenge’ is one of the earliest animation films ever made, and a very early masterpiece (it predates ‘Gertie the Dinosaur‘ by two years). Surprisingly, it’s a film about adultery involving insects.

The plot of this stop motion film is as follows: Mr. Beetle commits adultery with a dragonfly, who is a dancer at a nightclub. Unbeknownst to him his secret behavior is filmed by a rival grasshopper who happens to be a cameraman. Meanwhile, Mrs. Beetle also commits adultery, with a beetle who is also a painter. But they’re discovered by Mr. Beetle on his arrival home. Mr. Beetle chases the painter out of his house. Nevertheless he forgives his wife and takes her to the cinema. However, the film that is shown reveals his infidelity, which creates a riot and the married couple ends in jail for destroying the movie box.

‘The Cameraman’s Revenge’ is an extraordinary film, and without doubt one of the first masterpieces of animation. Unlike Émile Cohl’s stop motion, Starewicz’s animation is stunning and very convincing. The insects are very lifelike, and move surprisingly realistically. The insects’ gestures are subtle, clearly evoking their emotions. For example, there’s a beautiful and very lifelike little scene of a beetle servant lighting the fireplace, animated without any hint of overacting. On the other hand, Mr. Beetle clearly is a brute, but we can also watch him in a seductive mood.

Throughout, Starewicz’s storytelling is economical and mature. The film’s subject is highly original for an animation film, even today. It’s almost unbelievable that such a modern film was made in Czarist Russia.

Watch ‘The Cameraman’s Revenge’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Cameraman’s Revenge’ is available on the DVD ‘The Cameraman’s Revenge & other Fantastic Tales’

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