Idiots and Angels by Bill Plympton

Friday, 15 April 2011

Bill Plympton Autograph & Sketch

I went to the Cleveland Cinematheque last night to watch Bill Plympton’s most re­cent an­i­mated fea­ture: Idiots and Angels (2008). Mr. Plympton was in at­ten­dance and was kind enough to do free au­to­graphs and sketches for those who asked. (I asked.)

Before the fea­ture, Bill in­tro­duced us to this short he made with stu­dents in an an­i­ma­tion class he taught. It’s called The Cow Who Wanted to be a Hamburger (2010). I’ve al­ways been very im­pressed at Plympton’s abil­ity to tell a story in great depth, with no di­a­logue. This one is no ex­cep­tion. Here’s a clip.

Next up was the fea­ture; Idiots and Angels. The whole thing was drawn in #2 pen­cil, so it has great depth and de­tail. The artis­tic style and a large chunk of the plot de­vice re­minded me very much of Koji Yamamura’s Atama Yama (2002). The en­tire short is avail­able on YouTube, but em­bed­ding has been dis­abled, so you’ll just have to click through. It is def­i­nitely worth it. After you’ve watched it, take a look at the trailer for Idiots and Angels, right here:

Atama Yama is a story about a self­ish, anti-so­cial man who has a cherry tree grow out of his head. Idiots and Angels is a story about a self­ish, anti-so­cial man who has wings grow out of his back. That’s pretty much where the sim­i­lar­i­ties end. In Atama Yama the an­ti­so­cial man comes to no good end; the moral be­ing that so­ci­ety is a greater good than an in­di­vid­ual. The op­po­site is the case in Idiots and Angels; where no char­ac­ter is par­tic­u­larly lik­able, the in­di­vid­ual rises above an (only some­what ex­ag­ger­ated) an­ti­so­cial so­ci­ety. I found it in­ter­est­ing to com­pare how two dif­fer­ent cul­tures dif­fer in their ex­po­si­tion when start­ing out with the same el­e­ments.

Idiots and Angels was good, but not great. I felt that the ex­po­si­tion dragged at some points and that the edit­ing shift at the end de­railed the story for a good 5 – 10 min­utes. The art, sound de­sign & mu­sic was all su­perb, and Plympton was a com­pletely per­son­able and gra­cious guy.

Branded to Kill

Sunday, 30 September 2007

A part of this view­ing list: Criterion Collection Spine #38: Seijun Suzuki’s Branded to Kill.


Watching a Japanese B-movie was a great way to get back into the swing of Criterion re­views. This is the first Seijun Suzuki film I’ve seen, but it re­minded me very much of Samuel Fuller, and it is even a bit like Shock Corridor in its por­trayal of psy­cho­log­i­cal trauma. The pro­tag­o­nist is Hanada, the third best yakuza as­sas­sin, and the film sticks with his ironic dis­in­te­gra­tion into mad­ness through­out. At first the film is quite hard to fol­low, mainly be­cause it is of­ten dif­fi­cult to de­ter­mine whether we’re in his sub­jec­tive frame of mind or whether ac­tual plot-ori­ented ac­tion is oc­cur­ring. The irony kicks in be­cause the as­sas­sin is con­vinced that he’s go­ing to win and be­come Number 1, though he ob­vi­ously be­comes less and less sta­ble and ca­pa­ble as the film pro­gresses. In ret­ro­spect, the washed-up as­sas­sin we meet in the be­gin­ning of the film is a fore­shad­ow­ing of Hanada’s fate.


Suzuki’s dra­matic cin­e­mato­graphic stylings of­fer pro­found and some­times star­tling char­ac­ter in­sights; of­ten serv­ing as a re­flec­tion or coun­ter­point to Hanada’s self-ab­sorbed obliv­i­ous­ness. All of the other char­ac­ters have no ex­is­ten­tial qualms, they know ex­actly where they stand in re­la­tion to the world they in­habit; so Hanada’s am­bi­tion is al­most aber­rant in this en­vi­ron­ment. The tepid screen­play di­a­logue be­comes pol­y­se­mous and in­trigu­ing in this con­text, as no one seems to know what the other is truly say­ing. There is no trust and lit­tle un­der­stand­ing be­tween the char­ac­ters, so every at­tempt at com­mu­ni­ca­tion is fraught. There is also a darkly comedic tone to the plot that al­ter­nates be­tween be­ing no­ticed by the char­ac­ters and com­pletely ig­nored by them. Number 1 is the only char­ac­ter who truly knows ex­actly what is go­ing, even unto meta-cog­nizance, as if he knows that he’s in a film and what the di­rec­tor is try­ing to do with it and him.


It seems that the film has lit­tle to say as an ul­ti­mate moral; there are no sym­pa­thetic char­ac­ters, so their deaths don’t mean much to the viewer, ex­cept in the afore­men­tioned darkly comedic man­ner. The en­vi­ron­ment in which they lived was too vi­o­lent and chaotic for any sort of sus­tain­abil­ity or con­ti­nu­ity, they’re all liv­ing on bor­rowed time. The fre­quent sala­cious and vi­o­lent power-strug­gle sex acts provide an­other data point to strengthen this claim. It is cer­tainly a much more ac­cu­rate Japanese film cul­tur­ally, in­stead of of­fer­ing styl­ized, cliché or stereo­typ­i­cal por­tray­als more in line with Hollywood’s MO, Branded to Kill is vul­gar in the word’s most lit­eral and com­pli­men­tary sense.