Saturday, December 10, 2011

Jason spends a lovely evening with Don Hertzfeldt

Oooh! That sounds like it might be romantic. It wasn't. It was a night of somewhat twisted cartoons, culminating in his new one IT'S SUCH A BEAUTIFUL DAY, the culmination of the "Bill" trilogy (Billogy?) But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Don Hertzfeldt is a multiple-award-winning and staunchly independent animator. Probably most famous for his Oscar-nominated short REJECTED. He also grew up in my current hometown of Fremont, CA, so I can bestow on him the semi-official title of "Pride of Fremont" (former title-holder: MC Hammer). Oh, and he was honored with the San Francisco Film Festival's Persistence of Vision Award last year, and of course I was there. It's arguably not really a "Lifetime Achievement" award, but it's still pretty amazing to get something like that at age 33.

Anyway, on to last Thursday's show, which as I said was to showcase his new film, but I'm getting ahead of myself. We started with WISDOM TEETH, which I think should be the litmus test of whether or not you like Hertzfeldt's undeniably twisted sense of humor. This is actually one of his more recent films, and most twisted (nice to see he isn't entirely mellowing with age).

Other early works shown were BILLY'S BALLOON and INTERMISSION IN THE THIRD DIMENSION (part of THE ANIMATION SHOW 2003 edition).

And then on to the Bill trilogy. When he got the Persistence of Vision award, we were treated to the first two, EVERYTHING WILL BE OKAY, and I'M SO PROUD OF YOU. In the first one, we meet Bill--a typical Don Hertzfeldt stick figure who lives in a world that is sometimes also stick figures, sometimes photo-real, and sometimes some strange netherworld. We learn his phobias (grocery store fruit displayed right at crotch level), and his weakening grasp on reality. We learn he has been diagnosed with some condition, and while there are good days and bad, his condition is generally deteriorating. It of course has the twisted Hertzfeldt sense of humor, but there's also a sense of affection for the character and melancholy at his plight. In I'M SO PROUD OF YOU, we learn Bill's family history, going back through several generations of thoroughly messed-up people who tend to get run over by trains.

And finally, IT'S SUCH A BEAUTIFUL DAY. Bill's condition is worsening, and this may just be the end of Bill. Like in the previous two films, there are a lot of meandering detours, so explicating the story is awfully hard. But he has bad days, and good days (when he goes on long walks and enjoys the view). And he goes on long drives, meets people he knows but can't remember. Has a brain test where they shut off one hemisphere of his brain (actually, I can't remember, maybe that was in one of the previous ones, but I think it was this one). He meets his father, who abandoned him with his mother (who had her own dementia problem) as a baby. And then he...well, the movie ends and I don't want to give it away. But let's just say there's something about Bill that will live on forever.

Then afterwards Don got up on stage and answered questions for maybe half an hour. He's a very engaging guy and talked about how important seeing an audiences reaction is, since he often works alone at odd hours and only hopes what he makes will work. And, of course, we made him recount the story from his days as a high school student in Fremont, taking his one and only art class, which was also taught by the shop teacher. I can't do it justice, but the gist is a student accidentally cut off her fingertip in the paper cutter, and after the student was rushed to the nurse the teacher just tossed her fingertip in the trash rather than put it on ice so they could reattach it.

Ahhh...good times!

Total Running Time: 77 minutes
My Total Minutes: 259,276
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