Distraction, Entertainment and Fun


The 22nd Annual Animation Show of Shows

October 11, 2022, NYC

The history of my personal love for animation (and the history of the Annual Animation Show of Shows) is laid out in my review for the 18th Annual Animation Show of Shows.

This newest collection of animated shorts (the 22nd Annual Animation Show of Shows) had an initial screening in New York City at the School of Visual Arts theater on October 11, 2022. It will be open to the public for a one-week run at the Quad Cinema in Greenwich Village beginning December 30, 2022. (Mark your calendar!)

As noted in my prior reviews, in watching these series', one is immediately struck by just how wide a variety of animation types and styles there are: from "traditional" to watercolor, from stop-motion to claymation, from collage to puppetry, and beyond. Also interesting is the sheer number of countries from which the animators hail: the current group includes Japan, France, Germany, Poland, Switzerand, U.S., Iceland, Russia, and Canada.

This year's group is comprised of ten films, including the Academy Award-winning short, "The Man Who Planted Trees." However, this year's collection focuses (deliberately or not) on more "abstract" animation: there are fewer "figures" and "stories," and more "cerebral" animation. As an animation fan, I found this year's grouping to be particularly fabulous; the "stripped-down" nature of most of the shorts really focuses one's attention on the technical aspects of the animation. And some of it is truly wondrous.

The show opens with "Beyond Noh," a fast-paced, constantly morphing set of ~3,500 masks from all over the world, from primitive and Native American to Western entertainment (e.g., Jason's hockey mask, the mask from "Scream," the Guy Fawkes mask), from circus masks to the surgical masks we have all been wearing during the pandemic. Anything that can be classified as a "mask" is included. Set to a conga drum rhythm, the images speed up and slow down, and the overall effect is informative, fun, and visually stunning.

Next up is "Empty Places," which is without question my favorite of this grouping, and already in my top ten favorites of all time. Set to Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata," we see random situations that include movement: an empty elevator whose doors will not stay closed, an empty escalator pushing an empty can, a revolving barbershop-type pole whose function we cannot discern, an automatic revolving door, an automatic underwater pool vacuum, a copy machine working by itself, a turntable playing an LP (the conceit being that it is playing the music we are hearing), and a couple of other scenes, all seen from fairly close-up. As the film progresses, we see the same scenes from a little further out (giving us a little more information about what is happening in each), and then a little further out again. The scenes remain empty of people or "life," other than the movement of the objects. The effect, depending on one's perspective, can be either lonely and sad, or peaceful. The simple-looking computer animation here is deceptively complex.

The third offering is "Beseder" (German for "fine" or "okay.") Our first "figure"-based short is actually one of two films that are somewhat bizarre. Set to an original song by Tova Gertner, we see a succession of human-like figures, but distorted in ways that can be either very funny or very unsettling: think Picasso or Braque with a decidedly edgy humor.

Next up is "Zoizogylphe," my third favorite of the group. Tiny black-and-white bird-like figures with triangular heads fill the screen in various forms, some moving, some stationary. Set pieces can be calm with minimal movement, or cacophonous with figures clashing everywhere. The figures sometimes look like musical notes on sideways staffs, sometimes like armies battling, sometimes like an Expressionist painting. And again, the animation is some of the most complex and extraordinary I have seen in the series.

"Deszcz" (Rain) is arguably the funniest of the group. A human figure accidentally falls off the roof of a very tall building. As we watch his progress (and assumedly imminent demise) through building windows on different floors, and as the other workers watch in horror, one person grabs what looks like a blanket, but turns out to be a cape. Apparently, this is our secret superhero who can fly, and he saves the man and brings him back to the roof - where he promptly throws himself off, purposely this time. The superhero saves him again, but not before other workers begin growing themselves off the roof. Apparently, everyone thinks it is a "fun ride" since they know the superhero will save them. And he does - for a while. But eventually, the superhero simply tires out and goes back to his desk as we see people continue to fall past the window. Done in a blue-and-white palette, the animation is simple, but effective.

"Average Happiness" is one of the most remarkable shorts I have seen in the entire series, and my second favorite of this group. Set to an occasional off-screen comment by a professor who is obviously teaching a lesson in economics, what we see is a dense layer of charts, graphs, tables and diagrams constantly moving and morphing, creating a truly dazzling and colorful ever-changing display. Sometimes one can make out actual "scenes," like a cityscape or a landscape. And once again, the animation is extraordinary.

"Aurora" is the most "normal" short, a child's tale in which a young girl (JoJo) falls in love with a horse (Aurora), but the horse is eventually taken away when its owners leave the area. Another horse replaces Aurora, and JoJo is happy, but misses Aurora. The tale is told with the simplest of figures (the horse's body is a square, with its smaller square head attached by a single line), and the simplest of "backgrounds," in mostly primary colors. Heartwarming and adorable.

"Ja Folkio" ("Yes-people") is the most bizarre of the group. It takes us through a day in the life of a few of the residents of an apartment building in Iceland. But this is one truly troubling group of people; all are stereotypically bizarre in different ways. There is no normalcy, unless being bizarre is normal. Done in computer animation, the figures are odd, and the entire effect can be either very funny or very disturbing.

"Ties" is the cleverest of the series. Using a stop-motion type of animation and simple line-based drawing, we see a young woman about to leave her family for college. Unknowingly, a thread from her skirt gets caught on an old swing. As we watch her progress from cab to airport to airplane to college city, etc., we see everything back home literally unraveling as she unknowingly continues to "pull the thread" that holds everything together back home. Her parents watch helplessly as their entire life disappears in a constant unraveling. Eventually, even dad unravels, and mom finally grabs the string and starts pulling - which begins unraveling the daughter's skirt until she is naked. The daughter then grabs the other side of the thread, and mom and daughter play tug of war over the assumedly very long distance. Eventually, the string snaps and both of them end up with part of it, and begin "recreating" their worlds.

The series ends with Frederic Back's "The Man Who Planted Trees," which won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short in 1988. From the press kit: "The Oscar-winning film, narrated by Christopher Plummer, tells the story of a young man's encounter with an isolated shepherd, Elzéard Bouffier, who is determined to renew his barren landscape by planting thousands of trees. Based on a possibly autobiographical 1953 fable by Jean Giono, it's a beautifully hand-drawn epic -- an environmental plea ahead of its time. As the shepherd's efforts bear fruit, the film's palette gradually moves from dusty browns to a range of colors, evoking memories of the great impressionist painters."

In the current political, social, and cultural zeitgeist (including a still-ongoing pandemic), we all need a little bit of distraction, entertainment and fun. Here is a wonderful way to pass about 90 minutes, and be entertained, informed, and intrigued. I very highly recommend the 22nd Annual Animation Show of Shows as a respite from a world full of tension. It will begin its run on December 30, 2022 at the Quad Cinema in NYC. Check with the theater for show times. And enjoy!

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