Out to Twist Our Minds

In 1977, UCSD alumni Spike Decker and Mike Gribble first provided the outcasts of animation with a haven for films both shamelessly sick and hauntingly bizarre. Since then, the two have become unsung heroes of modern entertainment with their Sick and Twisted Festivals of Animation, establishing a launching point for many noteworthy contributions to cinema, television and the Internet. Films from Pixar Studios, shows like “South Park,” “Beavis and Butthead” and “Courage the Cowardly Dog,” Internet virals like Don Hertzfeldt’s “Rejected” and the ingenious stop-motion of PES — all of these animations owe some of their deserved notoriety to fledgling encounters with S&M.

For the second year in a row, Spike and Mike are straying from their Sick and Twisted roots to provide the general public with a “sophisticated” animation show. If you were somehow confused by weighty phrases like “contemporary art,” “international cinema” and (this one’s from their website) “less monocle-spinning gross-out gags,” it all becomes clear the minute a disgruntled, Hawaiian shirt-clad Spike launches giant balloons into the audience: Leave your sweater vests at home. This show is about fun.

Each film has its own distinctive style of animation and narrative, though the themes all seem to gravitate toward the darkly comic and surreal. These filmmakers have placed full emphasis on story, with spectacular, cutting-edge visuals to match. The product is an absorbing mixed bag of creativity at its raw, concentrated best. Here are a few highlights.

LOVE AND THEFT

ANDREAS HYKADE, GERMANY

With an insanely good score (winner of Best Original Music at the 2010 Annecy Animation Festival) but without a story, this Rorschach test on LSD takes a simple idea and runs with it. The film combines beautifully rendered animation with pop-art stream-of-consciousness, morphing familiar faces together (was that Spongebob?) for a hypnotic effect. Most impressive is how the simple, repetitive images seem to form an emotional narrative — or at least a pretty psychedelic trip.

MY NEIGHBORHOOD HAS BEEN

OVERRUN BY BABOONS

CAMERON EDSER, AUSTRALIA

This Aussie claymation is a fast-paced and delightfully irreverent audience favorite, taking the form of a 1980s hair metal music video wherein a man is tormented by an invasion of unruly baboons. There’s a social comment hidden within the layers of over-the-top parody, but the sheer absurdity of it all makes it difficult to care: “I tried to call the cops/A baboon answered the phone/That’s when I realized/That I was all alone, with the baboons!” What more needs to be said?

HIDDEN LIFE OF THE

BURROWING OWL

MIKE ROUSH, USA

Real, photographed environments inhabited by animated wildlife make Hidden Life a sight to behold. The film is a spot-on parody of the run-of-the-mill biology class nature documentary (complete with drab, British narration), following the efforts of a desert owl to seek bloody vengeance in the name of his road-killed love.

LOOM

REGINA WELKER, GERMANY

By far the most haunting and captivating film of the night, this pitch-dark short, winner of Best in Show at the 2010 Siggraph Animation Festival, is a testament to the sheer power of computer animation. With breathtaking realism, a spider silencing its prey is set to a nightmarish, glitched-out score a la Aphex Twin. The result is death depicted in an alarmingly pragmatic light.

Although a few films miss the mark conceptually, the films at Spike and Mike’s are often clever, occasionally jaw-dropping and always bursting with ingenuity. Above all, the festival is a platform for completely unbridled creativity —for animation enthusiasts and passersby alike — that leaves you with a newfound appreciation for cartoons as an art form, in all of their unsophisticated glory.

Location: Museum of Contemporary Art, La Jolla
Dates:
Sun Nov. 7 – 4 & 6 pm
Fri + Sat Nov. 12, 13 – 7:15 & 9:15
Fri Nov. 19 – 7:15 & 9:15
Fri + Sat Nov. 26, 27 – 7:15 & 9:15
Sun Nov. 28 – 4 & 6

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