The Media Arts Project is showing a selection of shorts by innovative animator Karl Staven, who will present and discuss the films and his work. Having watched a good cross section of Staven’s work, I have to say I’m not entirely sure what to think! (I suspect that this is a reaction that might not entirely displease Staven.) My feelings about the films would depend entirely on which one we’re talking about. Some of them were brilliant; others playful and funny—and there were a couple I found just plain annoying. For the record, that couple would be Lafftrak (which was also disconcerting) and Gabriel Goes for a Walk (which may have been done in for me by a particularly irritating a capella jazz-ish soundtrack with slightly less appeal than a kazoo band).
Getting that out of the way, I have to say that none of the shorts on the DVD I was given were uninteresting—and most were considerably more than that. The range of the type of animation found in Staven’s work is in itself breathtaking. Some of it I would be hard-pressed to label. Some push the boundaries of multiple animation styles (two-dimensional characters are apt to coexist with three-dimensional ones and the rules about neither seem exactly fixed, which can be delightfully surprising).
But if his films represent no specific form of animation, they do present a coherent point of view—one that is quirkily good-humored and slightly unsettling. The most impressive short, Abandoned Dolls, belongs more to the unsettling category. Hard to describe, it’s a puppet/object animation piece that presents abandoned dolls of various kinds in what Staven calls a “post-apocalyptic city.” The overall look is creepy (but then is there anything creepier than a battered or deformed doll?), and the dolls do things that seem to prefigure (the film is from 1999) the current “torture porn” horror film craze—minus the overt gore, but oddly far more unnerving. I don’t think I’ve been so creeped out by anything since playing the Beatles’ “Revolution 9” (which the soundtrack here resembles) in a dark room when I was 16. (That’s praise, by the way.) For this short alone, I’d recommend the series—but it’s all worth a look.Animation