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Murder Slim Review: IDIOTS AND ANGELS

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Bill Plympton is a workhorse. Most of his animations are produced virtually alone... hunched over his drawing board for years at a time. And yet he loves doing it... and that enthusiasm comes across in his work. There's a lot of life to his best animations, which retain the scratchy lines of the coloured pencils he uses to fill them in. Plympton started as a caricaturist and the characters he draws have that exaggerated quality to them. He's also endearingly filthy. There's some very funny cartoons on BILL'S DIRTY SHORTS... one of which is a date told from the inside of a woman's mouth. And, no, it's not a sausage that she's eating at the end of the animation.

Plympton's last movie HAIR HIGH was very disappointing. It had occasional elements of his sleazy sense of humour (including a chicken with a rampant erection), but focussed more on a 50s' love story. Another problem was that the animation was much more cell based. The scratchy pencil lines were largely gone, replaced by flatter paints. This is the problem with so many animations. For all of people's gushing over Pixar's stuff they have - amongst a bunch of problems - very little artistry to the animation. There's something dead about CGI animation. Going back to Tex Avery and Chuck Jones, to Will Eisner and comic books, so much of the power of cartoons is the way they exaggerate reality. The distorted faces, the "pops" as characters contort to get the emotion across. It's not that far removed from expressionist art. The image portrays the emotion of the character and the animator. Plympton's pencil style gives his animation a grubby and lively feel, a full representation of what he's into.

Thankfully IDIOTS AND ANGELS returns to the pencil drawn style, and with it comes a lot of energy. There's also moments of his trademark sleaze... from the initial joke about the lead guy having (what we think is) a hard-on. The same guy also has sexual fantasies over the cleaner at his local bar, wrapping his body around her and licking as he goes.

But IDIOTS AND ANGELS is much more of - well - an art movie. I MARRIED A STRANGE PERSON is pure filth... and hilarious for it. MUTANT ALIENS is filth with a dose of gory violence thrown on top... and that's also well worth checking out. IDIOTS AND ANGELS is a full-blown story. A guy - previously an evil gun-runner and hitman - grows wings. He tries to tie them down, but they always break free. He tries to saw them off, but they grow back. And as they grow, they start controlling him. Knocking his hand away as he reaches for a tit. Getting him to return money from a robbery. Forcing him to rescue people. Eventually, they help him fall in love with the cleaner. And through all that, there's just enough sleaze and violence to ensure the sappy side of the movie doesn't become cloying.

IDIOTS AND ANGELS creeps up on you. I was pretty convinced in the first 20 minutes that it wasn't going to be good. It's initially slow, and there are very few gags to ease the pacing. But, as with all of Plympton's "real" work, the beauty of the pictures draws you along and - in this case - results in a fascinating story. No character in the movie talks (aside from the odd incoherent grumble) and IDIOTS AND ANGELS plays like a clever, silent movie. There's some lovely transitions from image to image using animation. The water from a shower morphs into a running tap then milk pouring... all to quickly get across the idea of the morning routine. There is music - including a couple of great old tracks from Tom Waits - and it all gives the movie a dreamlike feel. And that feel makes complete sense with the way the story progresses.

I did prefer I MARRIED A STRANGE PERSON because it's immense fun. But, if you're in the right contemplative mood, IDIOTS AND ANGELS has a hell of a lot going for it. And, of course, it's just nice to see a little art return to animation.

Review by Steve Hussy