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Cartoon Noir (1999)

by on 2011/03/20

I used to work with this guy who was addicted to the self-published graphic novels of a mentally ill, homeless man. Flipping though the offered pages of this outsider art (mostly toilets and stabbing), my stomach joined in on the flipping.

I had this very same sensation watching through this 1999 compilation of dark and twisty animated shorts from Czech Republic, United States, Portugal, the UK and Poland.

The roster kicked off with The Story of the Cat and the Moon, a short that was by far the most interesting and most befitting of the term of “noir.”  With an animation style that looked like a crude oil slick in a milk pail, the piece by Pedro Serrazino tells the tale of longing for a femme fatale who plays with the narrator’s heart like so much dangled yarn in her jet-black claws.

The Czech film The Club of the Discarded by Jiri Barta is a stop-motion nightmare featuring vintage mannequins. In a crumbling, desiccated building, a nude female mannequin stares out blankly onto the street below. A broken male mannequin stares at her through a jagged peep-hole in a panel. A bathtub full of pelvises and legs scrub each other with a toilet brush.

A mannequin in boxer shorts arises every morning from a jangling box spring, kisses his ruined, one-armed bride goodbye, and falls down the stairs to work (he has no knees). A broken-necked harpist, an elderly female in a wheelchair and a child mannequin also pursue their daily routines. The child pokes meaninglessly at tangled yarn and the harpist jangles her rigid hands against broken strings.

Over and over, these routines play out until human movers bring in another crop of mannequins – this time nasty-looking proto-punk mannequins. In a Toy Story plot twist from hell, the vintage and the rockstar mannequins battle for domination of the ruined building.

You know what? I won’t ruin the ending.

Because then you’d need therapy too.

The gut twisting continues with Ape, a short by Julie Zammarchi. A foul married couple bickers over the dinner table. On the menu, an eviscerated ape. The hairy-eared husband gripes that these daily “post-mortem dissections” of ape meat are getting stale. He takes particular umbrage with his wife’s habit of tying a ribbon around the ape’s er, member. He reads all sorts of terrible things into that.


If you need to test your gag reflex, this is your toon.

Abductees by Paul Vester is a fascinating short that is half documentary and half cartoon. Drawing the accounts of self-professed alien abductees, this piece blends eye-witness drawings with fully animated tales of being stolen out of bed by huge-eyed greys.

Gentle Spirit, a Polish short by Piotr Dumala, is reminiscent of the lithographs of Edvard Munch. A silent story about obsession, imprisonment and domination is told in murky amber and black slashes. A young woman and an old man are alone in a claustrophobic apartment. Time jumps back and forth. There’s death and loss.

In Joy Street by Suzan Pitt, a woman reels drunkenly between German Expressionist walls. She drunk dials, she drinks some more. Things look lost until her Mickey Mouse ashtray comes to life and capers around her hovel. It is about redemption.

By now you’ve probably gathered I didn’t exactly *love* this collection. It scared me. It angered me. It made me a little ill.

If art is something that makes you feel something, Cartoon Noir is art at its most gut-targetting effective.

I appreciated it. I acknowledge Cartoon Noir‘s right to exist.

I’m going to go give my brain a light rinse now.

* * *

83 minutes

Unrated but …please for the love of everything sunshine, kittens and cookies, don’t show this to children

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