February 5, 2008

Off the Beaten Path

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Who lives in a pineapple under the sea? Sponge Bob Square Pants, of course — and his pet snail Gary, who oddly purrs like a cat. Other eccentrics living down there include a squid in a collared shirt, a crab that sells hamburgers and a Texan squirrel in a scuba diving suit. Although this motley mix of characters is unequivocally charming, even the most peculiar aspects of this famed cartoon have become commonplace, thanks in large part to the commercialization of the show and the fortification of the Sponge Bob Empire (shadowed only by the Nickelodeon Universe).
For cartoon lovers around the world this is a sad fate: the newest and weirdest animation is lost in the shadow of a few commercial hits. Hundreds of equally quirky and fantastic animated films are made every year, yet sadly most remain rarely or never seen — they stay trapped under the sea, suffocating beneath that fateful pineapple.
One man, however, is hard at work to expose the world to great animation. His name is Ron Diamond, head of Acme Film Works, a commercial animation studio in Hollywood, CA. He produces the Animation Show of Shows, an affordable box set of DVDs, which includes 45 animated films from the past decade.
“The films I included are the best of the best from any given year,” Diamond said.
Once a year, Diamond curates a program of handpicked animated films to present to major film studios and to students across the country.
“[The new box set] really gives the viewer a broad perspective of the diverse work that’s out there,” he said.
These studio screenings are known as The Annual Animation Show of Shows, and Diamond compiles the show each year in order to “show my peers what’s good and new in animation,” he said. “Keep everybody up to date.”
The 45 short films included in the collection span from cute to offbeat to quirky, and from the emotionally poignant to the bizarre and avant-garde. One of the strangest and most intriguing films is Director Pjotr Sapegin’s Aria, which tells the story of a woman alone on an island who is neglected by a lover and literally tears her body apart.
Although Aria is strange and slightly disturbing, the film still follows a linear plot line. This makes it rather conventional when compared to director Steven Woloshen’s Cameras Take Five. Here, vibrant colors and expressive lines dash and bounce across the screen in an abstract interpretation of Dave Brubeck’s jazz composition, “Take Five.” Woloshen scratched directly onto filmstrips, completing his piece without the use of cameras. Cameras Take Five is much more Miro than Disney. And generally, the films in the box set are more surreal than commercial, more expressive than conventional.
“Many of the films included are non-narrative and likewise they would appear to be non-commercial,” Diamond said. “My goal is to put a marketing push behind these great films so the whole world can enjoy these rarely seen gems.”
Unlike Mike Judge and Don Hertzfeldt’s popular collection, The Animation Show, which plays in major cinemas across the country annually, Diamond’s past Show of Shows’ have only been seen by studio executives and animation students. This new DVD is the first time some of these films are available to the general public.
Although the films shine together as a collection, Diamond stressed that each one of the shorts is a great film in-and-of itself. “I’m really excited because maybe one of these films will change the way someone thinks,” he said.
The Animation Show of Show DVDs are available at www.Filmporium.com.