Tuesday, December 11, 2012

CONSUMING SPIRITS: Chris Sullivan's 15-year animated labor of love opens for the holidays; dump the kids somewhere else

True to Film Forum's ability to counter-program the usual holiday sweetness and cheer, the storied New York repertory/independent/
documentary theater has done itself proud this year by bringing us an animated film unlike maybe anything we've seen (anything TrustMovies has seen, at least).

CONSUMING SPIRITS might bring to mind Scrooge & Marley, were the spirits involved not mostly alcoholic. (I wouldn't be surprised if Charles Dickens' spirit didn't cotton to this odd film, once he got used to the freedom artists possess these days.) So personal and deeply-felt is the movie that you'll likely wince in near-recognition of all the sadness, regret and spent lives on view. Yet the film contains nary a jerked tear. You'll more likely laugh at the pile-up of neuroses on display by the artist, Chris Sullivan, shown at right, who wrote, directed, produced the film and did the cinematography, editing, sound and much of the animation. (This is not, however, a one-man show: At the end credits, plenty of other people are credited & thanked.)
Modern-day Appalachian small-town life seems to be the setting here, and the main characters -- Earl Gray (above), Gentian Violet (below) and Victor Blue (at left, further below) -- sport semi-Dickensian names and toss around interesting philosophies. Gentian's (Jenny's) elderly mom, who lives with her and has Alzheimer's, offers this bit of delectable dinner conversation: "Little Jenny keeps her muffin clean with a vinegar wash."

Stylistically the movie's "animation" is all over the place -- claymation, collage, photos, simple black-and-white line drawing, and richly colored hand-drawn stuff -- yet it all works together harmoniously and darkly. (The movie opens with a hit-and-run nun!) There's even a bunch of product placement here, though I doubt the director was compensated by any of those name brands.

You want hints on the care and keeping of the elderly and dysfunc-tional? Use handcuffs, because when you don't, some very dark things happen. Child molestation, or at least the possibility of same? Check. And a lovely rendition of Shenandoah. (The music/
songs here are used sparingly but beautifully and effectively.)

As the movie marches ahead, relationships and are laid bare and connections made clearer. By the finale (spoiler ahead, or maybe not) there is even a family reunion that is important and yet so distanced that it can not be said to have been played for sentiment. Yet that sentiment is present, all the same. We are told in the press materials that Mr. Sullivan spent 15 years bringing this film to fruition. A look at his animation "studio," below, may indicate why. This is probably as far from Pixar as one can get, though it does appear a "fun" place to spend some time. And however this movie came about, as an audience member I can only say it was worth it.

Consuming Spirits -- running, I am told, 129 minutes (the version I saw ran 135) -- is an animated tale that may take you awhile to appreciate. But I doubt you'll be able to easily forget it. The film opens this Wednesday, December 12, for a two-week run at Film Forum. Elsewhere? Can't say, but something this unusual and worthwhile will be around for a long time to come.

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