Thursday, August 7, 2014

Face Like A Frog (1987)

WHO: Sally Cruikshank made this.

WHAT: A five-minute haunted-house cartoon mixes the anything-can-happen feel of 1930s animated shorts from the Fleischer Brothers, Robert Clampett, etc with a 1980s day-glo aesthetic. Creatures speak in cryptic wordplay, backgrounds explode with patterns and colors, and there's no such thing as a truly inanimate object. The largely-electronic music score was composed by Danny Elfman, who even takes a turn at the microphone in the middle of the film, voicing a sinister-looking chameleon singing "Don't Go In the Basement" (perhaps a reference to Friz Freleng's The Wabbit Who Came To Supper?).

WHERE/WHEN: Tonight only on a 7:00 program of Cruikshank work at the Pacific Film Archive.

WHY: Sally Cruikshank will be in attendance at tonight's screening, a rare in-person appearance for a filmmaker who hasn't lived in Frisco Bay in nearly thirty-five years. After making her first film Ducky at Smith College in 1971, she voyaged West to connect with the underground comix scene here and study at the San Francisco Art Institute under the great Lawrence Jordan. There she made her "most experimental film" according J. Hoberman, Fun On Mars, a paper animation which utilized rotoscoping and other techniques. Both it and the following Chow Fun won prizes at the Ann Arbor Film Festival. Cruikshank than moved into cel animation while working for an advertising animation company called Snazelle Films. During her time there she was able to work on her own projects Quasi at the Quackadero and Make Me Psychic, which both became midnight-cartoon-circuit staples; the former was inducted into the National Film Registry in 2009. These and Quasi's Cabaret all starred a recurring cast of characters centered around Anita, a glamourous waterfowl with Cruikshank's own voice characterization. She makes a brief cameo in Face Like a Frog. In the 1980s Cruikshank moved to Los Angeles and found work animating title sequences for features like Ruthless People and Mannequin (most recently she worked on Greg Araki's Smiley Face). The 1990s found her making segments for Sesame Street, several of which will screen tonight. She has been an enthusiastic early-adopter of internet animation technologies, creating a chatbot, online comics, and other endeavors using gifs and Flash. 

I was first exposed to Cruikshank's cartoons in 1997 when they were shown at Yerba Buena Center For the Arts on a program with films by Kenneth Anger, David Sherman, Tom Rubnitz and Ladislaw Starewicz. I'd never seen any work by any of these filmmakers before I stumbled into that screening room, and I credit the experience with opening my eyes to the wider world of filmmaking for spaces beyond the multiplex and the arthouse. It makes me particularly pleased that I was able to introduce a film screening in the same space a couple weeks ago as part of the Invasion of the Cinemaniacs series (which is sadly down one Cinemaniac because the expected print of Arturo Ripstein's Hell Without Limits went missing and the August 23 screening cancelled).  

Tonight's Cruikshank series is the last film in the Pacific Film Archive's summer focus on animation under the Alternative Visions banner. Alternative Visions returns in the Fall with focuses on local filmmakers past (James Broughton) and present (Jerome Hiler) as well as on multiple-projector work (including Barbara Rubin's Christmas on Earth October 1). More information on this and on the PFA's other fall programs (including a Stanley Kubrick retrospective) should be available on the venue website soon.

HOW: Tonight's PFA program of Cruikshank's films is entirely presented on new 16mm and 35mm prints; Face Like A Frog is 35mm.

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