Last week I attended “An Evening with Don Hertzfeldt” at the Cinematheque Quebecois, which was a treat since so many speakers, acts and performances skip Montreal out of concern that it’s going to be too French here and no one will turn out to see them. I shudder to think that some people reading this might not know who Don Hertzfeldt is, and if that’s the case, stop reading this crap and go immediately to his website bitterfilms.com to learn more. Suffice to say, I consider Don Hertzfeldt to be the single most important animator working in the world today. It may sound like hyperbole, but that’s my opinion, this is my blog, and if you don’t like it you can get the fuck out now. There’s the door.
Now some of you will rattle your sabres and try to bitch about Hayao Miyazaki, Brad Bird and Henry Selick, and I’ll agree with you. They’re all fantastic, and you can probably rub my nose in a few other names that don’t immediately spring to mind. Granted. Good on you. But I hate it when people soft-peddle their statements about individuals, places and events and pussy out with a “one of the greatest” or an “among the best” bullshit. If you have a reasonably broad grasp of a subject, make a clear and concise statement. Like Niccolo Paganini was the greatest violinist of all time. Or George W. Bush is the most successful retard in history. Or brussels sprouts are the suckiest vegetable ever. And then stand by your assertion.
Not only are Hertzfeldt’s films hilarious, poignant, innovative, brilliant and all those typical adjectives — they’re also a solo act. Don does just about everything himself, alone in his studio, just him and his pen and his camera. The results are a completely unfiltered vision of an individual, rather than another example of committee-think that fuels most animation out there. I like following careers that grow and evolve, and it’s been fascinating watching Hertzfeldt develop his craft from his early, silly, dark comedies like Ah, L’Amour, Lily and Jim, Genre and Billy’s Balloon, to his profound The Meaning of Life, Everything Will Be Ok and I Am So Proud of You, with immortal cult favourite Rejected acting as the precise point of transition. Despite people’s tendency to laugh through Rejected from start to finish, I consider the crumbling-fabric-of-reality climax to be on my short list of most disturbing things I’ve ever seen in a motion picture.
Even though there was a long question and answer period with the audience, there were surprisingly few people I wanted to hold down and knee repeatedly in the testicles. Usually, when you turn a microphone over to any yahoo willing to queue up to speak, you can count on a broad spectrum of morons and assholes. The only comment that kind of offended me was the one guy who encouraged Don to never stop making funny films, even while he continues to delve into more serious subjects.
I was reminded of Stardust Memories, one of the best films about an artist in transition BY an artist in transition (oops, I mean THE BEST film about an artist in transition by an artist in transition — clear, concise assertion). Specifically the part where Woody Allen is confronted by aliens who tell him, “We enjoy your films, particularly the early funny ones” echoing the same criticism he was hearing from his fans in that film and, doubtless, in reality circa 1980. There are always fans out there who want artists of every ilk to keep doing the same thing over and over again, asking their idols, ever so nicely, to never grow or experiment. Personally, all I want to see out of Don Hertzfeldt is his next film, exactly as he wants to make it, whatever it may turn out to be.
Having said that, he showed us an untitled new film in post production that’s currently only known as “That Tooth Thing.” It’s a silly dark comedy. The more fickle fans will be appeased before Don goes on to complete the final act of his sombre “Bill Trilogy” next.
The day after the Evening, I was up early to have breakfast with friends. The occasion was the return visit of our pal, Nic Wright, who was on a break from his sitcom Accidentally on Purpose. After years of slogging in the Canadian film and television trenches, Nic moved to L.A. and got a gig on the new CBS sitcom. He plays the Fonzie of the show. And by “Fonzie” I mean “supporting character who so distinguishes himself in the ensemble cast that he becomes key to the success of the show.” I could also call him the Urkel of the show, but that doesn’t sound as cool. Having known Nic for years, I can assure you that he’s not a scruffy stoner, he only plays one on TV. You can go to the official website and check out his video blog and see him talk about finally learning to drive at the advanced age of 27. I know there’s not much choice in the matter living in L.A., but I called him a traitor just the same. I’m a teensy bit older and remain steadfastly determined to never get my licence. Of course, I don’t live in a concrete desert, so my lifestyle choice is still a viable option.
Also in attendance was Rebecca Croll, AKA “Becky,” AKA, “Oh no, here comes one of the Crolls, let’s cross the street and keep our heads down and maybe she won’t notice us.” I’ve known Becky since she was eight. Now she’s all grown up with full ACTRA membership as of this month. She just appeared in a scene for Barney’s Version opposite my doppelganger, Paul Giamatti. Barney’s Version, which will forever be known as the movie that fucked up Twilight’s casting continuity, is based on the Mordecai Richler novel and is therefore, fittingly, being shot in Montreal. Sadly, Becky had no on-set scandals to relate, but I was gratified to hear that despite our uncanny resemblance, I, at least, tower high above Mr. Giamatti and his modest stature. Take that you Hollywood bigshot with all your fame and wealth! Your money and your celebrity ain’t gonna buy you an extra half-foot of height! Yeah, that’s right. Choke on it.
Pictured: Nicolas Wright, Rebecca Croll and Shane Simmons all lean forward to obscure everyone else at the table whose importance is diminished to nothingness without a current film or television project to their name. Losers.