Spike & Mike’s Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation

Spike Decker and Mike Gribble have been touring their Sick & Twisted fest for the last five years as an offshoot of their 20-year-old regular festival of animation. Considering that animation is a medium so elastic it allows for infinite inventiveness and it’s one that, let’s face it, attracts a lot of flyblown slacker males, it’s not clear why the boys would need such a release. Animation has the potential to be monumentally sick and twisted; that’s one of its chief values (the other being the potential to show Betty and Veronica getting it on, but I digress), and twistedness in no way detracts from a good short’s quality.

The mainstream fest, after all, provided a spawning ground for the likes of Mike Judge, Tim Burton, and Nick Park (the creator of the award-winning Wallace & Gromit series), so what is the nature of the off-kilter genius that cannot stand among such company? In this year’s Sick & Twisted there’s very little genius to be had—it’s not as if Spike and Mike are caching tomorrow’s Judges, or even Burtons, heaven forfend. The shorts seem to be the products of overgrown teenage boys with defecatory preoccupations and nothing to say—and a bong. The talent for simulating the sound of a bubbling pot pipe appears to be a potent attraction to the genre for young directors.

A handful of these entries are astoundingly misogynistic—that nasty, overrated Bill Plympton has drawn a hateful piece of satire titled How to Make Love to a Woman that would do Félicien Rops proud. Don Hertzfeldt admits his Ah L’Amour is “a bitter film,” but says nothing about how puerile and stale it is; the stick-man animation doesn’t seem to be by choice. Hut Sluts is advertised as a “much-requested favorite,” so to avoid letters beginning “Hey, stupid bitch” I’ll refrain from commenting, except to say, guys with “No Fat Chicks” stickers, this is for you.

But there are treasures to be unearthed here. Shit plays a starring role in many shorts—juvenile mud humor intended—but it’s at its best advantage in David Donar’s Big, Dumb, Fat, Stupid Baby, a Freudian anal nightmare that is as brief as it is powerful; its oral counterpart is the appalling/funny/appalling again Baby’s New Formula by Arron Springer.

Blackhead and Weiner, out of Vancouver Film School, is an anarchic good time with two misfits wreaking havoc on Halloween. Evil Cat Animation brings sparkling Disneylike style to The Happy Moose, in which Jake LaMotta tries to tell three dubious kids a rambling, incoherent fairy tale. The U.K.’s Channel Four Television brings you Left Over Dog (“He’s made from breasts and thighs!”), a loyal canine concoction made from his liposuctioned mistress; and David Thomas’ gemlike, vicious, totally unyielding Tasty Beef is the only true shocker in the bunch. If the character Rick the Dick doesn’t make Dave Smith famous, something else surely will; here, the cynical salesman finds himself tripping to the reborn ’60s.

Obviously, different movies have different audiences, but to say that something—this, for example—is best appreciated by the stoned or the still-living-at-home is to make excuses for its lack of quality. The best pieces here could easily stand among the efforts of the so-called mainstream fest, but the others aren’t ready for national exposure. It’s nice of Spike & Mike to give their creators a spot on the bill, but they shouldn’t oughtta charge money for this sort of thing.

If Liv Tyler is ever to prove that she’s the intuitive, precociously wise actress the swooning international press claims she is, she’s got to stop playing the gulping teenager. A sly-eyed Parker Posey-type role would fit the bill and give her Bambiesque gawkiness something to play against. But here she is again in vintage sweaters, looking ravishing, muttering, “You make me want to scream sometimes,” with little conviction.

In Inventing the Abbotts, Tyler plays Pam, the youngest daughter of the richest man in a small ’50s town. Pam is supposed to be sensible, plain, and awkward; she shrinks into the background while her sisters, china-doll Alice (Joanna Going), engaged to a successful jerk, and hot-to-trot Eleanor (Jennifer Connelly), shine.

The sisters don’t interact, or even react to each other—every so often one will comment on the patented behavior of another. The girls don’t really exist except insofar as they are perceived by the Holts, a pair of middle-class brothers with tortured attitudes toward the Abbotts. Seductive firebrand Jacey Holt (Billy Crudup) is obsessed with exacting revenge on the father for what he believes are Mr. Abbott’s sins against the Holts, while goofy, thoughtful Doug (Joaquin Phoenix) finds himself allied with overlooked Pam. While Jacey sets out to claim and crush the Abbotts’ most precious holdings—the daughters—Doug makes plans for Pam’s happiness and his own, leaving him at odds with his family.

For a potentially juicy story, Inventing the Abbotts is executed without oomph by Pat O’Connor, the Irish director of the drippy romance Circle of Friends. The Abbotts should epitomize the sky-high economic dreams of postwar America, as polished and alluring as the three enchanted girls. But the family’s wealth doesn’t glitter with that American hardness that makes resentful boys like Jacey confuse money lust with the old-fashioned kind. His low-rent Gatsby act is crude and dull, and no one seems to mind it much except Doug; “Keep your poor-boy dick out of my daughters,” Mr. Abbott tells Jacey, which is hardly a deterrent.

The story meanders on, untying threads of the two families’ connected past, which never seemed plausible, until there appears to be no reason why they ever bothered with each other. The boys get in fistfights and shout at each other, but their emotions seems purposeless and inflated in such a mealymouthed context. Tyler and Phoenix tremble their prominent upper lips with all their might during Doug and Pam’s fledgling romance, but they’re too good-looking to engage much sympathy for their status as vulnerable outsiders. Just because we’re told that he’s a geek and she’s a frump doesn’t mean we stop believing our eyes.CP