I love it when Nathaniel picks a short film or two for Hit Me with Your Best Shot, and this week we have a pair of little gems of mindfuckery.
I’m going to do them out of order, so the first one up is 2015’s World of Tomorrow, the celebrated latest work of the great Don Hertzfeldt (watch it on Netflix!), which happens to also be one of the best films of last year. I could go on about the film at ludicrous length, and I want to, but I shan’t. There’s too much. Even just speaking about its visuals, there are nothing but rabbit holes one could chase down: how their blend of old-school optical printing and computer-drawn art speaks to the film’s own theme about remaining human in a digital world; how the film encodes its own set of associations between color and emotion, between shape and emotion. None of this is possible without talking about Julia Pott’s (a great animator in her own right) terrific delivery of sci-fi profundity, in dessicated flat tones. And it’s not Hit Me with Your Best Everything, it’s Hit Me with Your Best Shot.
And in watching the film for the… fuck me, how many times have I watched it? Not fewer than seven. Anyway, this time, one particular shot stood out to me as not just emblematic of World of Tomorrow, but of Hertzfeldt’s entire corpus: an image that sums up, using no colors, hardly any shapes, and no more facial features than an average eight-year-old could draw on a stick figure, a deep reservoir of utter, abject loneliness. It looks silly until it breaks your heart – that’s the Hertzfeldt difference.
Because the film speaks for itself better than I can speak for it, I offer only the shot, and the lines accompanying it. Read them to yourself in the least inflected, most unmournful voice you can.
“I do not have the mental or emotional capacity to deal with his loss. But sometimes, I sit in a chair late at night, and quietly feel very bad.”
Lightening the mood – only in this context – is True Skin (watchable through Vimeo), a 2012 short I’ve only heard about thanks to Nathaniel’s intervention, though it’s impressed enough people over the years that Amazon is producing a series based on it. It’s one of those shorts, you know, them – it’s really just a demo reel for Stephan Zlotescu, who directs, writes, produces, stars, provides voiceover, edits, animates, and supervises the visual effects. There’s a plot, but it’s not exactly daisy-fresh. Basically, it’s just bits and pieces of William Gibson trotted out. Of course, I don’t suppose Zlotescu had any such thing in mind as sparkling originality: I’m pretty sure the reason that we have a rainy, neon-lit world (shock of shocks!) in which a man on the run from some paralegal force or another muses on the blurring lines between human consciousness and computer-based sentience is specifically because everybody already knows how that kind of stuff works, and because that kind of world offers a good setting for the sort of visual design, cutting, and world-building that Zlotescu wants to demonstrate.
All of which sounds pretty nasty, so let me clarify: it is a fuckin’ gorgeous demo reel. I’m fairly sure I watched the whole thing with my mouth hanging open. And anytime that Zlotescu wants to try it out for 90 minutes, I’m game to see what he comes up with. The film is extraordinarily sleek – every image looks like it’s been scrubbed in a digital washing machine – and boasts an eye-watering palette of deeply saturated colors, and the whole thing basically looks exactly what the inside of cyborg hell on Earth ought to look like.
Underneath the polished gleam, True Skin indulges in some nasty, grotty imagery of death and suffering: its motif of the sick, scarred, and homeless being gawked at (or almost even worse, wholly ignored) by half-CGI gewgaws and pseudohumans ain’t subtle, but it hits pretty hard, and it’s the sort of thing that will hopefully be teased out more in the series, or Zlotescu’s future work, or someplace. It gives the film a surprising bite underneath its showy surfaces.
So with that in mind, how could I resist this image:
I think it’s possible to tell what that is, but maybe not if you aren’t watching the movie; the whole point is that the essence of the thing is being hidden and distorted. That’s a gravestone, splashed in cherry red light, with icy blue and green light being projected on top of it (in the same physical space? Hard to say). It’s a depiction of candy-colored chaos overwhelming and disguising an object whose solitary point is to remind everybody who looks at it that the human body is frail and short-lived. The film is explicitly about the desire to contravene that reality; given the silent commentary Zlotescu provides in the form of the “naturals” suffering on the streets, I’m pretty sure that we’re meant to walk away finding that desire at least a little bit perverse.
Garish beauty and death – the twin specters looming over True Skin, combined in one neat package. It’s powerfully obvious, but the movie doesn’t have the time for opaque subtleties, and I will follow suit. Anyway, the movie part of the movie isn’t even five minutes long, so it’s really not at all likely that you can’t make time to watch it, and see a whole bunch of images that are that pretty. However could you resist?