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Tuesday, 21 August 2007

Bill Plympton: Early Work

One of the foremost animators in the world, Bill Plympton was born in Oregon in 1946. He has been producing top animation work for 30 years. It was his classic animation "Your Face", the 1988 Academy Award nominee for Best Animation, that first brought him to my attention and his latest work is still as youthful and vibrant as it ever was. His work has a characteristic hard satirical edge to its humour. I wanted to discover how his earlier work prepared us (and him) for the movies that are more famous. Produced in 1977, "Lucas, the Ear of Corn" is the earliest of his works I have seen. Briefly it tells the tale of a mother and her son who just happen to be ears of corn. In their exchange of dialogue as the youngster poses questions of his parent we are told about the meaning of life. I have read that this is a "children's story" and that it is "charming". I'm not so sure. There is a charm I suppose but quickly we remember the fate of ears of corn on the grocer's shelf and inevitable kitchen and one or two of the mother's responses, albeit from an ear of corn, are a trifle uncomfortable. It's very conspicuously early work with basic animation though there is an undoubted attraction in the simple, almost child-like drawing. Boom Town, from 1985, is a different matter in that my admiration for it is unalloyed. With a stirring soundtrack from the Android Sisters, Ruth Maleczech and Valeria Vasilevski, composed by Timothy Clarke, Bill's caustic wit is trained on the American military whose war effort seems primarily designed to create profits for American industry. Strangely topical maybe. The script by Jules Feiffer is excellent but it is the constant surprise of the visual gags with war machines and money and heads sprouting from the earth that most captures the heart, whilst there is the almost ever presence of the dancing Android sisters set against various backdrops. His Drawing Lesson #2 of 1988 is spectacular in its technique as the unseen artist tells the tale of his lost love (and model), a tale sketched for us on canvas and filmed. The high-pitched, manic and winging voice of the narrator, Chris Hoffman, is perfect for the part. The drawings are caricatures and skilfully drawn. But I like Boom Town best. All three have been posted on YouTube: "Lucas, the Ear of Corn", Boom Town and Drawing Lesson #2. However I would warmly commend Plymptoons: The Complete Works of Bill Plympton [1985] or the direct merchandising section of his site.

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