Early on the difficulty I was having with his work is that it seemed like the stick-people might be the entire gimmick, that it wasn’t really about his stories, but the fact that stick figures were telling these stories. The exquisitely crafted Lily and Jim should have convinced me otherwise, but I’m slow sometimes. (Sidenote: Lily and Jim is all the more impressive when one realizes Don was only 20 years old when he made it). His new films, however, have completely erased any doubts about his capabilities as a filmmaker. While Don uses simple figures in his animation, he manages to evoke more with these frugal pencil marks than most animators do with their fully-articulated anatomy-laden characters. The real meat in Hertzfeldt’s work is his ability to use the film medium to tell engaging, funny and interesting stories, and while his drawing style is one of the more striking and obvious aspects of his work, it is only a minor component in the overall picture of his films.
Don recently told an interviewer, “I’m not the kind of guy who’s gonna struggle for weeks getting someone’s ankle to look just right, you know? Actually I don’t even draw ankles. I animate to tell these stories…” While true, the comment belies the careful attention that Hertzfeldt invests into the visual side of his shorts. His characters are often crudely drawn, but the cinematic and visual potential of the animation medium is never ignored. The humor in Rejected is equally divided between the visual and verbal, The Meaning of Life is a largely visual narrative, with the dialogue in the film used more to add mood than anything else, and the in-camera optical effects and live photography in Everything Will Be OK create an unexpectedly rich and textured visual experience.
With the graphic evolution and non-linear narrative experimentations of his previous three films Ã¢â‚¬” Rejected, The Meaning of Life and Everything Will Be OK Ã¢â‚¬” Don has clearly established himself as an animation original. If you’re familiar with Hertzfeldt’s work, you’re sure to enjoy his latest Everything Will Be OK, and if you’re not, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of the exhaustively complete Bitter Films Volume 1 dvd which contains all of his earlier shorts through The Meaning of Life. It’s a fine introduction to the work of a still-evolving filmmaker who easily ranks among the most exciting indie animators currently on the American scene.
For all things Hertzfeldt, visit BitterFilms.com