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In by Philipp Hirsch and Heiko Tippelt


In is a 23-minute CG/live-action short created by Philipp Hirsch and Heiko Tippelt in 2004. I have a bit of a history with this film; here is what I wrote about it after watching a portion of it at Annecy in 2004.

“The program was also home to the oddest film in the competition, the enigmatic IN by Philipp Hirsch. A significant portion of the audience, myself included, walked out in the middle of this 24-minute film. The Dada-ish looking short generated quite a bit of discussion during the last couple days of the festival and after speaking to folks who managed to sit through it, I regret not having had the patience to make it through the entire film.”

Animation director Peter Chung saw my comment recently and emailed to let me know that the film is online in its entirety. Watch In here. Chung was part of the 2004 jury for the Holland Animation Film Festival that awarded In the top prize for non-narrative short film. In his note to me, Chung offers valuable advice to anybody who plans to watch this film: “Forget everything you’ve known about animation before this—and just watch with an open mind. This is filmmaking by someone inventing a new way to see, a film that breaks the boundaries between inner and outer experience.”

  • Chuck R.

    With all due respect to the HAFF jury, wasn’t this “inner-outer experience” thing already explored in “Fantastic Voyage”? The main difference being that Raquel Welch is a lot easier on the eyes?

    Seriously, other than plumbing new depths of depravity and grotesquery, this is nothing new. I’d venture to say that from a conceptual standpoint, “Being John Malkovich” is far more imaginative and mind-bending. It is also a film that manages to keep its audience for longer than 10 minutes.

  • red pill junkie

    … I did not understand it.

    Although the pond-jumping sequence was nicely done.

  • There’s a time and place for everything. Sometimes I’m in the mood for something really demanding and weird. Usually, though, I’m not. This is the kind of film that crashes screenings. It’s not “entertainment”, it’s a “work” film.

    Every once in a while, I could use a “work” film. That moment never seems to come in the middle of a two hour screening sandwiched between films that are enjoyable and entertaining.

  • The thing about a new way to see sounds incrediblly dubious. In a industry with Priit Parn, Jan Svankmajer, and even people like David Lynch there is nothing about this that is revolutionary except maybe in its audaciousness to be boring. Which I do actually admire. Jan Svankmajer you can laugh at, this you’re in it for “the art” and nothing else and the bravery of the artists is admirable.

    But really it’s far from new and that’s just dumb to say. It has a contemporary look but I bet you could pull up 20 of your on posts on this blog, Amid that challenge the way we see more drastically or revolutionarily. And that’s even just talking from an animation perspective, from a general film perspective this is really nothing groundbreaking in the slightest. It’s basically animated Mathew Barney.

    That aside, I did like the film.

    I think it’s about a rape. The girl’s name is Lena and the rapist’s is Dave.

  • Joshua Smith

    I first saw this film a few days ago and was completely captivated throughout the entire thing. And I have a short attention span, so it’s very uncommon that a 20+ min film, viewed online, would do that for me. But I was completely engaged trying to figure out the weird logic of the metaphorical inner workings of a mind.

    I can also understand how other people would be tempted to walk out of a screening, especially if they chose to watch the film passively. I hope Peter Chung can stop by and better articulate what makes the film so great.

  • Alexander Curtis

    I believe that Art, in any form, is about communicating an idea or emotion in a clear and compelling way. Dada does not fall within these parameters, and neither does IN.

    I find the “if you don’t get it your not smart enough” mentality of modern and post-modern art to be very frustrating.

  • Derek J

    takes me back to college…sitting through interminable video art pieces that were slow, long and boring because that made them seem more “artsy.”

    i kind of hate this stuff on a fundamental level. the message of this piece could have been conveyed in a shorter, tighter, more engaging way. so why go this route?

  • I have a very simple test to determine if a film is good or bad.

    Would I rather watch said film, or watch “The Blues Brothers” for the 127th time?

    This film does not pass that test.

    And “Blues Brothers 2000″ does not pass the test.

  • It’s not life changing, but it’s well done. The animation towards the beginning definitely reminds me of “The Alphabet” that is on the short films of David Lynch collection. I thought the jumping in and out of puddle footprints was nicely done as well.

  • “dada-ish”?

    “new depths of depravity and grotesquery”?

    “I believe that Art, in any form, is about communicating an idea or emotion in a clear and compelling way. Dada does not fall within these parameters”?

    Is this blog some kind of wormhole in time allowing the people of the 1920’s to comment on the animation of the year 2008?

  • Chuck R.

    Tim, you got me. I was trying to find something in this that could be called “innovative”, and you’re exactly right: To anyone who’s seen “Pan’s Labyrinth” even the imagery is not that ground-breaking.

    You bring up an excellent point, though, and this is a personal thing: I believe that really good art (and filmmaking, and storytelling) is timeless. If this film can’t be appreciated by someone from the 20’s on at least some basic emotional level, it probably shouldn’t get awarded a top prize.

    This film asks the viewer to sit through 24 minutes of pretty heavy imagery. Tell me if I’m wrong, but I’m looking at: rape or assault of some sort, a drowning, genetic tinkering, introducing foreign matter to a young woman’s reproductive system (notice how polite I’m being?) and a dead squirrel with rubber pants. If this is truly “non-narrative”, if there’s no storyline connecting these, I think some kind of defense of the content is owed to the viewer. It’s not enough to say, “Well, it’s a puzzle. It’s deliberately ambiguous”. There are thousands of images that could be strewn together to merely “bewilder” us. True artists pick and choose their imagery carefully, and there should be reasons for these inclusions.

    I agree with Joshua above, it would be nice if the jurors could elaborate on why this was awarded, or at least tell us what the payoff is for sitting to the very end.

  • “or at least tell us what the payoff is for sitting to the very end.”

    It’s a rat wearing pants, dude.

  • PeeeDeee

    Is anyone else tired of: “Oh aren’t we eccentric, no-one can understand what the hell is going on so it must be art!” -type films?

    So many things these days hide behind a supposedly deliberate “ambiguity” or “leaving it up to the audience to decide” etc. etc. because there quite simply isn’t a story in there worth telling.

    Call me old-fashioned…

  • When I was in about 5th grade they separated the boys and girls for the sex ed instruction.

    The boys saw a film about what to expect during puberty. More hair mostly, especially under the armpits.

    And I imagine they must have shown something like this to the girls. Once I reframed it in that context I found IN to be quite hysterical.

  • art is a three-letter word

    Lordy, lordy, what a bunch of puffed-up, self-important whining. “I didn’t get it ergo it’s too artsy / self-indulgent / hiding behind / reveling in its own ambiguity, it’s Not New…” Cue collective grab for the smelling salts.

    Thanks for not taking Amid & Chung’s advice and letting go. Instead we get an interminable tumult of crotchety remarks better suited to the critical backlash from a Lynch film than they are a brief piece of experimental animation.

    The way you people are talking, you’d think Bergman & ‘Persona’ never happened. Bah.

  • Peter Chung

    Well, it shouldn’t surprise me that Cartoon Brew readers are not the ideal audience for this film. While predictable, the vitriol against Hirsch’s film shown here is still depressing to see among people who call themselves animation fans.

    There were no walkouts during the HAFF screening. Of the five jurors, four of us felt very strongly that “in” was the best film in competition. (The one dissenter complained that the film wasn’t abstract enough.) The film was submitted in the non-narrative category. The jurors all agreed that it was a narrative piece, but we were happy to give it an award. For me, it was simply the most compelling, most stimulating, and most exciting animated short I’d seen in a very long time. I responded to it viscerally and emotionally. I was enthralled and entertained. I couldn’t wait to see it again.

    Phillip Hirsch did not attend the festival, and he has been silent about his intentions in making the film. I wrote him to congratulate him and to convey my appreciation for his work. He sent me a copy of “in” on DVD. I’ve since shown it to friends and colleagues many times with interesting results. My admiration for it has only grown stronger with repeated viewings.

    My view is that the film is important and original. It aims high and delivers. I’m a fan of Lynch, and sometimes of Matthew Barney. I’ve no patience for the indulgences of Derek Jarman, Stan Brakhage or Robert Breer.

    It’s always difficult to discuss art that is truly personal, ambitious and serious. Putting into stark text the meanings of work intended as a sensory experience will seem precocious at best, pretentious at worst. But my feelings on Mr. Hirsch’s film are strong enough that I’ll take a crack at it.

    Animation is the art of giving life. This is done by the deliberate control of movement by an artist to convey to the viewer specific ideas and feelings.

    Filmmakers rely on cues besides movement to help the viewer understand the events on screen. Dialogue, costumes, sets, all of which will inform our assumptions. None of those have anything to do with the art of animation. To drive that home, at Calarts, the first assignment given to students was to give personality to a sack of flour. Like the way the lamps in Luxo Jr. evoke empathy and delineate character by their movement alone.

    That’s something Phillip Hirsch’s “in” does. (Along with much more, but I’ll stick to discussing the animation aspect for now.) This is filmmaking that allows the viewer to assume nothing going in. The animated characters are unknown quantities. Their appearance carries no baggage, no associations from past film viewing. (unlike, say, a rabbit and a hunter, or a parent and child). Any meaning we derive from observing them can ONLY come from what we actually see on screen.

    Now, on to the film.

    Live action: Hanna’s POV. Wet strands of damp grass (hair) hanging over our eyes. We are frightened, shivering, vulnerable. As the angry man reaches for us, we recoil into darkness.


    OK, now there’s these two gray blob things hanging on a blank background.
    The blob beings consist of the simplest of body designs. A pouch-like body and a mouth. The mouth is three-dimensional, the body is “two dimensional”. Objects are able to pass through the body wall in a way not accessible to another blob (a bit like a Klein bottle in 4D)

    Z, on the left, is smaller and occupies a slightly lower position. X, on the right, is larger and higher in the frame.
    Lip-locked embrace. Z tentatively tests the connection by tapping X with its tail.

    Going from tapping and stroking, to pulling and hitting as a perceived threat increases.
    Curiosity, revulsion, desire for freedom. Reluctance, surprise, fear, panic.

    Obstinate; aggressive; rejected by its partner; determined to feed “her” its seeds.
    Defiance, domination, selfishness,, insemination, violation.

    What is allowing my mind to have these thoughts? Movement. I don’t know what these beings are. But I recognize in their movements something universal. Their gestures, their reactions exhibit intelligence and intentionality. In their hesitations, we infer consciousness, dilemma, thinking, even strategizing. They are creatures of choice.

    Z pulls itself free, and the act of separation causes them both to fall to the floor. Z discovers sprouting from its body, an appendage tipped by a magnetized square. It DECIDES it can use this appendage as a lure and HOPES to punish X, now hovering in the air. There is distrust. There is desire for revenge, impatience when the target resists, leading to frustration, leading to losing control and self-inflicted defeat.

    In that single shot, between the two beings, there is physical mutation, evolution, and invention. I see motivation to lash back at someone who has caused earlier suffering. I see, starting from nothing, the emergence of pride, self-preservation, suspicion, distrust, nonchalance. It is all there, up on the screen. None of it is left to chance. Every beat is carefully orchestrated to trigger a specific thought.

    The pleasure in watching these scenes is in witnessing the growth of these beings as they probe, learn, and adapt. I sense that these beings are acting in innocence and are discovering the means by which to live.

    Later on, in the labyrinthine recesses of Hanna’s interior, we come upon a workforce of one-legged “hoppers” assembling the components of a new life.

    The timing here is as finely honed as anything I’ve ever seen. The hoppers are move clumsily and are ill-suited to the work, but they persist. They collect and release their cargo at precise moments of collision. They move cautiously, watching out for one another. The chambers have no floors. Of special note, the peculiar choreography of the head-crushing at 13:56- 14:11 is so utterly demented in its timing choices, it can only be the work of an animator with supreme self-confidence. Hard to imagine being able to come up with that from scratch. This is mind-blowing stuff.

    The sudden return to the hanging lip-lock at 15:48. It’s an “is this all I am?” moment. We’ve all experienced it. It’s very rare to see an expression made in public of a feeling so intimate, so private, that its mere mention amounts to a confession. Like being In a dream I’d been in before but long forgotten.

    I’m trying to keep this brief, so I’ll stop.
    I venture to guess that few animators have the imagination, let alone the discipline that Mr. Hirsch demonstrates in these ambitiously conceived microcosmic dramas.

    I hear Disney is producing short films again. A Goofy cartoon whose main point of attraction is that it is exactly like other Goofys made over 40 years ago? And the complaint is that “in” lacks originality? Get real.

    To Chuck R:
    “IN” precedes Pan’s Labyrinth.

    As for Being John Malkovich: a guy discovers a metaphysical anomaly and decides to turn it into a scheme to make money. Cheap jokes ensue. Talk about a wasted premise. (For a true mind bending film on switching identities, see Lost Highway.)

  • In response to Peter Chung’s entry (above): I was one of the crowd at Annecy 2004 who were collectively baffled by this film, and while I wouldn’t condone heckling I must admit it was the vociferous mockery of the French students in the back rows that kept the experience alive and kept me and my friends from walking out. I could admire the technical skill (and I’m intrigued to note that Mr Chung’s praise is more for the execution that the content) but I can’t comment on the content because I was baffled – what’s more I was baffled for twenty minutes, along with about a thousand other people. It may very well be a work of genius, but I can’t comment on that because if it was, it was way over my head. There was certainly a portion of the audience whose patience was not taxed (not by the film anyway – they were the ones periodically going “SHHHHHHHH!!!”) but I wonder if they could have told me what it was supposed to be about, or what it intended to communicate? I didn’t find anyone who could, with any confidence, but if some viewers are content to be baffled (or ‘challenged’ as they say in the art world) that’s fine.
    It seems to me that it comes down to this: At a festival screening, at least, where your film is being shown along with many others, you as an artist are asking the indulgence of every member of an audience who have come to see a selection of films. You can’t take that indulgence as read – it’s a privilege. Some wise person, I can’t remember who, has remarked that one measure of greatness of a work of art is – or should be – its broad accessibility. Yes, there is a place for everything, but if you present a work that is only going to be accessible to a small minority, and then make it twenty minutes long, don’t be too dismayed or surprised by the reaction of the rest of us.

  • Chuck R.

    Thanks, Peter, and I wish you hadn’t stopped. (I really didn’t want my comment to be the final word.)

    I agree that there is some real graphic skill involved here, but I also agree with the dissenting juror who felt it should have been more abstract. You have a naked young woman who falls in a stream, (or is drowned —broke a leg?) You have an aggressive male. When we get to the “abstract” part, there is baggage indeed. We are led to believe these are re-imagined reproductive organs with a chromosome floating about.

    I, for one was fully braced for some statement or revelation concerning rape, incest, abortion or all of the above. I never got it. You agreed that this has a storyline to it, and you’ve stopped way short of explaining it. In fact, you aren’t dealing at all with the imagery that has strong social implications. My point of criticism is that once this stuff is shown, it’s the burden of the artist to deal with it. He can’t pretend it’s an abstraction. What’s going on inside Hanna is an obvious twisting of her biological functions with little said about how that came to be. A good film doesn’t have to answer every question or resolve every issue, but to bring these things up in very graphic fashion and then just cinematically throw them about is self-indulgent and irresponsible filmmaking.

    You are very articulate and I appreciate your comment —at least parts of it. You’ve said more in defense of the film than anyone else. And I salute you for it.

    Correction on “Pan’s L.” noted. I stand by “B. John Malk.”

  • red pill junkie

    Peter’s response is clearly eloquent and very intelligent; he obviously sees things in this short that I failed too. Perhaps I should have picked a better time to watch “In” rather than an office break when your mind is dealing with a million more things and you demand a clip to make sense and engage you in less than a minute, or you reject it.

    However, it still strikes me as a bit odd that Peter’s response actually takes more time to be read, than the actual short takes to be viewed. And I personally dislike that from some examples of contemporary modern art. How contemporary critics fill page after page after page of what they think the artist is trying to convey when he —for example— utilizes the color blue in the background. Maybe if we asked the author he would simply reply that he likes blue!

    Once again, I appreciate Peter’s comment on the things I should try to see on a second viewing of this short. Nevertheless, I hope Mr. Hirsch hears of this discussion so he can explain himself what his film is about; although the necessity of the author explaining his work is still a failing of communication in my opinion (whose fault: either the artist or the viewer, is something each and everyone of us should respond on our own).

  • Mr. Chung:

    You think film doesn’t rely heavily on movement to create meaning? I’m assuming you’ve seen Blue Velvet. There’s no meaning in the slow motion scene in the begining? There’s no meaning in the way Laura Dern emerges from darkness? None in the way Dennis Hopper rapes Isabella Rossilini? None in camera movement? In editting? Nothing essentail there? Don’t buy that David Lynch started making movies because he wanted to make his paintings move?

    And costume, set design, or dialog have nothing to do with animation as an art form? Are we not filmmakers? Do we just take abitrary objects, put them in arbitrary settings and just focus on how we’re going to move them?

    Don’t think there’s any meaning made by association with the setting of the woods, the organic interior of hanna’s body, the lips, the white seeds transmitted from one pod to the other, the idea of the pods and how it will resonate with you? No association or assumption asked for by the filmmaker? The squirrel creates meaning without any association to squirrels?

    And you haven’t defended how a new way of seeing has been created. You’ve attempted to make the case for this being a competente film (which it is). But your ability as a film critic is underscored by your recomending Lost Highway to anyone, for any reason other than to see the one film David Lynch really got shrude and tried to cash in on. Mullholen Drive and Inland Empire are much better films where idenity between actors is not clearly defined or seperated.

  • Dennis:

    Wide accessibility is nice, but not a standard that needs to be held for everyone. There’s nothing wrong with making a film for fifteen people in a hundred person crowd, those fifteen are going to love that film in a special and personal way.

    If you want to know how people enjoy films like this I will say for myself that I don’t get upset if I don’t understand it. I like the puzzle, but I also just like looking at it like a picture out of focus, just seeing the color and the movement but not knowing what I’m seeing. That’s fulfilling on very basic, primal level. A good image is like good food.

    And sometimes you don’t understand an image until it all of a sudden pops out of your memory and resonates with your real life experience. And when that happens, you still can’t put words to that understand, but that’s the beauty of it, of understanding something totally and completely as an image rather than an explanation. That’s real beauty and worth of avant guard cinema.

    Language is a virus, words obscure as much or more than they communicate, film helps set us free. And everyone needs that freedom.

  • I watched it and it’s good. Also, for a “weird,” “arty”, “abstract” or whatever you want to call it short, it’s actually pretty straightforward, not particularly slow paced, and has a bunch of character animation in it; I dread to think what might happen if some of you guys watched an actual abstract art film. :-/

    I hear Disney is producing short films again. A Goofy cartoon whose main point of attraction is that it is exactly like other Goofys made over 40 years ago? And the complaint is that “in� lacks originality? Get real.
    Quoted for truth, as they say on the internets.

  • Chuck R, I just figured out you were replying to me above… sorry it took me a while to figure out, your response didn’t seem to have anything to do with what I said. Unless you were replying to a different Tim I’ve overlooked??

    Chuck R. says:

    Tim, you got me. I was trying to find something in this that could be called “innovative�, and you’re exactly right: To anyone who’s seen “Pan’s Labyrinth� even the imagery is not that ground-breaking.

    What? Exactly right? I totally disagree with you!

    I was chastising the absurd and anachronistic use of the word “dada” to describe this film. If you insist on reaching back a century to describe a modern film then surrealist would have been more apt, it’s more like the work of Tanguy or Miro than anything Dada.

    I don’t know what Pan’s Labyrinth has to do with anything at all, IN doesn’t look much like anything in that rather overrated movie.

    You bring up an excellent point, though, and this is a personal thing: I believe that really good art (and filmmaking, and storytelling) is timeless. If this film can’t be appreciated by someone from the 20’s on at least some basic emotional level, it probably shouldn’t get awarded a top prize.

    What? That wasn’t my point AT ALL. And if IN upsets so many 21st Century Internet People, then I think a 1920’s crowd would have burned the cinema to the ground! (which they seemed to do at the drop of a hat in those days)… if that’s not a basic emotional level I don’t know what is. :)

    This film asks the viewer to sit through 24 minutes of pretty heavy imagery.
    I think this is where we don’t see eye to eye. If a film doesn’t ask me to sit thru at least 24 minutes of pretty heavy imagery then I’m not interested. :)

    dead squirrel with rubber pants.
    Spoiler alert! :)

    True artists pick and choose their imagery carefully, and there should be reasons for these inclusions.
    Wow. Hey… what if, just maybe…. THERE WAS?!? Imagine that.

  • Sasha:
    Many thanks for your beautifully written response. You’re absolutely right of course – there is a place for everything and it would be a shame if any film didn’t get made simply because it would only appeal to a very specialised taste. I do tend to over-react when confronted with stuff I fail to get, which happens a lot, so it must be at least partly my fault.
    Personally I quite like those jokes where the joke-teller goes on and on for twenty minutes leading up to the punch-line, and the joke is that there isn’t one. I expect I’m in the minority there.

  • scott wu

    I’m from the 70’s I don’t quite get the controversy here. I was among the last few left in a screening of Jan Lenicia’s ADAM II about 30yr. ago this film is visualy lyrical and beautiful. I personally can’t get through 5 min. of Sponge Bob etc.

  • DG

    I found the overt imagery revolting and the implicit message way too heavy-handed. This does not detract from the skillful way the artists convey the message through the imagery, and I have to give serious props for that.

    My take on this film is that it is a narration of a sexual coming-of-age, not a rape/incest/abuse incident. Substitute “girls” for “Lena”, “boys” for “Dave” and “you as a child” for “Hannah”, and half the message becomes immediately clear. The definitely-present violent overtones are the bewildering and seemingly arbitrary expectations of those around Hannah as her sexuality grows from a private thing to an external, impossible-to-hide thing (both emotionally and physically).

    Peter Chung’s comments on the hoppers are right on the mark, though in this interpretation, their job is to form a simulacrum that can serve as a front, while the real person stays safely sheltered, trapped with her confusion and anger.

    Interesting film, though I would not watch it again.