STILL FROM IDIOTS AND ANGELS COURTESY IFC
If Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, Barbet Schroeder’s Barfly and Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire had a ménage à trois, their surrealist progeny would be Idiots and Angels, which opened last night at IFC. Director Bill Plympton hosted a post-screening Q&A discussion of his animated feature, before hosting an afterparty at Ciao Stella in the West Village.Idiots and Angels, which was entirely hand-drawn in pencil on paper by Plympton, has a soundtrack of music (including Tom Waits) and sound effects but is completely without dialogue. He told the audience that “it took one year to do 30,000 drawings—100 drawings a day—and it was one of the most fun things I’ve ever done.”
The film follows a cantankerous curmudgeon, who attempts to set two people on fire (succeeding once), sexually assault a woman and off an innocent bird, all in the first 10 minutes of the film. He spends his booze-bleary days at a dive bar, where he deals guns for a living. One day a butterfly nests in his scalp and he begins to sprout wings, which he promptly hacks off. They return, enabling him to fly—and much to his horror, compelling him to do good deeds in spite of himself.
The film is a dark morality tale—or is it? “It’s a very simple message… Everybody is an idiot—me included—at some point and I think we all should realize our internal goodness,” Plympton said at the afterparty. “Everybody has an angel inside, somewhere. We all have the potential to be angels and we should maximize that potential.” SELF-PORTRAIT BY PLYMPTON, 2007, COURTESY THE ARTIST.
Much as the film takes an innovative stance on production, Plympton linked it to other films: “The wings were attracted to him because his soul was needy; he was a selfish screw-up. They started growing because he needed to change his life, almost like Jimmy Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life.”
Plympton is a two-time Oscar nominee who has created dozens of animated shorts and features, and also contributed cartoons and illustrations to The New York Times, Village Voice, Vanity Fair and Rolling Stone and animated Kanye West’s video, “Heard ‘Em Say.” Anton Corbijn, Jim Jarmusch and Terry Gilliam are all on-record as being Plympton fans. Idiots and Angels, which has won a long list of awards on the international film festival circuit, and now screens with a new animated short by Plympton (who told us he “loves hamburgers”), “The Cow Who Wanted to Be a Hamburger,” a five-minute tale of a brainwashed calf engaging in a Rocky-esque quest to be deemed chopped meat-worthy.
Both films have entered into qualifying competition as nominees for this year’s Academy Awards, as Best Animated Feature and Best Animated Short, respectively. If selected, Idiots and Angels would likely compete against Toy Story 3 and Shrek Forever After. But Idiots and Angels, while animated, is for adults: a brooding, wildly inventive work of art with old-school, fascinating craftsmanship.
Idiots and Angels and “The Cow Who Wanted to Be a Hamburger” screen at IFC through Oct. 14 and in Los Angeles at Laemmle’s Sunset 5, Oct. 29 – Nov. 7; in Chicago at Chicago Music, Dec. 3-10.