Bill Plympton did a portrait of Appellate Judge Rob Lineberger to go along with this review. We're still looking for his nose, and we expect his eyeballs to re-sprout any minute now.
Your face makes me a happy fella,
Like the man himself, this DVD of Bill Plympton works is difficult to categorize. Plympton's distinctive style has graced commercials, MTV, the Academy Awards, porn mags, respected mags, and many other media outlets. He is subversive and mainstream, funny and biting. Only one thing is certain: When you see his 6 frame-per-second, jittery, cross-hatched animations, your mind is going to be bent a little bit.
To skip right to the heart of the matter, I'm hard pressed to think of who might benefit from owning this DVD. Plympton fans have undoubtedly been exposed to one of the earlier DVD or laserdisc compilations, which overlap heavily with this one. There are two exclusive animations on Plymptoons: The Complete Early Works of Bill Plympton, but they are not worth the sticker price for the DVD. The 1999 interview "Sunday with Bill" might be, though. This crudely shot interview shows an articulate Plympton discussing his career and is peppered liberally with some of his more subversive snippets.
On the off chance that you aren't a diehard Plympton fan and simply want to know what's on this DVD, the official contents list is below. Even that doesn't tell the whole story, because Plymptoons is in itself a compilation of short sight gags. But a rough idea goes something like:
• Self Portrait
The vast majority of these shorts are extremely brief snippets of animation, commercials, awards ceremony spots, and the like. They're fine, but they don't collectively mount a powerful argument in favor of Plympton's irrational genius.
Fortunately, New Video throws in some big guns. If you were a fan of early MTV, many of these will be familiar to you. Most notable is Plympton's earliest hit, the Oscar-nominated "Your Face." This film follows a cheesy crooner through a sappy song, morphing his face in the surreal way that only Plympton can. From facial features that implode into each other and re-sprout to a cylindrical ring of teeth to Mondrian-like abstraction, this face is run through the ringer.
More subtle and subversive is Plympton's animated video for "Boomtown," a highly sarcastic satire of corporate ties to military spending. Android sisters, in full '80s getup, spout lies while Plympton's abstract factories spew out the truth. Everyday objects morph into bombs. An army of red hammers and sickles marches onto America while a roid-doped eagle stands watch.
"25 Ways to Quit Smoking" is the funniest segment on this disc. It took me awhile to warm up to the gag, but soon I was laughing out loud at Plympton's wry counter-smoking measures (for example, decapitating yourself, or sealing up your throat, or even "aversion" therapy). "How to Kiss" is a less funny short in the same vein, with lovers faces morphing into each other while tongues wrestle in weird ways. "One of those Days" is an even rougher take on the same general idea, taking us first-person through a very bad day (ever been run over by a steam roller?).
Peter Himmelman's video for "245 Days" is memorable only because Plympton goes for mood over sight gags, which gives his fans an idea of his range. As an '80s time capsule, the live action portions of the video itself are absurdly amusing. I can only imagine what Beavis and Butthead would have to say. The cut-paper opus "Lucas, The Ear of Corn" stands out for being grating (and not in a good way, either), while the ink-line lothario in "Drawing Lesson #2" is only slightly less annoying.
Aside from the aforementioned 20-minute interview, the rest of the features will only be of interest to diehard animation fans who have no concept of how animation actually works. New Video's DVD transfer is clean enough to properly display Plympton's rough style, and the poor sound quality of his stuff requires no serious audio wizardry.
If you have no other Plympton DVDs in your collection and want a freaky short film or two as introductions for movie night, pick this up. Otherwise, stay tuned for a compilation that ties together all of his best works in one volume.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: New Video
• Sunday with Bill
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