idiots and angels 1.jpg

When God Comes And Calls Me To His Kingdom, I’ll Take All You Sons of Bitches When I Go

By Brian Prisco | Film | November 4, 2010 | Comments ()

By Brian Prisco | Film | November 4, 2010 |


idiots and angels 1.jpg

Bill Plympton is pure unadulterated evil, and I love him to death for it. In a world of cute pandas and talking automobiles, he's still making animation for a decidedly more deviant audience. And most of the time, he conveys his message without any dialogue. Idiots & Angels is a brutal and cruel noir about a rotten gunrunner who gets dragged kicking and screaming into becoming a hero. There's hardly a single redeeming character in the film, and the world itself is a hellish dystopia of liquor swilling savages and smoke belching automobiles. No one speaks - the only vocalizations are occasional painful screams or mocking laughter. The soundtrack moans and spits with the haunting melodies of Tom Waits and Nicole Renaud, creating a hopeless world of misery and moral decay. It's a violent and sexual film -- but like everything else about the piece done with a sense of artistry rather than for controversy's sake. Idiots & Angels vibrates with Plympton's characteristic jittery animation, blooming imagery, obtuse body images, and replication and repetition. A staggeringly bizarre film, with one of the fiercest anti-heroes ever created, Idiots & Angels is only made for people who don't mind dreary days where it feels like the sun won't ever shine again, and smoky bars where misery even loathes its company.

Angel is a bitter, bitter man. He wakes up in a rage, hurling his alarm clock at the singing birds outside his window. He drones through his routine, driving in traffic that further infuriates him. His smiles come at the expense of other people and through grievous acts of cruelty. A man steals his parking space, and he tries to drag him out of the car by his tie. When he rips the tie off the man's neck, unable to get a purchase on the fellow, he stuffs it into the man's gas tank and sets it aflame. Angel chuckles as he watches the car mushroom explode in a plume of fire in the distance.

He frequents Bart's Bar, a dingy establishment with three fellow commiserators: the gruff bartender and owner, his wife -- who mops the floors and dreams of salsa dancing, and a zaftig former showgirl who plays a constant game of solitaire. When a caterpillar becomes entangled in Angel's hair, it turns into a butterfly. Each of the patrons notices and dreams of what they would do with the butterfly. The bartender wants to sell tickets to the only live butterfly in town, which will bring in more drinkers and make him rich. The showgirl dreams of growing butterfly wings and doing a burlesque dance for a crowd of French-moustachioed legions of fans. The wife dreams of running through a field and embracing the butterfly, who then flies her to freedom. Angel notices the butterfly, coaxes it on to his finger, and then crushes it to bits. A more apt set-up for everyone in a film could not possibly be conceived. Everyone's dreams are selfish and crude -- even the wife whose dream is being rescued from her verbally abusive husband.

Inexplicably, Angel suddenly grows a pair of wings. At first, he cuts them off or tries to bind them, but the wings want to be free. He's embarrassed by the encumbrance and humiliated to possess the wings. He goes to a doctor, who also dreams of glory and fame for discovering a winged man. Later, when he discovers what the wings can do, he uses them to commit acts of pettiness and thievery. But the wings won't allow him to be a villain. Their powers can only be used for good or for awesome. Angel fights against this. When the wings try to make him chase down a robber, he clings to the door. He tries to flee, but the wings force him to be a hero. The astonishingly refreshing part of Plympton's story is watching Angel fight tooth and nail to stay a villain, as everyone around him tries to steal the power that he doesn't want in the first place.

There's a nice economy of plot -- not much happens in the story outside of the basic premise of reluctant hero battling against those who would take his power. Plympton fleshes out his story with a lot of artistic transitions and poetic imagery. In a narrative film, I'd scorn this for film-schoolery, but it's why you make a film animated in the first place. Even in the trailer you can see the wonderful "preparation for the day" montage where a razor blade rinsing in the sink becomes a stream of milk poured on to cereal. The entire film is peppered with imagery like this. And as much as I admired it, it's certainly not a film for everyone. You're forced to spend over an hour with bitterly unlikable characters - who spend all their time attacking and mocking one another. It's draped with a funereal pall -- almost all the colors are darkened or muted save for the blood. Even the whites take on a dingy, overwashed look, like undershirts that have been laundered into dishrags.

I yearn to see this on the podium with the likes of Megamind and Toy Story 3. It's such a departure from the bright colors and vibrant sounds of most animation offerings. It's the kind of bedtime story French vineyard owners tell their worker children before putting them to bed with winestained fingers and leaf scars. And while Toy Story 3 tells of a dark future for our childhoods where all goes forgotten, Idiots & Angels is an even more cruel dystopia where everyone is hateful or, worse, exactly the same. We're cattle lolling to the slaughter on a cloudy overcast day, and all the moments of humor come from a robust rape-and-pillage pirate attitude of taking what you want whether that's a man's wings or a woman's body. But that sort of cynical pomp and bravado is what we expect from the twisted mind of Bill Plympton.


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