ANIMATED WORLDS: TWO DECADES OF PORTLAND ANIMATION

Animation compilations, a novelty little more than a decade ago, have become such a staple for film programmers that they make criticism irrelevant. Such collections are inevitably a grab-bag: They offer a diversity of styles and techniques, a look at a few recent award-winners and a chance to check up on the latest work of established names. Animated Worlds is much like other collections that have come our way over the last few years -- many of the individual films are in fact familiar from previous programs -- and are linked together only by a common point of origin, as the subtitle reveals. Whether by coincidence or conspiracy, Portland has become a home for award-winning animation, and although the filmmakers showcased here aren't household names, their works and highly distinctive styles have become familiar through such animation-friendly venues as Sesame Street, MTV and advertising.

Why has Portland become a breeding ground for talented animators? One possible good reason is that it's the home of Will Vinton Studios, co-producer of four of the nine films in this collection (and co-sponsor of the entire anthology). Though best known for the "California Raisins" and The PJs, Vinton's pioneering work in clay animation has been a continual delight for more than two decades and is represented here by two very different works, "The Great Cognito" and "Creation." The former, co-directed by Barry Bruce, is a portrait of a standup comic who transforms into the World War II figures that he describes; the latter, co-directed by Joan Gratz, is an impressionistic account of the Book of Genesis rendered in a technique called "claypainting." (I hate to sound like a spoilsport -- especially because both films are highly admirable -- but Vinton might have been better represented by his Academy Award-winning "Closed Mondays," as delightful now as when it premiered 25 years ago, or by an excerpt from his ambitious and underexposed feature The Adventures of Mark Twain.) Gratz is also responsible for the highly regarded "Mona Lisa Descending a Staircase," an Academy Award-winning journey through art history featuring clay reproductions of several famous paintings.

Other highlights include Jim Blashfield's collage-based music video for the Talking Heads' "And She Was"; cartoonist (and former RFT contributor) John Callahan's "I Think I Was an Alcoholic," an autobiographical sick joke that is as bluntly honest as it is funny; Mark Gustafson's stop-motion "Bride of Resistor," in which electrical parts and wedding-cake ornaments share a Frankenstein-inspired romantic fantasy; "Grown Up," Joanna Priestley's simple but sincere description of reaching middle age; and Chel White's "Photocopy Cha Cha," in which every office worker's secret vice -- photocopying your face -- becomes a rhythmic, abstract dance.

Plays at 7 p.m. Dec. 5 at Webster University.

 
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