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The man name of Bill Plympton is one of the greatest American animators of all-time. Oscar nominated and probably the most important influence on a generation of animators. His latest work, Hitler's Folly, is not an animated film. It's a faux documentary which is an interesting path for this director, about an alternative Adolf Hitler, who rose from Comic Book fanboy to become the most powerful figure in cartoons, and then in all of Germany It's a strange concept, but one that works, mostly.
The thing here is that it's way too talky much of the way. We have our filmmaker, played by the wonderful Dana Ashbrook, who tells us the story of how Hitler went from a comic collector and film society programmer to running the largest animation studio in Germany. He creates Hitlertoons, and then does the biggest animated film of all-time, while he's also rising up the ranks of German politics.
The World-building here is brilliant. The way that Plympton takes the actual history and slides in his concepts is smart, and while it's presented in a slightly too static way, the touches that Plymton gives it in animation draw you in, and while the joy of those moments slowly fades, they are highlights. Drawings of his proposed Naziland amusement park, Eva Braun's supposed fashion designs, and the Downy Duck work was great. The silliest ideas, like the idea of underwater Nazi cartoons.
Several other films came to mind while I was watching. CSA, a faux-doc about a world where the Confederates won the Civil War and there was still slavery, was a natural comparison, though this is much better. Able Edwards, the story of a science fiction re-telling of Citizen Kane. Hitler's Folly stands up well, though it's far from perfect. The Man in a High Castle has to peek in to anyone who knows the alt. hist. tradition.
There's a moment where Ashbrook's character addresses the underwater cinema theory and questions it, saying it's patently ridiculous. This could stand in for the viewer. This is over-the-top and there's no way this could be any sort of reality. That's the point, you know? Plympton is the greatest living American Surrealist, and this is less an Alternate History piece, as a Surrealist massaging of multiple paths. It's the story of Hitler's rise, though a false one, and of American animation in the 1930s and 40s, and the connections that you can draw between them. The requirements for Surrealism are a combination of dream-like states within a reality we can recognize. In this case, the Surrealism is based on the History we're bombarded with on the high-50s on our Cable Systems, mingled with the bizarre, completely unbelievable ideas.
Is this a fun watch? Yes. Dark, and funny, and darkly funny. I doubt I'll come back to it as often as I do with Plympton's other works, like Cheatin' but I can't argue that this is a great watch.
If I ever put together a Best of Cinequest Shorts - 2002 to 2015, it'll be a fascinating program. From wild fantasies to science fiction marvels, to subtle dramas, and most important to me, Documentaries, it would be amazing. One film that would feature heavily on it is American Homes, one of those films that had an unknowing unfair advantage going into our selection process.
The best way to get me to back your film onto the program is to give us a film about one of my secret passions. Every year we get wrestling films, my most public passion, but send a movie about ghost towns, or Redwood trees, or smoked meat and your odds are much improved. Architecture is one of those passions. From the time I was a kid, I wanted to build houses, arenas, skyscrapers, and later, museums. I still do that. I tried making models, and drawings, but I have no talent in that arena, and thus it remained a hidden passion. When i first saw American Homes, an animated documentary that uses a book of the same name as the source work to present line drawings, simple animation, and the voices of prominent figures in the world of Architecture. It is simple, and that's not at all a knock; it is that simplicity that allows us to take in the two entirely disconnected streams and turn it into a single experience.
The film isn't online, but you can see a trailer at http://americanhomesfilm.com/.
Klaus at Gunpoint
A Film Journal dedicated to all film.A segment of Office Supply Publishing.