Does the phrase 'delightful cynicism' make sense? It is nevertheless appropriate for master animator Bill Plympton's latest feature film. An independent filmmaker in the truest sense of the word with the claim to fame that he personally draws his feature films in their entirety, his ever increasing library of short films (with the 1990s and 2000s now peppered with full length features) are instantly recognizable. Idiots and Angels takes a smokey gray palette of dive-bars and car exhaust in an effort to display the raw human experience wordlessly in 78 minutes: Guilt, joy, desire, sex, spirituality, greed, routine, mercy, disappointment, love and alarm clocks without snooze buttons are all thrown up on screen in a singular and compelling fashion.
The story follows Angel, a middle aged man sketched noir-ish, 1940s tones, who goes through his daily routine in a mixture of despondency and rage. Living by himself in an anonymous suburban home, he fires indignation (and his time-piece) at the native wildlife chirping at his window in the morning and continues his assault on nature with his chain smoking in his exhaust belching vehicle during his morning commute into the city. His vitriol violently erupts on his fellow man when his parking space is taken, leading Angel to sadistically murder the other guy in a way that would do Anton Chigurh proud. After work (did I mention his deals in hand guns?) he caps off his daily routine at the bar, a sparse and seedy joint, for some passive-aggressive co-mingling with the locals. A curious incident of beauty occurs in the bar, and the bar tender, his waitress wife and the local prostitute all have a personal reaction (animated in thought bubbles) before Angel crushes it mightily. The first third of Idiots and Angels is quite circular and repetitive. It is episodic and rhythmic as if it came about from a collection of short-shorts about the intersection of beauty and vulgarity in the world that were strung together. Angel himself is a curious amalgam of the aggrieved and angry Johnny in Mike Leigh's Naked and the deeply wounded and suffocated Yuri Olov in Andrew Niccol's Lord of War. He is the devil and yet also the curiously innocent hero of the story. It is not at all surprising that Kiss Me Deadly is also referenced at one point in the film.
The film goes in a substantial variety of different directions when Angel sprouts mysteriously sprouts wings. The battle of morality that ensues with Angel, visualized literally by him trying to cut the annoying things off, and those who are curious, envious, and baffled by the sudden appendages takes the picture to dizzying heights. While the inferences the picture comes up with may be simple, even cliche, they are also the primordial myths and gloopy essence of story telling. The scratchy, jerky (not 24 fps) style adds to the shadow puppets around the fire, even as it draws attention to rich detail. Full advantage is taken of the animated form to highlight and exaggerate point-of-view and transition shots. The drinking of a cocktail is shown from the vantage point of the gullet. The stream of water from brushing his teeth transforms to the milk being poured on his cereal. Things are pretty clear that judging anyone or anything at first glance is bound to be wrong. The movement from the moral to the spiritual to even economic-system considerations is equally efficient. Subtle storytelling is replaced big images and the constant element of surprise. What may look like a growth of a conscience, A Christmas Carol if you will, is something much, much more. Idiots and Angels is bolstered by the complete absence of dialogue; music and image are melded as one to lift all the storytelling. The line between comedy and tragedy (or mundane and transcendent) has never been penciled so thin. And Plympton is more than content to flash a bare ass at the whole 'animation is for kids' assumption, at one point quite literally. The only thing missing here is in fact the kids. So, without the little goobers in tow, run, don't walk (and it probably is not safe to fly) to any place this is showing.