Anxious Animation

B+

Anxious Animation

With the upcoming release of Superman Returns, Warner Brothers and DC Comics have been flooding the market with Superman-related toys, books, and DVDs, but here's something Time-Warner won't be promoting: Lewis Klahr's 1997 animated short "Pony Glass," which features Superman's pal Jimmy Olsen dealing with his sexual confusion. First, Olsen embarks on a torrid, doomed affair with Lois Lane's sister Lucy. Then he indulges in cross-dressing and vigorous sodomy with his Daily Planet editor Perry White. Klahr uses cut-outs from Superman comics and three pieces of music—a Frank Sinatra ballad, a spiritual, and vintage operatic pop—and though his film starts out giggly and kitschy, over 15 minutes, the dramatic pull of the songs and the layered images of Eisenhower-era social repression develop into something poignantly sorrowful, and even moving.

"Pony Glass" appears on the DVD compilation Anxious Animation, along with a pair of similar Klahr shorts: "Lulu," a feverish, compressed adaptation of an Alban Berg opera (featuring avant-garde diva Constance Hauman), and the magnificently moody "Altair," a mash-up of Stravinsky's "Firebird Suite" with images from old magazines. Both treat glamour photography, cocktail menus, and vintage fashion accessories as symbolically charged artifacts from midnights past. Anxious Animation also includes a couple of films by Klahr's wife, puppeteer Janie Geiser—most notably the haunting "Lost Motion," which uses tiny toys and figurines to map out a story of romantic obsession and nostalgia. The rest of the program is filled out by two puckish hand-drawn nature mockumentaries by Jim Trainor, and a trio of grotesque computer-animated collages by a collective led by Eric Henry, Syd Garon, and Rodney Ascher.

The animators on Anxious Animation draw on the experimental-cinema tradition, particularly the visual "sampling" of Joseph Cornell and the manufactured "authenticity" of Jean Painlevé. They also share a common well of high and low art, exemplified best by Ascher and company's "The Wheel Of Torment," which combines a soundtrack by metal guitarist Buckethead with a series of re-purposed Hieronymus Bosch paintings. In their other pieces, the crew plays with superhero iconography, hip-hop myth-making, and Jack Chick religious tracts, stacking it all to show—like their peers on this disc—how culture infects us with a low, pervasive feeling of panic.

Key features: None.

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