Wednesday, January 6, 2016

you can let go now, though

118,089 frames.

It's the little details in Anomalisa that really stand out. I don't mean the obvious stuff like the taxi driver not making eye contact (until he does, but only through the mirror) and the guy at the front desk in the hotel not breaking eye contact even as he types into and reads from his computer. Those things are nice touches. Another is the billboard that calls the zoo "zoo sized." Also, the fact that the movie's version of Lakmé and My Man Godfrey involve the same voice as all the people in Michael Stone's world. Or that character's breathe.

Safe to assume there will be SPOILERS somewhere in here. They probably won't ruin the film for you, though. And you should watch it if you can.

Something that I liked the first time I saw the film--and each time since--is the little movements of, say, Michael's hands and arms. When he's on the phone right now, for example, his right arm swings a little, and he touches his fingers together. There are bigger movements like Michael putting his hand over his eyes as a gesture of exasperation. But, the little movements are more interesting. Michael folding the letter from Bella or unfolding the pages of his speech. Bella tucking her hands into the sleeves of her sweater. Lisa making sure her hair is in front of her face before she even gets up off the floor. Or that Michael's penis moves when he runs out of the bathroom.

But, one detail that really stood and stands out for me is when Bella asks him to try to explain why he left and we get a close up on his hand touching his martini glass...

And, he rotates the glass a little. A moment of hesitation. That is why this movie needed to be made in stop-motion. Not for the two brief moments in which Michael's face is not real, not so all of the characters aside from Michael and Lisa look alike. Sure, using puppets makes the latter easier and makes the former a little... More obvious, I guess. Less gruesome too.

Another moment that I love: when Bella gets up to leave the table, her purse gets caught on the arm of the chair. In live action, that might mean nothing. Maybe even less than the rotating of the glass. But, here, if you take that extra moment to think about what it took to get that shot... Animators moving the figures and the props one little bit at a time. It negates the actual passage of time for something slower, more thoughtful. Every little movement takes planning and time. As Michael was just trying to open his hotel room door--fourth try with the key card both times--Lisa turns and glances down the hallway, presumably toward her own hotel room, but regardless of where she's looking, she doesn't just turn her head from position one to position two. She turns it slowly, and there is slight movement in her as she's looking down the hallway. So, someone was animating Michael performing, yes, a mundane action, but at least something more active than just looking down a hallway; he's sliding the key card into the lock and trying the handle. Meanwhile, someone else (or maybe that same animator, but I'm guessing not) is animating very slight movements in Lisa.

Variety has a video on YouTube in which Carol Koch, who sculpted the characters for the film talks about the personality of the characters as she sculpted them. Michael wanted her to be done already, for example. I imagine the animators having a similar sense of these characters who exist in a separate plane of time, if not space, than we do. Essentially, they are alive. They just experience life a whole lot slower than we do. The opposite of Quicksilver in X-Factor #87.

My favorite bit in the Boxtrolls movie was the final scene, a couple street cleaners having an existential conversation about imaginary giants looking down at them and even, gasp, moving them. And, as they talk, the frame rate changes, or so is the visual effect as we see the animator moving the characters in time lapse. This scene.

Or a scene involving (but not from; maybe it's on the DVD) Coraline swatting away the hand of the animator animating her. I can't find that one online. I thought I even had it saved somewhere in my Dropbox, but I can't find it there either.

It's like stop-motion characters, especially ones so close to the edge of the uncanny valley as Michael and Lisa here, are close enough to being alive that we can imagine them in between the scenes, before and after the runtime of the film. Their lives go on. Lisa returns to Akron with Emily and they go back to work. Lisa eventually turns to anger and bitterness like Bella, but her life goes on, and maybe this one night pulls her out of her shell a little even if it is finite. Michael's life is still as it was. Stuck with a wife and child he doesn't recognize. He needs to work on his Sammy Jankis skills, fake recognition with a smile. But, he can't do that, because I'm not sure he knows who he is, himself. He works in customer service, dealing with strangers, except he doesn't even do that. He wrote a book about customer service--Help Me Help you Help Them. He is separated an extra step from the customers being serviced. There is a gulf between Michael and everybody else. As much of a gulf as there has to be between the puppet and the animator, the sculpture and the sculptor. The character and the audience.

Or, when it's done right, that gulf is erased and we can be right there with the character... Maybe even more so with an animated character because we can separate out the identity of the voice and imagine ourselves in the situation.

One final detail: as the film ends on Lisa, her voice is back to her own voice, and Emily has a unique face. We've left Michael's life and we get to see both Emily and Lisa as individuals.

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