March 21, 2013

"Idiots and Angels" by Bill Plympton: Drawings in Motion, with a Tale to Tell

We enter this film in a rather conventional way: walking down the street, looking at fine suburban homes and gardens, until we come to this Addams Family-like house...

...and all hell breaks loose inside, as the main character, a truly nasty man (I'm told from reading about this film that his name is Angel), wakes up in a rage. I was immediately fascinated by the dramatic shifts in points of view in Idiots and Angels (you can see some short videos at the link) an animated feature made in 2008 (available streamed on Netflix). I was happy to learn about the artist Bill Plympton and hope to see more of his work. There are so many art forms, rich and interesting, that I know next to nothing about, and animation is one of them. Yes, I've seen the big budget, popular releases from America and Japan, and they are marvelous (I thought Miyazake's Spirited Away brilliant, and Pixar's work is great) but there's also a whole world of smaller, more artful films, such as this dark, yet redemptive one.

With the simplest of means––slightly tinted drawings, sound effects (including grunts, groans, screams) but no words at all except in the superb musical soundtrack––the story unfolds. Angel leaves his house, enters traffic, violently shoves someone out of a favored parking spot...

...then enters his favorite bar. 

The shifts in points of view are exciting, pushing us to see more than we normally would. It's something difficult to do in live action film, while with drawing an artist has no constraints: he can imagine being an ant or a swallow, can see things from near or far, exaggerating space, and it all feels right, expressively carrying the story forward.

At the center of the narrative is a butterfly, its transformation from larva to chrysalis to butterfly in Angel's hair, a powerful metaphor of transformation that returns later in the film. While others at the bar have rosy visions of the butterfly's presence, Angel, true to his character, squashes it. The horror in killing that benign insect is heightened by the huge hand shoved towards us.

Then retribution: tiny wings sprout from Angel's back; he aggressively tries to rid himself of them, but they grow and take over his miserable life, changing it, eventually ending it.

The skies weep.

But a heart lives underground, with a chance of transformation and redemption. I realize this can sound a bit corny, but the film is full of the darker aspects of human nature, with greed topping the list. I came away from watching Idiots and Angels full of aesthetic pleasure, and moral satisfaction: that enormous change could happen to the worst of us, with a little help.


  1. altoon, have you seen Howl's moving castle? Really nice.

    Best wishes,


    1. billoo, yes, I've seen Howl's Moving Castle and it was quite wonderful, but for me nowhere near as great as Spirited Away, by the same director Hayao Miyazaki.

  2. Hmm. This could be the end of our friendship!

    I find it hard to choose between them. But, yes, Spirited Away is probably better.