Thursday 2 October 2014

DemiUrge Emesis (2010)

Director: Aurelio Voltaire
Star: Danny Elfman
This film was an official selection at the 6th annual International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival in Tempe in 2010. Here's an index to my reviews of 2010 films.
This film was an official selection at Phoenix FearCon IV in Tempe in 2011. Here's an index to my reviews of 2011 films.
When I last reviewed a stop motion animation by Voltaire, I called him a 'professional Cuban weirdo and cultural superhero' and I stand by that. He's one of those rare creators who are so idiosyncratic that their work is instantly recognisable, regardless what field he's working in. Hear one of his songs and you won't have any doubt that it's him singing it and the same goes for his films, which generally tend to fall into a series he calls Chimerascope, animations full of stop motion skeletons and assorted oddities, narrated in a philosophical fashion by a member of the musical profession. That last review was of 2011's Odokuro, gifted with a voice by electronic pioneer Gary Numan; this one was his previous film, DemiUrge Emesis, with suitably bouncy narration by Danny Elfman of Oingo Boingo. This narration is focused more closely on a theme than the musings in Odokuro on life, the universe and everything. It speaks very specifically to the process of creation, as visualised for us through the self effacing metaphor of cat vomit.

Given how wild that metaphor is, it's surprisingly on focus and very recognisable, with the artist pouring out his soul into his creation, looking it over and finding it good, just like a cat with its vomit. The trigger for change arrives with the critics, who pop up out of nowhere like venus fly traps made of bones to carp and bleat until the sensitive soul of the artist crumbles under the pressure and he dies the violent death of a poet, to be born again, like a cat with nine lives, the next time an idea rooks him between the eyes. Given that I'm a critic taking on the task of reviewing a film that sees critics in the most negative light, I ought to be wary of my words, but critics don't all bleat and carp. I firmly believe that there's something positive to say about the worst short film shot in someone's back yard by a sixteen year old boy raiding his mother's closet for a costume and his little brother's toybox for props, but something negative to say about the most grandiloquent Hollywood epic. Few pictures are without both spark and flaw.
The most obvious flaw here is how quickly it all ends, but every second to a stop motion animator is far more important than to someone working in live action. I've seen many single takes in films longer than this entire short but those don't involve the painstaking work of stop motion. This is also more traditional in its design than Odokuro, the visuals merely impressing rather than amazing, even though they're more organic and at home in their surroundings. I liked the patron saint we creatives endow with headaches, a free gargoyle with rolling eyes. The creator cat doesn't merely have nine lives; it also has nine eyes, as if it ate a peacock and hiccoughed. The skeleton critics, however, are familiar creatures, eerily reminiscent of other Voltaire skeletons in other Voltaire shorts, but their bite (ironic if they're the bones from the cat's previous meals) is verbal as they hurl out their 'gloomy news and blues and bad reviews'; many critics know how to tear apart but not to build up (or, to be fair, vice versa).

While the brightest spark in Odokuro was its visual aesthetic, a surreal vision that took the metaphors of the narration and rendered them literally, the spark here is what backs that up. The script is a freeform slice of poetry, expounding the vomit philosophy of the title with rhymes spat out like bullets; Elfman is trigger happy, letting the words flow out like a torrent. It's Voltaire's script behind his animation and it all unfolds to the accompaniment of his characteristally quirky music, which he performed in collaboration with the ever-delightful Rasputina. I could imagine this delivered as a spoken word piece, but the music adds a layer and the visualisation another. Unlike Odokuro, the characters here don't feel like they're on their own, living their own lives with Voltaire's camera merely recording part of them. His words have the control here and its them which bring the characters to life. The Chimerascope films go back to a 1994 piece called Rakthavira narrated by Debbie Harry; it's about time I slid backwards through them.

DemiUrge Emesis can be watched for free at YouTube.

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