Spike and Mike, Sick and Twisted
Warning: Not necessarily office-friendly words abound.
Unless you go to an animation festival, and you should go to an animation festival, the only way to see independent animation is to look out for the traveling cartoon programs. For a while it was Fans Only. We clustered in this or that museum auditorium for the International Tournee of Animation, now defunct.
This was the traveling hothouse for the short cartoon, where animation lived on as an art form, not a commercial proposition. The films came mainly from studios run by a government or a college mixed in with a few made by individuals. And the individuals almost always had a grant. Civilians in the audience were always surprised that at least half of these pictures are serious, not made to make you laugh; quite often a meditation on unpleasant things or a non-linear succession of disturbing images.
That’s show biz.
Then came Spike and Mike. They were into animation, going to a festival or a traveling program now and again. As showmen, they were dismayed that only, say, 20 percent of these films, on a bad day, would be what you would call entertainment. They were all worthy of contemplation by the prepared, patient mind, but keep ‘em in their seats, keep ‘em hollering for more? No.
Spike and Mike made change. Their Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation began with a core of cartoons from the museum shows that were fast, stupid jokes or slightly slower jokes that were quite filthy. They packed the rest of the program with other funny or gross films too low for the museum crowd. They marketed it to regular theaters, to be shown as a regular attraction, not the weekend midnight slot.
They’ve been at it so long they have created their own sub-genre (and I certainly don’t mean than in a derogatory way, unless that would make you more likely to attend, then yes, I mean “sub” in the most demeaning, degrading sense possible). Spike and Mike is now a learning tool, like a video game, that teaches you how to do something very specific, in this case to make a cartoon that can get past the gauntlet.
Consider if you will an audience. An audience of mostly men, like what you used to see at the San Diego Comic-Con. If the center wasn’t dry, a lot more of these people would be working on a cheap high, a perfect attitude for the gauntlet. They’ve been whipped up by having free t-shirts thrown at the crowd. They say, “Fuck Stoners,” or “I Fucked a Backstreet Boy;” a few are kind of rude. Then they’re ready for the gauntlet.
I’d never heard of a “gauntlet” screening, but I heartily endorse the idea.
If you go to a festival you must sit politely, quietly in the dark while you wait for the good ones. After quite a few festivals I begin to regret the hours spent watching the clueless, ignorant beginner repeating the mistakes of his or her very recent forebears. Or are the dyspeptic musings of the old and in the way a bigger crime against the audience?
Cold revenge is served up hot at the Spike and Mike gauntlet show. Like at the Coliseum in Rome, the gauntlet crowd can doom a competitor just by baying like a jackass at the screen until the offending film is removed to even bigger cheers. When the gravity is turned on a suddenly blank screen is greated with heartfelt groans.with their boos and other vocally created sound effects of derision. Lexicographers will note they really mean “gantlet,” but that word is probably on life support.
Mike’s passed on, but Spike was there with his hat on. Research (their website’s home page) shows he is fond of hats. To make a mental picture of this year’s entry, imagine the offspring of the Imperial Margarine Crown and the Goodyear Blimp. He encourages, goads, nearly begs us to do our worst and shout down the “real skunks” he knows are in there.
The first couple of films screen with only sporadic hoots and hollers, then we get down to business. If a film isn’t funny or ironically violent in the first 15 seconds it’s in danger of elimination. After a few minutes if it isn’t also really, really loud it has a hard time getting heard. We don’t have to have a time out or put our heads down on our desks after booing the movie off the screen, so the next film has to get started during our self-congratulatory crowd musings. Not easy.
Things got so tough at one point that an actual small, high-pitched voice urged us to “give them a chance.” This person was lucky we forgot our rotten vegetables or we would have been doing Tex Avery Live as we stood in unison and hurled our missiles at the good hearted soul, each one trailed by it’s own speed line.
I wrote down some names in the dark.
One creator of excellent, brief stop-motion oddities involving very familiar objects is named PES.
A film illustrating Tenacious D’s song, “Fuck Her Gently” would have bombed if not for the salacious subject matter. It would not have lasted a minute if it were clean or sensitive.
The crowd’s and my favorite was titled “30-Second Spot for Robertito’s.” This is, on one level, a serious meditation on the nexus between America’s widening pie hole and the ominously growing number of outlets for inexpensive Tex-Mex cuisine, or is it the other way around? We were shouting along by the climax.
Please pay attention so you won’t miss Spike and Mike’s Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation when it comes to your town. You can see the films we didn’t boo off the screen. Unless Spike was kidding about it being our choice, which would serve us right.