Don Hertzfeldt — Animator Extraordinaire
by Martin Hafer
I have long been a fan of the short films of Don Hertzfeldt. When most folk see his unique style, they tend to be taken aback by two things. They’re mostly made up of simple stick-figure drawings and they have an absolutely bonkers sensibility about them. Some are violently twisted (my favorites) and some are rather existential, as they explore the meaning of life and the future or our own mortality.
As for Hertzfeldt’s more challenging themed films go, the best might just be Rejected, a film that was nominated for an Academy Award. It’s made up of lots of little cartoons, many of which are incredibly bloody and one of which popularized the phrase “my anus is bleeding.” While watching I laughed until I began choking.
Later, when I ran Rejected for friends, they began to seriously question my sanity. But several of them soon started laughing, too, while the remainder just walked away perplexed. The same reaction occurred when I showed them the equally bloody and terribly funny Wisdom Teeth.
Hertzfeldt has not just been Oscar-nominated, the filmmaker also won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance on no less that two occasions. This feat remains unmatched by anyone else. Hertzfeldt’s existential creations often have an absurd quality to them. When I watched the three shorts that make up the full-length film It’s Such a Beautiful Day, I occasionally found myself laughing. I explained to my daughter that this film has a very bizarre and black sense of humor. She was shocked–telling me the films weren’t funny but explored “the mental disintegration of a man with a brain tumor. And, incidentally, the audience at the Philadelphia film festival where she saw it didn’t laugh either.” I agreed with her that brain tumors aren’t funny…except when Hertzfeldt tackles the subject. She was appalled and just walked away shaking her head.
That seems to be happening a lot lately. All this is leading up to a few words about Hertzfeldt’s latest film, World of Tomorrow. It’s due to be released at the end of March and is much more existential than many of his previous efforts. World of Tomorrow consists of an adorable little girl being contacted by a futuristic clone of herself which brings her to the future to talk to her about their society, death, her loves as well as non-existence. It sounds a bit depressing but because of its insane sensibilities, it’s hard not to laugh and enjoy this absurdist little adventure. Plus, the little girl providing the voice is just precious. I’ll be giving a more in-depth review for World of Tomorrow in a few weeks just prior to its release.
The bottom line is that all these films defy the written form to fully articulate them. I could go on and on about them but you really cannot fathom their odd uniqueness. In fact, because nothing else is like them at all is why I love Mr. Hertzfeldt’s work so much. After all, I have well over 17,000 reviews to my credit with at least a thousand for shorts. And, too many of them are very similar. So I challenge you to view some of Hertzfeldt’s creations as I’m positive you’ll be extremely happy you did. It certainly won’t hurt if you have a taste for films with a difference. What is important that you have an open mind.
Hertzfeldt’s films can be found on his dandy website, and I’d actually advise you to go there because the site is chock full of information, including his blog. You can also find a selection of his best films, Rejected included, plus there are links that take you to Hertzfeldt’s films on YouTube. According to the site, the newest film will soon be released On Demand. A selection of Hertzfeldt’s other films, such as the It’s Such a Beautiful Day trilogy, are also available from outlets such as Netflix. I only listed a few of my favorites at the beginning of this article, however, he has quite a few more. Please give these little gems a chance, because before you know it, they’ll grow on you and you too will become a huge fan of his work.
If you do get around to watching any of Don’s films, please let me know what you thought of them in the comment section below.
Grading the films:
World of Tomorrow: A-
Wisdom Teeth: A
Billy’s Balloon: A-
It’s Such a Beautiful Day: B+
World of Tomorrow
WINNER: GRAND JURY PRIZE FOR SHORT FILM
2015 SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL
A little girl is taken on a mind-bending tour of her distant future.
Don Hertzfeldt is an Oscar-nominated American independent filmmaker whose animated short films include Billy’s Balloon, I Am So Proud of You, The Meaning of Life, and Rejected. His work has played around the world, receiving over 200 awards. Seven of his films have screened in competition at the Sundance Film Festival, a festival record. He is also the only filmmaker to have won the Sundance Grand Jury Prize for Short Film twice.
His first feature film, It’s Such a Beautiful Day, was named by several critics as one of the Top Ten Films of 2012. In 2014, Time Out New York named It’s Such a Beautiful Day # 16 on their list of the “100 Best Animated Movies Ever Made.”
In 2014, Hertzfeldt wrote, directed, and animated a special two minute intro for the season premiere episode of The Simpsons.
After creating animated films for nearly twenty years using traditional tools (pencil, paper, and 35mm cameras), World of Tomorrow represents Hertzfeldt’s first 100% digital production.
The voice cast stars English illustrator Julia Pott alongside Hertzfeldt’s four-year-old niece, Winona. Hertzfeldt recorded conversations with Winona and then rewrote many of the film’s events – and Julia’s dialogue – to suit Winona’s questions and reactions.
- “At the risk of perilously underselling it, World of Tomorrow might be one of the most satisfying short films since Chris Marker’s 1962 landmark, La Jetée… and is almost certain to be the highlight of this year’s Sundance, full stop… Wise, hilarious, and formally daring…” – Time Out New York
- “Astonishing… Utterly fantastic…” – The Dissolve
- “Dazzling… spectacular… a marvel… a must-watch… [Hertzfeldt is] one of the most exciting voices in film.” – The Film Experience
- “Delightful… It’s rare that a film, short or feature, can be so busy and so on point at the same time… Here the traditionally analog filmmaker has embraced digital for the first time. The result allows his animated creativity to flourish, untethered by restraint… There are more big ideas packed into this 16 minute film than there are in most major studios’ entire catalog of science fiction.” – Movie Mezzanine
Julia Pott …………………………………………………………………………………………….Emily
Winona Mae ………………………………………………………………………………………..Emily Prime
DON HERTZFELDT FILMOGRAPHY:
World of Tomorrow (2015)
The Simpsons (2014) (“couch gag” guest director)
It’s Such a Beautiful Day (2012) (feature film version)
It’s Such a Beautiful Day (2011)
Wisdom Teeth (2010)
I Am So Proud of You (2008)
Everything will be OK (2006)
The Meaning of Life (2005)
Billy’s Balloon (1998) (student film)
Lily and Jim (1997) (student film)
Genre (1996) (student film)
Ah, L’Amour (1995) (student film)