The Wrong Trousers (1993, directed by Nick Park)
The Wrong Trousers isn’t the first outing of the stop motion characters Wallace & Gromit or even the first short to won Nick Park an Academy Award. That honor belongs to A Grand Day Out, also a great short film. However, The Wrong Trousers was incredibly commercially successful for a short in an era where that form of a movie just doesn’t get much attention or distribution any longer. Park never tries to elevate the themes of his story beyond just pure fun and a well-told tale of a dog, his owner, and an evil penguin.
Gromit is the put upon roommate and pet of Wallace. They live in a house composed of Rube Goldberg machines and dine on cheese and crackers whenever the chance strikes. However, money is low, and Wallace decides to rent out a spare room quickly finding a tenant in the enigmatic and dangerous Penguin. Gromit finds himself being boxed out of his position in the household and eventually leaves with a cloud hanging over him. It’s not long before he discovers that Penguin has some nefarious plans and will be putting Wallace in the path of peril.
Park has a natural ability to bring out large personalities in characters that say and do little. What they do say and do is very pointed and illuminates them to the audience. Gromit is a voiceless figure but is the heart and soul of this film series, which is all due to the animation choices of Park and his crew. The expressions of the dog are so bright and exact that we know precisely what Gromit is saying in his head. Even the villainous Penguin whose face is composed of two black beady eyes and an unmoving beak can communicate his place in this narrative as the antagonist by the way he moves. In my opinion, the Aardman Animation films are a mixed bag, but Wallace & Gromit (as well as Shaun the Sheep) are wonderfully simple, and that’s what helps them hold up over two decades later.
Asparagus (1979, dir. Suzan Pitt)
Suzan Pitt is a name most of my audience most likely is unaware of. I was as well until seeing this short and learned shortly after that Pitt passed away in June of 2019. If you are a diehard of David Lynch and had the luck to see Eraserhead during its continuous midnight movie run for two years in the late 1970s you might have gotten a chance to see Asparagus. This animated short was shown with that classic Lynch picture for that entire run, and it has some profound aesthetic and thematic similarities.
Asparagus is a fever dream of evocative imagery, not a projection of the waking world but the deep unconscious where symbols and myth abound. A faceless woman excretes asparagus into her toilet, returning to another room of her house where she pulls back the curtain to unveil an exotic and alien tangle of vegetation. These images carry the central figure to a shelf of masks, she picks one and dons it, making her way to a theater downtown. The audience rushes to their seats as the curtains open up and the woman, now acting as magician opens her bag and amazes the crowd with striking and enchanting phantoms.
While Eraserhead occupies itself with Lynch’s neuroses over being pushed into fatherhood and fears about failing in that capacity, Asparagus explores the icons of the feminine. Pitt sees the female as being something sacred and transformative, but also with an air of dangerous mystery. The artist figure gives all of herself only to return home alone, mask fallen away to reveal a blank slate. She finishes her dream by using her sexuality to perform a sort of alchemy on the material.
The Cowboy & The Frenchman (1987, dir. David Lynch)
I am a huge David Lynch, as anyone who has followed this blog for a couple of years knows. But this short film really tested my patience. Lynch explains that it was one in a series of shorts made to celebrate the tenth anniversary of French newspaper Le Figaro. The premise was for non-French filmmakers to create short pictures that showed an outsider’s view of the country. Other directors commissioned included Werner Herzog, Andrzej Wadjda, and more.
The first ten minutes of The Cowboy & The Frenchman is fun, but it should have ended there. Instead, the short gets dragged out for twenty-five minutes, and the narrative just falls apart. We open with Slim (Harry Dean Stanton), a classic Old West cowboy confusedly gazing out over the hills at an approaching and stumbling figure. He orders two of his boys to go check it out, and they return with a stereotypical Frenchman who has found himself lost in the wilderness. The men rifle through the Frenchman’s luggage finding wine, a baguette, cheese, and even a plate of snails. There is some banter back and forth, but neither party can speak the other’s language, and with Slim being partially deaf, it adds another layer of confusion.
Michael Horse (Hawk from Twin Peaks) shows up as a local Native and is my favorite part of the short. He has excellent comedic timing and seems to enjoy mocking the “Indian” stereotype from popular culture, talking about very modern concerns in the stilted patois of Hollywood Natives. Other than that the joke is pretty clear from the beginning and then gets stretched out to an ungodly runtime. I will fervently defend the aimless of projects like Twin Peaks: The Return because it’s obvious there are layers of aesthetic and thematic choices being made. Lynch makes it fairly obvious this job is just a chance to dick around and have fun, and while there is nothing wrong with that it doesn’t make for a great piece of film.