"The 14th International Tournee of Animation," which begins a brief engagement today at the Biograph, sounds more imposing than it plays. An anthology of 18 animated shorts packaged by Prescott Wright, an independent importer and distributor from San Francisco, the collection requires extraordinary tolerance -- even from patrons already motivated by a special interest in animation.
The uneven, miscellaneous nature of the compilation isn't enhanced by the somewhat ragged 16mm print Wright has shipped to the Biograph. Although the package is dedicated to the late British animator George Dunning, best known as the supervising director on "Yellow Submarien," the tribute is undermined by the stains and blotches that deface his 1962 short "Flying Man," a fleeting achievement at best. It looks as if someone might have used this copy of "Flying Man" to mop up spills on the lab floor.
The absence of subtitles makes a few European contributions -- like the elaborate, intrigbuing French film "Crossing the Atlantic in a Small Boat," a grand-prize winner at the Ottawa animation festival two years ago -- even more enigmatic than intended. Happily, the Yugoslav "Inside and Outside," a considerable improvement on the idea of flying man, and the Dutch "Oh My Darling," an Oscar nominee, have straightforward scenarios whose themes can be expressed completely in pictorial terms. "Satiemania," a second entry from the animation studio at Zagreb, Yugoslavia, transcends narrative by attempting to sustain an abstract, fluid pictorial dream state, or perhaps tipsy state, with passages from French composer Erik Satie inspiring a handsomely smeary, evanescent set of images recalling Bohemian Paris around the turn of the century.
Spotty as it is, the compilation is not without bright spots. The most inventive American contribution is John Canemaker's "Confessions of a Star Dreamer," which takes amusing advantage of the vainglorious conversation of an aspiring actress, Diane Gardner. Although it's something of a ringer, the pixilated comic short "Once Upon a Time" by Kevin Dole and Marion Kramer of Chicago is clever and enjoyable. In this context "pixilated" refers to a kind of stop-motion animation that is imposed on live-action footage. Strictly speaking, it isn't animation, because inanimate objects or drawings are not being transformed into moving images; real-life movement is edited in such a way as to suggest stop-motion animation for humorous effect. Nevertheless, to the credit of Dole and Kramer, their technique is good enough to achieve swift, funny distortions of movement, something akin to a one-reel silent slapstick comedy that flickers deliberately.
The package includes "Special Deliver," a shaggy-dog cartoon from John Weldon and Eunice Macauley of the National Film Board of Canada that won the 1978 Academy Award for animation. Another Canadian entry, "Why Me?," is less entertaining and accomplished but has a certain curiosity value, since it duplicates the plot of the Burt Reynolds-Jerry Belson black comedy "The End."
The most enjoyable section of the anthology is the 10 minutes or so devoted to animated commercials, the most impressive being Richard Williams' famous collaboration with illustrator Frank Frazetta for Jovan cologne and a supremely witty Williams creation for . . . well, one shouldn't reveal who for, because the sponsor is identified only at the very end of an elaborate, boldly drawn pictorial essay on the training and traditions of Cossacks. An elegant piece of advertising art, enough to make one regret the apparent unavailability of the product on this side of the Atlantic.