"The 15th International Tournee of Animation," now at the Biograph, sounds too official to be inviting, but conceals an impressive and occasionally stunning anthology of animated shorts. It's much stronger than the last collection in this annual series sponsored by a co-op called the International Animated Association and distributed by FilmWright, an independent San Francisco company.
Superior in overall quality to its predecessor, which also played a brief engagement at the Biograph, No. 15 boasts individual highlights that vault considerably higher. It's a more presentable collection, too: This year the Biograph has a decent print to show, although allowances must still be made for a patchwork screen while the management awaits delivery of a new one.
The international makeup consists of five films from the United States, three from Canada, two each from Poland, Belgium and England, and a droll collaboration between famous animators, Bob Godfrey of England and Zlatko Grgic of Yugoslavia. Raoul Servais of Belgium was responsible for the most astonishing entry, a surrealist chiller called "Harpy," which took a grand prize at the 1979 Cannes Festival.
The protagonist of "Harpy" is a nondescript bourgeois gent who rescues the apparent victim of a brutal assault on a lonely city street, only to end up in the position of the assailant. The "victim" turns out to be a ravenous creature combining features of man, woman and bird of prey. After taking this winged monstrosity into his home, the good Samaritan finds it impossible to take any nourishment. Each bit of food or drink he begins to consume is devoured on sight and then obscenely savored by his omnivorous new pet.
This absurd but alarming fantasy is developed with remarkable suspenseful tension. Servais has you dreading the next chomp taken by that hideous hermaphroditic bird, who strikes with lightning stop-motion speed from a variety of perches and angles. "Harpy" may be cherished as a definitive paranoid expression of the fear that, in one form or another, life will eat you alive.
The best American entries are Mike Jittlov's whirlwind stop-motion comedy, "The Wizard of Speed and Time," in which a cheerful magician in a green cape conducts us on an accelerated tour of Hollywood and arranges the equipment on a movie set into an impromptu production number, and Will Vinton's latest work of elegant, charming clay animation, "Legacy," an impression of evolution which condenses a billion years or so into a few minutes of swift, humorous transfigurations.
Both Polish films, Marek Komsa's "View From Above," and Marian Cholerek's "Night Flights," excel at a mood of fantastic gallows humor that has frequently inspired Polish filmmakers over the last generation. No doubt it will keep on sustaining them as prospects for political reform flicker out again. Komsa's "view," incidentally, is the vantage point of a man repeatedly frustrated in the attempt to hang himself.
There are erotic themes in three of the best shorts -- "Harpy," "Night Flights" and the Godfrey-Grgic work, "Dream Doll" -- explicit enough to make the collection a dubious outing for the whole family, although kids would almost certainly get a kick out of items like "The Wizard of Speed and Time" and "Legacy." The subject matter really does range from the sacred to the profane. "Mr. Pascal" by England's Alison deVere is a fable about a pious cobbler that evokes a persuasive feeling of religious devotion. "Dream Doll," on the other hand, is a satiric fable about a lonely man who purchases an inflatable sex-shop doll and can't keep his dirty secret hidden, because it insists on hovering over him wherever he goes.
Upon reflection, "Mr. Pascal" and "Dream Doll" may not seem so far apart after all. They certainly share sympathetic, benevolent attitudes toward the disparate fixations of their respective protagonists. Godfrey and Grgic spring an irresistible inside joke to resolve their little comedy of embarrassing erotic longing. They parody the denouement of Albert Lamorisse's celebrated children's fantasy, "The Red Balloon," and show the solitary porno dreamer lifted above it all by the force of his fantasies, which become a protective airborne armada. There's a certain logic as well as affection to the Godfrey-Grgic twist. By this time the kid protagonist of "The Red Balloon" would certainly be old enough to have fantasies of dream dolls rattling around in his head.