Movie Review: Consuming Spirits
You have never seen anything like it. Beauty and the absolutely repugnant mingle together on a Petri dish screen. Haunting and mesmerizing, ‘Consuming Spirits’ is a delicious animated movie that took its genius maker an obsessive decade and a half to complete. New York Times movie reviewer, A.O. Scott, described it as “a defiant — or maybe, even better, an oblivious — exception to the rules and patterns of contemporary cartoon entertainment.”
The animation is gritty, both spastic and fluid in its nightmarish beauty. It utilizes paper, ink, tiny movable models and a 16-millimeter camera. It is comprised of paper collage sets, pencil drawings, watercolor, all dripping with melancholy and gloom and filmed in stop motion.
‘Consuming Spirits’ plot follows a trio of doomed characters through their lives in Magguson, a small Appalachian town. The first is an old gentleman, Earl Gray, who delivers a late-night radio show to insomniacs. His voice is an eerily benign baritone dripping with sorrow. Earl gives gardening advice. His advice strays often as Earl sews in metaphor and secret meaning, digressing often to hallow poetic rambling.
The other two characters are Gentian Violet and Victor Blue, coworkers at the local newspaper. Gentian and Victor are grotesque, painfully lonely beings participating in lackluster boozy courtship. Victor is a broken-down photographer at the paper, continually being reprimanded for his tasteless use of images.
Gentian lays the paper out and lives with her lewd-mouthed, dementia-plagued mother. To escape the inappropriate sexual comments from her mom, Gentia ventures often to the pub with Victor where they sing duets. After delivering a dismal ballad they’ll sit back down to talk about the chances of a talent scout discovering their ‘raw’ talent.
They also talk of their unspoken relationship: “I know I’m pretty ugly,” begins Victor. He pauses for a moment, his brain soggy with alcohol, continues, “and you know what, Jenny? You’re pretty ugly, too.’
Gentian doesn’t answer. Just looks at her glass. From the slapdash stage comes music – Irish-folk dirges, dark and slow. The movie comes to bizarre crescendos, the characters fates twisted together in blaring honesty and dark absurdity.
The moviemaker, Chris Sullivan, is an instructor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Family and friends were the backbone of the movie, helping with everything from character voices to the soundtrack. The movie is intimate. It is also autobiographical, reports NPR.
“Sullivan incorporates autobiographical details from a childhood heavily influenced by social services intervention, and from that seed springs a story about the fallout of broken homes, poverty, alcoholism and mental illness in small-town America,” states Ian Buckwalter, a reporter for NPR.