Phil Tippett's 'Mad God'
Phil Tippetts's "Mad God" opens with what looks like God's wrath descending on the Tower of Babel. But we also feel like we are entering Dante's circles of hell. However you want to interpret it, "Mad God" is a dark take on hell, religion and an angry deity.
The world of "Mad God" is completely rendered in stop motion animation. Tippett began the project 30 years ago, and had to run multiple Kickstarter campaigns and tap friends and colleagues to finally get it done.
Stop-motion animation, Tippett's specialty (think AT-ATs in "The Empire Strikes Back" or ED-209 in "Robocop"), requires physically manipulating objects in tiny increments between individually photographed frames. It takes patience and skill, but, Tippett said, "to mere mortals, it's like watching grass grow."
But Tippett is no mere mortal. The Oscar-winning effects artist is something of a mad god himself, but less in the sense of wrathful and more like insane in pursuit of his art. Making the film took an emotional toll on him.
"It was not unlike Captain Ahab and Moby Dick," Tippett said. "I went down with the whale and ended up for a few days in a psych ward and then recovery for about six weeks until I built myself back up."
But the film proves to be his magnum opus. It is a wordless tale of a descent into hell. It’s a fever dream that combines madness, chaos, despair and beauty.
Tippett said much of the story emerged from his own dreams.
"One of my intentions was to create the illusion of a dream wherein you pack so much information into, say, a four-second shot (that) it's impossible to absorb all that information, and then, when the next shot comes up, the previous one evaporates because now there's so much more to behold."
Every frame is dense with detail, revealing the influence of Dutch painters Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Bruegel. The end result is something bleak and dark but also gorgeously seductive in its meticulous craftsmanship.
"Mad God" is playing Friday through Monday at Digital Gym Cinema, and I will be hosting the Sunday 1 p.m. matinee with Film Geeks SD.
More bold, visionary work is on display in "Neptune Frost."
"I would say that the term Afrofuturism has been a helpful tool for people to kind of learn how to articulate what they're experiencing when they are experiencing a film that is projecting ideas of the Black experience that is not necessarily related to the oppressive or colonial or imperialistic past," Williams said.
"Neptune Frost" is a cinematic poem that provides a radically different and visually stunning window on the Black experience. It's a science fiction musical shot in Rwanda with an entirely Rwandan and Burundian cast and crew.
"It is the invention of a language that is cohesive to me, which depicts a kind of surreality in an ordinary world. So it is ethereal, but it's at the same time epic. And I thought that we could oscillate between intimacy and more choreographed and large-scope of framing. So it's really the story and the music that led, and it is a journey, too. So you also accompany, are walking with people that are going through a very important journey," Uzeyman said.
There is much that is universal in the film, but it is also presenting a point of view that is not often seen in mainstream Hollywood films.
"To see a story that is celebrating Black skin and Black joy while also dancing through our relationship to technology and showing this sense of power that our characters are stepping into, I think, can be a divine illumination for any Western viewer," Williams said.
And it is told in an audacious style that Hollywood is too conservative to employ. Both "Neptune Frost" and "Mad God" are wildly original artistic visions. They are the kinds of films that just make me giddy with excitement about the potential of cinema.
"Neptune Frost" screens through Thursday at Digital Gym Cinema. The Monday 1 p.m. screening will have LaWana Richmond, co-founder of San Diego's Afrofuturism Lounge, providing an introduction and discussion about the film and Afrofuturism.
NOTE: Both films will be held over till June 23.