After a successful opening in France and a slew of festival awards, Bill Plympton's noirish Cheatin' -- his most daring feature to date -- is still having a tough time getting theatrical distribution here at home. It just goes to show that there's still a lot of prejudice against adult animation when it comes to American indies. Not that Plympton isn't still hopeful about breaking the barrier, which we discussed after a successful screening at Cannes.
"We're a hit in France, but why America can't appreciate something like this at least in movie theaters is beyond me," Plympton wonders."We've gotten a few offers but not to our liking. I'm going to meet with our producers next week in New York [including Desiree Stavracos and Adam Rackoff]. The plan is to do a limited theatrical release to qualify for the Oscars and next year do a big internet release (like Vimeo) to earn back our money."
Cheatin' represents a sizable investment of around $400,000 and yet Plympton still required $100,000 from a successful Kickstarter campaign to finish the digital watercolor work that was essential to the aesthetic. But this colorful and hyper-real depiction of hardboiled lust and violence represents Plympton's masterpiece. Recalling James M. Cain with plenty of shadows, suspense, and sleaze, it's also very operatic and even balletic. Plympton admits that it took him to a whole new artistic place and it shows. Like Idiots and Angels, there's no dialog, but this is a much more ambitious panto with flashbacks and fantasies that seamlessly meld together like a surreal dream.
The notion of wanting to strangle your partner while still having sex permeates this love story of betrayal. Yet it's the first time that Plympton has played with a female protagonist. Ella and Jake meet when crashing bumper cars, which is the perfect metaphor for their explosive relationship.
"So I thought that would be an interesting idea for a film to explore those two emotions side by side in the same relationship," he adds. "Even though her husband is cheating on her, she doesn't want to give up having sex with him. I also wanted to add more color after the success of Idiots and Angels and so art director Lindsay Woods experimented with digital watercolor. I liked the look because this was the look of my illustrations when I worked for Oui and National Lampoon.
"The technique, the look, the watercolor with pencil line is very refreshing and like seeing a piece of art: it's more vivid and engaging. I also played around with perspective in many scenes, distorting it, and I found this liberating because I was told in art school that you had to have two or three point perspectives to keep everything realistic. I just realized I don't want it to be realistic in animation. So I distorted the perspectives and sometimes made five or six vanishing points. It's fun to draw and to watch."
There's plenty of Plympton's brand of humor as well. He adores the hitman sequence where he gets dressed to the Bolero, staples his nipple, and it transmutes from screams of pain to violence. And in another scene, he cross-cuts from Jake having his affairs at the EZ Hotel to Ella on her bed surrounded by cacti, conveying loneliness and heartbreak. "That to me is very touching and the music really works well. I thought the story was melodramatic with raunch and violence so I asked Nicole Renaud to create an operatic score."
Plympton is still hopeful, of course, that Cheatin' will be a breakthrough of sorts. "I can sense a lot of fans of animation are starting to get tired of the same old look and the same old feel and the same old story of computer animation and kid's animation. And I think America is ready for something different. I think America is mature enough now to handle an animated cartoon with adult topics and adult themes."
Here is an exclusive pencil test from the film:
Meanwhile, Plympton will be a part of the "Icons of Animation" exhibition at the Society of Illustrators in New York with Peter de Seve, William Joyce, and Carlos Nine (June 4-Aug. 16, 128 East 63rd St.). And on June 5, Plympton will appear on a panel with de Seve at the Academy Theater (Lighthouse International, 111 East 59th Street), moderated by J.J. Sedelmaier.