Monday, 18 May 2015

CHEATIN' - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Noir Meets Opera Meets Pulp Meets Melodrama

Cheatin' (2013)
Dir. Bill Plympton

Review By Greg Klymkiw

A new animated feature film by Bill Plympton is always cause for celebration because nobody, but no-body makes movies like he does. His perverse sense of humour blended with an innate (if not submerged, but always present) sweetness and most of all, his unique visual style, add up to cooler than cool.

Cheatin' might be my favourite Plymptoon yet. It's a deceptively simple romantic comedy: girl meets boy, they fall madly in love, they marry, boy thinks girl is cheating even though she's as loyal as loyal can be, boy doesn't let on that he thinks girl is cheating, boy considers suicide but chooses revolving door infidelity, girl is devastated and doesn't know how to get his love back until she meets a mad circus magician who can transfer her spirit into the myriad of bodies whom the boy is dallying with. Reconciliation seems inevitable. Or is it? Is this mad plan fraught with danger? Yeah, probably.

What Plympton has wrought with this basic (on paper) love story, which then adds an unexpected, but very welcome fantastical twist, is layered with sheer mad inspiration. He blends several shades of genre and storytelling style to render one of the most original films I've seen in many a year. Juxtaposing the seedier elements of middle America like carnivals, roadside gas stations and sleazy motels, with the sun-dappled heaven of green lawns, cozy suburban bungalows, beauty parlours and fancy dress shoppes, Plympton manages to out-Blue-Velvet Blue Velvet by wallowing greedily and happily in the muck of both darkness and light.

Plympton begins his tale with the beautiful, stylish Ella, gorgeously attired in a bright yellow dress and wide-brimmed hat with a long red ribbon wafting across the drooling, enchanted faces of boner-induced men, her face buried deep in a book as she strides forward through the streets and eventually a carnival replete with rides and sideshows. Torso forward, her eyes glued to words on the page seem to naturally propel her. She doesn't at all notice every single man ogling her with eyes popped and fixed upon her with such distraction that they cause all manner of mishaps amongst each other (and raising the ire of their frumpy wives and girlfriends). Barkers try to distract her to partake of their wares and it's only until she is literally hooked and yanked into a bumper car ride does she take her nose out of her book.

Hell, this looks like fun.

She jumps into a vehicle and the bumper madness begins. And here is where love blossoms. Plympton hands us a stereotypical "meet-cute" of such absurd proportions that one wishes every "meet-cute" in every movie could be this insane. Let's not give too much away save for describing the physical elements it involves: a bumper car on its side, a dazed Ella in a pool of water, a snapped electrical cable whipping around and sparking up a storm and Jake, a dreamy hunk who's been unable to keep his eyes off Ella (and she to him) and risks his life to save hers.

It's a meet-cute that yields love gone mad.

This leads to one of the most demented love montages I've ever seen with Jake and Ella crooning the joyous Libiamo Ne' Lieti Calici from "La Traviata" to each other as their bodies whirl about, split apart into various pieces, meld in and out of each other, with gondola rides across massive bathtubs, soaring high in flying roadsters, an entire suburban household coming to life and singing the chorus - items in the refrigerator, slabs of butter, carrots - anything and everything that can morph into a dizzying surrealist melange of cartoon images that leaves both the Fleischer Brothers and Disney's Silly Symphonies way behind like so much dust in the wind.

Seeing Ella spread-eagled and popping out one baby after another into Jake's arms is a fantasy image I suspect I'll take with me to my grave.

Disaster strikes when a jealous dress shop owner snaps an incriminating photo of the innocent Ella and places it in Jake's hands as a means to drive him into her arms. It works. He's so devastated, so heartbroken, that he begins balling Madame Dress-Shoppe and virtually every woman who wants him (and it is a ludicrous number). At one point, a devastated Ella secures the services of a hired killer, but when that goes wrong and the couple's life as lovebirds is doomed to a purgatorial wasteland, she secures the assistance of the grand impresario of magician-ship, El Mertos.

You want unhinged, unbridled, completely preposterous forays into the fantastical? Never fear. Plympton delivers big time since El Mertos has the aforementioned mysterious, dangerous and magical machine that can transport Ella's soul into the bodies of ALL the women Jake is boning in Room 4 of the ultra-sleazy E-Z Motel.

Plympton not only pulls off a miracle of mad romanticism, he does so by blending opera, pulp fiction, film noir and almost Douglas Sirkian-high-melodrama. Not only that, but the entire movie has NO dialogue. It's pure visual storytelling with a knockout soundtrack that includes an astounding original score by Nicole Renaud blended with the previously mentioned piece from "La Traviata" in addition to the heartbreaking Leoncavallo's Vesti la Giubba (sung by Caruso, no less), Ravel's Bolero and King Bennie Nawahi singing the immortal south seas exotica of Muana Keana.

Cheatin' is sheer madness and as joyous an experience as you're likely to have at the movies in these dark days of imagination-bereft cinema. If you live in Toronto, you have just one night, one chance to see it on the big screen.


Cheatin' plays for one night at The Royal Cinema in Toronto on May 20, 2015. It deserves a longer run than that. Hopefully other independent Canadian Exhibitors will play the film. In the meantime, I highly recommend you buy the DVD from E.D. Distribution in France. They not only released the film properly/theatrically, but now have it on their very distinctive label. Cheatin' is known in France as Les Amants électriques. Order directly from their website. While you're visiting it, you'll notice they have a shitload of Bill Plympton titles. They're gorgeous packages/transfers. I know. I've got 'em all. Browse the site. They have the coolest, most eclectic catalogue of titles one could ever imagine. They're not only the best distributor of wacko art in France, but one of the best in the world. I know. They distribute a bunch of my crazy-ass film productions. Visit the website by clicking HERE.