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Animated Look at the Art of Film

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The first time Spike and Mike, two La Jolla cartoon promoters, showed “Broken Down Film,” the movie projectionist almost had a heart attack.

He saw the black line that separates each frame rolling up on the screen, and thought he had a broken-down film, said Spike, who’s also known as Craig Decker. (Decker got his nickname playing in a ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll band.)

Decker and partner Mike Gribble, best known for their Festivals of Animation at the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art, forgot to tell the projectionist that’s all part of the cartoon chicanery.

Japanese animator Osamu Tesuka sends his little cartoon hero jumping between frames to escape the clutches of the scruffy bad guy, said Decker. Another feature of the five-minute short is its segue from black-and-white to color.

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The “Broken Down Film” and 15 other cartoon classics begin screening tonight at the La Jolla museum, where they will play at various times through Aug. 5.

The Best of the Festival of Animation includes four cartoons nominated for Academy Awards and one that received an Oscar. They range in length from just under two minutes to 11 minutes, and they come from Japan, Hungary, the United States, Bulgaria, Italy and Canada.

“The Fly,” the Oscar winner, is a four-minute short about a fly chased by humans inside a house from the point of view of the fly. It was produced by Ferenc Rofusz of Hungary.

Other shorts include:

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* The “Big Snit,” created by Canadian Richard Condie, “is in my opinion the absolute, the number one best,” said Decker. “It has everything--great animation, character design, charm, outrageous humor and a political-moral statement.”

An elderly couple are playing a game of Scrabble oblivious to a nuclear war starting outside their door. The elderly man says it must be some kind of parade going on, and the camera pans to the confusion and pandemonium in the streets outside. His wife leaves the game board for a minute only to look back and catch him cheating by moving her game pieces around.

“Condie is a comedy genius,” Decker said. “We’d buy his films sight unseen.”

* “Self Service,” produced by Italian animator Bruno Buzzetto is a funny film about mosquitoes who tap into the big toe of a sleeping man, said Decker. Soon they are selling the blood from his toe to other mosquitoes at a roadside stand which evolves into a corporation and a big manufacturing operation.

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* “A Crushed World” is an artfully made film by Boyo Kanev of Bulgaria. The background scenes are made entirely of cardboard, and each character is fabricated from paper. The silent film recorded with a music sound track portrays a day in the life of a Bulgarian city.

Most of the films are discovered at animation festivals, such as the one partner Gribble is attending in Yugoslavia this week.

“Very few animation artists just walk through our doors,” Decker said. “We have to scour the world and battle for films. It’s like fishing. We have to throw 98% of them back because they’re too depressing or too long. We have to sift through a lot of sand to find the gold.”

Working with artists from Communist countries has also been difficult, he said. Some films from the Soviet Union take as long as four months to arrive.

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To encourage the art of animation, the partners have taken to co-producing films. They visit art schools, looking for good films, and they also have several animators working on salary, which allows them to do cartoons as an art form rather than work for a corporation, Decker said.

Once assembled, the cartoon festivals appeal to a broad range of people, he said. “It’s one of the few events where you see all ages, and all types of people. At one show, I saw guys in two-piece suits, and behind him a guy with a Mohawk and students and elderly people.

“The show is entertaining and highly humorous from beginning to end,” Decker said. “It’s just one good film after another. I’d buy a ticket myself.”

For show times and ticket information, call 551-9274. Tickets are $6 in advance, $6.50 at the door.

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