Years: 1974, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1984, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990
Genre: Cartoon, Political
Country: East Germany
Language: No dialogue, German credits not translated
Directors: Otto Sacher, Klaus Georgi, Sieglinde Hamacher, Marion Rasche, Hans Moser, Thomas Rosie, Lutz Stutzner, Peter Mibach
Run time: 57 minutes
Special Features: Behind The Scenes at the DEFA Animation Studio, film essays, biographies and filmographies
DVD distributor: First Run Features
The description of Red Cartoons indicates that it’s a collection of 16 short animated films from the former East Germany, produced by the country’s DEFA Sutiod For Animation Films between 1974 and 1990. These films are apparently full of social and political satire that would never have been allowed in live action films by the oppressive regime at the time. That being said, I can find that satire in only a few of the shorts.
This had me feeling like an idiot for a long time – how come I can’t see the subversive nature of these cartoons? Am I so poorly versed in the customs and conventions of the former East Germany and, indeed, the world that I’m the only one who can’t see this stuff? I GOT the cartoons, but not the satire. What’s wrong with me?
The first cartoon is called Drum Beat. And, admittedly, I didn’t understand that one at all, even as just a cartoon. This guy has a drum, see. His wife drops it on his head, but that’s cool he has more. Then he walks around with it and ends up in a drum band. That’s about it. I don’t get it.
The second film, from the same director (Otto Sacher) is called Stars And Flowers. At least I got that one. A guy who lives in the stars longs to touch the flower on the ground, and a guy who lives on the ground longs to touch the stars in the sky. Loneliness sees a shocking abuse of emergency services as an old man sets fire to his Christmas tree so he will have the companionship of the fire department and the ambulance attendants.
Variants sees two neighbours in a dispute over what appear to be raked leaves, and although a trip to court works out their differences, it doesn’t fix their animosity toward each other. The Rescue is a tale of greed and selfishness which involves a remarkable number of people who manage to fall down a series of crevasses. Seven Rights of a Viewer explores seven different ways an audience can respond to a performer, from the great (showering him with flowers) to the terrible (getting up and leaving).
Hello sees an unfortunate man, plagued by noises everywhere he goes and trying to escape. Deserted islands offer him no solitude, nor do forests or mountains or anything else. Eventually he meets Satan in the desert. I think I get that one. Consequence is a satire I get. After applauding vigorously for a film that details how driving in cars pollutes and destroys nthe environment, the audience gets into their cars and drives home.
The Solution involves a bunch of birds sitting on a wire. One little bird at the end is a non-conformist, which of course means he sits the opposite direction as the rest of the flock. And of course his little friends rat him out. And he gets roundly punished. Until eventually everyone else comes around, so to speak. Belly And Soul is about people feigning interest in the performance of a pianist while secretly trying to get to the massive spread of food that has been laid out following the concert.
The Breakdown sees a man desperately asking for help at the side of the road, as his car has apparently fallen in a hole. Finally, th smallest car stops to help and pull him out, with surprising results. I get the satire in this one too. That makes two. The Full Circle is the story of a plant that produces gas masks, polluting so much in the process that the people in the town are forced to wear…gas masks, of course. And Mr. Daff Is Shooting A Film makes a joke out of a poor sap of a bus driver.
The Monument sees the unveiling of a massive statue to great applause, then people forget about it pretty much right away. Then the statue gets a phone call. And ends up alone in what appears to be a desert, in an Ozymandias sort of finale. I don’t really get it. Sunday seems to depict a church, where everyone is going to look at a plant, and tickets are being ripped at the door and everyone, including the priest, is getting patted down. I guess to make sure they are not bringing in their own water bottles or snacks.
The final short on the set is Island Joke, wherein three shipwrecked and frozen men have a chance to warm themselves up with a blanket tossed to them by a helpful mermaid. Not understanding the gesture, they do what they figure is most obvious with the blanket – they build themselves a flag and salute it. Here, again, is a satire I can understand.
About four of the sixteen shorts are obvious satires, at least to me. Maybe six. I would have really liked to see a special feature that explained a little more. There are several special features on the disc, but one is a wordless slide show that just shows people working at DEFA, and the others are essays about the East German film industry and animation. Which is all great stuff – very informative and interesting, but I would have liked to see something that dealt more specifically with the sixteen films that were chosen to be featured on this disc.
Even though I didn’t understand a few of the films, I liked them. I thought they were all charming, and this is a disc I can see myself watching over and over. But the fact that I liked them all so much was the reason I wanted to know more about them. Thanks to the special features I know a little more about the directors and a lot more about the East German industry, but no more about the films themselves. Red Cartoons comes out January 19th from First Run Features.