Frances Taylor, office manager at Picturehouse towers, assesses Don Hertzfeldt’s feature debut IT’S SUCH A BEAUTIFUL which is this week’s Discover Tuesday title.
IT’S SUCH A BEAUTIFUL DAY comes from American animator Don Hertzfeldt, whom I only knew previously from YouTube. His satirical short film REJECTED uttered the infamous line “for the love of God, my anus! Is bleeding!” which echoed around the sixth form art room for months circa 2005.
IT’S SUCH A BEAUTIFUL DAY is made up of three short films (EVERYTHING WILL BE OK, I AM SO PROUD OF YOU and IT’S SUCH A BEAUTIFUL DAY) about Bill, a stickman with an unidentified – serious, potentially terminal – illness, as he comes to terms with his mortality and the sublime duality of being alive.
It’s funny, heartwarming, rapturous and sad all at the same time – emotionally packed to say the least, hitting you hard right in the feelings. Hertzfeldt presents us with the triumphant human spirit, with all its melancholy tenacity, unbridled joy and grim, overwhelming lows.
Through memories, flashbacks and stories, he gives us a look at Bill’s life, from the handwritten notes Bill’s mother used to put in his school lunches, to his ex-girlfriend’s visits to him in hospital, to his meeting his father for the first time.
Particularly devastating is the childhood flashback to Randall, Bill’s brother, who has prosthetic arms and legs. Randall joyously sees a gull in the sky, and with reckless, ecstatic abandon, chases it into the ocean. He is never seen again.
Hertzfeldt doesn’t dwell on these moments to play on our heartstrings or make them into melodrama; he presents them and moves on, before we’re whisked on to another equally powerful scenario. For example, when it’s mentioned almost in passing that Bill’s mother’s hospital notes from when she was a young woman state that she shouldn’t have children, we’re kicked in our miserably projected feelings. But then we see Bill walk towards a casual acquaintance on the street, and neither of them knows what to say, so they just blurt out nonsense words and it’s really awkward… Been there to the letter, Bill!
The final section of the film takes on a cosmic, universal view, as Bill visits all of the countries, learns all of the languages, and falls in love over and over as he lives forever and experiences everything, and everything has meaning and significance. It’s very charming, and I was rapt.
It’s an intensely personal journey, all the more impressive given that the animation style is so simple and it’s only 62 minutes long – I was completely drawn in. Painted backgrounds and photography mix with hand-drawn landscapes. It’s visually captivating, and definitely worth seeing on the big screen with a proper sound system, rather than on a tinny laptop. I left the cinema feeling really big and really small at the same time: very happy and very sad, and very alive.