Sunday, October 04, 2009

The Stressful Festival Adventures of Boxhead & Roundhead

They are not very talkative, but they’ve made quite an impression on the film festival circuit. If you’re not sure which is Boxhead and which is Roundhead, I can’t help you. If you are looking for the latest installment of their Stressful Adventures (trailer here), check the lineup of the nearest upcoming film fest. There is a good chance the spherical and cube headed ones will be playing.

The creations of Elliot Cowan, an Australian animator now residing in New York, Boxhead and Roundhead may also be familiar to fans of They Might Be Giants and Migrating Birds, having appeared in music videos produced by the bands. They were clearly the most visually distinctive entry in the recently completed New York Television Festival. Still, it was not completely scandalous that they did not win in NYTF’s animated category, because Boxhead and Roundhead are not an easy fit for the festival’s “pilot” format. Indeed, Cowan seems to be more of a festival star in the making. In the future, festival patrons, particularly at shows catering to animation, may well feel ripped-off if there is not a Stressful Adventure on the program.

For home viewing, the collected Stressful Adventures of Boxhead & Roundhead (so far) is also available on DVD through Cowan’s website. Mostly black-and-white with the odd splash of color, Boxhead and Roundhead live in a surreally menacing world populated with monsters in the woods, infernal machines, and avalanches of boulders falling from the sky. Cowan’s inventive style often mixes in elements of black-and-white photography, giving the films an intriguing textured quality.

While most Adventures clock in around three minutes, the allegorical Brothers in Arms breaks the four minute mark, as a war unexpectedly breaks out around the Heads’ cottage. Yet the longest Adventure is the best conceived: The Thing in the Distance, a smartly executed little paranoid gem that would be an excellent palate cleanser at horror film fests and before midnight screenings.

The Heads often endure truly macabre misfortunes, but most of the Stressful Adventures feature soundtracks composed and performed by Matt Saxton that effectively lighten the mood while propelling the breakneck action unfolding on-screen—a particularly notably example being the manic one-darned-thing-after-another On the Run, a real Stressful highlight. The only selection not featuring Saxton’s compelling musical contributions is Crumb Factory, a breezy short built around TMBG’s song “Employee of the Month.”

The Stressful Adventures of Boxhead & Roundhead are thoroughly entertaining animated films, coming as especially welcome diversions if seen during film festival programming blocks. Look for them next month at the Starz Denver Film Festival and the River’s Edge Film Festival in Kentucky.

(All images and characters copyright of Elliot Cowan.)