El Doctor

Suzan Pitt thrilled audiences in the early ’80s with her 20-minute animated film Asparagus, in which the pungent vegetable becomes a strange yet tasty sexual organ. Raucous, surreal and visually ecstatic, the film heralded a new generation of animators known for their provocative subject matter and surreal imaginations. Pitt has continued making films over the last 25 years, working primarily in the time-consuming forms of cel animation and claymation. Her latest project, which took five years to complete, tells the story of a melancholic physician in a Mexican hospital who prefers drinking to doctoring. After a saint’s psychedelic visit, however, the doctor undergoes a transformation and begins to see the sickness, injuries and deformities of his patients as beautiful idiosyncrasies, and his care results in a series of miracles. He straightens out some confused intestines. He helps a hapless woman give birth to multiple odd and yet lovable creatures. And in a particularly delightful sequence, he tends to a lovely horse-woman who eyes the doctor seductively, pulling him into a fantasy of galloping, swirling pony passion. The film’s story, written by Blue Kraning, unfolds elegantly, from dark despair to epiphany. But the truly magical moments are those of brief visual ecstasy, as when the doctor studies some colorful and dynamic cells or when the flowers sprouting surprisingly from the body of a young girl become a spectacle of moving colors and shapes. Pitt, who teaches at CalArts, based the film’s painted backdrops on her time spent in Mexico and inspiration by Mexican artist Jose Posada. Other animators contributed to the project, which contains over 30,000 cels and was shot frame by frame on the only remaining Oxberry animation stand in Los Angeles. (Filmforum at the Egyptian Theater; Sun., June 25, 7 p.m.)

—Holly Willis


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