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"Ideas in Animation"
The idea of movies as events, rather than the simple, passive, predictable activity they've largely become, stretches back to film's beginnings; even a solemn, bloated sideshow like Titanic reminds us of this history. But as always, it's the alternative venues like the Roxie and the Castro in San Francisco, and the UC Theater and the Fine Arts in Berkeley, that are truly keeping the concept of "movies and more" alive. As part of a downtown Berkeley music fest this weekend, the Fine Arts is presenting a show of recent animation accompanied live by Nik Phelps' highly regarded Sprocket Ensemble. The Sprockets, a kind of modern improv jazz-chamber group with influences as disparate as Kraftwerk, bebop, and Bernard Herrmann, provide a mood-drenched backdrop to 14 animated shorts, among them Dan McHale's Sex Pudding, Sara Petty's Furies, Nina Paley's Follow Your Bliss, and local luminary Rock Ross' Autumnal Diptych. As intriguing as much of the visual material is, the show gets a kind of ironic gravitas from the whimsical stylings of the Sprockets. Their imaginative piano and reed work accompanying Eric Darnell's Gas Planet adds surprising pathos to that film's goofy, winsome monsters. The ever-bubbly Connie Champagne guest stars.

-- Gary Morris

"Ideas in Animation" plays Friday, May 1, at 8 p.m. and Saturday, May 2, at 7:15 and 9:30 p.m. at the Fine Arts Cinema, 2451 Shattuck (at Haste) in Berkeley. Tickets are $10; call (510) 848-1143. A similar program is scheduled at the Roxie Theater in S.F. on May 21.

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