Noir's reach approaches the absurd -- witness the Roxie's recent festival, which featured "diesel noir," "swamp noir," and numerous other previously unnamed variants. The Red Vic picks up the gauntlet by exploring yet another hybrid in its "Cartoon Noir" show, no doubt prompting more than the usual grave-rolling by Uncle Walt. These six shorts are indeed far from the Disney aesthetic, wisely substituting imagination and sensibility -- not to mention the noir stalwarts of paranoia, angst, and despair -- for the slick computer technique and tired themes that plague so much mainstream animation.
Pedro Serrazina's The Story of the Cat and the Moon (1995) is bittersweet noir, gracefully limning a cat's nighttime quest for the favors of a fickle heavenly body. Jiri Barta's Club of the Discarded (1989) dourly ponders the lives of a commune of rotting mannequins with fixed grins, who inhabit a Prague hovel. Barta hits themes of class, cultural imperialism, and social breakdown in his grim tableaux of dolls mechanically observing their daily rituals in spite of their own physical decay and the invasion of a more modern group of mannequins, who laughingly smoke and screw in front of them. Julie Zammarchi's Ape (1992) cleverly presents a Curious George-type monkey as dinner for an extra-dysfunctional couple. Piotr Dumala's Gentle Spirit (1987) uses the rare format of painted plaster, as it traces the cramped lives of a mysterious couple who resemble pathetic Edward Gorey figures, moving solemnly through dim spaces surrounded by blackness. Suzan Pitt's Joy Street (1996) has some arresting imagery in its tale of a near-suicide rescued by a toy monkey come to life, but it's ultimately too cloying for comfort. Paul Vester's Abductees (1995) hilariously visualizes five real New Yorkers' claims that they were snatched by spacemen, using processed video and cel animation for rather startling tableaux of Roswell aliens "dancing in lock step" and E.T.'s playing with one victim's internal organs.
"Cartoon Noir" screens Thursday through Tuesday, May 18-23, nightly at 7:15 and 9:15 p.m., plus 2 and 4 p.m. showings Saturday and Sunday, at the Red Vic Movie House, 1727 Haight (near Cole), S.F. Admission is $3-6.50; call 668-3994.