Olivia Domba on Sally Cruikshank, one of the most wildly inventive animators alive. A program of her short films will screen at MoMA on Monday, October 29 at 4p.m.
What exactly is Quasi, the title character of Sally Cruikshank’s Quasi at the Quackadero? Cruikshank’s synopsis of the short film describes him and his female companion Anita as ducks, but his teeth and her go-go boots seem more human than animal. Quasi wears a cape, drives a flying car, and has a house that waves goodbye to him when he leaves with Anita and their pet robot. If you are looking for something in the vein of Make Way for Ducklings, you should probably look elsewhere.
Quasi is the perfect escape from recent, big-budget animated feature films that aspire to draw in audiences with magical settings, realistic movement, and celebrity voice talent. The dynamism of the short lies in Cruikshank’s animation; as with her other work, Quasi is low on plot, but full of fascinating scenes that toy with certain overarching themes. Cruikshank focuses on the dreamlike manipulation of time in the attractions at Quackadero. Her take on the traditional hall of mirrors is one in which the mirrors show the individual in old age and childhood. The “think-o-blink” visualizes your thoughts, and another attraction claims to show “the shining moment of your life.”
Elected to the National Film Registry in 2009, Quasi at the Quackadero is Cruikshank’s most popular film, but by no means the only one worth checking out. Face Like a Frog (1987) features the song “Don’t Go in the Basement” by none other than Danny Elfman, best known for his frequent collaborations with Tim Burton. The short is bascially non-narrative, forcing the viewer to focus on the trippy animated images that warp, expand, and contract, fluctuating with the beat of the music.
Cruikshank, who more recently has been working on music videos for “Sesame Street,” is currently in the process of transferring all of her films to 35mm for archival purposes. Thanks to the Museum of Modern Art’s To Save and Project festival, New Yorkers can catch them on the big screen.