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Consuming Spirits

Consuming Spirits

About.com Rating 5 Star Rating

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Consuming Spirits
Director-writer Chris Sullivan has described his feature-length animated debut Consuming Spirits as what a John Cassavetes film might have been if animated.
The melancholic yet darkly funny story of family love and loss in a poverty-stricken Appalachian town is told through several characters, each with a singular point of view. The hidden truth that binds them reveals itself as their separate stories merge into one.

Fifteen years in the making, shot on 16 millimeter film, Consuming Spirits uses a multitude of animation techniques, employed to distinguish various facets of time, location, and thought.

As Consuming Spirits opens, an over-worked, middle aged woman driving a school bus hits an elderly nun who is running across a dark street. The driver drags the nun into the woods, and after attempting to revive her with iodine and gauze, leaves her to die, shoddily hidden beneath some woodland debris.

The next day, the driver, Gentian Violet (Nancy Andrews), returns to her job in the paste-up department at the local newspaper,The Daily Suggester, as if nothing happened, the body presumed dead. But as one character will later note in the movie: “Life grows from that which is presumed dead.” Such is the case with the assumed corpse in the woods.

And such is the case with almost everything in Consuming Spirits, particularly the lost and hidden history that connects Gentian and her co-workers: Victor Blue (Chris Sullivan), an alcoholic, “life-long social services case” who also works in paste-up; and Earl Gray (Robert Levy), a weathered, whiskey-soaked old man, who writes the paper’s gardening advice column, and hosts a late night radio show, where he imparts botanical wisdom in the dark hours (...with some twisted wisdom on subjects far from the garden as well).

Within and around the “news is truth” setting of The Daily Suggester, the film illustrates and explores storytelling in its various formats: those which are lies and know themselves to be; lies which have fooled themselves; hard-edged no-nonsense black and white journalistic photos touted as objectivity; the newsreel; the magical flourish; the headline pasted over another headline; the story cut up with scissors and re-arranged; the tales told with toys, tin soldiers, and dolls, no matter how dark its subject.

Along the way, there are car crashes, police run-ins, asylum sneak-ins, shot-guns, attempts to sing oneself into stardom. Spirits and poisons are consumed, consciously and not. Ghosts wander through conversations; spirits come alive in coffee cups. And then, there’s that nun. And there’s more of them out there.

Amidst all the visual marvels, there is a lot of pain in Consuming Spirits -- a visceral pain. And yet, the movie is also extremely funny. This is not a film for the passive viewer. Many of the best jokes come and go quickly, usually via scribbled words -- on morgue documents, passing truck, grocery tins, and pornographic magazines. To give away the plot of Consuming Spirits, even in a base elemental form, would ruin the experience of the film, since so much is revealed in surprising and unusual ways. Consuming Spirits is a film like no other -- original and stunning.

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