Howie Shia Talks TIFF-Bound BAM Short

Toronto-based animator Howie Shia explores the nature of rage and violence in his latest NFB short, BAM, premiering at TIFF on Sept. 16th and 20th. Inspired in part by his grandfather, a high-ranking police official as well as a poet and calligrapher, the short riffs on Hercules: a young boxer struggles with his shy, bookish nature and a divinely violent temper.

Bill Desowitz: Talk about the theme of rage and what prompted you to explore it as a retelling of Hercules and how it relates to you personally and the culture of today.

Howie Shia: I think the film breaks down basically into two questions for the protagonist (let’s call him Harry). The first is, Where does his rage come from? Is it an innate animal reflex (a survival instinct people are born with)? A learned behavior (a product of the outrage industry)? Or is it something altogether more primordial: a divine right?

The other question for Harry is about the function of his rage. He has a profound instinct and talent for violence, but he can’t really figure out anything meaningful to do with it. The myths he reads are filled with these classical heroes who, by definition, have great intellectual and artistic wit as well as (and not “and yet also”) an incredible capacity for righteous violence. Harry identifies with these heroes, but he doesn’t have the same outlets as them.

My grandfather was both a high-ranking police official in Taiwan and a revered calligrapher and poet. Today, that combination of thoughtfulness and physical power might seem unlikely, even contradictory, but at that time, in that place, I don’t think it was. I think BAM comes largely out of a question about who my grandfather would be if he was growing up today. Would he have to choose between his physicality and his intellect, and what do you do with all of that power if you have no wars to fight and no hydras to slay?

As for the Heracles part of the whole thing, I’m very drawn to the dualities within Heracles — his divinity versus his humanity; his heroism (the 12 labors) versus his shame (accidentally murdering his wife and children in a fit of divinely induced madness). I wanted to see what happens to those dualities when expressed in a contemporary vernacular. That said, BAMisn’t actually meant to be a retelling of the Heracles myth so much as it is a story that uses similar building blocks to explore the broader cultural and literary context of Harry’s condition.

BD: The boxer struggles with his two sides and the rage appears predestined as a test from the gods to see if he can overcome his violent nature.

HS: It’s actually a question mark to me, whether or not Harry is meant to overcome his violent nature or embrace it. Today’s partisan politics of lovers vs. fighters doesn’t actually exist in the classical literature that the Gods come from. Odysseus, Beowulf, Zatoichi, Batman — all of them are brilliant and sensitive; all of them are bruisers. So by mythological standards, Harry is really quite normal and doing exactly what he should be doing. The problem is that he doesn’t live in that world. He’s a classical archetype being subjected to modern judgments.

BD: Let’s discuss the graphic, comic-book-style look and spare use of color for emotional impact (the primordial particles are very effective).

HS: My wife and I were living in Brooklyn when I first started working onBAM, and I found that most of the artists I met there had become frighteningly good at combining really simple shapes with rich color combinations to make these amazing, quirky little pictures and movies that instantly grabbed your attention. ZAP! They were like shooters of art. I was fascinated by it but also felt a bit outside of it so, probably out of a sense of self-preservation, I started pushing my work further in the opposite direction: more texture, more detail, more involved contours, composition that was deliberately bland — things that require the viewer to slow down a little and actually go through the image with the artist’s hand in mind. I wanted to treat the screen more like a theater stage and see if I could tell a dramatic story through performance and pacing and blocking; and to avoid the use of the extreme foreshortening and crazy angles that seemed very popular at the moment (including my own previous work). As for the palette, I stretch out a little more in my illustration work, but for animation, this is just my default: a positive, a negative, and a half-tone. Again, I like the theater of it: the challenge of trying to convey a full range of emotions and textures using very limited props.

Read the rest at Animation Scoop/Indiewire.

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Animation, Crafts, Movies, Shorts, Tech, Trailers

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