Sad Hill Media

Film & Lesser Arts with Will Ross, Devan Scott, & Daniel Jeffery.

by Will Ross

A 60-minute feature film six years in the making, It’s Such a Beautiful Day is the solo work of stickman-maestro Don Hertzfeldt, who made his name with the Oscar-nominated short Rejected in 2000. A melancholic narration (done, like almost everything else, by Herzfeldt himself) tells the life story of Bill, a man with an unnamed neurological disease that causes him worsening dementia and memory loss, and may be fatal. That life story is elliptical as all-get-out: the film doesn’t merely employ temporal jumping, second-hand stories, and Bill simply standing or sitting and watching his wasted life go by; it traffics in experiments as a norm.

What makes Beautiful Day a no-holds-barred masterpiece is that despite (and because of) its avant-garde structure and simplistic drawings, it is immensely funny, accessible, and even touching, often all at once (the narration deadpans lines like “This morning he couldn’t remember where he put the clinic’s daily memory quizzes.”) Hertzfeldt’s stick figures are animated with miraculous expressiveness, and the film bursts with dazzling colours and in-camera effects. These effects — along with use of expressive sound design, classical music, and voiceover that puts Terrence Malick to shame — do not play against the stick figures as some ironic counterpoint, but legitimize them. So when the final chapter depicts a man who appreciates his life but does not understand that it is about to end, the stick figures are not a sarcastic joke, but a beautiful, evocative understatement.

In the history of animated films, few are this bracing and beautiful, and to my knowledge, none are this profound. The film is only three 20-minute chapters  — originally released as individual shorts as each was completed — but it is an incredibly dense 60 minutes, and its mysteries and revelations only deepen with repeated viewings. Take its opening scene: two acquaintances walk by each other on the street, exchange a few awkward half-sentences, then pass and never see each other again. On first glance, it is a bit of absurd comedy caked in nihilism. But on further thought, questions arise: did Bill forget because it didn’t matter, or because of his condition? An even more unsettling question: does this never-seen-again acquaintance have the same condition as Bill? What is his life story?

It’s Such a Beautiful Day is only widely available on dvd by order on Hertzfeldt’s website, but is worth seeking out, especially since the animator’s films are entirely self-funded. Technical brilliance and intelligent filmmaking have rarely met in the field of animation, and if an outlier talent like Hertzfeldt’s is not supported, it’s liable to fall from the face of the earth.


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