This film flirts so closely with miserabilism that after having seen the first two segments I was prepared to out and out hate it. But then the movie seemed to get sick of being miserable just when I was, and we parted friends.
It’s Such A Beautiful Day is an hour long feature that began life as a trilogy of related short animations. Their subject is Bill, a man with an unspecified brain disease whose daily interactions deteriorate as his faculties begin to go, bit by bit. We’re never told exactly what’s wrong with him, or even, initially, that anything is.
Everything Will Be Okay, the first “chapter” (actually, the first short released in 2006) starts, after some animated video of powerlines*, with a stick figure walking toward another stick figure. This is narrated by Hertzfeldt as a disappointing human interaction, and it raised my hopes for what this film could be – specifically, funny. There’s a genuine gag in this first section, followed by more as we’re led through slices of Bob’s life. Little by little, we learn that Bill is very much not okay as he examines his routines, and his life, and spends more and more time seeing things that are not there.
*Literally, there are pieces of what look like video in this film that are series of photographs that Don Hertzfeldt has used like animation cels. Never does anything the easy way, does he?
The second and third pieces (I am So Proud of You and It’s Such a Beautiful Day) continue the story in their own fashion – I Am So Proud of You splits its time between Bill’s problems and the story of his family’s past. The final chapter spends a lot of time on a last minute journey that Bill takes.
They are funny, but the undercurrents of desperation and sadness that fueled DH’s funniest film, Rejected, take center stage here. Every bit of misery and horror that Hertzfeldt can come up with, he piles on Bill. Bill’s mom was insane; he finds a doctor’s file on her that recommended she never have children. His ancestors are madmen, child murderers, cat decapitators.
It’s a long, dark, horrible… slog isn’t the right word, because it is often funny, and it does not drag. DH’s animation is always amusingly understated, and uses the hell out of his aesthetics. But as we came closer and closer to the inevitable end, I was preparing to kick my cats and yell at kids to get off my lawn. I don’t need the constant misery of the world placed on my head in ostensible entertainment. But in a shift at the very end of the film, it’s clear that neither does Don Hertzfeldt. Bill gets a very welcome reprieve, similar in tone to the ending of Murnau’s The Last Laugh. That ending was (IMDB informs me) studio interference. The end of It’s Such A Beautiful Day was born, I think, just in Don Hertzfeldt’s humanity.
It’s hard to review these films without discussing the artist since it’s all essentially a one-man band. Don H draws every cel, largely shoots the films himself and designs all their insane technical challenges. While there’s less abstract ambition in this film than in Meaning of Life, it’s still a visual dynamo. Hertzfeldt often uses a limited amount of screen space, place the action in a frame that occasionally moves, or splits into several frames of animation – so he is essentially playing out and animating several scenes at once, all done on 35-mm film with multiple exposures. The DVDs for the individual films everything will be okay and I am so proud of you! contains enormous archives of notes, cels, and descriptions of how Hertzfeldt created the films, made his effects, drove himself insane, etc. Unfortunately, there isn’t any such archive for the entire film on the Bitter Films Archive disc volume II, but it contains an extensive selection of edited Q&A sessions where Don Hertzfeldt comes across as genuine, funny, and decidedly non-pompous (I wonder if the long hours and hard grunt work these movies take have the effect of dragging all the pomposity out of him. I know if I’d single handedly created an enjoyable, thought-provoking, visually gorgeous and original body of work, I’d be insufferable.)
Even at his least structured, DH makes films for an audience (even if it is an audience of one).