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Don Hertzfeldt on Blu-ray – Review

// Featured, Independent Animation, Reviews (Film)


hertzfeldt_DVDBlu-ray has been a tricky medium for this consumer to get on board with, existing as it does in an era where the ephemeral nature of home media has become resoundingly clear, yet the fond memories of accruing films and box-sets when they were commercially viable remain somewhat crisp.

While the convenience of digital storage and streaming services has been steadily rising, there remain certain gems of cinema that warrant some form of physical space on our shelves. Don Hertzfeldt’s It’s Such a Beautiful Day is easily among these. The 2012 independent feature film has been frequently mentioned on the site and in podcasts, though never directly reviewed, so its recent Blu-ray reissue is a fitting enough excuse to revisit it.

As a prime case study of how an independent feature might be tackled by an individual, the film began life as the 2006 short Everything Will Be OK, a darkly humorous tale of Bill who, through some reason that has not been clearly determined, has begun to suffer troubling hallucinations, memory loss and personality changes. The film is largely set to classical music and Hertzfeldt’s narration peppered with witty asides regarding the relatable minutiae of Bill’s social awkwardness, counterbalanced by an increasingly tragic alienation from his loved ones. Although Everything Will Be OK stands on its own, a second installment I Am so Proud of You (2008) followed, expanding on Bill’s family history and continued degeneration of his mental buy xanax health. This second part trades the darkness of the first with pathos, and 2011’s It’s Such a Beautiful Day largely stays this course. In this concluding chapter we see the final stage of Bill’s journey into mental unclarity, further compounded by his living alone and his decreasing physical health. This chapter also casts ambiguous light on much of his genealogical backstory presented in the preceding installment, suggesting these may have been embellished recollections, if they indeed happened at all.
Though bleak on paper, the final act in which Bill intuitively sets out on a mission he has no firm grasp of proves to be unexpectedly uplifting, even life-affirming.

It's Such a Beautiful Day (Dir. Don Hertzfeldt, 2012)

It’s Such a Beautiful Day (Dir. Don Hertzfeldt, 2012)

Edited together, the three short film installments flow well as a roughly one-hour long feature. This success owes a lot to the consistency of their design style and execution, combining Hertzfeldt’s signature minimalist hand-drawn animation with a variety of analogue film techniques. As an overall story it succeeds for the same reason as the work of filmmakers such as Adam Elliot, by fully plunging into a subject that most would treat with kid gloves and not being afraid to explore all of its facets, be they heartbreaking, disturbing, humorous or an effective combination of all three.

The ‘b-side’ of the Blu-ray package is Hertzfeldt’s much-loved 2015 short film World of Tomorrow, in which toddler Emily is visited by a clone of her adult self and whisked to the future. The film (that you can learn more about in our recent director interview) marks something of a style shift in his use of digital backdrops and environments, though his instantly identifiable approach to the character animation remains, as does the sophisticated ambivalence of tone as described above; as with It’s Such a Beautiful Day, the viewer emerges from a series of scenarios alternately hilarious, heartbreaking and horrific with a sense of affirmation and gratitude.

Lily and Jim (Dir. Don Hertzfeldt, 1997)

Lily and Jim (Dir. Don Hertzfeldt, 1997)

These two works alone should justify the set as worth considering to most Hertzfeldt fans, though in truth it’s actually quite an extensive anthology of his back catalogue. Though much of his work is available online, earlier projects such as his student films Lily and Jim (1997) and Billy’s Balloon (1998) are presented with nice, crisp transfers. Admittedly the higher definition of such minimally-animated and designed works won’t add in any crucial details one might have missed the first time around, though the increased textural richness gives the films a lot of warmth.

Other well-known shorts included are the outright classic Rejected (2000), The Meaning of Life (2005), Wisdom Teeth (a 2010 short described online as ‘an unnecessary cartoon Don drew in between more important things’ that, possibly for this very reason, remains a personal favourite) and his strangely poignant animated introduction to a 2014 episode of The Simpsons in which a Homer-esque creature appears to yearn for the past. Presented together, the set serves as a nice document of Hertzfeldt’s creative growth and penchant for experimentation – visual approaches dabbled with in The Meaning of Life and Wisdom Teeth, for instance, are fully explored in It’s Such a Beautiful Day; similarly there are notable style similarities to his Simpsons animation and World of Tomorrow which were produced alongside one another. It’s also interesting to note the disparity between approaches to the written dialogue of the latter when revisiting earlier work such as Lily and Jim.

Wisdom Teeth (Dir. Don Hertzfeldt, 2010) DVD/Blu-ray transfer comparison

Wisdom Teeth (Dir. Don Hertzfeldt, 2010) DVD/Blu-ray transfer comparison

While the package boasts several extras, it has left behind some of the shorts and supplemental material that originally appeared on Hertzfeldt’s previous Bitter Films DVD anthologies, so don’t go popping your copies on eBay just yet (shame on you for even contemplating it). The main additions of note are a recent filmed interview in which various areas of the production of World of Tomorrow are explored and a teaser for an upcoming project that is sure to please many.

It’s Such a Beautiful Day plus World of Tomorrow is available to buy on region-free Blu-ray from bitterfilms.com

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