I had come out of Tuesday's documentary-heavy endurance test hungering for livelier fare, and I got it in spades Wednesday night at the Enzian, where I was treated to a three-ring circus of oddball visions that left me with a renewed appreciation of a world gone weird.

A brief introduction by affable cartoon king Bill Plympton heralded the arrival of the eagerly anticipated "Animated Shorts" program, a far-ranging yet cohesive compendium of the latest and greatest in the field of actorless cinema. Plympton couldn't stick around: He had to be at Colonial Promenade for the showing of his feature "I Married a Strange Person," and a follow-up Q&A (in which he allegedly referred to his attempt to work for Disney as a "bad cop/anti-Christ" experience).

In his absence, the satirical bent was well represented by the presence of Corky Quakenbush, whose pieces for the program "Mad TV" cast Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and other characters from the Rankin-Bass library of stop-motion classics in spot-on parodies of "The Godfather" and the Fox reality drama "Cops."

Knocked for a loop

But the real two-by-four-to-the-forehead was "Wood Technology in the Design of Structures," an experimental short that was the first truly challenging Festival offering I'd come across. Starting as a tongue-in-cheek scientific explanation of the human ability to digest wood, the film in its last few moments devolved into intentional metaphysical gibberish, and finally into a heartfelt plea for living in the moment. "Experimental animation" usually has me wishing that "Yellow Submarine" had never been released, but "Wood" led with its brain, not its pen. In a few short minutes, it proved itself worthy of comparison to the best of Laurie Anderson. I hadn't been so mentally stimulated since leaving college, except that this time I wasn't hung over.

Venturing outside between screenings, I struck up a conversation with the TV-13 reporter whose camera I had tried so diligently to avoid on Sunday. She was smart and outgoing, and I made a silent vow to never again have fun at anyone's expense without getting to know them first. At that precise moment, Seymour Cassel ambled up to the two of us and launched, unprovoked, into a thoroughly impenetrable monologue that I believe had something to do with golf. I reminded myself that I'm much too young to start issuing blanket policies about anything.

Which way is up

If I had expected the remainder of the evening to be a return to terra firma, I was happily proved wrong by "Tomorrow Night," the absurdist first feature by Letterman/Conan jokemeister Louis C.K. Taking place in a vaudevillian Twilight Zone, wherein characters with names like Lola Vagina express themselves solely in mutters and bellows, it told the story of a camera-shop owner who compensates for his sexual repression by embarking on a holy quest to rid his shop of all unclaimed photos. The audience was in hysterics even through the tale's subtler passages, a sign that they were either: 1) extremely sophisticated, or 2) on something.

I chose to believe the former.

Taking questions after the film, the writer/director apologized for its poor audio, explaining that what we had watched was the only print in existence. In the first totally satisfying Q&A of the festival, C.K. told of writing "$40,000 of bad checks in one day" to pay for his cinematic debut (finally, a financing story to which we all could relate). The costs were increased, he said, by his reluctance to rely on the "volunteer labor" safety net maintained by so many aspiring directors.

"I pay everybody," he said of his crew, "because they're lifting shit."

He also admitted with comic chagrin that the entire first three days' worth of footage had to be dust-binned when it was discovered that "some guy" had loaded the wrong type of film into the camera. Where, oh, where was the audience member who's been making it a practice this year to ask every director what kind of stock he uses? For once, he would have heard an interesting story.

The saddest note in C.K.'s litany of misadventures was his admission that he hadn't been able to persuade any distributors to come see his film when it played at Sundance. Even buying a box-full of tickets and handing them out himself hadn't seemed to work.

It was the most mystifying element in a night full of shocks to the system, and the only one that didn't put a smile on my face. Some things, I acknowledged, I'll never understand.

Tips for Thursday night: Remember that the classic "To Kill a Mockingbird" has replaced the planned showing of Hitchcock's "The Trouble with Harry" at Enzian. Following is "Frat House," a documentary about the lazy, crazy, hazing days of fraternity initiation. Those who instead visit Colonial Promenade will be treated to replays of the animated "Kiki's Delivery Service" and the immigrant character drama "Once We Were Strangers," both of which have generated major buzz since screening last Saturday.

For a complete listing of Florida Film Festival events, search the Calendar

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There's even more at the official website.

More by John Freeman


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