Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Short Film: Steamlyannaya Hamonika ("Russia, 1968" [as in: Canada, 2023])

Once again, a wasted life finds itself in meme territory (and, once again, thanks to boingboing).
While we always enjoy The Simpsons when we catch an episode, and definitely laughed multiple years ago during The Simpsons Movie (2007 / trailer), we've never really been dedicated followers of the show, so the narrative inspiration of this "film" here, Steamlyannaya Hamonika, was unknown to us. And that inspiration would be a popular excerpt from the highly popular Episode 21 of Season 7, 22 Short films about Springfield. which featured 22 short interludes that linked together in the manner of a Robert Altman (20 Feb 1925 – 20 Nov 2006) ensemble film. The interlude riffed here involves two characters we only vaguely recall ever having seen, Principal Skinner and Superintendent Chalmers, and ends with the latter burning down his house. (The original is included at the bottom of this page for comparison, should you want to see it.)
Steamed Hams 
as a banned, vintage USSR cartoon:
The original description at the YouTube page of Tyrone Diese for our Short Film of the Month for March 2023 is as follows: "Steamlyannaya Hamonika (1968) depicts the isolation and brutalization of humans in modern bourgeois society. Although being broadly in line with other art-as-propaganda of the era, censors felt it could easily be read as a criticism of the party, leaving this subversive short as the only animated film to be banned in the Soviet Union."
The description is easy enough to swallow hook, line and sinker when watching the short film, but at best the description might eventually become an example of how fallacies become fact on the Internet. (Think: "Trump has a plan" or "Republicans care about children" or "America is a Christian nation.")
No, Steamlyannaya Hamonika is actually the creation of Canadian Tyrone Diese, a graphic designer and film maker and long-time employee of View Source Media. And the description found at YouTube is, actually, 100% applicable to the Russian short film to which Diese's short pays homage, Steklyannaya Garmonika ["Glass Harmonica"], image below, the surreal 1968 short film by Andrei Khrzhanovsky that is "broadly in line with other art-as-propaganda of the era", but, since "censors felt it could easily be read as a criticism of the party", became "the only animated film to be banned in the Soviet Union". (That film, by the way, will be next month's Short Film of the Month here at a wasted life, which is why we don't link it here.)
Steamlyannaya Hamonika is Tyrone Diese's second revisualization of The Simpsons outtake in two years; last year, in 2022, he did a version of Steamed Ham as a German Expressionist film ala The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920 / full film.) Enjoyable in its own right, that short does not ever really transcend its roots as a persiflage — unlike Steamlyannaya Hamonika. The unique, almost naïve illustration style of Steamlyannaya Hamonika, combined with the anachronistic "feel" of the film stock (and/or source material) has a verisimilitude that makes the short feel "real", which causes the short to become more than a simple burlesque. Combined with an unsettling score and odd, surreal details — many taken directly from  Steklyannaya Garmonika ["Glass Harmonica"] Steamlyannaya Hamonika achieves an uneasy, nightmarish otherworldliness that easily matches or transcends anything achieved or aimed for in such intentionally arty shorts like, let's say, a wasted life's Short Film of the Month of February 2010, Suzan Pitts's Asparagus
Whatever Tyrone Diese's intention was when making Steamlyannaya Hamonika we know not, but what is obvious is that he achieved something greater than he intended: a short-film homage to two sources (The Simpsons and Steklyannaya Garmonika) that functions so successfully on an artistic level that it becomes, on its own, a short but truly affective and effective masterpiece of dryly humorous surreal discomfort, a fascinating exercise in unsettlingly funny visual and aural unbehagen. Enjoy.
The original
Skinner & Chalmers sequence:

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