The stand-out aspect of Chris Sullivan's animated film "Consuming Spirits" is its insanely meticulous construction. The animation took 15 years of work to create the two and a half hour film, which was shot frame by frame in 16mm film (at 24 frames per second). The characters were hand-drawn onto layers of glass which were then moved with needles and pins. The film seamlessly combines cutout animation, pencil drawing, collage, and stop-motion animation to create the haunting atmosphere of a self-contained world.
The film takes place in Gardener's Corners, an Appalachian industrial town inspired by Sullivan's Pittsburgh upbringing. Most of the town's inhabitants are at least somewhat skilled in the fields of medicine, gardening, hunting, photography and journalism. Fields, it is revealed throughout the film, that are not all that different. What starts off as a collage of broken characters in perfect detail evolves into a carefully woven narrative, as delicately assembled as the pinned puppet characters.
The story opens with a seemingly random and horrific event. Gention Violet, a middle-aged journalist hits a nun with her school bus and, after failing to heal her wounds with iodine and gauze, leaves her to die. We then proceed to watch Gention's daily life, boring yet heartbreaking, the present constantly infiltrated with ghosts, fears and memories. There is a lot of ugly in the film, from immoral actions to unjust suffering to the grotesque appearances of the characters. We hear them stumble over their spit, talk with their mouths full, kiss with too much tongue. Even watching how a character talks is painful, their jaws slowly swinging back and forth like old rocking chairs.
"Consuming spirits" references both alcohol and divine power, and most characters walk shakily between self-medication and self-poisoning, making the film feel like both a profound realization and a bad trip. There is little use for traditional judgments of good and bad in Sullivan's animated world, where two and a half hours of ugly characters make up the most beautiful spectacle you've ever seen.
See the trailer below and let us know what you think: