The death of Steve Jobs on October 6, 2011 -- and the loss it presents to civilization at large -- has been deeply felt around the world. There are many things for which Jobs will be remembered: Apple's computer and electronic products, its unique corporate culture, its phenomenal customer service, and its sophisticated advertising.
All of these rest on an aesthetic foundation that never fails to amaze. From combining form and function to the streamlined elegance of Apple's product line, the intuitiveness of its interface, and the success of its branding, Jobs raised the artistic standards for software and electronic devices to previously unimaginable levels.
Not only did Steve Jobs build one of the most successful global brands in history (a brand whose loyal followers put the cult back in culture), he helped people around the world think in new ways, tap into their creativity, and use their newly-acquired technology to build a better world. On the morning Jobs died, the San Francisco Chronicle had just published a story (entitled SMART Muni App Designed Over A Weekend) about a group of programmers who accomplished something San Francisco's city planners had expected would take several years and millions of dollars to achieve. According to James Temple's article:
"The group hit on the idea for the tool during a hackathon sponsored by the Gray Area Foundation for the Arts as part of the San Francisco nonprofit's Summer of Smart initiative. The goal of the marathon brainstorming and programming sessions was to demonstrate how local government could harness the surplus of creative, technical minds in our own backyard, and how citizens could take the initiative to solve real city problems. The team hacked together the basic parameters of the SMART Muni app in a 48-hour stretch in late July, fueled by pizza and beer. They coupled a GPS data feed showing the location of Muni buses with a user interface that could allow MTA managers to more easily spot and fix problems. It will also allow riders to glimpse delays they want to avoid, or communicate issues throughout the system. 'In the past, you could vote, pay taxes or complain, and then you quickly run out of things you can do in a participatory democracy,' said Peter Hirshberg, chairman of the Gray Area Foundation. 'This shows there are more ways of engaging.'"
Some artists live in a world of their own, struggling to carve out a niche for themselves and their artistic vision. Others may prefer to grab their artistic muse by the horns and try to wrestle it to the ground. Constantly creating new challenges for themselves, new puzzles to be solved, and new adventures to share with others, their fertile imaginations, artistic discipline, and ability to keep producing have had a brilliant, if occasionally subversive, impact on our culture.
The first time I saw one of Bill Plympton's animated shorts was at one of the Spike & Mike Festivals of Animation. It wasn't long before Plympton's hallucinogenic adventures in storytelling were delighting audiences at the Sick and Twisted Festivals of Animation.
Since that time, Plympton's art has never failed to amaze. Alexia Anastasio's delightful new documentary, Adventures in Plymptoons, is a wild romp through the mind of the man hailed as "one of the fastest animators alive." Rest assured that Plympton's understanding of human anatomy is not reflected in any medical textbook.
If Anastasio's film succeeds in entertaining its audience, a great deal of its success is due to Plympton's fiendish irreverence, as evidenced in the following trailer:
As demonstrated in the following clip from Santa -- The Fascist Years, Plympton's shorts can be dangerously anti-authoritarianism.
And yet his artwork has been commissioned by major corporations such as United Airlines, Geico, Microsoft, Taco Bell, and Soloflex. The following ad he created for NutraSweet sacrifices none of his impishness:
If Plympton's hilarious 2004 animated feature, Hair High, was an eye opener, it was nothing compared to the breathtaking and severely twisted work he delivered in 2008's Idiots and Angels.
Adventures in Plymptoons includes testimonials from a wide range of people who have worked with Plympton ("Weird Al" Yankovic, Zak Orth, Martha Plimpton) as well as friends and colleagues such as Ed Begley, Jr., Mathew Modine, Terry Gilliam, and Ralph Bakshi. It's as wild a roller coaster ride as any of Plympton's crazy shorts. Consider the following trailer as an appetizer:
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