By Dr. Paul Cheng
It was the great Soviet era filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein who described one of the most fundamental features of animation: it’s plasticity, or as he called it, “plasmaticness.” Eisenstein was describing what he saw in Disney cartoons: not only the exaggerated squash and stretch of the figures, but the transformation of seemingly organic objects (heads, hands, and other myriad body parts) into, well, anything the animators wanted (hammers, anvils, nails). In many ways, as viewers we are fully familiar with this type of plasticity, whether it’s the iconic “leaping eyeballs” of Tex Avery’s lecherous wolf, or the exaggerated reactions of anime schoolgirls. Thus, Yi “Yinfinity” Luo’s short feature settles in nicely to this long history of animation with her short feature Night Spinning by taking full advantage of this basic quality of animation. Moreover, Luo weds the plasticity of animation with a Pixar-style whimsy and a decidedly adult sensibility to tell the story of the different emotions that we often grapple with in our romantic lives.
The unnamed protagonist of Night Spinning finds her world turned upside-down and her head literally split in half when she spots her crush with another woman in a European café. Comparing the woman’s statuesque figure and her modelesque features to her own decidedly frumpy and somewhat chunky self, the protagonist’s head ruptures right down the middle until she is able to push it back together in the bathroom. Her shock and dismay doesn’t just register on her face, but literally on her head. What Luo does so well here is to take what we have all felt inside, the racing thoughts, the frenzied emotions, the panic we feel imagining what that other person is doing, and then literalizing it through the plastic qualities of animation. As she races faster and faster through the evening on her bicycle, the landscape transforms into two nude bodies having sex as her head continues to explode into smaller and smaller Rubik’s Cube-like pieces, making her imaginations and her feelings all too real. The juxtaposition of the whimsical art style with the mature subject matter also serves to shock a viewer unaccustomed to seeing the two set together like this.
And the ending itself, a lack of resolution as our protagonist walks slowly home by herself in the night, frustrates those used to seeing the overly sentimental resolutions in shorts like Disney’s Paperman. In the end, the best part of Luo’s film is the way it utilizes this most basic of animation’s qualities to remind us that love is not always blue skies and happy endings. Sometimes love just makes our heads explode.
Executive editor: Nien-chen Lin
Proofreading editor: Liz Carter