Bill Plympton’s Cheatin’ opens theatrically today in NYC and I thought it would be fun to explore one of my favorite scenes: the hit man getting ready to the beat of Bolero. Cheatin’ represents a sizable investment of around $400,000 and yet Plympton still required $100,000 from a successful Kickstarter campaign to finish the digital watercolor work that was essential to the aesthetic. But this colorful and hyper-real depiction of hardboiled lust and violence represents Plympton’s masterpiece. Recalling James M. Cain with plenty of shadows and sleaze, it’s also very operatic and even balletic. Plympton admits that it took him to a whole new artistic place and it shows. Like Idiots and Angels, there’s no dialogue, but this is a much more ambitious panto with flashbacks and fantasies that seamlessly meld together like a surreal dream.
Bill Desowitz: So where did this come from?
Bill Plympton: This is the darker side of romance where jealousy rears its ugly head and the brains turn to snake brains and they want revenge. And so Ella hires a hit man to deal with her husband, and hit man is such a cliche in film noir movies and I love cliches and I love film noir movies so he was one of my most exciting episodes. So I thought it would be fun for the hit man to get ready for the murder of Jake. Early on I knew I wanted to use Bolero just the way it builds and it’s kind of militant with its almost marching cadence.
BD: You use it as the opposite of Blake Edwards’ 10: anti-romantic.
BP: Yeah, that’s right. I never thought of that. So the fun part for me was to come with as many different kinds of weapons, and I made a list of about 100. I couldn’t put them all in there so I came up with the ones that were most visual. My favorite are the bombs. When he walks around there are the giant H bombs clanging from inside his coat. That was fun to draw, and it was another giant, sexual metaphor. To be a hit man, you’ve gotta have real fortitude.
One of the most interesting parts was toward the end when he staples his nipples. As I was storyboarding, the nipples really looked like a face to me with a kind of smile in the squeezed nipple. And then I saw in the next sequence is a moment with him screaming, and I thought I could do a little metamorphosis here that would be perfect. And so this was a little improv and I love that kind of stuff, which adds another flavor, another level of humor and artistic craziness.
So I animated this and I think it’s about seven drawings from the nipple to the screaming guy and it worked really well and it’s one of my favorite parts. We called it the “Screaming Nipple” scene, which I thought would make a great name for a rock band: The Screaming Nipples.
BD: What was it like putting the scene together? I like the dream-like quality of your work and this is one of the best examples.
BP: Yes, I like to keep it part fantasy and part reality and it’s a very delicate balance and this sequence starts out kind of normal: he pulls out a gun, he pulls out a knife, he pulls out some brass knuckles and as the song becomes more intense and more layered, then he obviously becomes more layered with more weapons: more bazookas and rocket launchers and machine guns. And he reflects the music as the music builds.
So he carries these weapons and you wonder why he doesn’t get rid of these weapons, why he doesn’t unload. But he’s a true hit man — he was born to be a hit man. So he never gets rid of his weapons, even to the last shot of the film, he gets turned on my carrying all of these pieces of destruction. And you know, I think he sort of became a metaphor for how America loves their weapons, loves their guns, and so easy to attack somebody or invade a country. I did the storyboard when Bush was president. That was my statement on that.
Cheatin’ opens today at the Village East in NYC with a wider break April 12. Then it launches April 21st on Vimeo on Demand exclusively. Meanwhile, beginning this month, all of Plympton’s shorts are available on iTunes Shorts International.