There’s a reason most works of children’s literature — from the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen to contemporary stories like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the Harry Potter series — are intensely psychological and sinister at their core. Childhood is, after all, the cruelest time of life; aside from having to withstand the tyranny of grownups, there’s the problem of having sophisticated thoughts about the world, but lacking the vocabulary and the proper medium to express them. Take, for instance, the preschoolers Georgie and Emily, whose tape-recorded dialogue forms the backdrop for Faith and John Hubley’s film Cockaboody (1974), in which the kids appear as cute, Sailor Moon-style animated characters. Right as the film is about to fade out, Emily asks, “When you get very old, and your parents die, you get married … right? I mean, no, I mean, you get married … your parents don’t die.”
Love and death are shaky concepts when you’re four years old and straining to communicate impressions that ultimately seem too complex for the language you have at your disposal. Which might explain why Cockaboody — whose title is Georgie’s made-up word that works in multiple contexts, i.e., “You have a cockaboody in your nose”– is completely nonsensical. Georgie and Emily say whatever occurs to them at that moment. They talk about who amongst their friends wears underwear to bed. They speak in gibberish. When Georgie screams at Emily, an animated monster crawls out the throat of his cartoon likeness.
Cockaboody is haunting, and yet it’s one of the lighter films in the lineup for Docu-mation: Drawn and Reported, a series of animated documentary films airing this Thursday at the Pacific Film Archive (2575 Bancroft Way, Berkeley), as part of the MadCat International Women’s Film Festival. The impetus for Docu-mation was, in the words of MadCat program curator Kathy Geritz, to illustrate personal events or histories in which “you have very compelling written or audio material, but no images” –either because the storyteller needed to remain anonymous, or because the event happened at a time when there was no media to record it. Ariella Ben-Dov, who founded MadCat in 1996, cites Faith Hubley’s film Witch Madness (1999), which sketches out the history of witch hunts. “Obviously there’s no footage from that era,” Ben-Dov says, explaining that the filmmaker meticulously combed through written testimonials from witnesses to the witch trials in Europe and Salem, Massachusetts, and used them as her point of departure.
Docu-mation‘s theme often lends itself to the grisly and the macabre. In her film Hysteria (2001), Alys Hawkins juxtaposes typed scraps from a medical manual (“Cause of hysteria: Masturbation. Treatment: Clitorectomy”) with drawings that symbolize the cruelties exercised on women in 19th-century asylums; a clitorectomy is represented by a snapping pair of cartoon scissors about to slice into a vagina. But you need not worry that Docu-mation will inspire you to go home and slit your wrists, as Liz Blazer’s comical Backseat Bingo ends the program on a hopeful note. Blazer interviews people at an old folks home about their romantic and sexual lives, and then accompanies the taped dialogues with cartoon images of the interviewees, set to a backdrop of raunchy big band music. Her findings? Foxy octogenarians are looking for someone who dresses well, tips well, and doesn’t vote the straight Republican ticket. 7:30 p.m., $8. MadCatFilmFestival.org