It’s Such a Beautiful Day (2016) Don Hertzfeldt
Blu-ray (entire disc 2:20)
I wasn’t exactly sure what I was getting myself into when I signed up for the “Hertzfeldt on Blu-ray” Kickstarter project. I’d heard Ryan and Brian, the guys from Off the Shelf talking positively about the project. It sounded interesting, so I did something I rarely do: contributed $20 for a collection of films from a director I knew nothing about. All I knew was that this Blu-ray would be a collection of several of Hertzfeldt’s animated films, none of which I had seen. I I knew that It’s Such a Beautiful Day was streaming at the time on Netflix (and still is), yet for some reason, I held off watching it.
Now I didn’t know much about Hertzfeldt, and I hadn’t backed many Kickstarter projects, but I kept getting emails from Hertzfeldt, regretting the delays in getting the discs finished, and I began to have my doubts whether I’d ever see a finished product. (Although I must admit, the emails were pretty funny.)
Finally the Blu-ray arrived (with a bonus DVD, which I haven’t yet watched). For reasons I can’t explain, I wanted to watch the most recent film, World of Tomorrow (2015), first. Since this was my initial exposure to Hertzfeldt’s work, I had no way of preparing myself for what I was about to see: the story of a little girl named Emily (voice of Winona Mae) engaging with a video transmission from the future from Emily’s adult clone (voice of Julia Pott). The clone is speaking to Emily from 227 years in the future, telling her many things, none of which I am going to spoil for you. All I will say is that World of Tomorrow is beautiful, sad, funny, and profound. Others think so, too: the film won the Grand Jury Prize for Short Film at Sundance as well as 41 other awards from other festivals. This film alone is worth the price of the disc.
World of Tomorrow – at 16:29 – is the second longest film on the disc. (It is also uses digital animation, which most of the other films do not.) The longest (at a little over an hour) is the title film, It’s Such a Beautiful Day, a work that is even more beautiful, sad, funny, and profound. Again, I will not reveal much about the film, other than it follows a stick figure named Bill, a man trying to come to grips with aging, a failing memory, and the meaning of life. The film is actually a compilation of three shorter films – Everything Will Be OK (2006), I Am So Proud of You (2008), and It’s Such a Beautiful Day (2011), integrated into one continuous whole. The complete It’s Such a Beautiful Day is filled with Hertzfeldt’s signature stick figure characters, experimental photography, multiple exposures, stop-motion animation, and other techniques. I was stunned at the conclusion of the film and haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. Regardless of your worldview, religion, philosophy, or plain old outlook on life, It’s Such a Beautiful Day will cause you to re-examine everything you know – or think you know – about life.
I don’t know much about Hertzfeldt, but from watching these films, I know that he’s asking a lot of questions. Good questions. Hard questions. I haven’t met him, but I think he’s the type of guy who’s got more questions than answers. I admire that. I also admire the courage and risks he takes in making these films. Did I mention that Hertzfeldt also usually writes, directs, animates, edits, photographs, records, mixes, and composes much of the music for these films himself? (Although he does make excellent use of classical music throughout the compilation.) And while we’re admiring things, let’s also admire Hertzfeldt’s decision to control his own product: refusing traditional advertising, he self-distributes all of his work. And if you need more to impress you, the guy’s been nominated for two Oscars.
Several of the other short films in this collection are absurdist films, filled with stick figures and dark humor, some of which were apparently rejected by the very companies that hired Hertzfeldt to create them. Most of these feature a humorously fatalistic worldview, but with moments of brilliance and incredible talent. Lily and Jim (1997), however, gives us both sides of a disastrous blind date, and may be the best entry point for those unfamiliar with Hertzfeldt’s work. Hertzfeldt won’t be for everyone and I think he’s okay with that. But if his work resonates with you, you won’t forget it and maybe it’ll cause you to look at the world – or the entire universe – a bit differently from now on.
The complete contents of the Blu-ray is as follows:
It’s Such a Beautiful Day (1:02:00)
The Meaning of Life (12:25)
Popular Animated TV Show Intro (1:55)
Wisdom Teeth (5:48)
Billy’s Balloon (5:27)
Lily and Jim (13:05)
Coming Soon (0:38)
World of Tomorrow (16:29)
If you missed out on the Kickstarter project, you can still purchase the Blu-ray by visiting Hertzfeldt’s website, but the disc will now cost you $30. That’s still a small price to pay for a collection of animated films you’ll be thinking about for days, years… maybe forever.
Photos: Don Hertzfeldt