Starving in the Belly of the Whale
Director: Gal Shkedi

BUNNY. 1998
Director: Chris Wedge

Directors: Gus Guimaraes
& Adams Carvalho

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

Belly of the Whale Flash-animated in Israel as part of the graphic design course at Shenkar College of Engineering, Starving in the Belly of the Whale (2007) goes so much further than one expects from student animators springing their latest creations on youtube.

Gal Shkedi has done total justice to Tom Waits, while seeming to take some of the film's thematic clues from macabre vintage cartoons such as by Max Fleischer.

Totally connecting to the atmosphere of Tom's vocal performance, we see a sailor on the churning seas, with a banjo-playing monkey on his head, singing the titular tune "Starving in the Belly of the Whale" from his CD Blood Money (2002).

A surrealist adventure unfolds with nicely skewed referentiality to the lyrics. The monkey with the fiddle illustrates the opening lines "Life is whittled/ Life's a riddle/ Man's a fiddle that life plays on."

Belly of the WhaleOur hero, who we may think of as Pirate Tom, or perhaps E-o-leven referred to in the lyrics, possesses a treasure map that leads him on this journey.

Fish leap around him out of the sea. Suddenly a wave tosses him out of the ship & he sinks down, down among the jellyfish & the coral. Rather than drown, he seems to be in his element, swimming & singing, attempting to befriend a mermaid, until the sea people surround him.

To fit the song's chorus we get to see Tom E-o-leven swallowed by a whale. Inside, he encounters of chorus line of skeletons with their meat digested off their bones, dancing to gruff tune. He additionally encounters a beatnick skeleton playing slap-base, plus a strange creature on a raft.

E-o-leven is shot through the whale's blow-hole & rockets into the clouds, where tethered dogs dwell in great numbers, fitting the lyric: "Sky is darkening/ Dogs are barking/ But the caravan moves on..." Higher he goes, above the dogs' clouds, & he finds himself amidst bizarre angels, still clinging to his treasure map.

Belly of the WhaleFinally he plunges back to earth, landing in the cemetery full of crows, & into a cemetery pit all the way to Hell.

Now he's accompanied by a chorus-line of devils. He asks Satan about the treasure map, & the dark lord kicks him back to the surface of the world. Hump-back bulls chase him out of the cemetery just as the point of the lyrics when Tom sings the line "Don't trust a bull's horn, a doberman's tooth, a runaway horse, or me."

The bulls chase him over a cliff & he falls, falls, falls back onto the deck of his ship, where his monkey greets him with a saxophone rift.

The ship takes him into a region that transforms into the city streets with bits of the whole film showing up in the city park, where Pirate Tom is a grounds cleaner with rake, councelling himself, "Don't be greedy/ Don't be needy/ If you live in hope you're dancing to a terrible tune/ Starving in the belly, starving in the belly, starving in the belly of the whale."

Big kudos to the Tel Aviv animator, first for simply being a fine animator making a very fun cartoon, with that first point amped up a thousand times for doing Tom Waits a worthy turn.

The computer-animated short Bunny (1998) is from the folks who went on to make the animated feature Ice Age (2002). It is awesome in its simple tragedy, deeply moving if you let it reach your heart. It opens with a moth behind the credits, flying into the light.

BunnyThe light turns out to be in a kitchen. An elderly rabbit is mixing batter in the dark evening under the dangling ceiling light. She interrupts herself to let the moth outside, then looks longingly at a picture of herself with her late husband, sighing with longing lonely sorrow.

The moth is trying to get back in the house, eventually succeeding, & the widowed Mrs. Bunny (not realizing it's her husband's soul) begins a comical battle, "hopping" feebly with help of her walker trying to get the big ol' moth.

It eventually falls into the cake batter & with a cruelly victorious glint in her eye, Mrs. Bunny mixes the batter quickly & puts it in the oven to bake.

Moments later a mystic light shines through the oven window, together with poltergeist events throughout the kitchen. She opens the oven, peers in, & finds an endless tunnel, which she follows into the afterlife, led by the attentive moth until she too sprouts wings.

To say this seven-minute film lis full of humor is an understatement, yet the overriding feeling is of bittersweetness. About a third through, Tom Waits' band begins to provide the gypsy-like soundtrack music, written & produced by Tom & his long-time collaborator (and wife) Kathleen Brennan. When the story has run its course, Tom sings the lullaby behind the end-credits:

"The sky's as deep as it can be, bend down the branches/ Close your eyes, bend down the branches/ You're like a willow, once you were gold/ We're made for bending, even beauty gets old/ Climb the stairs they're not so steep, bend down the branches/ Close your eyes & go to sleep, bend down the branches."

The rotoscope animated four-minute short Green Grass (2006) was filmed & edited by Gus Guimaraes, then hand painted frame by frame by frame by Adams Carvalho, in the process called rotoscoping. Worth the combined effort? Damn righteous it was!

BunnyThe performers covering the Waits song are Cibelle on percussions & lead vocal, Serafina Steer on harp, & Spleen doing supportive male vocal.

We see cars on a highway. Brazillian singer Cibelle with sweet, pure voice interprets Tom's song as a beautiful almost folky ballad: "Lay your head where my heart used to be/ Hold the earth above me/ Lay down in the green grass/ Remember when you loved me..."

I will always prefer Tom's gruff voice to any singer on earth, but now & then it's dear to hear how melodic & sweet his songs can be at their core. And in this official animated music video, Cibelle strips away everything but that core.

She clearly knows the original is apt to be better than any interpretation Tom inspires in others. So as a stronger nod to Tom's supreme beauty, she has a bit of back-up singing from Spleen, who is impersonating Tom Waits. His vocal track is too subdued for it to amount to a duet, but it certainly adds something strong to counterbalance Cibelle's lightness.

The lyrics are scary-romantic. The animation itself is only adequate but it does all go together remarkably well. The animated blackbirds, not rotoscoped, were better done than the rotoscoping. The number was the first song on her Cibelle's second album, The Shine of Dried Electric Leaves, which this video promoted.

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Tom Waits Videos

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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