TIFF Review: 'Subconscious Password'

Subconscious Password
(Canada, 11 min.)
Written and directed by Chris Landreth
Starring: Chris Landreth, Don McKellar, John Dilworth
Programme: Short Cuts Canada, Programme 1 (Canadian Premiere)
Photo taken from the production, courtesy of the NFB.

Pop culture junkies unite! Have you ever had that awkward experience of forgetting someone’s name at a party, then stepping back into the recesses of the mind to try to find it, only to be lost amidst all the useless trivia stored there? Chris Landreth, director of the Academy Award winning short Ryan, uses this social gaffe as the springboard for an animated odyssey into the subconscious. This NFB-produced film, which makes its Canadian premiere at TIFF following a win for Best Short at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival, is a perfect example of the cutting-edge filmmaking on display in the Short Cuts Canada programme.

Charles (played by Landreth) finds himself a contestant in a nightmarish edition of the classic game show Password (Game Show Network fiends know the one), hosted by parts of his subconscious (voiced by Don McKellar) and a gaggle of celebrity guests who try to coax the fellow partygoer’s name out of him. From an animated James Joyce to a cartoon of Yoko Ono (a novel highlight), Subconscious Password pulls out all the pop culture clutter that clogs our minds and creates roadblocks for useful knowledge.

As Charles loses himself further in his subconscious and labors to uncover the hidden name, the pieces of the game become stranger and stranger. Charles is lost in a game of cultural currency run amok. The guests on the game show take Charles down a rollercoaster of weirdness, as Yoko Ono is replaced by a man-eating monster (Beatle fans might argue that there is little difference between the two) and even a giant naked infant version of Charles himself. (In 3D no less.) Subconscious Password is often very funny and it is always very, very, weird.

Landreth brings the story to life using stunning animation—the film will screen in 3D at the festival—that begins as manic manipulation of live action and becomes more surreal as the game progresses. The animation becomes more imaginative, too, as Charles increasingly loses his mind, and Landreth’s animation displays a creative mind with all its synapses firing. Subconscious Password, however, might amount to sensory overload for some viewers as the visual audaciousness amplifies along with the swelling soundtrack and increasingly manic action. The energy of Subconscious Password nevertheless takes festivalgoers on a run through the life of television, as the visuals evolve from the fuzzy black and white of Password reruns to vibrant and complex renderings of some of the most cutting-edge techniques you’ll see in contemporary animation. Creativity truly springs from madness.

Rating: ★★★½ (out of ★★★★★)

Subconscious Password screens in Short Cuts Canada Programme 1:
Saturday, Sept. 7, 9:45 pm at TIFF Bell Lightbox 2
Sunday, Sept. 8, 10:45 am at TIFF Bell Lightbox 4

Some of the shorts will also be playing online 24 hours after their public screening, so please check http://www.youtube.com/tiff and see if Subconscious Password is one them!

Please visit www.tiff.net for more info on this year’s festival.

Also reviewed from Short Cuts Canada 1: Gloria Victoria

Note: Subconscious Password also screens at the Ottawa International Animation Festival in Short Film Competition 2 at:
Thursday, Sept. 19, 3:00 pm at ByTowne Cinema (GALA)
Sunday, Sept. 22, 5:00 pm ByTowne Cinema