Sundance Features

January 16, 2007

Aaron Augenblick, Golden Age

"I think it's something a lot of people think about; you're always wondering why Donald Duck doesn't wear pants but Mickey Mouse does."

The Marching Gumdrop sequence from Aaron Augenblick's Golden Age

(This feature is part of an ongoing series of Reeler profiles of New York films and filmmakers at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival. Click here for a complete list of this year's interviews.)

So just for the record what is Golden Age about?

Golden Age is basically an animated documentary that chronicles the private lives of different animation characters from throughout history, and it spans from the early days of animation up through some more recent animation -- but not too recent, going from Fleischer, Disney all the way through Hanna-Barbera-esque characters. But they're all basically characters I created -- they're not real characters. What I wanted to do was show a seedy dark side to classic types of animation characters that were of my own invention. That's basically what it is. Its sort of a hodge-podge of a lot of different styles of a lot of different animation clips and manipulated photographs and newspaper clippings; we made phony merchandise and made this false existence so it looked like the characters did exist in our world.

What were you trying to communicate about these characters and their analogues in the real world?

I had a concept where there would be a plethora of these different animation characters telling their stories. I came up with piles and piles of different characters, and I worked with a writer on the project -- his name is Tim Harrod. He wrote for the Onion mostly, and now he works for Conan O'Brien. He and I put our heads together and came up with all these characters who we thought were kind of funny satires of classic cartoon characters. We tried to stay away from anything that was too recent. We tried to hit a good span; Golden Age has 10 different segments, and I tried to do different types of characters, different types of things. Out of this glut of animated characters, we chose 10 who we thought were the most interesting -- who had the most possibilities for showing the best back story.

Basically, we wanted to have these cartoon characters who were super-iconic and reminiscent of classic characters whom you might think you know, and then showing something surprising or weird or strange or dark about them. For example, there's a segment we did called Lancaster Loon; it's a cereal cartoon character, and it's a classic set-up where the cereal cartoon character is sort of an addict for his own cereal. And he's absolutely, madly obsessed with obtaining his cereal, which is taunting him by the these three elves, and it's just this classic late-'70s/early-'80s cereal commercial you've seen a thousand times. But what I wanted to do was take this concept of the characters who are sort of obsessed with their own cereal and portray Lancaster Loon as though he has a genuine substance abuse problem. His cereal is like heroin for him; he ends up having to go to a 12-step program for cereal cartoon characters and deal with his own psychological problems. That's sort of a take-off on something like Sonny the Cuckoo Bird and the Trix Rabbit and any of these sort of characters who were obsessive cereal characters -- taking something iconic and showing something a little darker.

Were these perceptions you had of these characters as you were growing up and getting interested in animation -- that there was this alternate universe?

Yeah, I think so. It's definitely something I've always thought about: What type of private lives these characters have. It was definitely influenced by things like Hollywood Babylon, where you're kind of seeing this glitzy image -- or kind of very wholesome image -- which is portrayed to the public, but what was going on behind the scenes? I think I've always thought about that with cartoon characters. I think it's something a lot of people think about; you're always wondering why Donald Duck doesn't wear pants but Mickey Mouse does. It's questions like that where you have to wonder what was going on. What kind of sexual relationships exist in the Smurfs, with one lone women among a hundred men? What kind of weird thing is going on? It's definitely something I've always thought about.

The last segment in Golden Age is called Sketch Towers, and that's the concept that animated cartoon characters can be created who have special needs -- who are mentally unbalanced, were never finished being drawn and basically need special care at a mental facility. That's something I've always, always wondered about: If you don't finish a drawing of a character, is there some existence for this character somewhere? You can imagine Mickey Mouse has a life somewhere, but what about the scribbles of a little kid? Is there somewhere where these kinds of half-formed characters would have some sort of sad solitary life? That's something that I've thought about since I was a little kid. Then it kind of came to fruition with this project.

Have you had a chance to bounce this off an audience yet?

Sundance is the first festival we're playing. We just finished it; Sundance is the first one we submitted to, and we got in. Since we got into Sundance, we just got into the Florida Film Festival and the Hong Kong International Film Festival. But it's fresh; Sundance is its premiere.

Is this your first Sundance?

I was at Slamdance a few years ago -- I think it was 2001? -- for Ramblin' Man. But this is my first time at Sundance, so I'm really excited.


No. I'm not nervous. I mean, I'm nervous I might get drunk and embarrass myself. (Laughs)

Join the club.

I'm not nervous about the screening; I've watched Golden Age enough with people, and I'm so excited about tit and I'm so proud of it that I'm just excited to get to watch it with people. I'm pretty confident that it's a good piece, and so far from the people who've watched it, everyone seems to enjoy it.

You can preview Golden Age at Aaron Augenblick's Web site.

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