Spout Mavens Disc #14, Part 9 of 13: Shorts! Volume 3 - Clay Pride: Being Clay in America (2001)

Director: Jonathan Watts & David Karlsberg
U.S., 5 minutes, color animated
Cinema 4 Rating: 7

At least the filmmakers admit that their project is built upon a one-joke premise.

What producer/co-director David Karlsberg doesn’t really declare, perhaps out of a humility rarely found in filmmakers, is how well-sustained that one joke turns out to be. Granted, Clay Pride: Being Clay in America, yet another film on the Shorts! Volume 3 DVD collection, only runs a mere 5 minutes. But even with one joke, once you acknowledge that delivering humor in stop-motion clay animation is a good deal harder than telling the same type of joke with live-action – timing, the mainstay of all successful humor, is even tougher to achieve when you can only film your “actors” a split second at a time, frame by laborious frame – then you will be astounded by the overall effect and feel of this film.

On the commentary, Karlsberg also admits that the animation in Clay Pride is not necessarily that ambitious either, which is true, but as always, it ain’t what you got, but how well you use it. Karlsberg and creator/co-director/writer Jonathan Watts don’t go for obvious jokes here. They let the absurdity of the situation itself carry the film. The conceit, that clay-animated characters exist in a world with the “normals” in a manner directly parallel in which those of the homosexual affiliation exist within our world, is really primarily based around childlike pun play, simply replacing a letter with another pair of letters, like someone calling me “dick” or “prick” in the manner of the brute which has followed me about for much of my life. (I usually tell them, since my name does not contain a “c,” that their rhyme-play makes little sense, except in some foreign tongue, as if ordering Thai food or categorizing tiny and adorable African antelopes.)

But by embracing this entry-level pun, Watts (who apparently created this world first in a short film made in high school) pours his simple joke into what could pass, were it filmed for real in its parallel existence, for a rather somber documentary on intolerance and societal homophobia. Most of what is said by the characters – except for a timely cameo in the shadows by a certain slanty-headed green clayboy of great renown – is pretty straightforward and not much different from that which might be said in a parallel documentary on gay bashing in our society, with all of the humor gliding slyly off the premise that we are talking about clay-animated characters instead. There are no real sight gags here – a couple of jokey name references on signs is all – mainly, the film gets by on an easy assurance by the filmmakers that the strength of their premise carries that “one joke” through satisfactorily to the end. Which it does… mostly.

Forgive me this one reflection, but there is something about the premise that confuses me a little. If being clay is roughly parallel in that imaginary world to being gay in ours, does this mean that the clay characters are actually gay? If so, are there no “straight” clay animated characters? We see them in dance clubs and at confrontational meetings, and while there is little in the way of outwardly stereotypical “gay” behavior, the overall impression is that this is so. It is a little sad that the film doesn't (or perhaps, due to budgetary reasons, is unable to) show the clays within the world of the normals outright, interacting with their oppressors. Are they tiny compared to the rest of their world, or would we see a clay figure marching in a parade while redneck buffoons of equal size spit at them from the sidewalks. And what would those rednecks do when der Golem showed up to rend them asunder?

Golem joke aside, I’m very glad that Clay Pride remains a mostly subtle exercise, and doesn’t have Davey going doggy-style on Goliath or Gumby getting some Pokey. Such antics are perhaps better suited to the likes of Robot Chicken. But the subtlety does leave me wondering about their world. And is the repression towards “clays” in that world is more of a sexual thing than the makeup of their bodies? Because of this, is it racism or sexism? Or does it matter? Aren’t they both equally vile, and if combined in an attack, even more vile?

Tolerance, my friends, tolerance is the only way, clays or otherwise. Clay Pride succeeds admirably in this message, despite the slight doubting within my briefly pondered side-trip. Would it were so that all such films were so intently fixed upon their target.

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