I worked without storyboards and rode the rails of the songs, creating stream-of-consciousness animation that is a construction of metaphors that start with my experience, but lead off in many directions.
“On the weekends, I fooled around on my piano and I wrote so many songs that they form a kind of musical diary.” As Debra J. Solomon describes her process, the songs seem almost to tumble out of her, a means of expressing her needs and sorting through her feelings. She performs this process in Getting Over Him in Eight Songs or Less, a short animated documentary of her collapse and recovery following the end of her marriage.
Airing this month on HBO2, the movie teeters between cute and creepy. The drawings are penicilly and pastel-washy, delicate and shape-shifting, ever in motion but never going anywhere. Once the animator for Lizzie McGuire, Solomon here tracks her post-breakup depression in whimsical images, part Boynton greeting card, part Cathy Guisewite. It doesn’t matter how she lived with the husband or what she missed leading up to his announcement that he was leaving her. All that matters is that her life is over, now that she’s been instructed that there’s something wrong with her. “I call my sisters,” Solomon recalls, the image showing them seated in distant chairs around the room where she gyrates in pain. “I cry, I wail, I scream, I do everything but flop around on the floor in my tears.” It’s beyond her control in this recollection: “Eric has slipped me something,” she frets, “And I can’t wake up from it.” Broken and confused, she begins to sing: “Like a toy without its wheel, like a coat with its sleeves.”
Surely dramatic, such sentiment is also disheartening. The film cuts that effect occasionally, with images slightly more perverse than cloying. As Solomon wanders through her local drugstore, that one that’s “got all my favorite types of snack food, got all my favorite nutty treats,” her figure changes, stretching to accommodate all the cookies, cakes, and chips she’s inhaling, followed by diet pills and diet cokes — which cause her body suddenly to spin into a wisp. Yes, consumer culture is debilitating and incoherent, a lousy route to a self-image. And ye, here she is, looking for exactly that, exactly there.
Such sharp moments are undercut, however, by others that show a life that is strangely unexamined, a series of semi-revelations that go in circles — all coming back to that most tedious mantra, that even a precarious-seeming girl can discover banality, can essay to “find myself.” She imagines everyone else in her building is partying all the time while she stays home feeling “dull dull dull,” and she’s thrilled when “a cute guy at a party” hands her his business card — self-esteem restored! At other times, the film lays out her emotional life in hyper-detail, as she spends days and weeks making sketches, toss-away self-expressions that form a “kind of a weird support group.” “We decide together,” she narrates as drawings pulse and wobble all around her, “that I have to get out of my apartment.”
Watched, warned, and exhorted by her creations, while also re-existing here as one of those creations, Solomon talks and sings her way through the disorder she’s feeling, the overwhelming doubt and the faith in platitudes that springs from same. When at last she ventures “outside,” she spots a woman, dragging on a post-coital cigarette while seated in her window, her “naked ass and long, long legs” visible from the street. Solomon is undone by this specter of the confident, sexual, recently desired woman. “Let me be you for a while,” Solomon sings, imagining a visit to the woman’s apartment, unzipping her skin and climbing into her perfect skin. “Let me walk around in that body.”
Here again, the evocative visual — pink insides laid open by that long zipper, Solomon’s legs stepping inside a disturbing Silence-of-the-Lambs-style skin-suit — complicates this dreary desire to be a cliché. Needless to say, this is not the self the film proposes she find.
But for all the worrying Solomon does about the past and future, the film offers a more intriguing take on time, in its reimagining of documentary. As Solomon’s sketches and songs might be a kind of diary, the animation of her emotional, internal experience reveals that documentary form and evidence needn’t be recorded, only remembered, inexactly.