While the film industry of today is flooded with reams of CGI Pixar bollocks about fish that get lost in monster factories (or something like that), back in the 70s, animating films actually involved painting and drawing. Vince Collins made some of the most hallucinatory animations you can imagine back in those halcyon days. We had a word with him about turning one of the world's favourite children's books into a trippy porno where a girl disappears up her own vagina.
In case you haven't seen Malice in Wonderland, here it is. Don't watch this if you are feeling feared out, have been taking drugs, are lonely, or are easily unnerved. In fact, only watch it if you are feeling pretty peppy.
Vice: How did you start making animated films?
Vince Collins: I grew up in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. It's an OK place, but you have to go to California to make movies. I moved there and saw films made by independent animators like Jeff Hale and Larry Jordan. The idea then was that you could use the professional resources which were once exclusively commercial – labs, sound mixing, and so on – to make your own movie. It was really revolutionary and inspirational.
How involved were you in the drug culture of the time? Your work has an obvious psychedelic edge to it, to say the least, especially Malice in Wonderland.
The films reflect the spirit of the times; I made 60s-style films in the 70s. The last three blocks of Haight Street, before the park, were lined with drug dealers. As you walked by they would whisper, "Grasssss, LSDeeeeee, cooocaine," and occasionally, "Oooopium." That's what I heard all the time. The drug scare of the time was media sensationalism. The people in media were all old, they grew up before electricity and automobiles. Young people were certainly not taken seriously. Film directors were all in their 70s, assistant cameramen were in their 60s, there was nobody younger than that on the set. George Lucas grew a beard to appear older. That time was the first youth culture. How many films did you make in total?
After I had made six or seven movies, the independent film scene disappeared, in the late 70s, but I kept making films anyway. That's what I liked to do, but I wanted to make something sensational to mark the end of that era – a porno.
So what happened to your porno plans?
Malice in Wonderland was the porno. Maybe it's not considered one now, but it was a porno then.
Oh right, yeah. I didn't really think of it as porn.
Malice in Wonderland was actually the least known film I had made, as it turns out, because most of the theatres that showed independent films had disappeared by that point. There were no VHS or DVDs, you had to be there to see It. And it got booed anyway. Then 25 years later it started appearing on YouTube and got more views per day than it did in its entire theatrical career. Why was it booed?
These days, it's, "Dude, what the fuck is that shit?" Whereas back then, it was, "You are exploiting women, you filthy sexist pig!" Thus booing and hissing.
It does have some pretty heavy duty sexual imagery in it. Was that your interpretation of Alice in Wonderland, or was the sexual stuff not directly related to the book?
Sex has some really good shapes and actions for animation. Most of my stuff is a non-stop flow of images, start to finish – non-stop climaxes, involving the entire screen without a background/foreground concept. The Alice in Wonderland story has some great opportunities for this type of animation. Once, Malice in Wonderland was rented by a woman's club by mistake to show at their meeting. There was an actual occurrence of "the aghast audience running from the room". On the upside, when Malice was in post-production, the guy there told me that it was the only time his crew of tape machine operators had ever actually watched one of the projects they were working on. That's something I guess. Can you tell me more about the physical process of your film making?
I work tight – the actual artwork size is about 11 x 15 cm – and I use a long lens. It was always the traditional cell-style animation, but I'd divide each cell into four sections to economise. Cells and paint were expensive. And I didn't use effects, it was all just drawn and painted, beginning to end.
Was film-making your primary source of income, or was it more of an obsession you cultivated for your own satisfaction?
There was a time when you could live off of grants, film festival prizes, film rentals, and get all your meals at premieres, studio parties, and receptions. And for a while, the US government did a lot to support filmmakers – buying prints, study programmes. The American Film Institute was created trying to emulate the National Film Board of Canada. I got a grant from them. David Lynch made his first film with AFI money. But when all that was over, I kept going by obsession and working at a film lab where there was free film, processing, and services.
What was your best known film at the time?
I made a film called Euphoria in 1974 that got a lot of recognition. It got the Student Oscar and a bunch of other awards and stuff. Euphoria had the "psychedelic" look, but that was more or less what you get with experimental animation. Len Lye and Oscar Fischenger made some whacked-out stuff way before the drug scene happened.
You can view Vince's MySpace page here.