Simply Don 

Lo, I am ruptured


There's a quick and easy way to find Don Hertzfeldt fans in any situation. Simply stand up and say, with a soft, southern accent, "My spoon is too big!" If there is a Hertzfeldt-head nearby, he or she will invariably respond with "I'm a banana!" If this makes no sense to you, then you have missed out on the work of a man who is, without a doubt, the most brilliant mind to enter animation since Matt Groening created The Simpsons from his rabbits in order to pay off gambling debts. Yet Hertzfeldt has walked a different route than those of Groening, Mike Judge, and Craig McCracken. While those folks have gone to television and now watch over large staffs, he remains a loner, working by himself and animating every painful frame with his two godsent hands. From great simplicity can come infinite complexity; this is particularly true of Hertzfeldt's art. His humor is deceptively simple, as is his artistic style. While his characters are invariably bulbous stick figures, they say more by simply looking at the audience than the sum total of all dialogue said by all the characters in every Disney animated movie of the past twelve years. There are few experiences on this earth more original and twisted than your first viewing of one of his short films, Billy's Balloon, Genre, and Rejected being the best. Thus, the arrival of a new Don Hertzfeldt animated short, four years in the making, is reason to limber up your guts for a good round of busting.

The animator himself will be in attendance (schedule permitting) at both Saturday evening screenings of The Animation Show 2005 at the Act 1 & 2 (2128 Center St., Berkeley). This traveling animation festival features Hertzfeldt's newest creation, The Meaning of Life, along with the work of Bill Plympton, Koji Yamura, and Peter Cornwell. Just remember to bring some tissues for your tears of laughter, and a silly hat, as there will be a "Silly Hats Only" section in the audience, and those violating this can expect to be beaten with sticks. The festival runs this week and possibly beyond. Call 510-464-5980 for showtimes and ticket prices. -- Alex Handy


Reel Jews

Cinema Semitica

From its humble beginnings ten years ago -- showing three films over two days -- the Contra Costa International Jewish Film Festival has grown into a doozy. This year's festival comprises eighteen films from eight countries over seven days. Don't bother trying to do the math: They have it all, from an Israeli bildungsroman to a WWII-era romantic drama from the Slovak Republic, a US documentary on the Joe Louis-Max Schmeling fight to a Ugandan one on the Jewish Abayudaya tribe. And of course there are the director appearances and guest speakers like the veteran NY newscaster Spencer Christian. Screenings happen at the CinéArts theater in Pleasant Hill and the Contra Costa JCC in Walnut Creek. Info: Festival -- Stefanie Kalem


Sketched Out

Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) was more than just a guy who liked voluptuous women. The learned artist was also a charmer, a friend to royalty, and a skilled diplomat. So what was his artistic process like, if he wasn't producing his baroque works in miserable, garret-secluded exile? The Berkeley Art Museum (2626 Bancroft Way) presents a window into Rubens' creative world with Drawn by the Brush: Oil Sketches by Peter Paul Rubens, the first US exhibition of approximately 35 oil sketches, which later became prints, sculpture, and tapestry designs for weavers. Admission costs $3-$10., 510-642-1124. -- Stefanie Kalem

THU 3/3

Your Discretion, Please

Attention: This is an announcement of the not-so-secret secret show system. There's this band of sedate Scandinavians, see, and they're playing San Francisco next week. But first they're stopping off in Berkeley to record some new slices of jazzy, whispery folk-pop. And, while they're in the East Bay, they're playing a show at Speisekammer with some of their like-minded friends -- Call and Response, the Moore Brothers, and Bart Davenport. We won't tell you who the headliners are; that would be too convenient. We'll just say that the show costs $7 and it starts at 8:30 p.m. 2424 Lincoln Ave., Alameda. 510-522-1300. -- Stefanie Kalem



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