Ryan: The Special Edition DVD represents the culmination of two careers. A collection of short films from the bizarre Chris Landreth and the sullen Ryan Larkin, two geniuses who collide in Landreth’s short “Ryan” and the hour-long documentary “Alter Egos.”


You want me to confess? Hah!” – Ryan Larkin
ImageRyan: The Special Edition DVD represents the culmination of two careers. A collection of short films from the bizarre Chris Landreth and the sullen Ryan Larkin, two geniuses who collide in Landreth’s short “Ryan” and the hour-long documentary “Alter Egos.”
In 1969, Ryan Larkin, an immensely talented Canadian animator created “En marchant” (“Walking”), a short film that took the world of animation by storm. Merely a series of watercolor images of people walking set to music, “En marchant” was a simple, brilliant celebration of life. Characters (alone or in groups) cart wheeled, danced, and otherwise leapt off the screen. Everyone was bubbly and bright — except for one character, a young man viewed from above sulking down the page with his hands stuffed in his pockets. This figure was Ryan Larkin’s self portrait.
Larkin, already a troubled figure, was seduced by the hippie element of the time, and latched onto drugs and alcohol with gusto. He made one more short, the moving “Street musique” and suddenly, inexplicably disappeared off the radar. Now, a quarter century later, he is a broken man. Alcoholic and homeless, he wanders the streets of Montreal panhandling and lamenting his loss.
In the mid-to-late 1990s, Chris Landreth, another immensely talented Canadian animator created “The End” and “Bingo,” two metaphysical shorts that deal with the artistic process and dehumanization in a disturbing and brilliant manner. Landreth is a pioneer of computer animation, and in his films he uses it to create a mood impossible to achieve through conventional means, such as a little girl clown in “Bingo” holding three balloons which constantly pop and regenerate. The effect is hypnotic and disturbing, not to mention oddly beautiful (it’s reminiscent of flower petals opening and closing). Landreth was greatly inspired by Larkin’s work, and the two became fast friends. What Landreth saw in Larkin moved him. After gaining his permission, Landreth taped a candid 13 minute conversation between him and Larkin, discussing his life and work.
He films this documentary footage as a fantasy, portraying Larkin as a literally broken figure, missing large chunks of his face, with spindly arms, literally flesh over sinew and bone. He carries with him a thermos no doubt containing booze, which hangs in the peripheries of the frame and distracts him with little arms every now and them.
The conversation beings innocuously enough, discussing the impact of “En marchant” and his Oscar nomination, but slowly moves into more sensitive territory, discussing loves lost and his former cocaine addiction. Eventually Landreth gets up the courage to ask Larkin to quit drinking, as he quit coke. The resulting tirade is one of the most heartbreaking and touching moments in documentary film.
“I want you to consider, um, beating alcohol in the same way you beat cocaine.”
“What?! There’s nothing I enjoy more than a good glass of cold beer. Am I supposed to give that up for, like, tea or something? No, I can’t do that.”
“I personally want to see you around. And I personally want to see you thrive, Ryan.”
“Not fried. I want to see you thrive.”
“Why? Who’s going to buy my creations? What’s in it for me? I don’t create because I’m been ripped off so fucking much, I decided to stop creating. Creativity… what do you think I can do, you know? I cannot do anything. I’ve been deprived. Deprivation is the most devastating thing. I will surely be, you know, right on deck. I’ll give up booze and give up cigarettes and be right on deck if somebody gives me some fucking money! One cannot do anything, anything at all without the power of money! I got like about, you know, ten dollars in my pocket, which to me is like, you know, a real happy experience. But to most people, you know, they spend ten dollars every fifteen minutes. I can’t believe it, man!”


Were this merely a portrait of a broken artist, it would already be an amazing and affecting film. But this is as much about Landreth as it is about Larkin. His film alter-ego is covered in bright gashes and holes, the beginnings of Larkin’s image. At the end of “Ryan,” Landreth reveals that his mother Barbara destroyed herself with alcohol in the same way that Larkin is. It is then that we realize that Landreth fears becoming what Larkin is. And so we reach the final scene, one fabricated whole cloth from Landreth’s mind and computer. Larkin panhandles on the street. Landreth stand on the other side, his face now as damaged as Larkin’s. They acknowledge one another. A character from “Bingo” walks behind Landreth, and Larkin’s reflection is his younger, complete self. What does it all mean? It’s hard to put into words, but it’s unforgettable. You can purchase the DVD here, and I cannot recommend it enough if you have even a slight interest in animation or psychology.
I suggest watching “Ryan” in the following order in order to fully appreciate it:
  1. Syrinx
  2. Walking
  3. Street Musique
  4. The End
  5. Bingo
  6. Ryan
  7. Alter Egos