Strange Frame: Love & Sax is a queer science fiction feature animation from 2012 and was directed by G.B. Hajim and written by Hajim and Shelley Doty. The film is set in the 28th century after humanity has abandoned the polluted Earth and settled on several of Jupiter’s moons. Much of humanity has been genetically modified to handle the pressures of various tasks and environments, giving them various combinations of wings, extra arms, eyes, fur and figures. Race, gender and sexual orientation seem to be non-issues and everyone seems to be free in that regard, however corporate tyranny and indentured slavery still exists.
The story follows a woman named Parker who meets a debt slave Naia in a riot. They fall in love and begin to play in a band together in the dives on Ganymede, the band is popular and they attract the attention of Dorlan Mig, a record company executive. The band goes to a party to discuss a deal with the shady Dorlan, they imbibe in narcotics and have intense psychedelic experiences. The next morning Parker wakes up in a street and discovers that Naia and the rest of the band have signed a deal without her and she’s effectively been kicked out of the band. Parker is so lovesick and depressed at the betrayal that she leaves to drown her misery.
Strange Frame has probably the ONLY lesbian protagonists in an animated feature film. The vast majority of moving image media features only hetero-normative characters, and the animation genre seems particularly bad in this regard. I found a list of all the LGBT characters in animation and even though I know they missed a couple, it’s still sorely lacking. It’s refreshing and a good step in the right direction to see an independent feature animation feature strong LGBT characters, and strong characters of colour. I also found out after watching the film, that Hajim trained and employed young disadvantaged people in the economically depressed pat of his state (Hawaii) rather than produce overseas. This style of ethical filmmaking is to be commended.
Strange Frame: Love and Sax is a film about quest for love, which could be interesting however the narrative is largely full of cliche’s. Despite the lesbian protagonists and strange science-fiction universe, the base narrative of lovers in a band who are torn apart by drugs and an evil music executive is hardly new or particularly exciting. The film has pacing issues as well. The use of voice over narration by the protagonist Parker is overused from the get go and the development becomes stagnant throughout the middle of the film. The pace picks up towards the climax but then the truncated conclusion cuts off several story lines abruptly.
The animation style is digital cutout with some CGI animated elements and the occasional clip of found footage. The 2D assets have a bizarre aesthetic, they’ve got a look similar to airbrushed paintings, this is due to the smooth digital gradients. Strange Frame’s animation is a form of limited animation. Much of the character movement seems to be done with the After Effects puppet pin tool which distorts the drawings and gives it a constantly undulating and morphing look. There’s rarely an asset that’s not constantly in motion. Due to the limited nature, the majority of shots are closeups and the camera is constantly in motion which ended up making me a bit seasick. There are quite a few weird psychedelic trip sequences which are used to get from one scene to another or utilized as a form of montage when a song plays, however these are over-used and become tedious.
There are quite a few animation references throughout the film which was a nice touch, such as a flying Corvette in space which references HEAVY METAL (1981), various COWBOY BEBOP references and the 3 singing wise women which could be a nod to the muses in HERCULES (1997) but on the other hand it could just be a common trope. Strange Frame is without a doubt influenced by a long list of science fiction; from the already mentioned COWBOY BEBOP to BLADERUNNER and NEUROMANCER. This makes the film seem at once incredibly familiar yet also quite peculiar.
Strange Frame features an impressive list of well known sci-fi actors for voice work, including Claudia Black (Farscape), Michael Dorn (Star Trek TNG, DS9), Tim Curry (Rocky Horror), George Takei (Star Trek), Tara Strong (Boondocks, Drawn Together), Ron Glass (Firefly), Juliet Landau (Ed Wood, Buffy), Alan Tudyk (Firefly, Death At A Funeral). It’s not really a surprise then that the voice acting is excellent. The music pieces on the other hand let the film down which is a problem as it’s a fairly large part of this film. The music is often quite cheesy, campy and awkward. I can see that they were going for a Cowboy Bebop feel by juxtaposing jazz/soul and science fiction but it’s not really cohesive in this case. One scene in particular is the flying chase scene through skyscrapers which heavily resembles one in the COWBOY BEBOP movie yet without the execution.
All being considered, Strange Frame: Love & Sax is a film that fortes in it’s use of a strange visual aesthetic. It’s not a visual aesthetic that I find particularly comfortable or cohesive BUT it’s different and tries something new. On the other hand the narrative is riddled with cliche’s and overused tropes which make the story seem stale. It would be unfair to say that Strange Frame particularly stands out in this manner. It doesn’t, but it pushes a standard approach to storytelling that it doesn’t pull off. It seems to me that Hajim and Doty walked the knifes edge of weirdness for originality yet staple narrative for popular appeal, but unfortunately landed too far on the standard cliche side. In saying that though, It’s an interesting landmark for more diverse and socially conscious animation with it’s LGBT + 3 dimensional characters of colour and ethical production.