“The Big Snit”: Richard Condie’s classic absurdist look at nuclear war and Scrabble

By on July 22, 2015

Recently, with all the talk about countries other than the United States, rogue states or otherwise, who’d like to acquire nuclear weapons, we were reminded of a wonderfully absurd 1985 animated short “The Big Snit,” which seems to strike that rare balance of blending absurdist humor with a dark, contemplative tone of seriousness while also depicting what could happen if you end up fighting with your wife while playing a game of Scrabble.

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The film, initially released nearly thirty years ago, in August of 1985, is by Winnipeg-based filmmaker Richard Condie and produced by the National Film Board of Canada, and was nominated for an Academy Award for Animated Short Film at the 58th Academy Awards in 1986.

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In “The Big Snit,” a middle-aged couple who clearly live in the suburbs argue over a game of Scrabble, and then the argument escalates to the point where they can’t be in the same room with each other — she goes off to clean the bathtub with a vacuum cleaner while he watches his favorite TV show, “Sawing for Teens,” and he joins in on the fun with some sawing of his own. It’s the kind of story that might have been written by Eugene Ionesco or even appeared as a skit on “Monty Python’s Flying Circus,” which may be why we love it so much.

If the Scrabble scene sounds familiar, it might be because it inspired the second episode of The Simpsons’ first season, “Bart the Genius.” It’s also been called ‘one of the greatest indies ever’ by Stephen Hillenburg, the creator of “SpongeBob SquarePants,” and John Ramirez, a story/development artist at Warner Bros. Feature Animation (he’s worked on Hercules, and Toy Story 2 at Walt Disney Feature Animation) picked it as one of his top ten animated films that he’d take to a desert island.

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It has received at least seventeen awards, many of them listed here, including: the Grand Prize at the Montreal World Film Festival, the Special Jury Award for Humour at the Zagreb World Festival of Animated Films, the Golden Space Needle for Best Short at the Seattle International Film Festival, Best Animated Film at the Tampere Film Festival, the Silver Plaque for Animation at the Chicago International Film Festival, the Hiroshima Prize at the Hiroshima International Animation Festival, the FIPRESCI International Film Critics’ Prize at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival and a Genie Award for Best Animated Short.

In 1994, “The Big Snit” was voted #25 of the 50 Greatest Cartoons of all time by members of the animation field, as published in the 1994 collection The 50 Greatest Cartoons: As Selected by 1,000 Animation Professionals by animation historian Jerry Beck. It was also included in the Animation Show of Shows.

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Condie, born in 1942, was a musician for the Manitoba Theatre Centre and CBC TV from 1964 to 1965. In 1967 Condie moved to Vancouver where he worked as a sociologist at the University of British Columbia. Two years later he returned to Winnipeg and tested out a number of occupations. In 1971 he was awarded the first of two grants from the Canada Council, which he used to produce the animated short film “Oh Sure.” The film was later purchased by the National Film Board of Canada, with whom Condie was to work extensively thereafter.

Condie’s work first garnered international recognition in 1980 when he was presented with an award in Tampere, Finland for his animated short film “John Law and the Mississippi Bubble.” His next animated shorts, “Getting Started” (1980), which won six international awards, and “Pigbird” (1981) won a variety of awards in several countries including Yugoslavia, Portugal, Finland, Poland, Australia, Canada and the United States.

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Condie still lives in the River Heights section of Winnipeg, and is still quite the celebrity, apparently, much of his reputation resting on this one particular film, even he’s made several others, before and since: more recently he’s worked as the director for “The Ark” series, and released “La Salla,” in 1996, his first computer-assisted animated short, which has also won at least nine international awards.

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Condie is the founding member of the Winnipeg Film Group, and a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts and the International Animated Film Association.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.