Rejected introduces itself as a series of proposed corporate advertisements which were created in 1999 by an animator on the verge of losing his mind. The animator in question is Don Hertzfeldt and, although the intertitles may lead you to believe he is cracking up over the course of the film, Hertzfeldt actually knows exactly what he is doing – And it shows. Rejected employs a similar narrative approach to found-footage horror films like Cannibal Holocaust or Paranormal Activity, as it emphatically claims to be the product of real events and then proceeds to take us to some very dark places.
In the film, the series of bewildering and increasingly worrying promotional spots are said to have been submitted to and rejected by fictitious corporations like the Family Learning Channel and Johnson & Mills. In his text commentary from the collection Don Hertzfeld Volume 1 DVD: 1995-2005, Hertzfeldt differentiates between the way he blurs the lines between fiction and nonfiction as something separate from the dishonest practices of advertisers: “I’ve turned down more money by refusing all real commercial work than I want to think about. You never want to lie to your audience. You can trick them, you can disturb them, you can annoy them, but you can never lie to them. To me commercials are nothing but lies.”
Hertzfeldt also comments on how his intentionally uncommercial cartoon was quickly imitated by those who had been the target of his ire, “Curiously, all the angry anti-corporate vibes in the movie never seemed to stop ad agencies from coming full circle and freely stealing from Rejected for their own ads. Ironic, no?” In particular, a long-running advertising campaign for Kellogg’s Pop Tarts used characters suspiciously similar to those seen in Rejected.
Rejected had its first public screening at the San Diego Comic Con in 2000 and, following in the tradition of Marv Newland’s Bambi Meets Godzilla (1969), Hertzfeldt’s deranged masterpiece soon became counter-cultural currency on college campuses and a litmus test amongst comedy geeks. After the ad-busting cartoon became breakout success in the early days of YouTube, devoted fans began expressing their adulation by uploading reaction videos of their friends watching Rejected for the first time and others have been inspired to get tattoos of characters from the film.
Hertzfeldt hails from Freemont, California and many of his early successes where produced while he was a student at the University of California in Santa Barbara, including Ah, L’Amour (1995), Lily and Jim (1997) and Billy’s Balloon (1998). Like many of Hertzfeldt’s films, Billy’s Balloon (1998) operates on the same fatal absurdity that makes the ghastly tales of cartoonist Edward Gorey so greatly admired. But unlike Gorey’s meticulously shaded illustrations, Hertzfeldt renders his animated black comedies with minimalist line drawings often set against an empty white background. Despite its gratuitous depictions balloon-related child abuse, Billy’s Balloon was nominated for the short film Palme d’Or at the Cannes International Film Festival. Rejected was likewise recognized at several festivals in the United States and Europe and it was ultimately nominated for an Academy Award – which means that Hertzfeldt’s short feature has the singular distinction of being the only Oscar nominated film to contain the exclamation “My anus is bleeding!”
Beginning in 2003, Hertzfeldt and Mike Judge curated The Animation Show which screened in hundreds of theatres all over North America and has released four DVD collections of newly produced and rarely seen animated content. In the last few years, Don Hertzfeldt compiled three of his most recent short films into the animated feature film It’s Such A Beautiful Day (2012). In 2013 Hertzfeltd created a 30-second short called Day Sleeper for the National Film Board of Canada, which was a demo for the NFB’s animation app inspired by the techniques of Oscar-winning animator Norman McLaren. Also in 2013 Hertzfeldt authored his first graphic novel, The End of the World, published by Antibookclub.