Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Best Animated Short - 1980

Our valiant journey through the best of the Academy Awards has taken us to 1980. It is a significant year not only because it was the first year of the 1980s, a decade that certainly left a strong mark on pop culture, but it is also an important year in my family history. After all, it was the year that saw the birth of The First Child in my generation.

I don't know how common it is to celebrate the first child born in a generation, and I don't even think it was that big of a deal in my family. However, it is still quite significant. I guess if you go back far enough there were many people that is considered my generation that were born before 1980. There are people from my generation that are the descendants from my great grandfather's eldest brother that are older than my parents. If you take just my parents' immediate family, then there are 15 people in my generation, a rather small amount considering I have 7 aunts and uncles on both sides of the family. Of the 15 I rank as the fourth oldest. The youngest was born in 1999. And there were two born in 1980. My cousin Andy was born in June, and my cousin Ada was born in January, exactly five years before I was born. Now she is an osteopathic physician who is taking some time off to take care of her three kids, and also keeping a blog featuring her husband (an anesthesiologist) sleeping.

In other news, US Hockey team creates Olympics history when the team of mostly amateurs defeated the heavily favored Soviet team in the Winter Olympics held at Lake Placid, New York. It was a major source of national pride in the midst of the continuing Cold War. And then they prevented history from being made when they boycotted the Summer Olympics held in Moscow. Mt. St. Helens erupted in Washington in May, leading to dozens of deaths and billions of dollars in damage. Only a few days later, Pac-Man is released, soon to become the most popular arcade game of all time. The Gang of Four, a group of four Chinese Communist officials that included Madame Mao, was put on trial in China for corrupting the beloved Chairman Mao. Ronald Reagen is elected president in the 1980 election. At 69 he is the oldest president to win election for the first time. Only a few days later, the TV series Dallas became even bigger than the election when viewers around the world found out who shot J.R. And the entire world mourned when J.L. (John Lennon) is shot for real. He would live on in an interview with a 14-year-old boy that would later turn into the Oscar nominated I Met the Walrus.

The star in the baseball world was George Howard Brett, the All-Star (and later Hall of Fame) third baseman with the Kansas City Royals. The year began on a low spot as he started out with an early season slump. He was still hitting below .260 in May, then suffered from several different injuries that forced him to miss significant time. However, he went on a major tear when he came back from the disabled list. His batting average jumped above the magical .400 mark when he doubled against the Blue Jays. Soon the country was wondering whether he could hit .400 and still qualify for the league lead (3.1 plate appearances per team game.) Hitting .400 was once a common occurrence during the so-called Dead Ball Era. However, as players became more free swingers in the 1920s the achievement began disappearing. Bill Terry was the last person in the National League to hit .400 when he hit .401 in 1930. 11 years later, Ted Williams became the last major leaguer to hit .400 when he hit .406 with the Red Sox. In the next 39 years not only did nobody reach .400, nobody came particularly close except Williams and Rod Carew. Both men hit .388, Williams in 1957 and Carew in 1977. Yet here was Brett, ripping line drives to all fields. His average got as high as .407 in August 26, and was still hitting .400 on September 19. However, he ran out of gas and ended the season at .390, just five hits from the magical .400 mark. Once the season ended he got an angry phone call from his father demanding why he couldn't get those extra five hits.

Despite his father's criticisms, Brett still had the highest batting average since Williams in 1941. In the 31 years since only Tony Gwynn had a higher batting average, when he hit .394 in 1994 when the strike hit. Brett also had the rare distinction of getting more RBIs than games played, when he drove in a career high 118 runs in only 117 games. Brett's contributions continued even into the post-season. The Royals had made it into the playoffs three times between 1976-1978, but each time they fell to the hated Yankees. In 1980 they finally got revenge, with Brett hitting a crucial three-run home run off of Hall of Fame reliever Rich "Goose" Gossage in the deciding game. The Royals advanced to their first World Series, against Steve Carlton and Mike Schmidt of the Philadelphia Phillies. Brett played well, but he made the news in a bad way when he had to leave a game early because of hemorrhoids. Still, Brett overcame his veins to put up a .375/.423/.667 batting line. Even with his timely hitting, however, the rest of the Royals couldn't muster anything and they fell to the Phillies in six games. The Phillies were the last of the original 16 franchises to win a World Series title. In spite of the disappointing loss, Brett had a tremendous year, and was awarded his first and only MVP award.

I've noticed that my introductions are getting even longer than the actual reviews, so I cut this next part short. The Star Wars sequel The Empire Strikes Back was the major movie phenomenon of the year, with its darker storyline and the legendary ending (spoiled in The Simpsons). However, when the Oscars rolled around Empire only received three nominations. The biggest nominations went mostly to more art-house fare such as Martin Scorsese's Raging Bull, David Lynch's The Elephant Man, and Roman Polanski's Tess. Yet when Oscar night rolled around and the dust settled, Raging Bull won only Best Editing and a Best Actor award for Robert DeNiro. Lynch's film went home empty handed. Tess won only three technical Oscars. Fame won for Best Score and Best Song. Melvin and Howard won a Screenplay award and Best Supporting Actress for the still-attractive Mary Steenburgen. Sissy Spacek won Best Actress for her role as Loretta Lynn in Coal Miner's Daughter. And the biggest winner of the night was Robert Redford's domestic drama Ordinary People, which won Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor (Timothy Hutton), Best Director, and Best Picture.

And through it all there was the Best Animated Short award, a beacon of hope in the chaos that is all of the other categories, as well as my increasingly cumbersome introductions.

The History of the World in Three Minutes Flat
In the beginning, there was nothing but darkness. Then God draws a sphere and says, "Let there be light." And there was light. Then He sits back and watches His creations as they live their lives, performing good deeds and evil ones. There are moments of discovery and moments of death. And a whole lot of bickering. However no matter what things don't get boring, do they? The History of the World in Three Minutes Flat is a film by Canadian animator Michael Mills, who was previously with the National Film Board of Canada, where he made the Oscar nominated Evolution in 1971, but had since left to form his own studios where he made this film and distributed a film from a promising young animator named Jon Minnis titled Charade. If the title of this film sounds at all familiar, that's because it was mentioned in a previous post, the one where I highlighted the non-nominated but excellent film Oink. This was the film that led me to buy the 100% Independent tape that had Oink. The film is quite ambitious, trying to fit thousands of years of history in only three minutes, but Mills accomplishes this task by selecting around 20 of the most significant events in history and animating them in a rapid fire manner. The events include Biblical affairs such as the Garden of Eden, Noah's Ark, and Moses leading the Jews out of Egypt, and other events like the Trojan Horse and the burning of Rome. And he gets through all of the events in a little bit less than three minutes, actually. The events themselves are short but always done in sort of a humorous fashion. There are some great moments (such as a Battleship Potemkin reference) but also some silly moments. I think the entire ending is cheesy and dumb. And it doesn't have the coherence that was in Grasshoppers, a film in a similar vein. The animation is quite bare bones, with simple character design, sparing use of colors, and almost no background, but it serves its purposes. The sound is often used to generate humor, with witty lines and funny sound effects, although the voice acting is kind of annoying. Overall, Michael Mills succeeded fitting history in three minutes, but it isn't exactly groundbreaking.
Where Can I Watch It? 

A Legy (The Fly)
It was a beautiful day, and a fly decides to go flying around the woods doing whatever it is that flies do when they fly around in the woods. It flies through trees and grass and sees something shining in the distance. It is attracted to the light and decides to go check it out. It flies through a window and ends up in a mysterious environment. It explores the strange location but soon a mysterious being comes and attacks it. It tries to look for the exit but finds that there is nowhere to go. Can it escape to its freedom? A Legy is a film from the Hungarian national animation studio PannoniaFilm. Hungary is another Eastern European film with a rich animation history. PannoniaFilm has been making animated films since the 1950s, and their biggest successes came in the 1980s with Attila Dargay's Vuk (The Little Fox) and Bela Ternovszky's Macskafogo (Cat City), the former of which broke box office records in Hungary. And in between there was this film, by Ferenc Rofusz. The film features an interesting example of animating moving backgrounds. While there was some talk in the Cartoon Brew thread about the film using rotoscope, or the practice of animating live action film footage, the film is still quite fascinating in the detail put into the background as it flies by. Furthermore, it is done in the same warped perspective that you may expect from a fly's point of view. However, the film can also be seen as being allegorical. The film was made in Hungary when it was still a Communist state. Some people have pointed out that the fate of the fly is similar to the fate of the Hungarian people under totalitarian rule, with the loss of freedom heading down an uncertain fate. Sound-wise, the film is without music and features a fly buzzing noise for most of the film's three minute running length. The buzzing is quite annoying and a big reason why it took me so long to warm up to this movie. Still, A Legy is a very interesting film in terms of its animation and its allegorical nature.
Where Can I Watch It?

Tout Rien (All Nothing)
In the beginning, there was nothing but a great deity that gave birth to the Sun and the stars. It created the planet and provided life, from beautiful birds that flew in the air to great beasts that walked the ground each with its own distinguishing features. And it created fishes that swam in the sea with colorful gills. The world was teeming with life. Then the deity created man. The humans were initially plain. They see the uniqueness of the other animals and wanted to be like them. The deity grant them their wishes, but they eventually tire of life as the animals. With nothing else to try, they rebel against the deity and its creations and take control of the world. Can anything satisfy the humans? Tout rien is another film from the French Canadian animator Frederic Back, the same Frederic Back that made the film Crac in last week's review, as well as The Man Who Planted Trees and The Mighty River. This film explores mankind's relationship with nature, a theme that he touched upon one way or another in those other films and the films that came before. This film is highly allegorical, using the story of creation, the third time in these two years that we're dealing with creation. In the first half of the film Back highlights the discordance between mankind and the animals. The animals start out being plain but were given extra gifts by the deity. They were satisfied before but became even happier with their gifts. On the other hand the humans were envying the other animals from the outset. And when they received the animals' gifts they were pleased for a little bit (while disrupting the lives of the animals), but quickly became displeased and wanting more. After being returned to their original bland self, the film enters the shocking second half, which features the wanton destruction of not just animals but also plants as humans begin their domination. In one particularly vivid scene humans fire harpoons at whales covering the sea in red blood, which instantly fades to a shot of a woman applying blood-red lipstick. It is difficult to watch, but very powerful. The ending is unrealistically optimistic, but hope for a better future is another theme that Back often uses. The animation is very clean and fluid, using the same colored pencil effect that he would use in his later films. The music by frequent Back contributor Normand Roger is excellent, and complement the images well, even as far as using a cacophonous string cord to represent the humans' whining. Let me just end with saying that Tout rien may very well be my favorite Frederic Back. When you consider Back's long career that includes four Oscar nominations and two wins, that's saying a lot.
Where Can I Watch It?

So these are the three nominees from 1980, all very interesting films. The History of the World in Three Minutes Flat takes a tongue in cheek look at historical events. A Legy is an interesting allegory with brilliant animation of movement. As good as those two films are, they don't match up with the brilliance that is Tout rien, which is much deeper and much powerful than the rest of the field. It even sounds better, as Normand Roger's excellent score beats out the silly voice acting and the fly's buzzing. Unfortunately, the Academy disagreed, as they awarded the Oscar to Ferenc Rofusz and A Legy. It was a defensible choice, but not one that I agree with. Poor Rofusz wasn't able to attend the ceremony as he couldn't get a visa to leave the country. A Hungarian official accepted the Oscar on his behalf.

My rankings (by quality)
Tout rien > A Legy > The History of the World in Three Minutes Flat

My rankings (by preference)
Tout rien > The History of the World in Three Minutes Flat > A Legy

1 comment:

  1. THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD in three minutes flat
    I certainly got a kick out of this one myself. Incidentally God's voice is performed by Vlasta Vrana, though his name wouldn't ring a bell at all, I can't help but noticed what few other cartoons he voiced in his career, including voicing a fox named Swift in the Spnish-produced "David The Gnome" that use to air on Nick Jr. in the late 80's/early 90's.

    "PannoniaFilm has been making animated films since the 1950s, and their biggest successes came in the 1980s with Attila Dargay's Vuk (The Little Fox)

    A film that managed to land on Nickelodeon's "Special Delivery" weekend block! It's certainly a very interesting one if you had a chance to see it.

    "and Bela Ternovszky's Macskafogo (Cat City), the former of which broke box office records in Hungary"

    They tried to enter that into the Oscars for Best Foreign Film I recall.

    Incidentally here's a short video about the studio produced sometime in the early 80's you might get a kick out of watching!

    There's a lot to say about "The Fly", I recall reading something Mr. Rofusz had said about how he wanted the ending to be different than what it appears. The original ending would've been the opposite, but the censors had to clamp down on that one so this is the ending we've got. Still a shame he couldn't get to go to LA for the award acceptance.

    After the mid 80's with films like "Gravity" and "Deadlock", Ferenc Rofusz would immigrate (or possibly defect) to Canada where he worked in the commercial/advertising trade in Toronto such as with Nelvana. He would move back to Budapest in 2002 where he has went on to produce more animated films to the present.