Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Best Animated Short - 1974

Well, I've had quite an adventure since finishing my last review back on Thursday, August 30. The day after that, I finished my Infectious Disease rotation in Akron, OH and went on a detour to Atlanta, GA to watch a Braves game. You see, I had seen eight games at eight stadiums so far this year, and hadn't even seen a Rangers game yet, even though they are the closest team to me. I figure I'll probably watch a Rangers game by the end of the year. If I can just see another game on my way back from Ohio I'd have seen games at 1/3 of the Major League stadiums, which would be a mini ballpark tour. When I found out I get a Labor Day weekend, I immediately set off to look for home games that wouldn't deviate too much from the 18-hour drive.

In the end I found that the Cubs and Braves had home games on Saturday, September 1, and attending those games only adds 4 hours to my drive. Chicago is six hours away from Akron while Atlanta is 12 hours away. The Cubs game is at 1:05 while the Braves game is at 4:05. In the end I opted to visit Atlanta.

Why did I choose Atlanta, you ask? Wrigley Field is an American institution while Turner Field is well, Turner Field. And the Cubs game starts earlier so it'll end earlier and I can get back on the road earlier. However, I had made plans to leave by 8:00 PM Eastern time because to be honest I love driving at night. If I leave at 8 I'd get into Chicago at 2 in the morning and have to check into a hotel or something, which would be expensive. However, if I leave at 8 to go to Atlanta I'd arrive at 8, which would give me time to stand outside the players parking lot at Turner Field to get autographs. Who knows? I may be able to get Tom Glavine on the 300-win balls. And the game should end at 7, which would give me another opportunity to drive overnight.

Well, I went and bought tickets at Turner Field in seats that are very high up but behind home plate. I worked my last day in my Infectious Disease rotation, but we had a packed schedule and I wasn't able to get out until 5. I hurried back to my hotel, packed my things into my car, and took a nap. I was only able to sleep for an hour, which I figured should be enough. I took a shower and left at around 8:36 PM. I first stopped by to get a mocha frappuccino from Starbucks, which I'd been craving for a few days. It was 9:00 PM by the time I got on the road. Things were going pretty smoothly. I listened to my top 100 songs, and then other 4-star songs once the top 100 finished. Along the way I bought some Oriental pastries I had gotten from Detroit the week before but hadn't had a chance to eat. I finished a piece of bread which wasn't so bad.

Shortly after entering Tenneessee, I got a Mountain Dew and settled to eat another pastry, an egg tart. The pastry tasted kind of odd, but I swallowed it anyways. I turned my light on to see if it's gone bad, and surely enough, patches of mold had grown on it. Perhaps I should have stored the pastries in the mini-fridge in the hotel. I quickly felt nauseous, but I didn't want to pull over to throw up, so I lasted until I got to the closest gas station a few miles away. I hurried into the restroom and emptied my stomach contents. Thankfully I had drank half of the Mountain Dew so it tasted like Mountain Dew coming back up. I thought I should get some real food into my system so I bought a Subway sandwich at the 24/7 Subway at the gas station. I couldn't finish the entire thing, so when I got into Georgia I had to toss the rest.

The rest of my stay in Georgia went pretty smoothly. I got into Turner Field and saw that there were no parking spots close to the stadium. I ended up driving about a mile and a half away to Underground Atlanta and parked in a parking garage, since I thought if I parked in a cover parking for 12 hours I'd have a much smaller chance at getting robbed. I was feeling hungry so I went to a nearby Waffle House and ordered some waffles. They were good but two was a bit too much. I made the hike out to Turner Field, picked up my ticket from will call, and went to the players parking lot.

There were already people there, and they told me that Tom Glavine was not coming into town since he was at his kids' hockey tournament. They did say Don Sutton would be around, and that he always signed. Don Sutton won 324 games in his career from 1966-1988 spent mostly with the Dodgers. He had won his 300th game on June 18, 1986, which incidentally was only two days after Jamie Moyer made his major league debut defeating another 300-game winner in Steve Carlton. He was never the flashiest player on the field, but was incredibly consistent. He almost never missed a start, and put up 20 straight seasons of double digit wins (a record) and 19 straight seasons of three digit strikeouts. By the time he retired he was third in games started with 756 and fourth in strikeouts with 3,574. I had gotten Sutton at the Tristar Houston show in January, but that was on the game-used Randy Johnson 300th win baseball. I had a 1988 Topps Sutton card that I carried around for a year after he was elected into the Hall of Fame that I bought along hoping to get it signed, since I had done the same thing when he was announcing Nationals games. I waited around and most of the players just waved. Only Jonny Venters came around to sign. Furthermore I got Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell as he came in. We waited around for a while until finally I saw Sutton coming with his daughter, who was only one when Sutton was elected into the Hall of Fame. We got in a single file line and as the other people mentioned he patiently signed everything. Thankfully he didn't remember me from Houston, so I was able to get my beat up Sutton card signed.

After that it was the game. It was a decent game. It was Tim Hudson vs. Cliff Lee so it promised to be a pitcher's duel, but the Phillies got to Hudson early and often. The Braves got runners on board a couple of times so I got to see the entire stadium break out in the Tomahawk Chop, but they were never able to score until Cliff Lee left after 21 outs and only 93 pitches, and B.J., Rosenberg gave up a solo shot to Martin Prado. But then Antonio Bastardo came in and shut down the heart of the Braves lineup to earn a 5-1 victory for Philadelphia. After the game there was supposed to be a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert, but by then it was already 7. I had an 11-hour drive ahead of me so I decided to get out while the rest of the stadium rocked out to "Sweet Home Alabama." I crowded into the shuttle and made it to my car by 7:45. Thankfully nobody had broken in, which really surprised the parking lot attendant. I got on the road but saw a sign for Bojangles just outside downtown. I had worked with a pharmacy student from North Carolina during my infectious disease rotation and he talked about how great Bojangles was. I like fried chicken myself so I stopped by. It really was good, even if all of the chicken was slightly spicy. It was 8:45 PM EDT by the time I got back on the road. Of course once I got into Alabama 30 minutes later it was 8:15 again.

I drank a Five Hour Energy once I got into Alabama, since that has helped keep me awake in these long drives before. I was doing quite well in Alabama, except for the fact that there was so much road work that I got annoyed and began cursing out Don Sutton's home state. However, as I was getting close to Mississippi I began to feel nauseous again. I was okay when I stopped by the rest area, but as I drove on it got worse. In the end I had to stop at a gas station to throw up again. Not a lot of stuff came out, but I guess the Five Hour Energy must have gone up, because when I got back into the car I began to feel incredibly drowsy. Yet being the stupid idiot that I am I stubbornly kept going. When I passed into Louisiana I started playing a game. I played my 4-star songs, and every time I passed a mile marker I'd move into the next one. And once I passed to mile marker 100 I'd move into the top 100 songs. It worked quite well, as I stayed alert watching for the next mile marker. I did notice that I was beginning to see illusions, such as mistaking reflectors for cars or trees for animals or even a brain at one point. But I persevered and got into Texas without a problem.

However, there was still a 40-mile trip before I'd get back to my apartment. I was really struggling now, but I willed my eyes to stay open. At last I got back into my apartment at around 7:00 am on Sunday September 2. I had enough energy to shower but then crashed until the Sun woke me up at 1. I got up and moved some stuff back into my apartment, but that quickly drained my energy, especially since I was no longer used to 100-degree weather. I quickly crashed for a second nap. I woke up just enough time to pack up my stuff for my Fort Worth rotation and meet my Longview Comic Book Club friends at Genghis Grill. After a nice supper (where I could finally eat without feeling nauseous,) I went to the Sovereign Love meeting where the club was having a lock-in and stayed there until midnight. Which is a problem because Fort Worth is three hours away, but after driving 11-12 hours on back to back nights three hours was nothing. And it was nothing, except I got in at around 3. I moved some of my stuff in since it was actually only 90 degrees at night instead of 100, and by the time I got to bed it was 4:00 am. And I had to wake up at 6:00 am today to go to my next rotation. So yeah, I'm still pretty tired, but I opted out of taking a nap so I can write this review...although it kind of went on too long so I only wrote my introduction. Still, as the only year between 1963 and 1992 to have five nominees, 1974 was a year worth reviewing.

Before I get to that, how about some last minute references to the Oscars from that year. The Godfather Part II is the sequel to the box-office busting, Best Picture winning The Godfather. It is much broader in scope, simultaneously telling the tale of the rise and fall of Michael Corleone and the rise of his father, a young Vito. Many people feel that Part II is even better than the original. The Academy certainly felt that way. While The Godfather won only three Oscars, Part II won twice that much, with Best Original Score, Best Art Direction, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor (Robert DeNiro as young Vito), Best Director, and Best Picture - the first sequel to win. And it's not like their competition was light. They had to deal with films like The Conversation), Chinatown, and The Towering Inferno. Yes, the high-budget disaster film that Time once called the worst Best Picture nominee in the past 25 years won Best Editing, Best Cinematography, and Best Original Song. ("We May Never Love Like This Again", which I listened to when I was in Alabama, and I found so grating that I gave it 1 star.)

And then there's Best Animated Short, which not only had five nominees for the first time in 11 years, but was also getting a new name. The short categories were ditching the title of Best Short Subject, which had been in use since the creation of the category back in 1931-32, and was moving to Best Short Film. So Best Animated Short Subject was becoming Best Animated Short Film, which actually isn't much of a difference from our standpoint.

Closed Mondays
An inebriated man stumbles into an art museum. He's had a little bit too much to drink and now he wants to find someplace where he can stay for the night and show off his loss of impulse control. He wanders between the various works of art, laughing at them and making fun of them. However, when he stops in front of a picture of musical notes the notes come to life and envelope him in a scene of visual music. He goes to other pieces of art and they all come to life. The man slowly becomes more and more unnerved by what he sees. Closed Mondays is an early claymation work from Will Vinton, whose work we've seen with Rip Van Winkle and The Great Cognito, and his former collaborator the late Bob Gardiner. Gardiner was great at making clay models while Vinton was an aspiring filmmaker that made documentary films. They came together in Portland and worked on a couple of test films, then went all in making this film. The film's plot of a man watching pieces of art come to life is not necessarily original, but it is very well executed in this instance. The images all have some sort of a hallucinatory quality to them, and they get increasingly distressing. More importantly, they are all dazzling to watch. Gardiner's expert clay work creates some quite realistic models. The realism in the man's expressions adds a level of personal connection, and his technique in modifying the clay makes for some surreal moments, most notably in the computer sequence. Vinton's camera work is also sublime. The way it follows a man into the art gallery adds a level of involvement for the viewers, and the way it cuts to the visions really helps set them apart. The presence and absence of the excellent music by Billy Scream also contributes to allowing the visions to stand out. Not only did Closed Mondays launch the career of Will Vinton (unfortunately, Bob Gardiner never got that career boost), but it also helped to establish claymation as an important medium for stop motion storytelling.
Where Can I Watch It?

The Family that Dwelt Apart
The Pruitts are a family of seven that lived on an island in the lower reaches of Barnetuck Bay. They are the only people that lived on the island, so they don't have much interaction with the rest of the population. However, they had everything they needed to survive, and had no desire to leave. One winter they were trapped when the bay froze over. The Pruitts did not care, but the people on the mainland sure did. They did all they could to help the Pruitts, especially after rumors arose that one of the kids had appendicitis, with disastrous results. The Family that Dwelt Apart was based off of a short story by E.B. White that first appeared in The New Yorker in 1937 that was labeled a "preposterous parable." Parables usually have a lesson and from I can tell the lesson it told was to look before you leap, especially in the case of offering help to others, as sometimes even the best intentions may lead to the worst outcomes. Yes, it does seem rather pessimistic, but then again I haven't read the original story, which may be found here (but only if you have a subscription to the New Yorker.) I don't know whether or not the adaptation is faithful, but considering that the National Film Board of Canada got E.B. White himself to narrate, it's probably pretty faithful. Even if it isn't you get a tale that might be quite exaggerated, but is entertaining even in spite of the infuriating preposterousness (is that even a word?) of the situation. And The Family that Dwelt Apart is more than just an interesting parable. Director Yvon Mallette has infused the tale with an incredible visual style reminiscent of the character design of the Fleischer Studios, giving the film a feel that it came from the 1930s. The use of shadows, grainy backgrounds, and snappy jazz soundtrack also contributes to the historical atmosphere. The narration by White is very interesting, as his monotone, matter of fact voice is so different from the frantic action onscreen. In a decade that had seen such successes for the National Film Board of Canada, The Family that Dwelt Apart is certainly one of its best.
Where Can I Watch It?

Hunger (La Faim)
A slender office worker sits at his desk, answering phone calls while snacking on some tasty morsels of food. He works long and hard, but his pretty secretary gives him a subtle reminder that it's 5:00 and time to go. The man leaves his office, and on his way back home he quickly stops by a deli and buys something else to eat. However, that is not enough, and he works his way to a restaurant where he orders food from his menu. Can he find anything to satisfy his hunger? Hunger is a film from the National Film Board of Canada by animator Peter Foldes. If his name sounds familiar, it's because we had seen a post in his earlier post. He directed A Short Vision with his wife Joan. It was a film about a nuclear apocalypse that was listed as one of the top animated nuclear explosions, scarred a generation of Baby Boomers with its unflinching depiction of destruction. Hunger is similarly provocative. It is a modern parable about the ravages of materialistic excess as portrayed through one of the most innocent of the seven deadly sins: gluttony. Foldes shows us the cautionary tale of a man that develops a complete ventromedial hypothalamus lesion. Much of the film is showing the anti-hero eating endlessly, as he goes from a toothpick thin back of bones to a bloated figure. The centerpiece of the film is a sequence of the man just eating at a well-stocked table. It is only 90 seconds long, but feels much longer, especially as the man turns into a grotesque monster with multiple mouths ingesting food until he decides to screw it all and eat the table. It is difficult to watch, but also hard to turn away, especially with the film's powerful ending. Hunger is also significant for being one of the first major films animated with a computer, as the NFB collaborated with the National Research Council to develop a program that will allow a computer to fill in the animation from a couple of key frames. This gives the film some incredibly nifty transitions, along with some rather unnatural movements that contributes to the film's unsettling feel. The entire film is also filled with music by French Canadian composer Pierre F. Brault that adds much to the disturbing atmosphere. Hunger is a terrific film if you have the stomach to stand it.
Where Can I Watch It?

Voyage to Next
Father Time and Mother Earth are hanging out in the metaphysical sea of space-time as they watch as the latter breaths life into a curious group of beings known as the "humans." Mother Earth wants the humans to share their resources to survive, but Father Time asks what happens if they decide to hoard the resources? Mother Earth decides to leave the choice to the humans. And when the humans make the wrong choice, the two deities discuss the genesis of the problem and what the humans could do to fix the situation. The 1960s and 1970s were a turbulent time in American history, and it also saw the introduction of many socially-minded animated films with socio-political allegories. The Hubleys - the husband and wife team of John and Faith Hubley - were especially proficient at these films. We had already seen one of these in A Doonesbury Special from 1977. In this film the Hubleys went back to a technique that had served them well in earlier films: giving actors a scenario and having them act it out vocally, and editing and animating the conversation to form a coherent film. In this case Dizzy Gillespie and Maureen Stapleton (Oscar winner in 1981 for Reds) assume the roles of Father Time and Mother Earth as they have a conversation about the human condition. They talk about the historical development of feudalism and its evolution into corporation and about the consequences of the current trend. Gillespie and Stapleton develop a certain level of rapport together, and their conversation is casual without the constraints of a script. The animation has the typical Hubley style, with stark watercolors and thick lines. They also offer a glimmer of hope that kind of seems kind of cheesy, but what are we without hope? The film is also accompanied by a terrific jazz soundtrack by the ever brilliant Dizzy Gillespie, complete with vocals from jazz singer Dee Dee Bridgewater. Voyage to Next is a solid work from an animation master with a message that may still apply today.
Where Can I Watch It?

Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too
The Hundred Acre Woods is being plagued with a pest as far as Rabbit is concerned. It's not something small like termites, but a giant hulking beast named Tigger with a penchant for bouncing and making a mess out of things. His exasperation with Tigger's antics led him to form a task force designed with one goal in mind: getting rid of Tigger. Rabbit comes up with a plan, but it doesn't go a well as he expects. However, a few months later Tigger bounces himself into trouble, and Rabbit has a chance to get rid of Tigger's bounce once and for all. Would he go through with it? I had talked about Winnie the Pooh earlier after I had built a 1,000 piece puzzle based on the Oscar winning Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day. We're not quite at Blustery Day yet, but it's still another film that established the Winnie the Pooh franchise all the same. If you don't already know, Winnie the Pooh was originally a series of novels by A.A. Milne based off stories he told his son Christopher Robin. In the mid-1960s Disney acquired the license and produced a series of animated films, one of which won an Oscar. And after a couple of years they came out with Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too, a film that's actually a compilation of two stories, both of which focus on Tigger, the hyperactive and somewhat grandiose bouncing machine that made his debut in Blustery Day. I had grown up with Tigger Too and watched it quite often as a kid, but had gone a few years without watching it. When I finally saw it again it wasn't quite as good as I had remembered it. There were some excellent moments. Rabbit's scene of panic is still quite thrilling, and there are some good moments of breaking the fourth wall, but overall I found the writing to be quite strained, especially with Rabbit, who is portrayed as a whiner with hissy fits. Tigger, on the other hand, is great. He's got the same excitement and malapropisms that would come to define his character in the decades to come, and Paul Winchell is equally terrific. The animation is detailed, as you may have come to expect from Disney, but it does appear to have some recycled animation from Blustery Day, which sadly is also rampant in Disney in the 1970s. The music is terrific as well, even if the songs are only a truncated Winnie the Pooh theme from Honey Tree and "the Wonderful Thing About Tiggers" from Blustery Day. Tigger Too isn't quite the masterpiece that I had remembered from my childhood, but it is still an entertaining film.
Where Can I Watch It?
There are copies of the film floating around on YouTube, but they've been up for only a few weeks, and given Disney's legendary obsession with their copyrights, I don't feel as though they'll stay online for very long. Thankfully it's readily available, either as its own VHS, or as part of The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, which is also available on DVD and VHS.

As I mentioned, this was the only year between 1963 and 1992 with five nominees, and it deserves to be, with three excellent films, a film that was a lot better than I remember, and a film that was not quite as good as I remembered but still great. Hunger may be the best of the bunch, mostly because it is so hard for me to turn away, even if it is hard to watch. The Family That Dwelt Apart and Closed Mondays are films with a great story and excellent visual styles, but Hunger's visceral nature really sets it apart for me. Voyage to Next and Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too are also good, but don't quite make the mark, even with Tigger Too's bonus points for nostalgia. Unfortunately, the Academy went with Closed Mondays and its bold claymation instead, which is a good choice, but not one that I agree with. Oh well, you really can't go wrong with any of these films.

My rankings (by quality)
Hunger > The Family that Dwelt Apart > Closed Mondays > Voyage to Next > Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too

My rankings (by preference)
Hunger > The Family that Dwelt Apart > Closed Mondays > Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too > Voyage to Next

1 comment:

  1. Closed mondays