Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Best Animated Short - 1976

So I've been here fretting about the length of my introductions while blabbering about who I know that was born a certain year or the major current events in the world and in baseball from that particular year. It was up to my sister that told me a solution: why bother spending my time writing about those excess things? It's just a waste of time and space about stuff that has absolutely nothing to do with animated shorts in the first place, and she doesn't even bother reading them. At least the Oscars has some connection because it's, you know, the Oscars, but even she skims through that stuff.

So I'm going to follow her advice and not write anything about the Bicentennial, and not write anything about Chris Chambliss's triumphant home run that broke the hearts of the Kansas City Royals. And we'll see how it goes.

So if the 1994 Best Picture lineup was epic with the inclusion of Forrest Gump, Pulp Fiction, and The Shawshank Redemption, then the 1976 lineup is not far behind. It's got four films that made it onto AFI's most recent top 100 films list: Rocky, the boxing film about a down and out boxer with a once in a lifetime shot at glory; Network, the witty satire about the cuttthroat way of life in the television industry; All the President's Men, the dramatization of how Bernstein and Woodward broke the Watergate story at the Washington Post; and Taxi Driver, a look into a man's descent into delusion and violence. And to wrap it up there was Bound for Glory, a biographical film about the life of Woody Guthrie.

In those films it was actually Taxi Driver that was the odd man out, as it garnished only four nominations, and Martin Scorsese wasn't even nominated Best Director. Bound for Glory was also left without a Best Director nod, as their spots went to two foreign directors instead: Academy favorite Ingmar Bergman for Face to Face (referenced in Annie Hall), and Lina Wertmüller for Seven Beauties*. And yes, she was the first female director to be nominated Best Director**. The frontrunners were All the President's Men, with eight nominations, as well as Network and Rocky, with ten each.

*Seven Beauties also picked up three other nominations, including a Screenplay nod, but it lost them all, even Best Foreign Language Film. That year the winner was Black and White in Color, a film from the Ivory Coast. It was only the second time that any film from Africa won the award, the first being Z from Algeria in 1969

*It would happen only three more times in the next 35 years, with Kathryn Bigelow picking up the win for The Hurt Locker in 2009. (The others were Jane Champion for The Piano in 1993, and Sofia Coppola for Lost in Translation ten years later.)  

Oscar night quickly arrived, and no film really stood out among the technical awards. Bound for Glory won twice, once for Best Cinematography and once for Best Original Song Score. Jerry Goldsmith won Best Original Score for The Omen, beating out Bernard Herrmann for Taxi Driver. Barbra Streisand won her second Oscar when "Evergreen," the song she wrote with Paul Williams for A Star is Born won for Best Original Song. All the President's Men won for Best Art Direction and Best Sound. Fellini's Casanova won for Best Costume Design. and Rocky picked up the crucial Best Editing award. Then came the Screenplay Oscars. Network won for Best Original Screenplay, while All the President's Men won for Best Adapted Screenplay. It was actually the fourth win for All the President's Men, as Jason Robards won  Best Supporting Actor earlier in the night for his portrayal of Washington Post executive editor Ben Bradlee. Meanwhile, Network won its first Oscar when Beatrice Straight won for Best Supporting Actress despite appearing onscreen for only 5 minutes and 40 seconds, the shortest since Sylvia Miles was also nominated with only about 5 minutes of screentime in Midnight Cowboy, but Straight actually won.

Now comes the major awards of the night. And wouldn't you know they both went to the same film. Faye Dunaway beat out Sissy Spacek (for Carrie) and Talia Shire (for Rocky) to win Best Actress for her  portrayal of die-hard television executive Diana Christensen in Network. Of course, Network had two nominees in the Best Actor category: William Holden as Christensen's more level-headed colleague, and Peter Finch as the fiery news anchor and television star Howard Beals. Interestingly, Finch had died of a heart attack early in 1977, shortly before nominations were announced. It was the first posthumous acting nomination since Spencer Tracy in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner. In the end, it was Beals that had the last laugh as Finch became the first actor to win posthumously*, beating out Holden, Giancarlo Giannini (for Seven Beauties), Robert DeNiro (for Taxi Driver), and Sylvester Stallone (for Rocky).

*For 32 years, Finch would be the only posthumous winner in the acting category, although four people won posthumously in other categories, including Howard Ashman, who won in Best Original Song for Beauty and the Beast about a year after he died of complications from AIDS, and cinematographer Conrad L. Hall, who died of complications from bladder cancer two years before he'd earn his third win for Road to Perdition. Two other actors were nominated posthumously, but they both failed. British actor Ralph Richardson was nominated for Best Supporting Actor in Greystroke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes after he died of a stroke, but would lose to Haing S. Ngor in The Killing Fields. In 1994, Massimo Troisi died of a massive heart attack hours after completing production of his pet project Il Postino, which he also wrote. He was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Actor, but lost both. Emma Thompson won the Screenplay award for Ang Lee's Sense and Sensibility, while Nicholas Cage won Best Actor for Leaving Las Vegas. It wasn't until Heath Ledger burst onto the scene with his memorable role of the Joker in 2008's The Dark Knight that ended the drought. 

Network's three wins in the acting category gave it four wins by the time Best Director came around, the same as All the President's Men. Producers of both films eagerly awaited the results of Best Director, but the results would shock them. It went to neither Sidney Lumet for Network, nor Alan J. Pakula for All the President's Men. Instead, the award went to John G. Avildsen for Rocky, the film that seemed like the underdog as it kept coming up empty throughout the night. The comeback was complete as Rocky captured Best Picture for only its third award of the night*.

*It would be the last three-win Best Picture winner until Crash won with only three wins 29 years later. Interestingly enough, both Crash and Rocky captured the Best Editing award, which several analysts feel is the key technical award that could decide the Best Picture race. Except for instances like 1999 or 2007 when non-players The Matrix and The Bourne Ultimatum won. The Rocky win is much better received than the Crash win.

And then amidst all of the fanfare, there was Best Animated Short. The 1976 Oscars had a distinctly international flavor, what with Sweden's Face to Face and Italy's Seven Beauties getting nominated for Best Director, and Fellini's Casanova (also from Italy) getting a Screenplay node and a Costume Design win. And even the Best Animated Short category got into the action, nominating a film from Italy, a film from Australia, and a film from Canada. It was only the second time no American films were nominated. It was definitely not the last.

Oh no! Since Steve Moore was allowed to smuggle Redux Riding Hood out of the purgatory of the Disney vaults and into public viewing, I had seen every nominee in a 27-year period from 1977-2003. However, that streak is about to come to a close. And that is because the Academy chose to nominate Dedalo (or Labyrinth) by Italian animator Manfredo Manfredi, which had won an award at the prestigious Ottawa International Animation Festival. And since then it had virtually disappeared from public view. I wasn't able to find out anything about the film until I saw a screenshot on a Japanese website. It came with what seemed to have been a synopsis: "A man and a woman sit quietly. All of a sudden, the wind blows the window open, and a dramatic scene full of distress is about to begin. This drama is just like a reconstruction, but it is actually what is going on in the man's heart. This film combines light and shadow to create an artistic work." Okay, that really doesn't tell me anything, but it sounds like some emo work. Later when I discovered WorldCat I was dismayed to find that it there were no copies of the film hanging out in libraries, but there are selections from the film in the series Masters of Animation from John Halas. I went and bought the tape, hoping to have the complete work, but to no avail. They did have almost two minutes from the film, and I saw that it was moody and had a strong sense of serious emotions, but it was utterly confusing without a narrative focus*. I eventually came across an piece of art from an aspiring artist that featured the main character from Dedalo. I got in contact with her and asked where she saw the film, and she said she saw it while taking a History of Animation course at the American Academy of Art, which offers online classes. I quickly signed up. I was a little bit dismayed to see that the school's library does not have an actual copy of Dedalo but does have the Masters of Animation tape I already have. But dammit, I'm not going to leave any stone unturned in my quest, even if it involves spending $4,000 on something that will most likely be a dead end. At least I'll get an education about the history of animation!

*The highlight from the tape was that it contained a scene from La Sexilinea, a film that is readily available online. It's a hilarious piece of work starring La Linea, a character by Osvaldo Cavandoli that starred in a series of animated shorts mostly involving his interaction with the animator. In this delightful film the animator introduces Mr. Linea into the joys of sex. The best part is that Mr. Linea was voiced by Carlo Bonomi, the voice of Pingu. And he speaks in a form of gibberish, just like Pingu. So it really feels like Pingu is learning about the joys of sex!

Where Can I Watch It?
Seriously, if you know something where I can watch the actual, complete film, please let me know. It's hopefully in some vault somewhere in Italy or Canada.

In prehistoric times, man's everyday life was a struggle for survive, what with food to find and shelters to build and problems to solve. In between they had time with nothing to do. They would sit around, or do some ways to break the monotony. Eventually as mankind become industrialized they found that life can be broken up into two parts: Work and Leisure. However, as technology improved and more people had time for leisure, their satisfaction with their leisure time decreased. Can they find a happy medium? Australia is a country with a strong animation background. After all, two of the past ten winners of the Best Animated Short Oscar were from Australia: Harvie Krumpet (2003) and The Lost Thing (2010), not to mention a nomination for Birthday Boy (2004). 25 years before they had this string of success, Australia first made their splash in this category with Leisure, a film about well, leisure. Specifically, it goes through the history of mankind, only except of framing it in the context of war, it frames it in the context of the struggle to define lesiure. The animation style for the film is very interesting, combining simple characters with old drawings and photographs Monty Python style, a technique that was quite prevalent. The characters are simple yet goofy, with enough charm to make them likeable, while the other media is very dynamic. Combined, this film is something visually simulating. And it has a good soundtrack too. It's a good thing the film looks and sounds good, because the rest of the film is an absolute bore. It starts out okay, detailing the life of the prehistoric man, how he combined the work to survive with the satisfaction of leisure. However, once the film goes into the industrialization era, it becomes clear that this is nothing more than an animated lecture. And the problem with this lecture is that it doesn't really doesn't feel coherent. It goes from one point to another, and you have no idea what just happened, mostly because the subject matter is so dreadfully dull you don't care to listen. And it lasts for an exasperating 13 minutes. The narration by noted Australian actor Alexander Archdale is good, but also rather monotone, so it doesn't really add to the enjoyment. Overall Leisure feels like somebody took their thesis and added animation to it. It's good for a project, but doesn't make for a very interesting film. You're better off adding some other music and enjoying the animation that way.
Where Can I Watch It?
Google Video has a version that fits on one video, but I can't seem to embed it, so here it is in YouTube with two videos.

The Street
A man looks back at his life as a child growing up at St. Urbaine Street in Montreal, specifically the summer where his maternal grandmother passed away. He relives the sights and smells of those days, as well as the conversations he had with his sister and the other kids in the neighborhood about death. He recounts how his relatives took his grandmother away while his mother was sick with cholecystitis, and how quickly she brought her back. And then came the day she died. The Street was based on a short story by the late Jewish Canadian writer Mordecai Richler. Caroline Leaf of the National Film Board of Canada adapted the story into an animated short. The Street is on the surface about a grandmother's slow death. It plays out as a series of events as experienced by a family with a dying family member on their hands. But it is also more than just a film about death. It is about family, as well as a recollection of the sights and sounds in a Jewish community in the early part of the 20th century. Then again, I presume all of the stories in the short story collection deals with that theme. This film is done using the paint on glass technique that Alexander Petrov (My Love, The Old Man and the Sea) used in all of his films, and what Wendy Tilby used in Strings. However, while those films had a detailed and realistic look, Leaf took The Street in different directions. Rather than picturing things quite literally, she went for a more stylistic look. The characters are quite simple, and details come and go seemingly randomly, as though most of the rest are lost in memory. It is an effect technique that give the film a nostalgic feel. The narration by Canadian actor Mort Ransen is decent, but it is the use of ambient noises that really shines. The Street is a terrific adaptation of a classic short story that looks back at a time gone by.
Where Can I Watch It?

Well, with Dedalo out of the picture, there is really only two films that I can rank. And based on what I wrote in my reviews, I think it's pretty clear which of the two films I preferred. The Street is stylistically sound, and has a very good story. Leisure is also stylistically nice, but it is such a bore. Sadly the Academy must have been impressed with Leisure's erudition, and awarded it the Oscar. Unfortunately so, because The Street is so much better. And maybe Dedalo is better than both, but I really won't be able to tell, can I?

My rankings (by quality and preference)
The Street > Leisure



  1. Nice you checked out the "Masters of Animation" series. I like the episode on Hungary myself. It's fun discovering films you never saw before like Jozef Gemes' "Concertissimo".

    "*The highlight from the tape was that it contained a scene from La Sexilinea, a film that is readily available online. It's a hilarious piece of work starring La Linea, a character by Osvaldo Cavandoli that starred in a series of animated shorts mostly involving his interaction with the animator."

    You can tell it was an outright gag film Mr. Cavandoli did on his spare time just to toy with the idea of giving his figure a far more adult sense of love that couldn't be displayed at a more family-friendly version that was played on "The Great Space Coaster" here in the US. He would do another such film in the 80's with "Eroslinea".

    Carlo Bonomi also perforemd a luaghing cat in another Italian-made series for Swiss TV from Bruno Bozzetto and Guido Manuli called "Stripy". I only bring this up as another excuse for a URL link!

    Bonomi is a far talented VA but I suppose most people outside Italy would know him best for Pingu anyway, and that sort of incoherent babble.

    "Where Can I Watch It?
    Seriously, if you know something where I can watch the actual, complete film, please let me know. It's hopefully in some vault somewhere in Italy or Canada."

    Wouldn't be surprised if some university has it on 16mm locked away someplace not knowing any importance about it. Certainly the "Masters of Animation" video series had far more exposure than that (my public library had those tapes).

    I first heard of leisure c/o The Movie Channel in the 80's as the film popped up on day and my mom recorded it after a movie. Although I didn't think of it much at the time, it is still rather unique and interesting piece of work for what it tries to say of mankind's introduction to a new concept. The film was produced by Film Australia, a sort of government film commission for the country, though Film Australia isn't known for animation much in the same way the National Film Board of Canada is and this film was handled by a independent studio anyway. Most Film Australia productions of the time tend to be documentaries anyway, though this one just happened to fall through the cracks and earned an Oscar in the process. Here's one webpage talking about it.

    While I see "The Street" is MIA at the moment here, the NFB does have it on their site for anyone to check out.

    I do kinda like though this poor man's attempt at transfering some guy's 16mm print of the film!

    Arguably I would've wanted "The Street" to win as well, but perhaps the Academy felt the theme of "Leisure" proved far greater than a simple story of family life.

    Incidentally, I recall when Cartoon Network would play The Street on "O Canada", they would delete the part where the girl tells the boy about a dead person having an orgasm and then said "Skip it, I forgot you're still in kindergarten" with the boy saying "Oh, kiss my royal Canadian!" That part was pretty funny but I can see why they would edit that part out, even though O Canada was being played at midnight most of the time.

  2. Tell me where you can see the "Dedalo" Manfredo Manfredi?

  3. I saw "Masters Of Animation" (USA, Canada (with The Street), Italy (with Dedaldo), Japan on Youtube and Britain on a Japanese version of YouTube).