Wednesday, October 31, 2012
Best Animated Short - 1969
Happy Nightmare Night, everypony...er...Happy Halloween, everybody. My friends at the Longview Comic Book Club will probably be hooting and hollering it up at their Halloween party, but me? I'm on a plane going to South Carolina for the fifth and sixth residency interviews. Sure, I'd rather have it be to Atlanta to watch Game 7 of the World Series at Turner Field, but that dream kind of died when the Braves were knocked off by the St. Louis Cardinals. Oh well, at least they got knocked off by the eventual World Champion San Francisco Giants. I think I'm less bitter at the Giants ruining the Rangers' World Series hopes than the Cardinals, because the Rangers were so close to the title. And now both Rangers are pretty much going to join the Indians and the Royals as also-rans. It was a good run while it lasted. But I digress. Even though I'm on a plane right now, I have this review up because I'm writing it in advance. There really was no point to this paragraph, but it doesn't matter because the only people that will end up reading this are my sisters, who are more into Japanese anime anyways. So yey, my target audience for this blog is essentially myself! No wonder I've lost the motivation to write it. But I will keep trucking on! We still have 38 years to review, and by golly I'm going to review them!
1969 was a fairly significant year. It was the year of the lunar landing (RIP Neil Armstrong, who died when I was heading to Cleveland for an Indians game). It was the year of the Miracle Mets, led by future 311-game winner Tom Seaver with contributions from future 324-game winner Nolan Ryan. And it is also closer to Disney's The Little Mermaid than The Little Mermaid is to present day.
For me, 1969 was significant because it was the first older (>10 years) year where I watched all of the Best Picture nominees. I completed 1995, 1997, 1999 first, but 1969 seemed like a more significant accomplishment because the films were older and harder to find. Midnight Cowboy was the first film I saw as my parents owned a copy. The explicit sex scenes were shocking to audiences in the late 1960s, but they seemed more like a joke for a 13-year-old growing up in the late 1990s. I watched the Western classic Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid on my mother's recommendation a few weeks later. I found it kind of boring, but at least it didn't put me to sleep like it did my sister. (In her defense, she got only five minutes of sleep the night before, and went swimming earlier in the day.) Shortly after that, I watched Barbra Streisand in Hello Dolly!, two years after I watched part of it and a decade before it regained prominence with its appearance in Pixar's WALL-E. That was it until my junior year of high school, when I found Anne of the Thousand Days at the library of my high school. I recognized it as being a Best Picture nominee from 1969 and went home and watched it.
I had only one more film to go, titled Z. Unfortunately, that was a foreign film, and those were harder to find. I found it at a local video store and promptly rented it and watched it. It was a tense political thriller about a political cover-up involving an assassination of a prominent government official in Greece (although the film was Algerian.) I thoroughly enjoyed it, and the Academy did too as they nominated it for both Best Picture and Best Foreign Language Film, a distinction enjoyed by only a few select films (including 臥虎藏龍! Yey!) Unfortunately, its five nominations were the fewest of all the nominees. Butch Cassidy, Hello Dolly and Midnight Cowboy received seven while Anne of the Thousand Days was tops with 10, but was left out of the Best Director lineup. Similarly, the dance drama They Shoot Horses, Don't They received nine nominations, but was left out of the Best Picture race. Indeed, when Oscar night rolled around no film seemed to take command. Anne of the Thousand Days won Best Costume Design. Butch Cassidy won for Best Cinematography, Best Original Song (for Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head), and Best Original Score - Not a Musical. Hello Dolly won for Best Original Musical Score, Best Art Direction, and Best Sound. And then Z surprised people by winning Best Editing, and also captured Best Foreign Language Film while it was at it. Marooned won for Best Visual Effects.
The only Best Picture nominated film that didn't capture a single technical award was Midnight Cowboy, but that's not too surprising considering its only nomination in a technical category was for Best Editing. When the Screenplay awards came up, Midnight Cowboy captured the Best Adapted Screenplay prize, while Butch Cassidy won for Best Original Screenplay, beating out the X-rated Italian-German film The Damned. Anne of the Thousand Days and Midnight Cowboy had a lot riding on the acting Oscars, as they each had three acting nominations, and they all went home empty handed. Goldie Hawn won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in the romantic comedy Cactus Flower. Gig Young won Best Supporting Actor for his role as the manipulative MC in They Shoot Horses, Don't They?. Maggie Smith won her first Oscar for playing the title character in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight were both nominated for their roles in Midnight Cowboy, but they both lost to John Wayne, who finally won an Oscar for playing Rooster Cogburn in the original True Grit.
When Best Director rolled around, Butch Cassidy was in the lead with four Oscars. Hello Dolly had three, but it was not nominated Best Director, diminishing its chances for Best Picture. Z had won two Oscars while Anne of the Thousand Days and Midnight Cowboy won only one. However, Midnight Cowboy broke through with a Best Director win for the late John Schlesinger, making it an interesting race between the Western and the film that resembles a Western but isn't really a Western. And to the surprise of many, Midnight Cowboy took home Best Picture as well. It won in spite of its explicit sexual content, which led to the harshest rating in the newly formed rating system by the MPAA.
There is no such controversy over content in the Best Animated Short race, however. That's not to say that they're all G-rated (there is one film that bucks that trend), but at least it doesn't have people in bed.
It's Tough to Be a Bird
Where Can I Watch It?
It's a Disney film so they're probably very protective of their copyrights. There's a version of the film split into three parts on YouTube that's been there for close to three years. Unfortunately they disabled embedding, which is just as well because who wants to see three videos embedded side by side? Hope you don't mind clicking on the videos individually.
It's Tough to Be a Bird Part I
It's Tough to Be a Bird Part II
It's Tough to Be a Bird Part III
Of Men and Demons
Voyage to Next (1974). Of Men and Demons is another example of the latter film. It is a parable about the battle between nature and technological progress. The farmer, representing mankind, begins with an agricultural lifestyle. Nature, portrayed as demons of water, fire, and lightning, destroy his way of life. However, he picked up where he left off after finding a mate (not sure who she represents...Lady Industry, if that is such a thing) and industrialized the production. However, the demons counter by representing the pitfalls of industry: pollution. Still, like humanity, the farmer and his mate finds a way. The film ends with a reference to the digital revolution that was just getting started in the late 1960s, and it was quite a progressive viewpoint from back in 1969. The story is quite interesting and flows very smoothly. The animation is of the more limited type that Hubley has become known for, but there is still plenty of detail in some of the technology. The design of the demons is akin to many of the Asian-style demons, especially the boss lightning demon with three (five in one shot) eyes and six arms. The story is wordless and driven by some very nice music, although there are a lot of grunts on the soundtrack that I feel adds character to the film. Of Men and Demons is a solid film, and might just be my favorite film from John Hubley's post-UPA days.
Where Can I Watch It?
I saw Of Men and Demons online somehow early on when I was watching the films, but after that I had the hardest time finding it to watch it again. In the end I finally found a DVD with John and Faith Hubley's films titled Art and Jazz in Animation that had the film. And naturally somebody posts it on YouTube two months after I bought the DVD. Oh well. The video was uploaded just over a year ago so I guess I can embed it.
Walking (En Merchant)
Ryan, and Walking was one of the films that Landreth asked Ryan to discuss. It is certainly more of an experimental film. The film is essentially an observation of people and how they move. It is split up into three sections, each with increasing amounts of movement and decreasing amounts of detail. Initially there are images of people standing around. Both the characters and the backgrounds are quite elaborate. Next Larkin animates them walking. There are several different styles of walking, but they look quite natural. Meanwhile the background has disappeared, and soon the clothes have too. Finally, the people begin walking more briskly until they are finally running. They have lost their individual features and seem more like the silhouette characters that were in Erica Russell's Triangle. Meanwhile, the individual sections are separated by a repeating image of a guy hunched over, walking with hurried steps with his hands in his pockets. The man made up of many unrelated drawings with similar shapes, giving it a dynamic look. The film's construction is quite remarkable, and the images are visually dazzling. Unfortunately, being an experimental film I find it more on the boring side, but I appreciate the sheer technique that went into the film's creation. And the soundtrack is quite soothing as well.
Where Can I Watch It?
Embedding the French Canadian version because it's actually from the National Film Board of Canada. Nothing safer than getting it from the source, amirite? It's a story without words so you won't be missing much.
So, there you have it, the three nominees from the last year in the 1960s. I think I made it pretty clear that I was most impressed with Of Men and Demons from the three films. Walking is more visually impressive but I found it to be kind of boring. It's Tough to Be a Bird was interesting, but the lack of a cohesive structure really makes the film fall apart for me. Apparently the Academy didn't think that way, because when all was said and done they gave the Oscar to It's Tough to Be a Bird. Ward Kimball became the first person at Disney to win a Best Animated Short Oscar other than Walt Disney. Meanwhile Ryan Larkin was left to his own devices and eventually fell down a spiral of drugs and decadence. Chris Landreth gave him some exposure and eventually revived his career, but his lifestyle caught up to him and he died in 2007. Tragic.
My rankings (by quality)
Of Men and Demons > Walking > It's Tough to Be a Bird
My rankings (by preference)
Of Men and Demons > It's Tough to Be a Bird > Walking