Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Best Animated Short - 1970


The late 1960s and early 1970s were a highly turbulent time in American history. It was a time of political and social unrest. There were demonstrations and riots over the Vietnam War, whose public support eroded in the light of the Tet Offensive, and over civil rights issues, especially after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968. There were protests and riots at the Democratic National Convention. This culminated in 1970 when students at Kent State University were shot during a demonstration over the invasion of Cambodia, killing four.

Films tend to reflect the society in which they were made, and this era was no exception. There were films about the alienation of our country's youth, such as Easy Rider and Five Easy Pieces. There were films about war, such as M*A*S*H and Patton. Yet the highest grossing film of the year was a more conventional film, Love Story. The romantic tragedy about love and loss barely beat out the ensemble disaster film Airport in box office receipt

With the exception of Easy Rider, released in 1969, these five films were the major players at the 1970 Academy Awards. The big budget films Airport and Patton received the most nominations, with ten each, although George C. Scott famously refused his nomination for playing the titular role in the latter film. Love Story received seven nominations, including three in the acting categories. M*A*S*H received five nominations, and Five Easy Pieces had only four, including one for its rugged young lead, Jack Nicholson, who actually received an earlier nomination for Easy Rider.

Patton came out swinging when Oscar night came around. It took home three technical awards in Best Editing, Best Art Direction, and Best Sound. However, it also lost three technical awards, losing Best Cinematography to the David Lean epic Ryan's Daughter, Best Visual Effects to the Pearl Harbor drama Tora! Tora! Tora!, and Best Original Score to Love Story. Cromwell, the film about the life of Oliver Cromwell, won Best Costume Design. Lovers and Other Strangers took home Best Original Song for the song "For All We Know." The Beatles, despite breaking up earlier in 1970, became Oscar winners together when they won Best Original Song Score for their documentary Let It Be. They beat out an animated film in A Boy Named Charlie Brown. Woodstock, the documentary film about the famed concert that became the namesake for a popular character in Peanuts, had received technical nominations for Best Sound and Best Editing, but lost both of them to Patton. It did not go home empty handed, however, as it won Best Documentary Feature.

Patton had won three technical awards by the time the writing awards came around. No other Best Picture nominated film had won more than one, but the writing categories would have been a good time for a film to come back. That wouldn't happen, as Patton took home Best Adapted Screenplay, dealing a major blow to Love Story's chances. M*A*S*H won the Best Original Screenplay Oscar for Ring Lardner Jr., the son of famed baseball scribe Ring Lardner. Love Story's chances further eroded when it dropped all three of its acting nominations. John Mills, the father of Disney child star Hayley, won Best Supporting Actor for Ryan's Daughter. Helen Hayes, the First Lady of American Theater, won her second Oscar on the silver screen, winning Best Supporting Actress for Airport. (She had won her first in 1931, a year before the short categories were introduced, for The Sin of Madelon Claudet.) Glenda Jackson won Best Actress for her role in Women in Love, based on the highly controversial novel by D.H. Lawrence. And George C. Scott, despite not wanting to be the nominated, won anyways for his portrayal of General Patton.

The rest of the night was all formality. With five Oscars going into Best Director, nothing is going to get in the way of Patton winning the top award of the night. And indeed, Franklin Schaffner won Best Director giving the film Oscar #6, and then it captured Best Picture for Oscar #7. It may seem strange that a film about World War II would win in the midst of in a strong anti-war climate, but then again the film about military triumphs of one of the great generals was a perfect complement to America's current difficulties in Vietnam.

Still, despite some of the political and social messages being displayed in feature films, the films are still restrained by financial concerns. Movies are there to make money. However, short films generally don't have that constraint, and are better equipped to be a vehicle for social and political commentary. And this is readily evident in the batch of nominees from 1970.

Warning: some foul language ahead as I vent my frustrations with how hard it is to watch some of these films, thus explaining the NSFW tag.

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The Further Adventures of Uncle Sam
So, a note about this film before I get started. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences lists The Further Adventures of Uncle Sam: Part Two as one of the nominees. When I went looking for it, I couldn't find anything about a Part One, which is just as well because I couldn't find Part Two either. I figured the film was satirical, and that they just threw in the Part Two for the heck of it. Well, when I finally found the film after five years, there was no mention of it being a Part One or Part Two. I decided to just screw it and say this was the film that was nominated. In this film, Uncle Sam has retired to the southwest with his friend the Eagle were they sit around, watching road runners run the streets, (although there's no mention whether coyotes are seen.) The Eagle is bored with all the sitting around and decides to take a walk along a nearby rock formation. While he is off, a bunch of thugs come and abduct Uncle Sam. It is up to the Eagle to go to the big city to rescue Uncle Sam, as well as Lady Liberty, who was also kidnapped. His journey will take him through some of the horrors of modern America. I'm still not sure about the Part One and Part Two thing, but I was right about one thing. The film is just dripping with satire. The plot plays out like a 1930s style adventure cartoon. A character is put in danger by an evil villain with a diabolical plot, but it is up to one hero to save it. However the film is packed with lots of commentary about American culture. The main villain is a person in a business suit with a bomb for a head (I never got that part, perhaps it is referring to the volatile nature of corporations?), and this thugs are robots and guys with bags of money for heads. There is also a four minute sequence of Uncle Sam and the Eagle traversing a city landscape full of ads before boarding a blimp where they see a bull attack a bear and an elephant and a donkey duking it out. The sequence ends in a disturbing scene. A man with a multi-barrel shotgun comes across a group of happy looking animals. He shoots them, peppering them with bloody bullet holes. The scene ends with a demon coming up and drinking the blood of the animals. I'm pretty sure that is commenting on the destruction of natural resources, but seeing the animals full of bloody holes is pretty extreme. The pacing of the film is also off. It's a quarter into the film before anything of note happens, and even then it takes another minute and a half for anything to happen. Still, I actually liked the film. The animation is decent, especially with the use of background colors to convey mood. And the film does have some interesting things to say. It just says it in kind of a strange way.
Where Can I Watch It?
This film had always been one of the hardest to find. I had just about given up hope when I found that it was available on a French DVD celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Annecy Animation Festival, since it had won the Grand Prix award at Annecy. I ponied up the 50 Euros to import the DVD. Apparently somebody else did the same thing, except they had the guts to upload on YouTube, which they did just this past week. I have no idea if it'll stay up, but here it is, just so you won't have to spend the money I did.

Also I just saw that Lorenzo also won an Annecy Grand Prix. Yet it wasn't on this DVD set. Fuck Disney.

Is It Always Right to Be Right?
There was once a land with a society very similar to ours. They had built a successful society, but there were still problems in the generation and racial gaps. The one thing that makes this land unique is that everybody firmly believes that they are right. They do not believe in admitting that they are wrong or others may be right as it is a sign of weakness. People across the divide maintained their positions to the bitter end until a physical divide developed between the parties. Will the standstill ever end? Warren Schmidt (not the character in Jack Nicholson's About Schmidt) was a professor at UCLA in the late 1960s. In 1969, he looked at the turmoil going on in the country and began contemplating what may be the cause of the divisiveness: firm entrenchment in one's beliefs and a lack of willingness to compromise. He wrote his thoughts as a parable, which was later published in the Los Angeles Times. The essay was quite popular, prompting the attention of producer Nick Bosustow at Stephen Bosustow Productions. He contracted the essay and began working with animator Lee Mishkin in adapting the work to an animated film. They even hired film legend Orson Welles to do the narration. They finished the film less than a year after the original editorial appeared, and the end results were quite impressive. The animation was quite minimalistic. The animation was quite limited, and there was a lot of live action footage interspersed in the middle. However, the film is quite impressive from a design standpoint. The people are drawn as caricatures to distinguish them from our own world, with the older generation drawn as cops and bespectacled businessmen while the newer generation is portrayed as hippies. They each have their own elaborate vehicles that represent the groups' values. It makes the film somewhat interesting visually. However the real power is with the film's message. Schmidt's writing is simple but profound. And Welles proved to be capable with his narration (definitely not drunk as he was while filming Paul Masson wine commercials later in the decade.) It breaks down the position of opposing parties in easy to understand terms. Sure, it may have simplified the problems in American civilizations, but its message of compromise rings true today just as it did back in the late 1960s. It's not even too hard to update it to fit today's socio-political climate. Is it Always Right to Be Right is not exactly an animation classic, but it came out at just the right time to address the country's issues of the day.
Where Can I Watch It?


The Shepherd
What is this? A film so obscure and little seen that I don't even have a screenshot of it? I'm afraid so. This is the fourth film that I hadn't yet seen when I wrote the review from the year, joining Lorenzo from 2004, Redux Riding Hood from 1997, and Dedalo from 1976. I eventually saw Redux Riding Hood when director Steve Moore played the part of Prometheus in rescuing the film from its exile in the Disney vaults, but haven't had any luck in the others so far. I know pretty little about this film, except that it was directed by Cameron Guess and produced by Brandon Films. The entry at World Catalog also gave a simple synopsis that frankly, doesn't make much sense: "An animated film about a simple man, a shepherd, who wants nothing more from the city than to be left alone to pursue his career. The shepherd finally faces the reality that there are no jobs for shepherds, even though he and his sheep brave the metropolitan traffic to try every possible employee. He sends his sheep to the country and takes a correspondence course to train for a new career." It sounds to me like the film is an allegory about the ruthless nature in the cities, and how it is alienating the agricultural aspects of the country, but what do I know? I haven't seen the fucking picture. There was some hope, as World Catalog states that the film is available in the libraries at the University of Michigan, which the library confirmed. I was in luck, as my cousin was attending the University of Michigan, and I'll be in Akron, Ohio just four hours away from Ann Arbor. I can easily go there and watch the film. I got in contact with my cousin and she agreed to help me out. However, a few days before I was scheduled to go my cousin contacted me and told me that the library wouldn't check the film out to her because she "didn't have permission." What the FUCK is up with that? You're already selfishly hoarding a film that almost nobody has seen, and you're not even going to let somebody that wants to watch the fucking film without fucking "permission." They didn't even specify whom to get permission from! It was just as well, because I got a flat tire out of nowhere that weekend and couldn't get to Ann Arbor anyways for the mini-family reunion. But it still burns me that U-Mich would hoard the film like that. I bet they have viewing parties every weekend of these obscure films on 16mm, laughing at the misfortunes of those who don't have "permission." Screw them. I did notice this time around that the film is available in the Miami-Dade Public Library System, which they also confirm. Perhaps a road trip is in store?
Where Can I Watch It?
Other than University of Michigan (where it's impossible to get. Don't even try.) and Miami Dade Public Library, the film is also available at the University of California Berkeley Pacific Film Archives. I bet it's impossible to watch it with them as well.

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So yeah, three nominees, and I've only seen two of them. And those two were among the last nominees I had seen. Is It Always Right to Be Right took home the Oscar, and I saw that first, but even then it was one of the last winners I had seen. I couldn't find it until somebody named Saturnome posted it on YouTube about three and a half years ago, alongside The Box, the 1967 Oscar winner. It took me another two and a half to three years before I finally saw The Further Adventures of Uncle Sam. Of those two Is It Always Right to Be Right is the better film, so no qualms about the result, but The Shepherd is a dark sheep. (pun intended)

My rankings (by quality and preference)
Is It Always Right to Be Right? > The Further Adventures of Uncle Sam

3 comments:

  1. Took me a while to get back to this, mainly because I didn't see the 1970's entries before!

    THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF UNCLE SAM
    Of the YouTube video was from that French DVD, it appears there must've been some trouble with their print if there was a section cut out of the short over 7 minutes into it (if only noticing that the Eagle was already inside rescuing Sam without a specific reason how he got in there). The print must've had that sequence lost over time. Still what is there, it's quite a unique little film. Bothering to look up both animators of the film, they did seem to have done other things over the years, at least Dale Case has, Robert Mitchell's other involvements including K-9000 A Space Oddity (1968) and the 1977 feature "The Mouse and His Child".

    IS IT ALWAYS RIGHT TO BE RIGHT?
    Reminded of another film that Bosustow Productions made around 1971 called "Freedom River" that also had Orson welles phone in some narration. This short somehow found it's way sandwiched into much older shorts on a Public Domain release of cartoons that was sold for a buck at Wal-Mart years back.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ABKLirW24LE

    The company would go on to produce many short films, often adapted from children's books or other topics of interest, here's a good collection to check out!
    http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xne490_metric-meets-the-inchworm-1974_tech
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0EiqPXd08d4
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-8njIgB0GnI
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5SOqJgbo1nc
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lqhc4FR-3l0

    I noticed the director of this piece, Lee Mishkin, who had his starts in animation going back to the start of the TV medium with animating on Crusader Rabbit, the first TV cartoon in 1949. Later in the 70's he would do a couple things at Halas & Batchelor in London such as this sequence of animation set to the concept album "The Butterfly Ball and the Grasshopper's Feast", this animation was part of a failed attempt at adapting the album to an animator feature but what came out eventually was a live concert film...
    http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xiagub_the-butterfly-ball_music

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  2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z22ZKGbjENs

    I noticed Popeye arms on Uncle Sam and Krazy Kat eyes on the animals during the disturbing scene.

    Used 78rpm records (including the Eagle's theme, I'm thinking an old blues song since records from the 20's-30's did get a revival during that time) and stock music from the 50's along with great cartoon sound effects at the beginning.

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  3. TFAOUS is now preserved at the Academy Film Archive (alongside Kick Me, The Box, Surogat and so on)

    http://www.oscars.org/academy-film-archive/preserved-projects

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