Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Best Animated Short - 1972 (NSFW)


Well, it doesn't seem like it'll ever get here, but we are on our 40th review. That means we are officially halfway done with reviewing these Oscar nominated shorts! Sure, it took eight months, but it sure as heck doesn't feel that long. And guess what? We still have pitiful page views! Hooray! I'd like to thank my loyal readers, all three of them that I know of: my sisters (one of whom says she mostly skims the reviews) and Christopher Sobieniak. Man, I suck at advertising my blog. I tell people about it but they don't read it.

Meh, but we're halfway through the reviews. We've gone too far to just give up! So let's keep forging on. We are now at 1972, which is a significant year because it saw the introduction of one of the monumental films in American cinematic history...The Godfather

Yes, The Godfather. Sure, some people think the sequel, The Godfather Part II, is better. Others prefer Citizen Kane, or Casablanca, or The Shawshank Redemption, if you prefer the IMDb scoring systems. Either way, whether it is 1972 or 2012, The Godfather stands tall in the American film canon. Back in 1972 it had toppled The Sound of Music to become the highest grossing film of all time, which is quite an accomplishment for an 3-hour, R-rated epic. Still, that's a testament to the filmmaking of Francis Ford Coppola and the powerful performances by Al Pacino, James Caan, Robert Duvall, James Cazale, Abe Vigoda, and Marlon Brando. And to think that at some point on Oscar night it seemed destined to join Citizen Kane as American classics to lose Best Picture.

You see, there was another film that made a splash at the Oscars that year: Bob Fosse's musical classic Cabaret. It told the story of an American cabaret singer living in Germany in the years before World War II and the choices she must face about her life. When the nominations were announced, The Godfather initially led Cabaret 11-10, but then it was found that much of the iconic score by Nino Rota was taken from the score of an earlier film he did, Fortunella. As a result, the nomination was disqualified and the two films were tied at 10. Meanwhile, the other Best Picture nominees Deliverance, The Emigrants, and Sounder only had three, four, and four nominations respectively. So it was essentially down to those two films.

The disqualification of The Godfather in the Best Original Dramatically Score category allowed Charlie Chaplin to win his first and only competitive Oscar for the film Limelight, which was actually made in 1952 but did not play in Los Angeles to qualify for the Oscars until 20 years later. Both of his collaborators that shared the nomination had been dead for years. Meanwhile Cabaret won the Best Original Song/Adapted Score. Neither film were nominated in Best Original Song, which went to The Poseidon Adventure for "The Morning After." Best Sound Mixing was the only sound category at the time, and Cabaret topped The Godfather. The two films were not nominated together in Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, and Best Art Direction. While Cabaret took home both Best Cinematography and Best Art Direction, The Godfather lost Best Costume Design to Travels with My Aunt.

The two films were in competition again for the crucial Best Editing award, which went to Cabaret. The Godfather finally took home an Oscar when it topped Cabaret in the Best Adapted Screenplay category (The Candidate with Robert Reford won Best Original Screenplay), but Cabaret came back with Joel Gray toppling the Godfather trio of Al Pacino, James Caan, and Robert Duvall in the Best Supporting Actor category. Eileen Heckart won Best Supporting Actress for Butterflies are Free, a win that affected neither film. The two films won their respective leading role categories, with Liza Minnelli winning Best Actress for Cabaret, while Marlon Brando won Best Actor. Brando did not show up, and famously allowed a Native American actress who called herself Sacheen Littlefeather to accept the award and gave a speech protesting the mistreatment of Native Americans in the film industry and in society. After that surprising incident came Best Director, which went to Bob Fosse for Cabaret, beating out Francis Ford Coppola.

So by the time it came for Best Picture, Cabaret had eight victories to The Godfather's two. Cabaret had only one loss so far, which was the Screenplay award, but it had defeated The Godfather four times in head to head matches. Cabaret was only the eighth film to win at least eight Oscars by that time*, and seemed destined to win nine. Yet to the surprise of all, when the final winner was read, it was not Cabaret but The Godfather. I wasn't around back when that happened in 1973, but I'm sure it must have been shocking. However, I don't know anybody today that disagrees with those results.

*The other seven to win eight by that time were Gone with the Wind in 1939 (and it also won two special achievement Oscars),  From Here to Eternity in 1953, On the Waterfront in 1954, and My Fair Lady in 1964. Gigi had won nine in 1958. West Side Story had won 10 in 1961. And Ben-Hur took home an awe-inspiring 11 in 1959. Since then seven other films have won at least eight. The films that won exactly eight were Gandhi in 1982, Amadeus in 1984, and Slumdog Millionaire in 2008. The Last Emperor (1987) and The English Patient (1996) won nine. Titanic (1997) and The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003) won 11. The one things all of those films have in common was that they all won Best Picture, an honor Cabaret couldn't share.

And amidst all the excitement, there was the Best Animated Short category to generate even more excitement!

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A Christmas Carol
It is Christmas Eve 1843. Everybody is feeling the Christmas cheer, all except Ebenezer Scrooge, one of the stingiest men in all of England. He is rich beyond belief, but still keeps his workplace frigid to save money. Even though the next day is Christmas, he still wants his only employee, the overworked and underpaid Bob Cratchit, to take a pay cut for taking Christmas off. However, that night he is visited by the ghost of his old partner Jacob Marley, who tells him that he will be punished after death if he does not change his ways. But he has another chance, as that night he is visited by three spirits that will change his life forever. I had discussed Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol, the Christmas-themed tale of redemption back when I reviewed Mickey's Christmas Carol a few months back. Mickey's is perhaps the most well-known of the animated adaptations of the story, because it has the clout of the Disney behemoth behind it. However, 11 years before the Disney film another adaptation had made its mark in the Best Animated Short category. This one was helmed by the legendary animator Richard Williams, the man behind the fabled but revolutionary unfinished work The Thief and the Cobbler. He was hired to adapt the story for television for ABC, and even though it's a TV special, Williams spared no punches. On the surface it was a rather straightforward retelling of the Dickens classic, but Williams included many scenes that are gritty and dark even from today's standards. There is a creepy shot of the hands of ghosts reaching for a poor homeless woman after the departure of Marley's Ghost, and Williams's portrayal of the personification of Ignorance and Want is quite reminiscent of the children that assaulted the main character in Peter Foldes's Hunger. And Williams chose to be revolutionary on a stylistic standpoint as well. The film featured several shots with dynamic camera movements such as pans and tracking shots. It's probably doesn't seem impressive today as it's found in quite a few animated films, but forty years ago it was quite impressive. ABC also recruited an all-star cast, including Alastair Sims and Michael Hordern as Scrooge and Marley's Ghost. They had portrayed the characters over 20 years earlier for the film Scrooge, one of the most famous live action adaptations. Michael Redgrave, patriarch of the Redgrave family, supplied the narration. The classic hymn God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen also figures prominently in the film, just as it did in the original. Despite its grittiness, A Christmas Carol was a huge hit when it debuted, and the producers took it to Los Angeles to play theatrically to qualify it for an Oscar. It obviously worked, although afterwards the Academy changed the rules so that animated TV specials must play in theaters before its airdate to qualify, which the Adventure Time special "Thank You" tried last year. (It didn't quite work out.)
Where Can I Watch It?


Kama Sutra Rides Again
A British couple, Ethel and Stanley, strive to add spice into their lives. They have exotic pets and have strange hobbies. Their favorite hobby is to advance on the work of the famous Indian sex manual the Kama Sutra by practicing bizarre sex in strange positions using weird techniques. However, they go beyond that, coming up with their own variations themselves. And they have devised their most ambitious technique yet, but they haven't practiced it yet. Will it work out, or will their ambition get the best of them? Yes, the film's title does make reference to a sex manual. But what do you expect from Bob Godfrey, the master animator whose work include Dream Doll, the retelling of The Red Balloon where the balloon is replaced with a naked sex doll, and Great, the biographical film about Isambard Kingdom Brunel full of sexual references. And as you might expect from a film with a title that refers a sex manual, the film is chock full of sexual innuendo, both explicit and implied. You have two characters that spend the majority of the film stark naked except for socks, genitalia and breasts fully exposed, even when vacationing in the Gobi Desert. Of course, they're not the only ones. In one scene they are raided by the cops, the majority of whom are nude except for shoes and helmets. Of course, Ethel and Stanley need to be nude because they are all about trying new techniques for making love, but a lot of them aren't especially new. They try having sex on skates, sex in hammock, or sex on a bicycle. It's unique, sure, but nothing really groundbreaking. Then again, the point of the short is probably not for the practicality of these new techniques, but the visual gags that result, as most of these efforts end in failure. The implicit innuendo are funny too. There is one scene where Stanley takes out a thin pamphlet titled Sex for Old Age Pensioners, which promptly folds over. There are some more interesting techniques later on, such as the Typewriter, a machine that puts Stanley on the key and Ethel on the ribbon. It's funny to watch Stanley faceplant on the ribbon while waiting for his wife to arrive. Kama Sutra Rides Again is an interesting and kind of funny look at sex, but like many of Ethel and Stanley's techniques, it isn't really groundbreaking.
Where Can I Watch It?
There is a video that is available online on Downvides.net, but it's only been online since June, and I know Bob Godfrey's family have been pretty protective of their films. So I don't entirely feel confident embedding it or even linking to it. It should come up as one of the first items if you search Google Video for "Kama Sutra Rides Again."

Tup Tup
A man lies in bed in his apartment in the middle of a bustling city reading a newspaper. Things are quiet and peaceful until he is interrupted by a thumping noise, "tup tup." The man tries to ignore it, but it continues incessantly. He begins to go crazy, swears at his neighbors until finally he could stand it no longer and blows up the entire apartment building. However, that only takes him into a strange world where bizarre things are commonplace, and the thumping "tup tup" noise never does go away. Can the man find peace? Tup Tup is a film that is a collaboration between the Croatian Zagreb Films and Italy's Corona Cinematografica with a Croatian director in Nedeljko Dragic. The film is quite surrealistic, where nothing makes sense. I even find it to be kind of like a wonderland story, only except for a British schoolgirl you have an insane murderous psycho. And instead of disappearing cats and tea parties, you have a floating sea of breasts and the mass murder of innocent civilians. The main character's reaction to a harmless thumping sound is clearly an overreaction, but it is merely a tool to set the man off and lead him to even more stranger sights. In this way his desire to shut the noise up acts like a MacGuffin as conceived by Alfred Hitchcock. Like most surrealistic films the point seems to be not the coherence of the images but the feeling that it inspires in the viewers. And with Tup Tup, the sheer randomness of the events will most likely bring up a feeling of confusion. What do you expect from a film that features a big breasted lady that kisses the man, then presses on one of her nippes to reveal a TV on her abdomen Teletubby style. The frantic soundtrack that includes a raspy saxophone solo should add to the confusion. Perhaps by the end you'll become as emotionally labile as the main character at the end of the film. Tup Tup is good if you like surrealism, but if you want your stories to make sense then stay away. Or watch it, and maybe you'll like it.
Where Can I Watch It?


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Well, you have a very eclectic bunch this year. You have a worthy adaptation of a beloved short story from one of the great British authors. And you have two of the strangest films that have ever been nominated in this category. And of course, A Christmas Carol walked away with the Oscar. You can say that it is due to the Academy's conservatism, but it is pretty clear that the Richard Williams film stood well above the rest. The fact that the other two films were even nominated is a rather progressive sign.

My rankings (in quality and preference)
A Christmas Carol > Tup Tup > Kama Sutra Rides Again 

Oh, and since we just finished our fourth decade, that means this weekend we'll see the fourth edition of "Ranking the Nominees!" Bet you can't wait, can you? (I'd probably lose the bet.)

1 comment:

  1. A CHRISTMAS CAROL
    I guess Google Video is eithe down or the video is taken off completely, I'm sure it's still lurking about.

    "Kama Sutra Rides Again is an interesting and kind of funny look at sex, but like many of Ethel and Stanley's techniques, it isn't really groundbreaking.

    It's a cheap laugh kind of a film, and Godfrey's best known for that sort of stuff. Not really pushing the envelope innovation-wise, but rather explore subject matter that was unfamiliar to the animation field before.

    "The fact that the other two films were even nominated is a rather progressive sign."

    Good use to that, before this point it'll go back the other way!

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