Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Best Animated Short - 1973

So on the surface it seems like I've been updating this blog regularly. A new post comes up every Wednesday as I said it would. Yet as I mentioned in earlier posts I've been writing these in advance, and I churned out a lot of them back in August. However, I've been procrastinating, so my queue of finished reviews is getting shorter every week. And I'm freaking out, possibly justifiably.

So what have I been doing with my time? Well, I've been doing my rotations in the hospital, which I've been doing since I've started my blog so that's not really contributing to my procrastination. I've been working to submit my residency applications, but that was mostly a lot of procrastination as well. I'm also back in the town of my med school, so I've been hanging out with friends, but that's it's not really fair to blame others for my own laziness. My online course on the history of animation that I mentioned in the 1976 review has started, but it doesn't take me THAT long to work on stuff. It's probably just the fact that it takes me forever and a day to write these things, so my motivation isn't exactly very high. So what have I been doing instead? Well, it's mostly just playing The Sims 3 and watching My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.

My current Facebook cover pic!
So have I become a brony, you ask? Well, it depends on what definition you use. There are some people that claim that one does not become a brony unless one is familiar with not only the main characters, but also many of the background characters like Derpy, Lyra, and Bonbon. I'm not quite at that level. But if your definition of a brony is a My Little Pony fan that doesn't fit in with the intended demographic, well then consider me guilty.

If you're also a My Little Pony fan, then yey! If you're not and aghast that I'd jump on the bandwagon of a fad, well then maybe I'd better use this introduction space to talk about my brony story. The 1973 Oscars had a good film winning Best Picture in The Sting, but otherwise wasn't terribly exciting. Except for maybe Tatum O'Neal becoming the youngest person ever to win an Oscar, doing so for Paper Moon at the age of 10, beating out Linda Blair (1.4x O'Neal's age), Candy Clark (2.6x), Madeline Kahn (3.1x), and Sylvia Sidney (6.3x).

Anyways, I don't think I've even heard about the show until last October when I saw a video of Fluttershy doing OMM on a bear. Somebody must have posted it on Facebook or something. As a student at an osteopathic medical school, seeing a scene with OMM was pretty cool. I was also surprised that there was another My Little Pony show. I only knew about the original one from the 1980s, and that was because one of the tapes that my family had with numerous cartoons contained part 10 of the End of Flutter Valley story arc. Considering the fact that Friendship of Magic was in its second season by the time that Fluttershy OMM clip aired, I was pretty oblivious to popular culture. It didn't take me long to find out more, though, as there were some pretty big My Little Pony fans in the Longview Comic Book Club. I found out that the series was created by Lauren Faust. And there was a character called Pinkie Pie that my friend cosplayed as in A-Kon. It was the former fact that piqued my interest, as not only did Faust work on The Powerpuff Girls, which I really enjoyed, but was also married to Powerpuff Girls creator Craig McCracken.

However, despite my interest I didn't actually get to watching it until one day I was on Netflix for some weird reason and saw that Friendship is Magic was available on instant stream. I was looking for something to watch when I'm playing The Sims 3, and that would be perfect. I didn't have time to watch it in Ohio, as I was spending more time driving long distances to baseball games than relaxing with the ponies and Sims. It wasn't until I came back to Fort Worth that I was able to play The Sims 3 and watch the show. I was instantly hooked. It was mostly a slice of life show (my favorite type...I can do without action packed battles) with interactions between well defined and well rounded characters. The storylines were great, and even if the plots were bland (one was pretty much lifted from a Powerpuff Girls episode), it had enough charm to make it interesting. There really wasn't a bad episode, which is quite impressive for a 52-episode series.

Furthermore, there seemed to be a lot of parallels between Friendship is Magic and another one of my favorite TV show: Azumanga Daioh. It too was a slice of life show with well defined and well rounded characters that has maintained some sort of a cult status. Yet the similarities go beyond that. There are six in the main cluster of friends in Friendship is Magic, and six main characters in Azumanga Daioh. Friendship is Magic also focused on some secondary characters in the Cutie Mark Crusaders, while Azumanga Daioh had the teachers Yukari and Kurosawa-sensei, as well as Kimura and Kaorin. And both shows have background characters that gained some prominence amidst the fandom: Friendship had the aforementioned Derpy, Lyra, and Bonbon while Azumanga had Ohyama and the girl with the braids. (I know the fandom gave her a name, but I can't remember.) And most importantly, both series deal with a common theme. Yes, they do it in a slightly different way. Friendship deals with a common storyline in each episode that ends with a lesson learned, while Azumanga is more episodic in its presentation. Yet both shows are driven by the importance of friendship.

I wish I could be more profound, but my mind is kind of mush right now, so let's just move on to the review before it disintegrates some more.

Frank Film
A young man that recently started his career as a graphic designer decides to tell the story of his life. He starts from his birth in the waning years of World War II, discusses his memories from the childhood, including his fantasies about women and his delight in his favorite pastime, food. He then goes off to college and experiences a bit of a confusion about what to do with his life. He dabbles in architecture and art and wonders whether or not to go to graduate school. In the end, he decides to pursue animation, and strives to make the next great animated film. Frank Film is an autobiographical film by animator Frank Mouris. It seems pretty bold for a young animator to make a film about his own life, and he even throws a reference to the Academy Awards near the end. And yet Frank Film is much more than just a pompous young animator glorifying himself. First of all, the story itself is pretty humble, with a lot of self-doubt and being faced with an uncertain future. Furthermore, I believe that the personal story is just a placeholder plot, and the real meaning of the film is the materialism and oversaturation of the senses in today's society. The visuals in Frank Film is not a straightforward animation piece. Mouris even says in the film that he has been saving up thousands of images from magazines and catalogs, and all of a sudden he dumps them all on unsuspecting viewers of the film. And the images are not completely random. Yes, there are moments when dozens of images come at you every second, but they are generally related to the subject being discussed. For example, when he talks about food, hundreds of images of juicy pieces of food appears, and when he talks about his childhood pets images of domesticated animals show up. And there are moments when the images are more organized. Nevertheless, it is exhausting to try to keep up with everything coming at you. And Mouris doesn't give you a break on the auditory side. He has one soundtrack doing his spiel about his life, and another running concurrently just saying words that apply to what he's saying, most of which begin with the letter F. It's easy to get mixed up between the two soundtracks. Frank Film is not exactly the easiest film to watch, but if you take a step back and let it all run in front of you then you might appreciate the genius of the film's design.
Where Can I Watch It?

The Legend of John Henry
John Henry was a great railroad man. He grew up with a hammer in his hand and loved swinging the hammer and the sensation of it hitting the steel. He grew up and got a job with the railroad driving in the railroad ties. He loved his job, and eventually married a cute woman named Polly Ann. She loved John Henry, but she had a feeling that he would someday not come back from his job. And one day his railroad job took him to a mountain, and the section boss got a steam drill, but John's pride took over and decided to race the steam drill bare-handed. John Henry is one of the great folk heroes in American history. He was a man that loved his job and fought to defend the pride of the abilities of the common man against the advancements of technology, even if it costs him his life. He was the subject of numerous ballads, and even an Oscar nominated short film from 1946, John Henry and the Inky-Poo by George Pal. 27 years later, Nick Bosustow, son of legendary UPA producer Stephen Bosustow, hired animator Sam Weiss to produce another film about this American legend. Weiss's film was much more stylized than George Pal's animation. John Henry is quite dynamic in animation, as he is is often seen swinging his hammer no matter if he is depicted in full or in silhouette. And every time the hammer strikes something there is a flash of light that might just be animated but sure looks like somebody took live action footage and inserted it. It's a shame that everybody else is drawn with limited animation or none at all, and while the colors was used for effect as in earlier UPA films like Rooty Toot Toot and Gerald McBoingBoing!, the colors feel quite grimy, but maybe it's just the quality of the transfer. This film also brought back the ballad aspect of the story, as the entire film is narrated in song by famed singer Roberta Flack, who was in the midst of her Grammy-winning streak. The song is well done and Flack is shows off her skills quite nicely.
Where Can I Watch It?
Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find the video online five years ago, and I still can't today. Little Golden Books did release the short film along with a short about Paul Bunyan. That was how I saw the film, and if you want to watch it that's probably how you'll have to watch it. 

In a quaint Italian seaside town, a man named Pulcinella is lying around in bed when his wife comes, yells at him, and tells him to get him to work. Pulcinella reluctantly leaves the comforts of his bed, but prefers to dance and sing instead. He relieves himself at the base of a statue, but he is seen by a couple policemen, who chase him around. He attempts to hide inside his home, but his wife locks him out. He ends up sleeping on the roof of his flat-topped house, where he has a dream that quickly ends up becoming a nightmare. Poor Pulcinella. He just wants to get home and go back to bed. Pulcinella is a common character in Italian puppetry. He is known by his long nose resembling the beak of a chicken (evidently 'pulcino' is Italian for chick) and his appearance being dressed in wife with a black face representing life and death. He inspired a ballet of the same title by the great Igor Stravinsky, and also Italian animator Emanuele Luzzati in this film. Luzzati was a former set decorator for the stage and the screen, and became known for his colorful, dream-like imagery, as well as his penchant for animating to pieces of classical work. He was nominated for a work that we'll be reviewing shortly titled La Gazza Ladra (The Thieving Magpie) based on the opera of the same name by Gioachino Rossini, best known as the writer of William Tell and The Barber of Seville. Luzzati used the overture for another Rossini work, Il Turco in Italia, for this film. And the end result is no less amazing. The action fits in well with the music, and also incredibly surreal, but what do you expect for a film that is mostly set in a dream? There are moments when Pulcinella sees his wife and her friends turn into monstrous beasts, and when he is chased by an alligator-like beast made up of a line of policemen. And more than one scene that makes reference to Pulcinella's namesake of being like a chick. It can sometimes be quite terrifying, but it never really loses a playful feel. Yes, Pulcinella can be somewhat of an annoying character, but if you like films set to classical work then Pulcinella is a worthy film to watch.
Where Can I Watch It?

Only three nominees this year, which I'm not complaining about. I'm kind of dreading the years in the 1940s with as many as 10 nominees. All three films are good, artistic films, but Frank Film stands out artistically and thematically. Yes, it may have been bold for Mouris to sneak in a reference to the Oscars, but the film was dazzling enough that the Academy gave him that Oscar anyways. The film went on to be one of the few animated shorts selected to the National Film Registry, but then Mouris kind of went on the down low or something. Although I guess if you won an Oscar for a film about your life at 29, you've pretty much hit the top.

My rankings (by quality and preference)
Frank Film > Pulcinella > The Legend of John Henry

1 comment:

    Shame if Dailymotion is giving you a hard time as well, I don't get that problem on my end. I'm sure if I worked on your blog I could fix up some of the problems.

    I did managed to get myself a copy of the film on 16mm some years back, but haven't sat down to watch it yet.

    "The film went on to be one of the few animated shorts selected to the National Film Registry, but then Mouris kind of went on the down low or something. Although I guess if you won an Oscar for a film about your life at 29, you've pretty much hit the top."

    He stuck around doing a few other things in the 70's. I do have him for a Facebook pal, perhaps I could ask him about it!