Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Best Animated Short - 1965

Ah, the joys of residency interviews. People keep saying that these are informal and that the residencies are making sure that we can work well with the staff in that facility, but that's what they said about medical school interviews. You still have dozens of people interviewing for one spot, so the chances of you getting that one spot is much diminished. Perhaps I'm still haunted by my med school interview season back in 2008-09, one that ended up with me getting waitlisted on seven schools in ten interviews, even though I was told that the interviewers liked me. Thinking back to those days turn me into a nervous wreck like Rainbow Dash over there. Maybe that's why I bomb these interviews. I can only think back to my failures and that set me into a cycle of failure. Well today is my ninth interview (at Eastern Virginia Medical School, which waitlisted me in 2008) so hopefully I can keep my composure, but I doubt it. Perhaps that's why I scheduled 27 interviews and am planning on going to all of them. Because part of me knows that's what it's going to take in order to get in somewhere. I wish I had the confidence to take only 5 - 12 interviews like everybody else that's doing psych at my school, but just look at poor Rainbow Dash. You think she'd be fine doing only 12 interviews in that state of mind? I thought not.

One film stood above all others in 1965, and that was The Sound of Music, the film adaptation of the beloved Rogers and Hammerstein musical. It shattered box office records in the US, earning $158 million. That was almost $50 million more than the David Lean Russian Revolution epic Doctor Zhivago, which was no slouch, also breaking the $100 million mark. (I find it quite remarkable that two three hour films were able to dominate the box office so much. Then again, Titanic was also three hours while Avatar, The Dark Knight, and The Avengers were two and a half. Length's got nothing to do with it.) The Sound of Music remains the third highest grossing film in the US when adjusted for inflation, behind Star Wars and the 4-hour long Gone with the Wind. When Oscar night rolled around, The Sound of Music and Doctor Zhivago were both on the top with 10 nominations each. The other Best Picture nominees included Ship of Fools, which had eight nominations but was left out of the Best Director race. Darling, which had five nominations but did compete in the Best Director race. And finally A Thousand Clowns, with only four nominations, of which Best Director was not one of them. The other two Best Director nominations went instead to William Wyler for The Collector and Hiroshi Teshigahara for Woman in the Dunes, which lost Best Foreign Language the year before. It was the third time a director was nominated for a foreign film (the other two went to Federico Fellini) and the first time a director was nominated for a Japanese film. (Akira Kurosawa would join him 20 years later for Ran.)

Both films had wins in the sound categories. The Sound of Music won Oscars for Best Sound and Best Score (Adaptation or Treatment) while Doctor Zhivago won an Oscar for Best Original Score. The Sandpiper won Best Original Song for "The Shadow of Your Smile." Doctor Zhivago may have lost Best Sound, but it stormed ahead by sweeping the Color categories. Meanwhile Ship of Fools won Best Black and White Cinematography and Art Direction, losing Best Black and White Costume Design to Darling. The Great Race won Best Sound Effects Editing while the James Bond film Thunderball won Best Visual Effects. The Sound of Music had a crucial win in the Best Editing category. However, it was not nominated in the Best Adapted Screenplay category, which went to Doctor Zhivago instead, while Darling took home Best Original Screenplay. Shelley Winters won her second Oscar for her charged portrayal of an abusive and racist mother in A Patch of Blue, while Martin Balsam won his first for playing a grounded brother in A Thousand Clowns. The rugged actor Lee Marvin won his only Oscar in the comic musical Western film Cat Ballou, where he played two roles. And in the Best Actress race, Julie Andrews's bid to win back to back Oscars was thwarted when Julia Christie won for her portrayal of the tragic model who falls victim to her hedonistic lifestyle in Darling.

Doctor Zhivago seemed to be in the best spot going into the last two awards of the night. It had won five Oscars while The Sound of Music and Darling had each won two. Incidentally, those were the three films that seemed like they really had a chance in Best Director. Still, it sure seemed like Zhivago would avenge its box office defeat come Oscar night. That chance collapsed when Robert Wise took home the Oscar for The Sound of Music. And then it went on to capture Best Picture. Sometimes you just can't stop a feel good love story.

Perhaps this idea will still apply in the Best Animated Short category.

Clay or the Origin of Species
In the beginning there was nothing but an endless void. But from the endless ebb and flow of that void there appeared a miracle: the miracle of life. In the beginning there were simple beings such as worms, but these organisms slowly evolved to gain more capabilities and complexity. These evolutions better equip them to succeed in the daily struggle for survival, but there are still surprises to be seen. Just how complex can these organisms become? Claymation is one form of stop motion that we've seen several times in this blog. Using clay as a medium for stop motion animation is actually an age old technique, with the first practitioners appearing in the early part of the 20th centuries, but it never really caught on until the 1950s when Art Clokey made his landmark 1955 short film Gumbasia, which eventually led to the massively popular Gumby TV series. And in 1974 Will Vinton and Bob Gardiner's Closed Mondays became the first claymation film to win an Oscar. And in between there was Eli Noyes (not sure if he's related to the architect Eliot Noyes) and Clay. Noyes is now a renowned animator with an impressive resume, but when he made Clay he was still a student at Harvard. And, well, it kind of looks it. The film is another spin on the theme of evolution, which we've seen numerous times. And the film feels a lot like Michael Mills's Evolution, but with clay. It begins with a void before going into several episodes of amorphous creatures eating each other or reproducing. It doesn't exactly break new grounds on the storytelling aspect, but at least it didn't annoy me. The animation is quite basic. The characters move pretty well, but unfortunately the creatures never lose their molded clay look. Noyes doesn't exactly breathe life into the work like Will Vinton or Aardman Animation or Adam Elliott did. The film is without dialogue and has only a musical accompaniment. I've seen this film at two different places and they both have different music. One has a tinny jazz soundtrack while the other has more of a piano score. They're both kind of annoying. Clay may have been quite ambitious for a student film, but I just don't see it as anything more than an ambitious gimmick.
Where Can I Watch It?
I had to rely on getting a VHS from inter-library loans to watch the film, but I just found out that the film is available online on a video site called Fandor. Unfortunately, Fandor is one of those sites where you pay to watch the film, but they do give an option for a two-week free trial. So if you're really desperate to watch the film you can always sign up and cancel the subscription. Yes, I am quite unscrupulous, aren't I?

The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics
The Line is a decent fellow. He's a straight shooter and a stand-up guy, but he's got problems. He's madly in love with a Dot, but she's rejecting him for those exact qualities of his, preferring to spend her time with the Squiggle with his spontaneity and freedom. The Line fell into a deep depression. Other lines told him to get over her, but he cannot. He began thinking about ways where he may be useful in the world and in his efforts he learned how to control himself in a way he never realized. Can he win the Dot's heart? Chuck Jones is one of the greatest animation directors. He is best known for the sophisticated humor and helmed some of the best known films at Warner Bros., including What's Opera Doc?, Duck Amuck, and the Hunting Trilogy. After the Warner Bros. animation department closed down Jones contracted with MGM to make new Tom and Jerry films. Along the way he directed an animated adaptation of The Dot and the Line, a book by Norton Juster (The Phantom Tollbooth). The story was quite unique in that it told of a romance involving shapes (if you call a dot, a line, and a squiggle as such), and was full of mathematical concepts. It may seem like a difficult film to bring to the screen, but it works quite well. The screenplay was written by Juster himself so the story maintains the charm of the book. There are a lot of the mathematical references, but it doesn't encroach on the story. The film also shines in the animation aspects. Chuck Jones is a terrific visual animator, although that side of him is often overlooked. In The Dot and the Line Jones went with more of a limited style, but what he did use was very effective. The characters may just be shapes, but they exhibit emotions through their slight changes in thickness and movement. The background is quite minimal, but it does have a lot of random shapes to set the stage. And the transformations of the line are quite divine. The narration is supplied by veteran British actor Robert Morley, and he does a decent job, although he doesn't try to disguise his voice in speaking for the Dot, although now that I think about it that's probably better. I can't imagine him doing a voice in falsetto would be any good. Still, The Dot and the Line is a great film and a worthy part of the Chuck Jones filmography.
Where Can I Watch It?

La Gazza Ladra (The Thieving Magpie)
One day three kings decided that it was a good day to go hunting, so they formed a massive hunting party with the plan to murder innocent but elaborately designed birds. Many birds lost their lives in the attack, but one bird that survived the onslaught was a black magpie. It celebrated its survival by doing a weird dance to taunt the kings, after which it stole the kings' crowns and wreaked havoc among the hunting party. Can the kings stop the magpie's rampage and go back to their killing spree? Emanuele Luzzati is the great Italian animator that we have seen in the past with his Oscar nominated Pulcinella. He's got the distinctive style of animating using cutouts and animating to music from famous operas. Both of these qualities are present in The Thieving Magpie. In the case, this film is set to the overture from Gioachino Rossini's opera of the same name. The music and the title are the only things the film has in common with the opera. The focus of the film is centered around the magpie as he leads an avian revolution against the tyranny of hunters. Most of the film is about the different ways that the magpie screws with the hunting party, and it's all quite amusing. However, I found the magpie to be quite annoying, and felt sympathetic for one of the kings that was short and stout, so I'm probably not rooting for the right character. As I mentioned, Luzzati animates using elaborately designed cutouts that he manipulates, making this kind of like a stop motion type of film. It makes for an interesting effect, especially in the way the characters move. There are times when the cutout aspect of the animation is very apparent, but it still moves with a certain level of fluidity that makes it believable. The film has a very colorful design, thereby allowing for the solid black magpie to stand out. And the music by Rossini is very good. I may not have cared for the main character in La Gazza Ladra, but it is still an interesting work of art from one of the great Italian animators.
Where Can I Watch It?

Well, even though posts have been appearing regularly as scheduled, I actually haven't written one of these reviews in two weeks. And as such my queue has dwindled from three to none. I can't exactly say I'm proud, but I'm finally finished. Anyways, there isn't much to say about this year. There is one film that stood out in this batch of nominees, and that was The Dot and the Line. The Academy recognized as such, and so awarded Chuck Jones his long-awaited first competitive Oscar. He would later win an honorary Oscar 30 years later. 

My rankings (by quality and preference)
The Dot and the Line > La Gazza Ladra > Clay or the Origin of Species  


    True to argue Eli Noyes approaches to the clay medium in this film isn't quite the same as those that came after him, but on the other hand, what he has done works well on it's own as a sort of experimental/expressive form of art perhaps not seen before in the field. A later film of his I remember seeing many times on TV in the early 80's was "Worm Dances".

    COTOOS on YouTube (Ala Eli Noyes)

    1. Weird. He had posted it online already by the time I wrote this review. Wonder why I didn't find it. Of course I wasn't searching very hard because I already found the film.