Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Best Animated Short - 1967

Well, our journey backwards through the history of the Best Animated Short category continues. I really hope I'll get time to write all this in the next two months because I'll have residency interviews up the wazoo. I have 27 interviews scheduled, which is 2.7x more than the number of med school interviews I had. And since some of my interviews will be two in one, I'd have to rank 31 programs come match time. Yep, it's going to be a busy three months.

But I cannot take a break. After all, there are still 36 more years to review, and the 2012 Oscar season is starting. Why, the shortlist was posted just last week. And the final list of nominees will be announced in January, and I'll have a review for that to interrupt the reviews from the 1950s. And then the cycle begins again with new films competing in new festivals and so on and so forth. Hopefully I'll get to go to some of these festivals someday.

So we're at 1967 now. It was one of four years before 1970 where I had seen every Best Picture nominee. (1969, which we reviewed two weeks ago, was another one of those years.) It certainly helped that four of the five ended up on the AFI top 100 films list. The coming of age/romantic comedy The Graduate and the violent gangster classic Bonnie and Clyde were ranked highly on both the 1998 and 2007 lists. The interracial relationship drama Guess Who's Coming to Dinner was on the 1998 list, but nine years later it fell off in favor of the racially charged crime film In the Heat of the Night. And then you have Doctor Dolittle, the colorful musical film based off the book series by Hugh Lofting. It was a critical and commercial failure, but thanks to an intense lobbying campaign from 20th Century Fox, it joined the other classics on the Best Picture roster, possibly pushing out another deserving film like In Cold Blood or Cool Hand Luke.

In fact, despite being dull and annoying, Doctor Doolittle figured quite prominently at the Oscars. Its nine nominations were behind only Bonnie and Clyde and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, both of which had 10. The Graduate and In the Heat of the Night both had seven. And when Oscar night came around it actually won two Oscars. It won for Best Special Effects, which was understandable because it had some good visual effects. And then the film's song "Talk to the Animals" won Best Original Song, which was less understandable because one of the songs it defeated was the terrific "The Bare Necessities" from The Jungle Book. But that was all it could come up with. It was nominated for both Best Original Score and Best Score (Adaptation or Treatment), the latter of which was alongside a young composer named John Williams, getting his first nomination for Valley of the Dolls. Both Doctor Doolittle and Williams lost, as Best Original Score went to Thoroughly Modern Millie, and Best Score (Adaptation or Treatment) went to Camelot. Later it lost Best Sound to In the Heat of the Night, Best Art Direction to Camelot, and Best Cinematography to Bonnie and Clyde. Best Sound Effects went to The Dirty Dozen while Best Costume Design went to Camelot.

Doctor Dolittle didn't figure at all in the acting or writing Oscars. Guess Who's Coming to Dinner won for Best Original Screenplay, while In the Heat of the Night won Best Adapted Screenplay. Estelle Parsons won Best Supporting Actress for Bonnie and Clyde for her role as Gene Hackman's nagging wife, and George Kennedy won Best Supporting Actor for his role as Dragline, the leader among the prisoners in Cool Hand Luke. Katherine Hepburn won her second Oscar for Best Actress in the matriarch role in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner. And then came one of the more intriguing awards of the night: Best Actor. The five actors were a combination of the old guard and up and coming young actors, but almost all of them had become stars. Warren Beatty was nominated for his role as the bank-robber Clyde in Bonnie and Clyde. Dustin Hoffman was nominated for his iconic role as Benjamin Braddock in The Graduate. Paul Newman received his fourth nomination as the titular character in Cool Hand Luke. Spencer Tracy was nominated posthumously for his role as the patriarch in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner. He had died of a heart attack just two weeks after completing the film. And despite that star-struck lineup, the Oscar went to Rod Steiger, a capable actor that had been nominated in the past for On the Waterfront but certainly no superstar, for his role as the racist sheriff in In the Heat of the Night.

In the Heat of the Night had won four Oscars by the time the final two awards came around. No other Best Picture nominee had won more than two, although Camelot did have three Oscars. The Graduate was the only Best Picture nominee to have been without a win, but all that changed when the young stage director Mike Nichols was announced as Best Director for The Graduate, only his second film. The win was somewhat of a surprise, but it couldn't turn the tide against the revolutionary civil rights murder mystery In the Heat of the Night, which took home the coveted Best Picture Oscar.

All that is nice and well, but what ultimately makes 1967 a significant year is that it is the only year where I had seen all of the Best Picture nominees, but have yet to see all of the Best Animated Short nominees. And I find that to be quite distressing. *sigh*

The Box
It was a dark and stormy night. An old man trudges through the rain and enters a tavern. He sits down at the bar and takes out a mysterious black box. A man and a woman come around and inquire about what's in the box. They offer the old man lots of different gifts while taking a guess at what might be in the box. However, when the old man finally shows them the answer their reactions are very intense. What exactly is in the box, and will anybody accept him for it? And will the rain ever subside? Fred Wolf was a great animation producer. He teamed up with Jimmy Murakami to form Murakami-Wolf Films, and together they were responsible for the animation of such classics as Duck Tales, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and the famous Tootsie Roll Pop commercial. Before all that Fred Wolf was an animator, and The Box was one of his keystone works. The film's plot is actually quite bare, and Wolf fills the rest with a heavy dose of symbolism. There were several instances where the people that approached the old man would turn into animals for a brief moment, kind of like what people do with subliminal messages. You really don't know what all that meant, but it makes sense with the surprising ending...kind of. The ending is pretty good, but it doesn't really answer all of the questions, and I'm still left with what exactly the film was trying to say. That's not to say the film is bad, but like most things heavy in symbolism there are a lot of things left to speculation. The animation itself is quite limited. There is no background to speak of, and the character design are quite simple. It's not ineffective, but it does make it feel kind of like a Sesame Street animation piece. The music is a very strange mix of beats and cymbals, but it gives the film a distinctive flavor. The Box is a decent film, but you do have to prepare yourself to make a heavy dose of inferences.
Where Can I Watch It?

Hypothese Beta
Well, here we have it. Yet another one of the seven films that I have yet to see. This one is by French animator Jean-Charles Meunier. Searching for it on Google Video only brings up videos about statistical testing. I didn't know much about it until I found it on a listing at the University of Arizona. According the site, this film is "a French filmed animation which deals with an isolated punch card perforation who tries to join groups of well-behaved perforations, is rebuffed, and finally manages to create complete disorder. This film ends in a holocaust, the result of lack of communication and accident in a nuclear war." Seems like Discord would get a kick out of this film. Anyways, the film looks interesting, but like I says there's no way to see it without going to Arizona or Miami, since it is also apparently available at the Miami-Dade Public Library. I guess it's cool that the Miami-Dade is collecting these rare films on 16mm, considering they also have The Shepherd. I'm going to have to see if I can get the films through inter-library loans from my local public library system. It's either that or I'll have to find some time to make a trip down to Miami. Either way that is probably the best way to get two of the Missing Seven out of the way. It's either that or find somebody in the Miami area with the technology to transfer 16mm film onto video files. Somehow I'll get you one way or another. *shakefist*
Where Can I Watch It?
Arizona...or Miami.  

What on Earth!
The National Film Board of Mars is here with the latest in research on life on the third planet from the Sun. They have been silently observing the lives of the Earthling, and are ready to show off their findings. They look at the daily frantic life of these creatures and study the sociological implications on their way of life. They speculate into the reproduction process of the Earthlings and warn of the parasites that plague their lives. What could the future hold for these Earthlings? What on Earth! is a tongue in cheek mockumentary from our favorite studio to the North: the National Film Board of Canada. This time they are pretending that they are a film studio in Mars working with research scientists to report on Earthlings, but with a catch. The Earthlings that they are studying are not humans but automobiles. And so much of the humor comes from how aspects of human life fits in with cars. Getting gas becomes feeding. Traffic jams become socialization.  Stoplights become social directors. There are plenty of other visual humor to top it off. For example, the stoplight scene is very similar a recent XKCD post, just 45 years earlier. The one issue I have is with the reproduction scene. Sure, it does have an interesting factory theme that Powerhouse wouldn't feel out of place, and it does kind of allude to the evolution of automotive transportation. However, at two minutes long the scene lasts for far too long, and I felt the most of the speculation was quite dumb. The animation is also on the basic side, with simple design and minimal backgrounds. However, that's not a bad thing. It seems like a good majority of the nominated films in the 1950s and 1960s are like that. The narration is good with the narrator's earnest seriousness, but the music is nothing special. Still What on Earth! is a clever commentary on our reliance on automotive transportation, which unfortunately is still prevalent 45 years later.
Where Can I Watch It?

Well, these are the three nominees from 1967. I don't know what was wrong with the nominees from this year. One of them was surprisingly difficult to find for a National Film Board of Canada film. One of them was the very last of the Oscar winners that I saw. And the third is one of the Missing Seven, which isn't actually missing but very, very, very, very, very hard to find. Of the two I actually saw I preferred What on Earth!. The film was funnier and more effective in its commentary. However, the Academy must like deep films with loads of symbolism, because they awarded the Oscar to Fred Wolf and The Box. National Film Board of Canada had to wait another ten years for its first win.

My rankings (by quality and preference)
What on Earth! > The Box


    I enjoyed this film greatly when I first saw it years back myself. I enjoyed the approach to that what-if of Martians viewing the car as a sentient being on our planet and getting backwards in their thinking. Kaj Pindal and Les Drew gave us quite a lot to think about in this film, despite the simplicity, though both people's work have been known for that anyway if you've ever seen titles like "I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly", "King Size", "Every Dog's Guide to Complete Home Safety" and all that.

    I see you've also figured out how to embed NFB's vids here, good for you!

    "However, the Academy must like deep films with loads of symbolism, because they awarded the Oscar to Fred Wolf and The Box. National Film Board of Canada had to wait another ten years for its first win."

    At least Fred Wolf got himself a head-start to keep his studio going strong into the 70's, far from short little things like this opening to a movie!

    Of course I'm sure most would think of Wolf more for them damn Turtles anyway, me, I think of him more for "The Point", "Puff the Magic Dragon" and the feature film "The Mouse and His Child".

    I sorta guessed what the old man was suppose to be, and the ending surely gives that away too, no doubt something isn't up if the last of humanity that's at this bar is trying to remain oblivious to whatever has happened in this world we're not aware of given it's limited approach.

  2. You know The Box is about The Ark obviously and the first two people were sinners of society (thus their features turning into a rhino and elephant).

  3. The Box was also one of the runner-ups on Jerry Beck's 50 Greatest Cartoons book (alongside Frank Film, Your Face, The Street and Lupo The Butcher).