Wednesday, April 17, 2013
Best Animated Short - 1958
Greetings from tropical Taiwan! (Well, I'm actually still in sunny Texas as I'm writing this, but let's just play pretend.) It's great to be back here for the first time since 2007. It doesn't feel that long ago but a lot have happened in the six intervening years. I applied for, got accepted into, and now completed my medical school education. I saw probably 75% of the Best Animated Short nominees, and started this blog. And I became a massive unabashed brony. Yessir, it's been an interesting six years.
And now that I'm here in Taiwan I've been envisioning a whole host of interesting activities: to go and actually do some sightseeing which I've never really done before. I've never even been to the Taroko National Park! To go and watch the lovely Rachel Liang Wen Yin perform more than once. To see a baseball game and hopefully get an autograph from the enigmatic Manny Ramirez. And to attend a Taiwan brony meetup. It's all very ambitious, but I'll probably end up wasting my days away surfing the internet or spending all my time making these blasted blog posts. (Which is why I'm trying to extend my queue now while I'm still in Texas.) We'll see how it goes.
We're now at the year 1958. The film I associate most with that year is Alfred Hitchcock's masterpiece Vertigo. The film was revolutionary for not only the romance-infused storyline that was a departure from Hitchcock's other work, but also for being the first film to make a memorable use of the dolly zoom, better known as the Vertigo Effect (although it didn't seem to really become big until Steven Spielberg used it in Jaws.) My favorite part of the film is still the Scottie's Nightmare sequence. The special effects, especially the changing of the color palette, may seem dated by now, but it still packs quite a thrill when combined with Bernard Herrmann's magnificent score. There's also a beautifully designed animated shot from artist John Ferren.
Unfortunately, while Vertigo is regarded as a masterpiece today, even displacing Citizen Kane in the most recent Sight and Sound critics poll, it opened to mostly mixed reviews. And when the Oscar nominations came around, Vertigo picked up nominations for only Best Art Direction and Best Sound. The Best Picture nominations went instead to the Rosalind Russell comedy/drama Auntie Mame (6 nominations), the Elizabeth Taylor/Paul Newman domestic drama Cat on Hot Tin Roof (6 nominations), the Sidney Poitier/Tony Curtis prison break flick The Defiant Ones (9 nominations), the French stage play turned musical Gigi (9 nominations)*, and the hotel drama Separate Tables (7 nominations). Of those five only Auntie Mame and Separate Tables failed to get Best Director nominations, with those two slots going instead to Mark Robson (The Inn of Sixth Happiness, the film's only nomination) and Robert Wise (I Want to Live!)
*It's like the opposite of 1961's Fanny, which was originally a musical on stage but was converted to a regular old drama on screen.
Gigi stormed out of the gate early on, winning Best Score (Musical) and Best Original Song for the titular song (because when you convert a stage play into a musical all the songs would be original.) The live action adaptation of The Old Man and the Sea captured Best Score (Dramatic or Comedy). The musical South Pacific took home Best Sound, beating out Vertigo.
In 1958 the Academy was in the second year of an experimental phase merging the visual technical categories (Cinematography, Art Direction, and Costume Design). A year earlier all three were merged, but they separated Cinematography again for 1958, leaving the other two merged. They would go back to separate awards a year later. The merger wouldn't happen again until 1967. At any rate, Gigi wound up sweeping those three awards, with The Defiant Ones capturing Black and White Cinematography. Gigi also won Best Editing, and George Pal's tom thumb won Best Special Effects. Gigi's success continued into the Screenplay category, when it won Best Adapted Screenplay. The Defiant Ones took home Best Original Screenplay.
With Gigi winning all of its nominations, I'm sure it must have been a relief to viewers and producers of other films that it didn't receive a single acting nomination. Other films would finally be given a chance to win. Wendy Hiller and David Niven won Best Supporting Actress and Best Actor respectively for Separate Tables. Burl Ives had a memorable appearance as Big Daddy in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, but he was nominated instead for the Western epic The Big Country, which he won. And Susan Hayward won the Best Actress Oscar for her gripping portrayal of real life executed murderer Barbara Graham in I Want to Live!
But in the end there was no stopping Gigi. Vicente Minnelli captured Best Director for Gigi, making up for his earlier loss for An American in Paris. This was the film's eighth award, which tied it with Gone With the Wind, From Here to Eternity, and On the Waterfront for the most competitive wins by a film. But while the other films needed Best Picture to get to eight wins, Gigi had gotten those eight wins before Best Picture. So when it won Best Picture Gigi had set itself apart as being the winningest film in Oscar history. And then they watched the record fall a year later when Ben-Hur won 11.
And in the midst of all the excitement, there were the three nominees hoping to tie the record for most wins by an animated short film.
Knighty Knight Bugs
Where Can I Watch It?
Where Can I Watch It?
Watch it here in one video but with horribly unsynched sound, or click here and here to watch a lower quality version with synched sound and split into two videos.
Sidney's Family Tree
Where Can I Watch It?
Well, here we go. There are only three nominees this year, something that happens a few times in the 1950s. Of these three, Knighty Knight Bugs is probably the best. It is not a film that rests on the upper echelons of the Warner Bros. canon, but it is still a delightfully funny film with great visual gags. That just goes to show you the how great Warner Bros. was in their heyday, and how off base the Academy/Edward Selzer was in their nomination/submissions*. The Academy agreed with this sentiment, and they awarded Bugs (well, actually producer John W. Burton) with the Oscar. This landmark win was eventually parodied over 30 year later in an episode of Tiny Toons Adventures called "Who Bopped Bugs Bunny?" where Bugs is kidnapped by a bitter old cartoon rival, a clear parody of Sidney.
*If anybody has the full story as far as why the Warner Bros. classics were not nominated I'd love to hear them. I've heard the stories of Edward Selzer, but I can't imagine how he'd let so many great films never get their chance at going for the Oscar.
Also, the Academy has kindly put the win online for us. Unfortunately, they don't show clips from the nominated films. (Best Live Action Short also thrown in as a bonus, featuring animator and director James Algar.)
My rankings (by quality)
Knighty Knight Bugs > Paul Bunyan > Sidney's Family Tree
My rankings (by preference)
Knighty Knight Bugs > Sidney's Family Tree > Paul Bunyan