Saturday, June 29, 2013
Best Documentary Short Highlight - So Much for So Little (1949)
So the 1949 Oscars was a good night for Chuck Jones's reputation and Edward Selzer's ego. The duo won the Best Animated Short Oscar for For Scent-imental Reasons with Jones doing most of the work and Selzer getting most of the glory. However, that wasn't the only stake that two Warner Bros. titans had that night. For they had another film in the running in another category. Their animated documentary So Much for So Little, a film commissioned by the Federal Security Agency Public Health Service, was up for the Best Documentary Short Oscar.
The film opens with statistics. An estimated 2.6 million babies will be born in the upcoming year (which I presume will be 1950). And of those an estimated 118,481 will die before their first birthday. And to paint a picture of the loss of potential that one of those babies would have, the film introduces us to one of these 2.6 million babies, John E. "Johnny" Jones Jr. As healthy as young Johnny seems there are plenty of things that could make poor Johnny one of those 118,481 casualties. However, the local health department is around to make sure that Johnny gets the proper vaccinations he needs to survive the first perilous years. The film continues to march forward in time following Johnny from a schoolboy to a young adult to a middle aged man. It presents the health risks that face him and his wife Mary at each stage of their life, and also what the local health department could do to make sure that they remain in the best of health. However, these amazing health departments require money to maintain, three cents a week! Yes, for just $1.56 a year you can make sure that the health departments are around to make sure that John E. Jones can become a successful person and not one of those 118,481 babies that will die before the age of one.
The American health care industry is one of the most bloated and broken systems in the world. In this world where health care is so expensive that you're screwed without health insurance, and most often screwed even with health insurance it's nice to look back at a time when things weren't this bad. Paying only 3 cents a week (the equivalent of 30 cents in 2012 dollars) to get basic health coverage seems almost too good to be true. Still it's not all bad news. The startling statistic that 118,481 out of 2,621,392 babies will die before their first birthday is equivalent to an infant mortality rate of about 45.19 / 1000 live births. With improvements in health care that number is now down to 5.9 / 1000 live births. That ugly 45.19 infant mortality rate would rank between Namibia and Tanzania. So yeah things aren't all getting worse. Still, it's a nice little time capsule.
Factual information of the film aside, the film does a nice job at presenting the story. It does with the ingenious strategy of introducing the a character whose life could be at risk with inadequate health care. It does so by making John E. Jones a believable character. While Chuck Jones is best known for making films with bunnies and ducks and coyotes and road runners, he shows that he has the skill to pull off a realistic human character. And baby Johnny stays on the safe side of the uncanny valley. Of course the film is full of a lot of didactic information that was presented with still drawings, but the layout team did a good job at making it quite simple but informative. And even though it's a documentary there are plenty of opportunities for humor, most notably featuring vaccinations as a brave knight attacking hideous infectious agents such as Bordetella pertussis, Cornybacterium diphtheraie, Streptococcus pyogenes, and the Smallpox virus, which featured great design. And the narration by veteran voice actor Frank Graham was also very well done. Overall, So Much for So Little was a fine film that shows off what Chuck Jones can do outside of his normal work with Warner Bros.
And the Academy recognized the work that Chuck Jones and his team did by awarding So Much for So Little with the Oscar! Well, it wasn't a solo accomplishment. The Academy had a rare tie in this category this year, as So Much for So Little tied with the March of Times documentary A Chance to Live. It was the first tie since Fredric March and Wallace Beery tied in the Best Actor category 18 years earlier, and only the second tie overall. I'm sure Edward Selzer must have been miffed at having to share the stage, but still with his wins in this category and in Best Animated Short he tied the record for most Oscars won by a single person in a year. And then Walt Disney won four in one ceremony four years later to put the record out of reach, but Selzer was able to relish in his accomplishment while it lasted.
Anyways, Warner Bros. has gone and cleared out all working copies of the film. That's quite unfortunate, but I bet it's because they want you to buy the Academy Award Animation Collection. So much for the film being in the public domain, as Wikipedia claims.
So here's Rainbow Dash flying with Scootaloo instead.