Monday, July 7, 2014
Best Animated Short Make-Up Review: O Misto na Slunci... (1960)
Yes, it has been over a month since I wrote a post. I bet all of the readers that I had obtained had fallen away. I apologize for the lack of posts, but I underestimated how hard to compare over 300 different films by how much I like them, no matter how subjective the idea seems. I've gotten the top 100 done, but that took hours of watching one film and comparing it with the other, just because there's so much that I kind of forget, and I frankly don't have the time to watch these films over and over again. So yeah, I guess until I find some time to make the rankings, the only posts I would be able to write are certain lists, or with make-up reviews of films that I was missing. And to my surprise, one of them has just become available.
So with the appearance of How War Came back in early April, the films that I was missing ha been whittled down to the Missing Six. Of those six, I knew that two of them are hiding in a vault in a library in Miami, and it is up to me to rescue them. One of those is locked in a Disney vault, and we know it's impossible to get that out without some insider secrets. One is considered lost. Meanwhile, two of them were made in Europe, and there was some hope that somebody from one of those European countries would have access to them. The problem is my Czech and Italian is rusty, and I had no idea how to get in touch with them. Thankfully, it turns out that they can get in touch with me.
I was just surfing Facebook earlier this week when I saw that I got a Private Message from somebody not on my friends list. It was from somebody by the name of Rajko Petkovic. He wrote, "Dear friend, I stumbled upon your blog on animated films nominated for Oscar and was delighted to read about some unavailable films. However, I have recently obtained O misto na slunci (a very nice copy) and will gladly share it with you, if you are still searching for it. Best regards from Croatia!" First of all, I had no idea how somebody from Croatia stumbled onto this blog (apparently he was trying to complete the Best Animated Short collection as well), but the key thing was O Misto na Slunci! O MISTO NA SLUNCI! I messaged him that I was still searching for it, and the rest as they say is history.
The historical significance behind O Misto na Slunci was well documented in what passed for my review for the 1960 nominated films. Prior to 1960, all of the films nominated in this category had been North American. Most of them were from major studios such as Disney, Warner Bros., MGM, UPA, and even minor studios such as Screen Gems, Terrytoons, and Walter Lantz. There were the occasional independent films, such as Moonbird by former Disney animator John Hubley, but that was made in the United States. There was even a foreign film, The Romance of Transportation in Canada, but that was made in, well, Canada. Yet there was a thriving animation scene in countries not in North America. Filmmakers in Argentina and Russia were making animated films as early as the 1910s. Germany in the 1920s was home to Lotte Reiniger who made silhouette films and Walther Ruttmann who made avant-garde animation. And in Asia Japan and China were making animated films throughout the 1940s and 1950s. Yet those films got nary a mention from the Academy. It wasn't until 1960 that the Academy thought to include films from outside the United States in the nomination list. One of those was Munro, which was animated in Czechoslovakia, but it was made for American audiences. The other of those was O Misto na Slunci.
O Misto na Slunci is Czech for "A Place in the Sun," which most people know for being a title of the Oscar winning film based on Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy starring Elizabeth Taylor, Montgomery Clift, and Shelley Winters. It is not about romance and intrigue and murder. Instead, it is about the events of a sunny day. The sun is shining, with the sunlight concentrated on a small spot in the middle. Two men see the spot of sunlight, and they go inside to increase their risk of getting a skin cancer. There is more than enough room for both men, but they begin to resent the other person taking up their space, and soon a fight breaks out, with one men keeping the other out with a stick, and the other trying to get into the space with trickery. The two begin to bicker more and more until eventually unintended consequences occur. Can the two ever manage to patch their relationship and make things right, or are they doomed to suffer the fate of their enmity forever?
O Misto na Slunci is the work of the Czech animator Frantisek Vystrecil. The most striking thing about the film is its animation style It is an exercise in the sort of limited animation style popularized by UPA. The entire film is animated with very simple lines, with curly lines representing clouds and stick figures for people. This style is not used as a cost-cutting exercise, but is fully embraced as a way to advance the film. That is evident from the beginning when the credits morph out from straight lines, and then lines are used to create the setting and eventually the humans. Even UPA and the other studios that adapted the limited animation style put more detail in their animation. Yet the simplicity of O Misto na Slunci works because the abstract nature of the film allows the characters to make use of their surroundings in interesting ways. The characters reach up and grab the curly lines representing clouds and use them as a stick, or even move it to the ground to represent water. They also do things with the spot of sunlight, moving it from one side to the other. There is even a clever example of self-referential humor when one character tries to use a long stick to attack the other, but the stick ends up getting bent because it hits the end of the screen. The utility of the animation style is certainly a highlight of the film.
As for the film's story, it fits in with the "Why Can't We Be Friends" theme that seems to be present many animated films. The plotline of two men fighting over something rather minor as an allegory for the futility of warfare seems strangely similar to that of Norman MacLaren's Oscar winning pixilation classic Neighbours. It's interesting to watch two very different films stylistically cover the same theme. There are also elements of the film reminiscent of Pixar's Day & Night, although in the Pixar film the two battle because they are different, while in O Misto na Slunci they fight over something more tangible. At any rate, the storyline for O Misto na Slunci is good, but it's nothing that we haven't seen before. While some of the gags in this film are very clever, there is one that is reminiscent of another one found in the Oscar winning film Surogat (although to be fair, O Misto na Slunci came out a year earlier). There is another scene that is borderline creepy. After the two characters eliminate the sun, they come together to try to keep each other warm, and they do so by rubbing the other's arms and legs. Even though this sort of intimacy is supposed to represent the two characters overcoming their hatred and coming together, it's very strange to watch. Perhaps I've been tainted by the political correctedness nature of modern day society. Still, despite all this, O Misto na Slunci is a great little film, and one that I'm glad I finally have a chance to watch.
Right now I have the film 2nd in 1960 and 21st in the period from 1952-1961, but that can change once I finally have time to rewatch some of the others and make a better comparison.
At any rate, to my surprise O Misto na Slunci is actually available online. I've traditionally had to search O Misto na Slunci because searching "A Place in the Sun" only gets me the Montgomery Clift film. Traditionally my search comes up empty, but this one actually turned up with the film. It was uploaded onto a Czech video site and had been uploaded since April 30, which meant it would have been available to watch less than a month since How War Came was finally made available. Looks like I miss stuff when I don't search every day. So who knows, maybe one of my Missing Five will turn up sometime (hint hint)
Anyways, here's O Misto na Slunci. (Can't seem to figure out how to embed it, so you'll just have to click the link.