Sunday, March 8, 2015
Best Animated Short Make-Up Review: Hypothese Beta (1967) and The Shepherd (1970)
Gotta love procrastination!
It was a month ago that I made one of my most ambitious trips in an attempt to watch all of the Oscar nominated films. It was a trip that took me halfway around the country and saw me drive 6,000 miles in only two weeks. But it was well worth it because I got to knock two more films from the Missing Five, making it only the Missing Three.
And then of course I wait over a month before writing a review, but that's the way it goes.
The one thing I like about the Best Animated Short category is that for a category with the reputation of being one of the most obscure and difficult to predict, it's actually quite simple to watch the nominees. Back when I first started watching all the nominees in 2007, I was able to find more than half online. Eventually it got to the point where I had to rely on others to find the films and post it online, or I had to buy obscure VHS and DVDs myself. It finally came down to five films, and the worst part is I actually knew where two of the films are: located in the main public library in Miami, Florida.
The problem was, I've never been to Miami. Heck, I've never even been to Florida. Still I mulled a trip back in 2013 shortly before residency began and had called the Miami-Dade Main Library and got in contact with Mickey in the reference section, who said that the films are available to the public, but they are on 16mm and they didn't have a 16mm projector in the library. Well that was an issue. I decided to shelve the trip until I can buy a 16mm or at least find one that I can use. The problem was 16mm projectors are not cheap, and wasn't able to locate somebody that was willing to lend out their 16mm projectors. All seemed lost, but then enter Tommy Jose Stathes.
I had asked longtime blog reader Chris Sobieniak whether or not he was willing to make the trip to Miami with his 16mm film. He declined, but then told me to get in touch with Tom, the young animation historian known for his extensive collection of animated shorts from the 1920s. He has a service called Cartoons on Films that transfers 16mm into digital files or DVD. Perfect, that was just what I was looking for. I got in contact with Stathes and set things up where I'd check out the films in Miami, mail the films to him in New York, have him transfer it and mail it back to me somehow and then have me take it back to Miami.
The issue was Miami was 19 hours from Texas and 16 hours from Virginia. And it would take Tom a couple days to get the films transferred. All this meant I needed at least two weeks off, which is hard to come by when you're working as an internal medicine resident. Thankfully in the second year of residency you're allowed a one week trip and a two week trip. I took one week off for Nightmare Nights Dallas but still had the two weeks remaining. I wanted to schedule the vacation during a time when I'd be able to watch a Marlins game while I was down there, but it didn't quite work out, so I ended up scheduling it in the end of January and beginning of February, shortly after my 30th birthday. I got back in contact with Mickey and let him know I was coming down, and got in contact with Tom to prepare him for the films.
Mickey wouldn't be able to meet and check out the films to me until January 29, but my vacation started January 28, but I decided to go to Florida a day early. I had gotten a Club Vacation offer to listen to a timeshare presentation on January 28 and scored a free hotel in Orlando. On January 27 I got off work and set off on a drive to Florida. It took 16 hours, but I was able to make it to the timeshare presentation with 30 minutes to spare. I politely declined everything and spent the rest of the day in the Magical Kingdom in Disney World. The next day I drove down to Miami and eventually found my way to the main public library, where I was finally able to meet Mickey and get my hands on the two films that had eluded me for so long.
From there it was off to the post office for the express shipment to New York and Tommy Stathes's place. After that it was time for a quick bite and back up to Orlando where I caught a few Zs before checking out early so I can drive overnight up to Virginia, where I'd pick up my sister in Charlottesville so we can go to Richmond to watch the showing of the Best Animated Short short nominees. After that it was waiting for the films to be processed and sent. While I was waiting I went up to Pennsylvania to visit my sister and the graves of several 300 game winners with Rainbow Dash in tow. It was actually when I was in Amish Country Ohio visiting Cy Young when I got word from Tom Stathes that he had a film ready. A few days later he had uploaded the other film. And The Missing Five was down to the Missing Three. The films had also arrived in the mail, so I was able to make the return trip. I drove straight through to Miami on midnight Sunday February 8 after watching The Tale of the Princess Kaguya and Omohide Poro Poro with my sister. And the next day I went back to the Miami-Dade Public Library and returned the films. From then on its was straight back to Texas. I finally made it at 4:30 am on Tuesday February 10 after leaving Miami at 10am the day before. What a trip!
But it was well worth it because I'm now able to bring you reviews of the two films I've been chasing for years!
Hypothese Beta (1967)
High Note. If you don't remember High Note, it's about a musical note that ruins a performance of "The Blue Danube" by being inebriated. Hypothese Beta is pretty much the same, only using punch cards instead of sheet music. And the stakes are a lot higher than just the performance of a piece of classical music, but I digress. Punch cards aren't very much in use anymore, and I only have vague memories of seeing some early in my life, but they were the primary tools of data processing for almost a century dating back to even before there were computers. Meunier imagines what happens if the holes in these punch cards were not clipped pieces of paper but rather members of a unit much like a military unit. And then goes a step further to imagine what would happen if one member goes awry, disrupting the other members. Well, let's just say the ending won't be very pretty. The bad sheep punch hole is fairly annoying, but that's pretty much the point of the film. It's a pretty amazing task considering the entire film takes place in a limited setting of just the punch card, but it makes the most of it by making weird noises, going to annoy the other members of his unit, and being that dick that never does what he is told. The animation is fairly limited, which isn't too surprising considering the entire film takes place in a limited setting of the punch card, but Meunier and his team manages to make the punch hole quite expressive. It squirms around, sighs by forming a hole in the middle and actually goes and talks to his fellow punch holes with a small mouth. The lead punch hole is given a fairly standard sergeant-like authoritarian personality with corresponding animation, which is still impressive considering it's just a rectangle. The sound is also fairly limited with the punch holes making sounds instead of actual words, but that just helps make this a more universal film about how it is important to stick together to complete a task, or else you'd help bring about the end of the world.
The Shepherd (1970)
nominated films of 1970 in particular had a remarkable amount of social consciousness. Is It Always Right to Be Right? was about the growing divide in opinion and its impediment on social progress while The Further Adventures of Uncle Sam was about our loss of national identity amongst the growing influence of commercialism and hedonism. Or something like that. The Shepherd isn't quite on the same level of social commentary as its fellow nominees, but it was still important commentary nonetheless. It was about the loss of grass-roots industries within the increasing urbanization of America, and the growing alienation as those that have migrated to the big cities. Harry is only one shepherd, but he may very well reflect those who participate in agricultural professions that are being pressured to do something else. The story itself is fairly straightforward. Harry is hanging around in the big city trying to get jobs while trying to survive. That's pretty much all there is to it. Five minutes worth of content stretched to seven and a half minutes, and as a result the film drags a little bit. The film still remains interesting, especially watching the Harry trying to get around the city, trying to cross the street when the Don't Walk sign is on and trying to get on the subway that fills up before he can get on. There is also a fun little side story featuring the downstairs neighbor banging her broom on the roof because the sheep was making too much noise. There is a baseball broadcast going on in these scenes. I've been trying to figure out whether or not it was an actual broadcast, but I can't make out any of the names. The ending was also fairly funny on multiple levels. The animation is quite on the simple side, with none too detailed character design and rather limited movement, but the backgrounds were made of mixed media designs and are rather impressive. The narration and voice work are also fairly straightforward. The Shepherd is a good film that is a nice part of the socially conscious movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s but its message seems to hold well today.
Well, here are the two films. Both were part of the movement of films that valued its message over production values and both are still an interesting time capsule to an earlier time even if the films seem quite dated. (I mean punch cards?) Of course, neither film actually won, with Hypothese Beta losing to Fred Wolf's The Box and The Shepherd losing out to Is It Always Right to Be Right? I personally found Hypothese Beta to be better than The Box and I liked it more, but it doesn't quite match up to my favorite film of the year in What on Earth. The Shepherd is clearly a step behind its other two nominees, but still not a bad film. As far as the decade rankings go, I'm currently ranking Hypothese Beta 16th between The Pink Phink and The Magic Pear Tree while The Shepherd slots in at 19th between Nudnik #2 and Christmas Cracker. Is it going to change by the time I get done with the overall rankings? Certainly, but that's the way it is right now.
Where Can I Watch It?
Very good question. You can always do what I did, which is go down to Miami, Florida and check the films out, but make sure you have a working 16mm projector.
Anyways, I especially want to thank Mickey from Miami-Dade Public Library and Tommy Stathes for making this all possible. I'd also link to thank Chris Sobieniak for introducing me to Tom. And let's hope we can get the last three films seen sometime!
Rippling Romance (1945)
Lorenzo (2004) - stupid Disney