Saturday, October 11, 2008

Pixar: Like no Other

For the Birds
directed by Karen Dufilho USA 2000, 3 minutes
2002-Oscar-Best Short Animated Film
2001-Vancouver Effects and Animation Festival-Animated Computer 3D Short 2001-Anima Mundi Animation Festival-Best Film x2 2001-Chicago International Children's Film Festival-Short Film or Video - Animation-Second Place 2000-Annie Awards-Outstanding Achievement in an Animated Short Subject 2000-Sitges - Catalonian International Film Festival-Best Animated Short Film

For the Birds is the story of a large dopey bird (when compared to the rest of the flock). The flock is having issues with space on a telephone line when the story starts and when big dopey wants to join the other birds on the telephone line the birds of the flock start making fun of him for being so different. But big dopey bird’s persistence to belong to the flock causes him to fly over from the pole to the line. Due to his rather large size, dopey causes the line to bend and have the other birds that had moved away from his landing spot to slide alongside the cable ending up all packed one next to the other with dopey in the middle. However, big gets knocked over by the other birds but manages to keep his claws on the cable. The two birds closest to his claws see that he can barely hold on to the cable with his claws and so they decide to get rid of him by poking at his claws. When the two birds are able to remove all but one claw, two other birds notice the position that the cable is in: the weight of dopey has caused the cable to resemble that of a slingshot and if dopey lets go of the line, the birds are going to be launched against their will. And this is exactly what happens. Dopey lands on his head and smiles as if all is well. But suddenly Dopey’s smile turns into laughter since the other birds come back to the ground without any feathers at all and they have to hide behind Dopey who is the one that still has feathers.[1]
Pixar Animation Studios was established when the computer graphics division in Lucasfilm Ltd. was purchased by Steve Jobs for ten million and established as an independent company christened Pixar in 1986. Disney recently purchased Pixar in 2007 thus becoming a subsidiary of Walt Disney Motion Pictures Group. As of today, Pixar has won 21 Academy Awards, 3 Golden Globes, & 1 Grammy among many other distinctive awards. (If you would like to learn more about Pixar Inc. or its short films
I chose this Pixar short in particular not because it’s my favorite (I love them all equally) but because it’s the one that introduced me to the brilliance of Pixar short films. For those who do not know, Pixar short films are the reason why you should always arrive early to a Pixar feature. To me, it’s because I can’t see the feature anymore without having seen the short; they are like a peanut-butter and jelly sandwich, you can not enjoy the whole sandwich if one is missing.
The short revolves around the saying “who has the last laugh now?” this is because Dopey is able to get back at the flock for making fun of him by the end of the short. However, since it’s an animated short film (which explains its reason for being in this category) it is not so much the moral of the story that causes the impact but rather the technicalities that went into to telling Dopey’s story.
Personally I do not know the technical aspects of what makes a good animation good, but to me the fact that the birds are able to convey with only facial expressions what is going on in the story is incredible. Their facial expressions especially their eyes tell the bird’s perspective on the story. This can be seen in the picture I have placed at the beginning of this entry, where all the birds are on the phone line. By looking at each of the birds’ eyes one can see which birds are extremely uncomfortable having to sit that close to each other, which birds are scared and which ones are extremely angry at Dopey for bending the phone line. Thus the combination of facial expressions with the movement of the birds allows for the story to be told without actual dialogue; as if it was really told by the birds themselves.
Another component which shows how meticulous the creators wanted the birds to be is shown in their detail to the feathers and how the lighting works with the feathers. This is because the feathers on the flock birds are completely different from the feather on Dopey. These distinctions can be picked up due to the lighting used throughout the short. The feathers also make the birds seem more than animated, it makes the viewer feel as if the birds are real which works because then as a viewer you are able to get involved with the short from the perspective of the animals, especially Dopey.
Moreover, the feathers are the symbol used to portray how the flock learns their lesson. The creators had to make them incredible to emphasize the point at the end of why the flock birds are so embarrassed and upset to have lost them. Thus, the meaning at the end of the short for Dopey is “I got the last laugh”, but for the flock is “we have shed this coat and will never make fun of Dopey again”. (And I’m glad too)

[1] Please Note that I used instead of constantly repeating large dopey bird I have given him the name of Dopey but this is not the birds official name. According to the Studio the birds have no name they are simply known as the large dopey bird and the flock as the bullies.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Mozart des pickpockets, Le

Le Mozart des Pickpockets
Dir. Philippe Pollet-Villard
France, 31 min

*** Note on youtube video. This is not the entire film. It is only a minute or two before it switches to an interview with the director/writer. Also, it is not subtitled and I don't speak French but if you do maybe he says some interesting things. If you want to see the entire film, it can be found on itunes.

Oscar, Best Short Film, Live Action, 2008
César, Best Short Film (Meilleur court métrage) 2008
Best Editing, Best Film, Best Screenplay Lutins du Court-Métrage 2007

Le Mozart des Pickpockets
is a little on the longer side of the short film time spectrum, running at a length of 30 minutes. This brings up the whole debate on what length is “short.” Personally I tend to enjoy short films that are found on the shorter end of that spectrum running between 5 and 15 minutes. Although that does not mean I disregard anything longer. I felt that the length of this film is appropriate for the narrative and any shorter would have reduced its emotional impact and structural elements.

Le Mozart des Pickpockets
is a cleverly witty film that follows two “professional” pickpockets. I say professional because it is their profession and they have a few decent tricks up their sleeves but when it comes down to it, they are fairly dumb crooks. Within the first six minutes their team of thieves is stopped and most of them are arrested, except the two main characters (one is the director also). They also happen to pick up a young boy, who when the police show up grabs onto them and ends up following them home.

The two men decide to make the team three by including the young boy. After a few failed attempts to steal, they miraculously find their niche only to end by a police encounter in a unrelated instance.

Now, why does this film deserve an Oscar? I’m sure someone could argue a lot of different points for or against this.

For me the cinematography was decent. Not something I would rave about but I definitely had its moments of “oh that’s a nice shot” or “ok the blown out walls distract me” but that’s also me being very particular. There wasn’t any complicated camera movement or lighting set up. For the most part everything was very simple. And all together it makes a great film.

I have to say at the end of the film I was a little disappointed when the two men get arrested. I wanted them to succeed and become wealthy criminals. As bad as that sounds. (But after watching 30 minutes of their lives and seeing the poor condition they live in I had sympathy for them. And they were kind enough not to leave a young child out on the streets. Yes they appreciated him more once he started working for them, but they took care of him before this.)

And then the glorious “ah-ha” moment happened. The camera pans up from the handcuffs on the men to their sad faces. Cuts to the boy’s sad face. Pans down to his clenched fist which opens to reveal a key. Quick pan back up to his face, with a huge beaming smile and cue music. (The first real emotion the boy displays the entire film). I couldn’t help but smile with him. Although I still do not know whether they escape or not I was glad that this ending was left open for us to decide. Because I like to imagine they got away.

Besides the cute ending and other things I mentioned about the film techniques, I enjoyed this film because who doesn’t like watching movies about dumb criminals. I felt it was amusing and very entertaining. The dialogue funny as well as other small moments such as when Richard is washing the dishes wearing pink rubber gloves, or when Philippe breaks his nose and creates a bandage that resembles a beak. These little moments really gave the film character for me. It wasn’t over the top or forced and for that I appreciate it.

Ausreisser (The Runaway)

Ulrike Grote

Ausreisser (The Runaway)

23 minutes

Dvd 1328

Ausreisser is a science-fiction film which, tastefully, proposes that loved-ones revive the spirit in mankind. At 7:10 AM, Walter Dahlmann prepares for an interviewed with a potential employer. Upon leaving his apartment, Walter is propositioned by a young lad - who, later, becomes known as Yuri - for a ride to school. Walter disregards the proposal, for the youth is unknown by him. However, Yuri is persistent in his asking and Walter transports him to school on his bicycle. This is not the last Walter will see of Yuri. In fact, Walter and Yuri have a special connection. Walter is Yuri's father. The problem is this: at 7:00 AM, Yuri and his mother were in a fatal car accident. Yuri's mother was killed and Yuri in critical condition.

My interest in this film stems from its musical composition. Many films, whether short or feature, include one or more musical pieces which solicit the viewers' emotional response. And more often, music is an element of the film's thematic structure which signifies change of emotion and/or theme. In “The Formal Design of Brokeback Mountain," Edgecombe points out that music is, also, used as a concluding formal distinction from the main structure; this is referred to as the film's coda.

Ausriesser has several musical compositions which are significant to its structure. On one hand, throughout the film, a bouncy classical composition (which, at times, becomes eerie and horrifying) indicates changes to the character(s) emotional state. But, most interesting is the compositions -which are clearly American - at the beginning and end of the narrative. At the beginning, a funk composition and, at the end, the alternative music genre is represented. Interesting because Ausreisser is a German short film (setting and language). Imagining this film without these American music compositions, I decided, perhaps, this film could and, perhaps, would have been just as successful without them. Then, I remembered this film was, at least, nominated for the 78th Annual Academy Awards; commonly, an American award ceremony. Ausreisser, through Germanic dialogue, addresses issues associated with death and its coda rings, "Don't cry for me," in the English language which, at first, seems inconsistent, but, aesthetically fascinates. Certainly, death is a universal issue and music is, supposedly, a universal method of communication. But, why does Grote choose American music? In my opinion, to capture an American audience.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The Danish Poet

The Danish Poet (Norwegian: Den danske dikteren)
Torill Kove, 2006.
Norweigan Film Institute (Europe) / National Film Board of Canada (world)
15 minutes

Academy Award Winner for Best Animated Short Film
Genie Award Winner for Best Animated Short Film
This is the second Norwegian film to win an Academy Award

Films that win awards gain a certain type of recognition and specialization that catches people's attentions. When people browse through a list of films, they'll go to the ones that won awards. The mentality is if the film won an award, especially something like the Oscars, it must be good. And what makes it good? It's subjective, as all art is. And yet people are drawn to award-winners. I'm drawn to them. There are so many good and bad films out there that award-winners narrow the field down to the potentially good ones.

So what standards would I make for an award-winning short film? Here goes: strong plot, emotional tie with the characters, good dialogue, and a "poignancy" that places it above the rest. What that "poignancy" is depends on the film itself and what it is trying to say. But not everything the Oscars chooses is particularly good. However, the only short film Norway won the Oscar for is a more-than-worthy choice.

The Danish Poet (2006) exemplifies how coincidence and chance can change people's lives, and set course for the way things are now. The poet Kasper Jørgensen leaves Denmark for Norway to meet his favorite author Sigrid Undset in order to gain inspiration. When he arrives in Norway, he meets Ingeborg, a farmer's daughter who is engaged to another man, and they fall in love. A series of chance events occur -- such as Ingeborg's husband dying, the letter Ingeborg sends but never reaches -- that keep them separated for awhile, but a coincidence meeting at a funeral reunite them again. Another coincidence meeting between two other characters in the short happens, and it parallel's how Kasper and Ingeborg met.

"On the surface it is quite a simple tale about the coincidences that bring two people together... that happiness can come from completely coincidental circumstances," Torill Kove explains in Animated Magazine about the extremely positive audience response to the short film. "[But] there's a few subplots going on." These subplots are what make the film great and add "poignancy" to the short.

One subplot that Kove talks about is the theme of artistic inspiration and the human self. Kasper seeks to find inspiration for his poetry, but instead finds the inspiration he needs in himself. It is a touching message about searching and discovering that the help you need was inside you all along, and the message was delivered well in the short. It's also a type of "poignancy" I mentioned earlier -- it's relatable and touches us all no matter where or who you are.

The one I find interesting is the subtext she cites "about nationalism and how much emphasis we in the western world put on stereotypes on which country we're from, although we often have the toughest time telling each other apart." There are Scandinavian jokes inset into the short film that are familiar and hilarious to those of Danish, Norwegian or Swedish descent. One happens to be the drunk ferry goers that come in-and-out of the boat every time a character leaves one place and go to another. Drunk ferry-goers are a common sight in Norway. Another is the constant jabs made to both Norway and Denmark. "Maybe we're all Danish," one character says in the short. "But as always in Norway, it never stops [raining,]" the narrator says one time.

If you do not know about Scandanavian culture, each country likes to make a snipe against the other. One such example: In the 1600s, the Danes tried to reclaim the country three times and failed -- the running joke is that Denmark still wants to reclaim it. And Jokes like these have the potential to be lost in different countries, like France, Spain, or the United States. But there is an absurdity, as Kove explains, to this jokes that resonates with people across the world. People do stereotype according to where they are from, and can relate to the stereotyping made in the short film.

Here's an American example that has happened to me before many times: California is a liberal blue state with weed-smoking tree-hugging wannabe actors/directors/models who have tan lines and surf. But when people meet those from the state, they are surprised they do not fit the stereotype. Some even assume that the Californian is from their side of the state. It's this type of situation that is relatable in any country in the world -- the snarking of another countries yet assuming the other is from your own -- and adds, again, a "poignancy" to the story.

What strikes me as odd though is that this is the second film that Norway has won an Oscar for. The first one is Kon-Tiki (1950), a 77 minute documentary about a man and his crew whom set sail from South America to the Polynesian islands in a small wooden raft to prove a scientific theory stating that the Islands were populated from the east (Perú) rather than the west (Asia). The need for scientific truth in the face of dangerous peril has the inherit "poignancy" for an award-winning film on my standards. But why are these two the only ones who have won for the country? Are the films there not as good as these two? Should we judge Norwegian films on this fact?

Award-winning films do narrow the field of films distributed, yes, but it also hinders people from going out and trying films that aren't winners. Winning something means you beat the rest. But just because you beat the others doesn't mean it isn't the best one of the lot. The winners are chosen by a differing set of standards to mine, and another person's standards are definitely different from my own. It is intrinsic to watch the highly acclaimed films that won something. But I would take that chance rather than sticking with just award-winners. There are too many great films out there that never won an award, and I refuse to paint my perception of movies solely on those that win festivals or competitions.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Special Delivery

Special Delivery
Directed by Josh Weldon
1978, Canada, 07:07

Diploma of Merit
International Film Festival
June 1 to 18 1979, Melbourne - Australia
Blue Ribbon Award - Category: Humour and Satire

Itinerant - American Film and Video Festival
May 28 to June 2 1979, New York - USA
Oscar - Category: Short Film Awards - Animation

Annual Academy Awards / OSCARS
April 9 1979, Hollywood - USA
First Prize - Category B - Films more than 3 minutes

World Festival of Animated Films
June 19 to 24 1978, Zagreb - Croatia

Special Delivery is an animated dark comedy about a husband (Ralph) that does not clear the snow from the outside steps after his wife (Alice) asks him to.  The mail man breaks his neck on the steps and dies, and Ralph attempts to cover up the accident, resulting in a comic series of events that eventually leaves Ralph alone in his house and his wife gone for good.  

The first thing that impressed  me about Special Delivery is its clever plot line.  It is a great example of cause and effect storytelling where one action has a direct effect that carries the story.  Ralph brings the mail man in the house, Ralph delivers the rest of the route, Ralph gets locked out, the police arrest him for breaking in to the house, the wife discovers the body, she brings him back to his apartment, she discovers the body is dead, etc.  The way the events unfold is tight and smart.  The story also features a full beginning, middle, and end.  I am always bothered by shorts that feature a loose story and are only character study.  I am much more impressed when a filmmaker can squeeze in a mini 3-act story into a short.  

Another way I was impressed was the style of the animation.  There are wacky transitions and images through out.  For example, at 4:50, when Alice imagines Ralph killing the mail man, stars fill the screen to reveal Ralph with a bent wrench.  The picture then swirls and shows Ralph at a gun shop.  He points up to a gun, and then his hand fades in so that he is now holding the gun.  This sequence happens rapidly and is quite the eye candy for hokey looking 70's animation.  Moments like these showcase the director's spectacular imagination.

The short is significant for its blending of styles.  In the beginning, with its slow, gentle narrator and cheap animation, Special Delivery could be mistaken for a children's cartoon.  However, things take a quick turn for the dark once the mail man dies and Ralph strips his clothes.  With full frontal animated nudity, the short quickly says "this one ain't for Nickelodeon." The short also features adult issues such as sexual affairs or how to dispose of a dead body.  The animation being cheesy and friendly along combined a dark subject matter with clever storytelling results in a unique yet high quality short film.  I'm not sure what its competition was like, but I can definitely see why the Academy felt it was necessary to honor this short as the best animated short of the year.  

Angel and Big Joe

Written and Directed by Bert Salzman, United States, 1975, 27 minutes
Source: You Tube
Won an Academy award in 1976 for Best Live Action Short Film

Angel and Big Joe is about a young migrant worker and his family who are waiting for a call from their father to tell them to move to Arizona once he finds work out there. While waiting for the call, the family runs out of money and Angel, the oldest son, needs to find a job. Angel goes into business with Big Joe growing and selling roses in a green house Big Joe and Angel built together. The two end up becoming close friends. When the long awaited call comes from Angel’s father, Angel has to choose between staying with Big Joe and having a promising future, or leaving with his family for an uncertain future. Feeling a sense of duty to his family, Angel moves on to Arizona with them.
The length of this short is a lot longer than most of the short films I have seen so far. I thought that the length of it almost being a half hour would be boring, but I enjoyed the length. I felt that with a longer film, the director was able to examine Angel and Big Joe’s friendship further than just a ten-minute snippet of their friendship. What I mean to say is that I liked that we could see the beginning, middle, and end of Angel and Big Joe’s relationship, rather than just a partial view of it. I also felt that with the longer film, the director was able to further develop the two character’s friendship and the viewer really got the sense that they had a strong bond.
I love the scene where Angel and Big Joe are inside eating at the kitchen table and Angel is talking about aliens on other planets and how he thinks those aliens might be Hispanic workers just like him except that they rule the planet. After Angel’s little monologue, they laugh full heartedly together. This scene showed me that these two people cared for each other, and I got a true sense of their relationship.
I was impressed by Bert Salzman’s use of a migrant worker character in his film without touching on all of the problems regarding illegal immigrants, green cards, and visas. Personally, I feel that if Salzman brought in all of those issues, the story would have been weighted down with political swill. Maybe not in 1975, but in 2008, the issues regarding migrant workers seem to be a dead horse people won’t stop beating (but this is coming from someone who immensely dislikes politics of any kind).
I found this film entertaining and interesting. The lesson learned at the end of “do what makes you happy” I think is constant and can apply to everybody’s lives from 1975 to present day.
The film showed two cases of family duty versus personal happiness. In Big Joe’s case he chose his family over his own happiness for six years and he ended up resenting them for it. In Angel’s case, he was presented with two doors to go through. Door number one, to stay behind while his family left for Arizona and do something he loves. Door number two, was to leave with his family and be a migrant worker for the rest of his life. Both choices have their drawbacks and so he chose the hidden door number three, to leave with his family and eventually find work that he loved to do.
The ending might be considered “cheesy” to some, but I found it fitting for Angel to choose the median lifestyle for himself.

Flowers and Trees

Directed by Burt Gillet
Walt Disney Production
Academy Award Winner for Best Animated Short 1932

This film was the first commercially produced film to be released in full color, using three-strip film which is technicolor. From the production of this film Disney released all of their films in color. Flowers and Trees is also the winner of the first academy award in short animated films.

Flowers and Trees is a "Silly Symphonies" production which means it's a cute film that substitutes dialogue with and orchestral score of music. The film opens up with an entire forest waking up in their own funny little manner, the mushrooms pop out of the ground, the tulips yawn, etc. Then, being a Disney film, two trees fall in love and the "evil" tree tries to steal the girl. He is thwarted, so on and so forth. In the end the two trees get married. Hooray.

I don't know whether it's just me, but this film struck me as odd for winning an academy award or any award for that matter. The only reasons I could have are that it revolutionized the way we see animations now by introducing full color films. Or that it was a new category and there were no standards of which to base the criteria for. I watched the other two nominations ( Another Disney Mickey's Orphans and Warner Brothers It's Got Me Again), both of which were nothing like this film. They all were very different from one another. The only step-up Flowers and Trees has over them was the technicolor.

What I find interesting from these early shorts is how all of them do not follow the "basic guidelines" of short films. They seem more like poetry, that a film like Flowers and Trees can be broken down into stanzas Within those stanzas there are rhyming schemes which can be found, although it's not verbal rhyming, rather visual. The images all seem to correlate to one another and because they correlate they start to flow. Thus is less film and more poetic. This trend dies down once the films get out of the Silly Symphonies and the Disney productions, in the 60's.

However, this film does not deserve an award.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Silence is Golden

Silence is Golden
Directed by Chris Shepherd, England, 2006.
14 minutes
(Watch it here)

Winner, Best Short Film, Rushes Soho Shorts, 2007
Winner, TCM Turner Classic Shorts 2006
Winner, Audience Award, Zagreb 2006
Winner, Best Narrative Short - Northampton Independent Film Festival 2006
Winner, Grand Prix - Prague Short Film Festival 2006
Winner, Best Live Action Short, St. Louis International Film Festival 2006

"Silence is Golden" focuses on a boy named Billy whose neighbor is "a right loony" who likes "banging," and not in the sexual sense of the term. The neighbor constantly bangs on walls, windows, anything--and with only the thin wall separating their rowhouses, he's driving Billy's mother crazy. The neighbor is apparently mentally disturbed, as his only reason for banging is that the pain in his chest is like "a knife cutting into me," and both Billy and his mother remark on several occasions that "everyone knows he's a retard." The film follows Billy as he creates elaborate imaginative scenarios to cope with both his neighbor's incessant banging and his mother's alcoholism (that seems to be exacerbated by the banging). At one point, the neighbor bangs so violently on the wall that the little porcelain figurines on Billy's mantelpiece start shaking, and in contrast to Billy's mom's screams of frustration, Billy imagines the figurines coming to life and laughs.

I just realized that up to this point, all of my film blog choices have been about children and their wild imaginations, so I guess I must really love that theme, and I apologize for not contributing anything new and interesting. But "Silence is Golden" is interesting in unique ways, and particularly in the use of animations to illustrate Billy's imagination. There's a huge difference between simply showing Billy lost in thought, obviously trying to block out the stressful noises of his mother and neighbor, and actually penetrating Billy's mind to visually demonstrate the extent to which Billy detaches himself from reality. When Billy sees police and ambulances show up at his neighbor's door, after which there is no more banging on the wall, Billy doesn't deduce the obvious--that his neighbor is dead--but instead imagines that he's gone on a mission "to save the Earth from alien invaders." This speculation is followed by an animated (and rather violent) depiction of this scenario in the form of Billy's doodles.

When Billy hears banging again after days of silence, he rushes downstairs to see what it is. Disappointed, he finds only someone nailing boards over his neighbor's windows. It is at this point that we realize that Billy hasn't been trying to block out the his neighbor's banging the way his mother has with her drinking. Rather, the inexplicable banging, and the possibility for imagining this provided because of its mystery, was the only escape Billy had from his dysfunctional home life. He starts hearing the voice of his mother screaming at him, and to block it out, Billy himself starts furiously banging his head and fists against the wall.

Another interesting aspect of this film is the fast, aggressive editing, especially during the scene where Billy imagines himself to be in a video game-like setting where he's looking for nuclear missiles after being screamed at once again by his drunk mother. The aggressiveness of the editing is startling when set against the child narrator, because it totally contradicts the typical notion of childhood innocence. We see Billy not only retreating into his imagined scenarios, but doing so in a truly manic way. The editing suggests, then, that Billy's imagining is not that of a typical child, but that of a child who is driven to forcefully, almost violently, separate himself from his physical surroundings.


1958, 10:03
Directed by Bert Haanstra
Academy Award: Best Documentary, Short Subject (1960)
Silver Bear - Special Jury Prize for Short Documentary - 1958 Berlin International Film Festival

Quick: what are your top-5 short films centered around the craft of glass making? If you're at a loss for words, let me offer one: Bert Haanstra's Glas. Recipient of the 1960 Academy Award for best short subject documentary, this Dutch production, on cursory description, seems to be a simple short displaying the talents of Holland’s finest glassmakers. This would seem to be what the Dutch glass industry had in mind when they commissioned documentarian Haanstra to produce a brief educational piece on glass production. But Glas actually makes clear the separation between mass production and skilled craftsmanship, through a brilliantly simple juxtaposition of visuals and sound. An aesthetic difference is presented between the two methods of creation, and the film jars even the most sedated viewer with its subversion of a traditional documentary style.

With the sounds of a warm, laid-back jazz combo accompanying their work, its tough not to become immediately enamored with the artisans and their craft. These practitioners of the old technique of glass blowing are human and have personality, whether it’s a pipe hanging out of the mouth as they work or the wedding ring visible in close-ups of delicate handwork. This isn’t just a wage— it’s a work of art, whether it be a dinner glass, vase, or bong. Yes, Haanstra’s only showing their jobs, but the way that he portrays their occupation makes it seem like it’s a day at the pool for the men involved, akin to the Rat Pack onstage at the Sands.

Then it all turns to glass-stained shit as the machines rise (re: Terminator 3.) Bottles shooting around, disorienting Stockhausen-esque bleeps/blorps, and a robotic voice repeating an indistinguishable mantra softly in the background: these elements create a sense of horror and irregularity. But besides the aural touches and chopped tempo, it’s still just footage of machinery performing their “normal” function, yet the sublimity of Haanstra’s technique gets across the cold asperity of modern mass production. Men no longer are behind each piece of craftsmanship, only kept around to make sure that the machines work properly. Because of this critical depiction of machine, the Dutch glass industry were shocked at the finished product and wouldn’t pay Haanstra, until he won the Academy Award and brought recognition to his homeland.

There’s a moment that feels too calculated to be real, where at the height of the machines constructing bottle after bottle, it makes a mistake and leads to bottles falling off the conveyor belt and smashing on the cement floor. One of the human workers notices, and runs over to fix it. The image, in only a moment’s time, presents the main theme of the piece more convincingly than anything else I can think of. This feels like direct cinema, where the filmmaker has combined a documentary camera with a constructed scene of destruction, and for some reason, I can’t shake off this miniscule moment, which I suppose speaks the delicate beauty of the film.

I’m left with the lingering question of how a somewhat abstract documentary like this endeared itself to the conventional-minded Academy and won. Although it’s pretty clear to that there’s a message at the center of the film, this is also a work of quiet subtlety for the most part, without a trace of dialogue. Haanstra has crafted a small slice of cinema verite, something that I’m not sure was accepted by the Academy voters before this. If this truly is a forebear to the Academy’s recognition of other works of cinema verite like Faces and Woodstock, then I’d place Haanstra right next to Marco Van Basten and Goldmember in the pantheon of great Dutchmen.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Das Rad (Wheel)

Directed by Eric Armstrong

Germany 2003

8 minutes

An Oscar-nominated short film in the 75th annual Academy Awards, Das Rad is a must see. This short film delectably examines human development from the past to the future (and you dare compare short films to feature presentation). You wouldn't, in a millineum, have guessed the protagonist(s) in this particular film are stones. That's right, rocks! How could this be? Rocks have no issue. What could they possible understand about human development? That my friend, is the excellence of cinematography.

At first, the stones' singular problem was the continual growth of tree moss upon their animated existence. In their stationary position, they watched as humans began to contruct houses, roads, and modes of transportation over many years. These developments eventually became a gigantic metropolis and, seemingly, the stones would be destroyed. However, the great metropolis fell and, once again, moss began to grow on the stones.

Perhaps, the most intriguing aspects of this short is time and motion. On one hand, the timespan explored is historically extended; meaning it extends from the pre-historic Ice Age to some time in the future. On the other, motion is rapid - in regards to the length of time explored in the narrative - yet, controlled by a stationary "environment." For the length of the film, the camera, with the exception of its various angles, maintains focus upon this stationary environment. While time is, certainly, accelerated in the world surrounding the stationary environment the connecting idea becomes the wheel. basically, immobile, so, . maintain the controlled or stationary aspects of motion which, for the most part, is realistic because stones are, . However, the environment surrounding their stationary environment changes rapidly so as to cover the surrounding this e stationary Regarding timespan covered within the narrative but not so fast that the viewer doesn't receive the and time stands stillSeemingly, it's impossible to divulge everything detail about this period in eight minutes. This film, however, comes extremely close to achieving the impossible, but, not without motion. An eight-minute narrative lasting e a story in eight minutes, one realizes Motion, inevitably, e in this film, seeminglyHowever, Das Rad, in rapiditiy, there, certainly is alot of events occuring duriing this time. realistically, involves which - considering the length of the film is, but, eight minutes - divulges, in excellence, the uniqueness of short films. None of this would be possible without rapid movements. Recollecting, the camera was stationary, yet revealed various angles and it was reveals the Remembering the film -itself - is, but, eight minutes in length, the idea of incorporating from a time period to and actually telling a story over this time period is absolutely astounding. times beyond a time span of human which squeeze the time span of from beginning to end the f

Der Fuehrer's Face

directed by Jack Kinney

"Der Fuehrer's Face" is an anti-Nazi propaganda film made by Disney and starring Donald Duck. It won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film in 1943.

As modern viewers, I can think of two reasons why those previous statements seem nothing short of absurd to us. First of all, living in a world where things like Baby Einstein and Veggie Tales exist, we are clearly a society that is hypersensitive about what we expose our children to and what messages these things are trying to convey. Even in a cartoon that is clearly painting Nazism out to be bad, there is something undeniably jarring about Donald Duck, complete with swastika armband, saying in his characteristic spittle-filled squawk, "Heil Hitler!"

But I'd venture that it seems just as strange to us that this film actually won an Academy Award. There tends to be a fine line between what we consider art and what we consider propaganda; many consider the two categories to be mutually exclusive, and whatever gray area exists between them is as contentious as a mine field. As I was searching lists of major award-winning film for this post, I was baffled when reminded that in 2004, Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 won the Palme d'Or at Cannes, a prize that many people consider the highest of "high art." Whether or not Michael Moore's films are propaganda is a horse we're probably best to leave beaten to death and buried back in 2004, but I think his win at Cannes serves as an interesting case study. Propaganda is something that intends to persuade or influence opinion. Thus, for propaganda films, a direct and obtrusive engagement with the viewer is part of their very nature. On the other hand, we tend to think of "art" in the most general sense as something that is more reluctant to yield its meaning; often a certain degree of effort is often expected on the viewer's part to understand the artist's intention. Perhaps we have trouble reconciling propaganda and art because propaganda gives up its meaning so readily, we often feel like there is no work required on our part. Furthermore, "art" often yields multiple interpretations, while propaganda tends to communicate only one. People seem to get uncomfortable when propaganda films win awards usually reserved for "art" films because it feels as though the juries who award the prizes are trying to tell the viewer which opinion he or she should hold. It feels intrusive, it feels as though they are threatening the right to multiple interpretations that most people associate so inextricably with art.

But what about when a piece of propaganda is 8 minutes long and starring Donald Duck? Maybe it's because the presence of Donald Duck assures me that this is not a film masquerading itself as high art. Maybe it's because I'm watching it decades after its release and social relevance. Whatever the reason, "Der Fuehrer's Face" doesn't feel threateningly manipulative to me in the least. Even at the moment when its message is most laughably blatant (when Donald wakes from his nightmare and, wearing star-spangled pajamas, hugs the Statue of Liberty and croaks, "Oh boy, am I glad to be a citizen of the United States of America!"), the film's use of humor tightens the grip of the propagandistic squeeze on the viewer's sensibilities. "Der Fuehrer's Face" is a great and highly entertaining film; its ability to blend the techniques of propaganda with an amusing narrative and the recognizable flair of Disney humor make it fascinating to watch even today.

Interesting note: despite its Oscar win, Disney tried its best to keep this cartoon "in the vault" and not widely seen until it was released on video in 2004. It has since garnered a rather widespread internet audience and has over half a million views on Youtube.