It's back from the IFC where we saw the Best Animated Shorts Nomination (plus three others) show, my cousin and me. Last year's show had me mildly concerned; one of the nominees was Garden Party (2017), a CGI effort, in which a roving camera wanders around a house, looking at all the frogs. It might have been reality for all I could tell and that's what's disturbing. If animation is indistinguishable from reality, does it have any particular artistic value? Does it not simply reduce the category to a sub-category of special effects, a technical Oscar like glass painting or green-screen technician? William Demille used to teach a course on title writing and, yes, there are still titles used in the body of a movie, but there's no Oscar for Best Title Writing, just as color cinematography and black and white cinematography no longer have separate categories. Now they're simple choices made on the basis of taste and money.
It seems to me that unless animation tells stories that live action cannot, or tells them better, then it is a dying branch of movie-making, and let's not bother. It will appeal nostalgically to a smaller and smaller group of people, considering themes that appeal to the very old until some day some one will say "Why are we bothering?" and drag out the woolsack to make room for a comfortable chair for the Chancellor.
An odd position, you say, for this community? Not really. I'm talking about the state of modern animation and future animation, not old animation. My vision is not fixed steadily on the past. Sometimes I like to look forward to the windshield and see where we're going.
With that in mind, this year's selection:
Bao: A middle-aged couple are eating dumplings. He shoves them into his mouth and leaves. SHe eats more gracefully... until it cries out, develops limbs and becomes a child.
It's a charming effort, but it raises issues of the middle-aged and elderly. Also, it's a little too slick to appeal to me; the film makers know where they are going every frame, and I felt manipulated rather than touched.
Late Afternoon: An elderly lady is sitting while a young woman packs the house's furnishings. As the lady sips tea, she remembers being a child at the beach, a young woman in love, and a young mother with her own child at the beach.
If animation is at risk of dying out as an art form because there is no story it can tell that cannot be told in a realistic fashion, then sure the themes it will adopt will be those that appeal to a shrinking, aging population. Such themes include fear of senility, aging out of your home and life.... in short the themes of this movie.
On the other hand, this offers the story in a pleasant impressionist manner.
Weekends offers a surrealistic point-of-view movie as a small boy spends the weekdays with his mother, who is studying to be an accountant, and the weekends with his father, who has cool samurai swords and plays video games with his son. These sequences are interspersed with dream sequences of flying. Each parent tries to move on with life, which causes the protagonist some alarm, but in the end, nothing much happens and life goes on.
Has animation entered its anecdotage? That period of long, rambling discourses that seem to start out well and pertinently, continue with some interesting-seeming details and then after a white, end with nothing at all being different? Because that's what happens here. This is quite unlike being in a phone conversation with my great-aunt Esther, who would keep you on the phone for hours. Every forty-five minutes like clockwork, she would say "You know what I mean?" When you replied "Yes, Esther" to prove you hadn't hung up on her, she would switch from that interminable story to a different endless one.
Perhaps this short might have some value to kids whose parents are going through a divorce, wondering if the world will ever move on. However, the program at the IFC where I saw this notes "Not suitable for children under 8". So much for that thought.
Animal Behavior The National Film Board of Canada hasn't shown up much in the last couple of years of Oscar noteworthies, and so it's good to see them back again with this traditional "funny animal" cartoon. A bulldog is a therapist leading a group session that includes a preying mantis, a leech. a pig, a bird and a cat. A new group member appears, an ape with anger issues who's in denial. they all have their obsessive behavior, actions that are typical of their species, but expressed in popular psychobabble.
It has some serious points to make about anthropomorphism and self-obsession, but mostly it's very funny. That's the thing about the NFB, they're interested in making good short subjects.... that appeal to people. Assuming that you consider me a person, and aren't more worried about pigs, leeches, and so forth.
One Small Step: A young girl dreams of becoming an astronaut and landing on the moon. Her father, a cobbler, makes her boots that look like part of an astronaut's space suit, and over the years, silently fixes her footwear as she struggles to make the grade.
With this nominee for the Best Short Animated Film Oscar, I am caught by the obvious disqualification if animation is to mean anything; there is no reason this could not have been a live-action film. Animation has always been a tremendously expensive form of cinema, and even if megaflops are cheaper than manhours, this is quite obviously one that could have been done in a studio.
On the other hand, it appeals to that other nostalgic art, that of pantomime, of silent cinema, in which actions speak louder than words, and so many things need not be said; they must be done. In this department, this is a perfect movie.
Wishing Box: A pirate finds a small chest out of which his pet monkey can pull whatever he wants, which is bananas. How to get the eager-to-please simian to understand that the picture he draws is a gold coin, not an orange?
When we speak of animation, we're generally using a high-toned term for what we used to call the cartoons when I were a lad, and this is a cartoon.... and a darned funny one. These days, with their efforts to prove that animation is a serious art form, animators are apt to confuse the solemn with the sincere, ignore the healing power of laughter. I think that anything that can make me laugh in these troubled times is to be celebrated.
Unfortunately, the Academy doesn't agree with me. This was one of the short in the Oscar-Nominated Animated Shorts show that wasn't nominated.
Chik-Chirik aka Tweet-Tweet: A small bird flies into a clothes line, where it encounters a pair of feet. Over the years, it follows the feet as they grow up.
Fans of silent movies may know shorts like Amor Pedestre, in which only the feet of the players are seen, as they go through their courtship and subsequent comedy. This animated short from Russia plays with the same idea. It is utterly charming, and amusing and chilling as theactress, whose feet we see, changes abruptly, again and again, as does the nature of the line she dances on, while the small bird chirps encouragingly.
It's all very symbolic, although if the symbols are meant to stand for anything specific -- the soul, the universe, a good friend -- I can't tell what it is. Sometimes we need to accept that something is charming and let it stand at that. A deep pool may be beautiful, but put your hand in it and its beauty vanishes. Take your hand out and the beauty will return.
Last edited by boblipton
on Sun Feb 10, 2019 5:29 pm, edited 2 times in total.
Film lovers are sick people.
-- Francois Truffaut