Wednesday, January 15, 2014

9 Animated Movies We Want in the Criterion Collection

Today Alex discusses that wonderful home video company the Criterion Collection and their relationship with animation over the years, before counting down nine animated films that should be in the Collection!


This was a review that took us quite a while to put together, and a number of events changed the final video from what we had originally planned. When we started work on it back in October, Criterion had not yet announced that they were releasing Fantastic Mr. Fox, and so integrating that into the topic was a necessity.

We also had envisioned doing a big collaborative segment, incorporating our thoughts on the Criterion Collection and animation with those of other cinematically-minded bloggers and YouTube people. However, that sadly fell through, due entirely to our own mismanagement and the fact that we had the great idea of launching such a collaboration right in the middle of the busiest time of year for most people (November and December). With that said, the talented reviewers we approached were all incredibly friendly and supportive, and Dean of DVD (a really cool presence on YouTube) put together an excellent video segment intended for this part of the review.

Below is Dean of DVD's video presented in its entirety. This works really well as a thoughtful contrast to our more "pro-animation" stance in the final video and cites a lot of great points as to why Criterion may have stayed away from animation for so long. Check it out!

As a bonus, below are a couple more unedited portions from our first attempt, showing among other things Y2K reporting on the Criterion Collection's vaguely positive response to our email on animation (the announcement of Fantastic Mr. Fox made this part somewhat out-of-date and redundant in the final version). However, any chance to show off more of Y2K's reporting shtick must be seized.

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Thief of Bagdad (1924)

You know, all it takes is a little time-travel to show you what really matters...

When I was a freshman in college, I began developing an interest in silent film. That pioneering time in film-making always intrigued me, but back then I had only seen a few movies from the era and never on the big screen. At the time, I was watching a wonderful documentary series called Hollywood: A Celebration of the American Silent Film. This show went into great detail about not only the movies themselves and their productions, but also the experience of seeing a silent film in the theater. I thrilled to tales about picture palaces, militarily-efficient ushers, and the transporting power of the silent motion picture.

Around the same time, I coincidentally heard of a silent film screening put on by The Secret Cinema (a repertory film organization in the Philadelphia area) and the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology of all things. The film they were showing was The Thief of Bagdad. I hadn't heard too much about it, save that it was from 1924 and starred Douglas Fairbanks Sr., but the opportunity to see such a film on the big screen was too exciting to pass up. And that's not to mention the promise of a live organist!

When we got there, my friend Y2K and I  found our seats in the luxurious theater-room. The lights dimmed, and the magnificent sound of a film projector kicking into gear greeted our excited ears. The organist may have disappeared into the darkness, but his music remained, fused to the images projected on the screen. The film began, and we were introduced to Douglas Fairbanks's thief character.

Let me tell you: the effortless way Fairbanks moved across the screen astounded me. He never walked,  ran or jumped. He flew. Flew with a grace like you wouldn't believe. Bounding from the bottoms of water-wells to the tops of roofs, he made every gorgeous set in the film his playground. His incredible stunts caused me and my fellow viewers to gasp in amazement, and he made it all seem so easy. I began to root for him straight away.

Here's the plot...

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Destino: Unconventional Disney

I'm surprised I haven't made any mention of the short film Destino (1946-2003) here before.  If you're not familiar, Destino was a short film originally begun between Walt Disney and Salvador Dali, and because of different reasons from budget to Dali's crazy imagination, it never saw itself developed to any more than a few seconds of footage.  The incredible designs made by Dali for the project were later rediscovered by Roy Disney and it was decided to finish the short.  I've spent many a time trying to convince people of its worth.  It certainly must be appreciated, for some people, including Disney itself seem to have trouble grasping the fact that this beautiful, surreal work of animated art was birthed in their studios. Disney apparently, at first, did not know what to do with this odd-one-out of a short film. The marketablility of Dali in today's culture brings vast sums of money, as can be seen with any major Dali exhibit of the past decade-or-so. This marketing prospect should appeal especially to Disney, since they seem to be the king-pins of mass marketing. Destino was put on the Blu-ray of Fantasia 2000, which was packaged with Fantasia.  This seemed like the logical step, since Destino was originally intended for release in a musical package film akin to Fantasia.  Also, quite fortunately, we were given a splendid documentary on the making of the film, one which is a real pleasure to watch.  However, the home video release didn't get much press, neither did the film when it was circulating thears and festivals, winning numerous awards. Nothing seems to be able to convince Disney now that Destino (and films of its kind) are worth making more of. 
Speaking of Dali's friendship with Disney, it was certainly considered odd at the time, as well as today. But they were both artists and they knew what they wanted. Reacting to the criticism of the collaboration, Walt Disney said that "the thing I hate most is people trying to keep me in well worn grooves." The Disney of today has certainly worn those grooves to the ground. Walt Disney never wanted to limit the kind of films he made, if one watches the old animated or live action films produced during his lifetime one will see their accessibility to any generation or age grouping. Certainly the Disney films made today are enjoyed by many, but they do not push the envelope in terms of story and material as Walt did during his life. The Disney of today should not be afraid to follow suit, as they seem to be, for I do not see any sign of real proactivity of the kind exemplified by Destino
If there are to be more shorts, or even a feature film, akin in nature to Destino then there must be shown to the Disney company an interest in these kind of productions that really further the art of animation in America beyond something to be shelved as "kid's entertainment".  The way animation has been treated in many countries indicates a kind of unwillingness to elevate it completely alongside live action.  Certain attempts to make it "adult", like Heavy Metal (1980), fall flat on their faces because, in such a fervor to not be considered kiddy fare, they push the sex and violence to a point where it becomes juvenile.  I feel like this is why there are so few animated films that progress beyond the family market and actually do well in the theaters.  This is one of my great passions, to see animation properly appreciated, and perhaps, someday, I will have the chance to help accomplish that.