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Fresh from the Festivals: March 2000's Film Reviews

Maureen Furniss takes a critical look at the five films that were shortlisted for Oscar consideration but not nominated: The Indescribable Nth, Monsieur Pett, Village of Idiots, Silence and Fractured Fairy Tales: The Phox, the Box and the Lox. Includes QuickTime clips!

Within the world of animation, most experimentation occurs within short format productions, whether they be high budgeted commercials, low budgeted independent shorts, or something in between. The growing number of short film festivals around the world attest to the vitality of these works, but there are few other venues for exhibition of them or even written reviews. As a result, distribution tends to be difficult and irregular. On a regular basis, Animation World Magazine will highlight some of the most interesting with short descriptive overviews.

This month, in addition to The 2000 Oscar Shortlist Showcase, MaureenFurniss takes a critical look at the five films that were shortlisted for Oscar consideration but not nominated. The Indescribable Nth, Fractured Fairy Tales: The Phox, the Box and the Lox, Monsieur Pett, Village of Idiots and Silence were all shortlisted and deserve a second look!

Also, don't forget to visit The 2000 AWN Oscar Showcase. AWN is, again, the only place in the world where one can go to see clips of all the animated nominees. Each nominee is featured on AWN with a 15-30 second QuickTime clip, film stills, a brief summary of the film and an exclusive quote.

This month: The Indescribable Nth (1999), 9 min., and Fractured Fairy Tales: The Phox, the Box and the Lox (1999), produced by Universal Studios), 6 min., directed by Oscar Moore, USA. Info: Character Builders, 1476 Manning Parkway, Powell, OH 43065, USA. Tel: 614 885 2211. E-mail: cbuilders@cbuilders.com. URL: www.cbuilders.com. Monsieur Pett or The Man Who Couldn't Help It (1999), 23 min., directed by Oscar Grillo, England. Info: Klacto Animations, 49-50 Great Marlborough Street, 2nd Floor, London, W1V 1DB. Tel: 44 171 439 1420. Email: admin@klacto.com. URL: www.klacto.com. Village of Idiots (1999), 13 min., directed by Eugene Fedorenko and Rose Newlove, Canada. Info: National Film Board of Canada, 3155 Cote de Liesse Road, St. Laurent, Quebec H4N 2N4. Tel: 514 283 9439. URL: www.nfb.ca. Silence (1999), 11 min., directed by Orly Yadin and Sylvie Bringas, England. Info: Halo Productions, Ltd., 20 Earlham Street, London, WC2H 9LW. Tel: 44 171 379 7398. Fax: 44 171 379 7403.

If you have the QuickTime plug-in, you can view a clip from each film by simply clicking the image.

The Indescribable Nth.

The Indescribable Nth.

The Indescribable Nth

This appears to be a lucky year for Oscar Moore, who has managed to score two animated shorts among this year's Oscar shortlist (after his past nomination for the 1997 Redux Riding Hood). One of them is The Indescribable Nth, a children's story about a boy whose most treasured possession is a snow globe containing a heart -- his own heart and the love that it embodies. This precious item is guarded by the boy's father, treated roughly by his first girlfriend, and finally treasured by a young woman who seems to be his perfect match. The story is based on Moore's book of the same title, published in 1991, and uses English-language narration (Oscar went by his given name, Steve, at the beginning of his career, so `Steve Moore' appears as its author).

Highlighting the film is the visual design of its characters. Black line drawings on a white background create a strong graphic look and capitalize on the studio's specialization: hand drawn animation. Stylized and expressive, the film's characters and their environments lend visual interest to the simple tale. The Indescribable Nth was directed by Oscar Moore and produced by Character Builders, a commercial animation studio which has contributed artwork to a number of animated features, television series and commercials. The studio was co-founded by Jim Kammerud, Jeff Smith (creator of the Bone comic books), and Martin Fuller in 1986.

Fractured Fairy Tales: The Phox, the Box and the Lox The second of Moore's shortlisted works, The Phox, The Box and The Lox, is likely to be the best-known of the shortlist because it premiered before Universal Pictures' live-action comedy, Dudley Do-Right. Based on a concept developed by Jay Ward and a script by Bill Scott, head writer of Jay Ward Productions, the film scores a lot of points for its nostalgia value. Produced by Ward's daughter, Tiffany Ward, and featuring the voice talent of legendary June Foray (the voice of Rocky, Natasha and Nell in the "Rocky and Bullwinkle" series, among others), there are strong ties to the `old Hollywood' system here.

The Phox, the Box and the Lox.

The Phox, the Box and the Lox.

The Phox, the Box and the Lox is about a savvy fox (who spells his name with a `Ph') who gets one of the village idiots to open a treasure chest for him. The short perfectly reflects the style for which Jay Ward shorts were so well known: the `fractured fairy tale' story structure, the familiar voice-over announcer, and characters who not only directly address the audience but also deliver very witty dialogue all contribute to its success. What appeared to be two small glitches in the artwork (one during a run cycle and the other a mismatched arm movement in a cut) took me by surprise, given that this is a big studio production, but in all other respects the film seems to be a flawless crowd pleaser.

Monsieur Pett or The Man Who Couldn't Help It Visual design is a high point in this film as well. Director Oscar Grillo sites such influences as the UPA Studio, Picasso, Klee and Miro, among others -- and they are all apparent here. Flattened spaces, blocks of (largely pastel) colors, altered perspectives, and interesting lines result in a film that is beautiful in its look. These devices are complemented by special effects, such as limited depth of field and an interesting means of depicting water -- hard to describe in words but nice to watch.

Monsieur Pett. © Klacto Animations.

Monsieur Pett. © Klacto Animations.

Now the major issue I have with the film: it is a 23-minute film about a man with flatulence. This Monsieur Pett is at first understandably embarrassed. He is shunned by his family, employer and the public, but eventually comes to believe that he has a certain gift. I realize that one of the men upon whom the film apparently is based, Joseph Pujol, is a legendary `fart artist' from France. And I know that a certain portion of the public finds such performances to be highly amusing. I just find it unfortunate that such a beautiful film -- and such a long one -- takes on this subject matter. However, since the film was short listed for an Academy Award, one must assume that its form and content are recognized as being worthy of acclaim.

Assuming that flatulence and the people who prefer it for entertainment are in fact validated, in animation or otherwise, my suggestion would have been to shorten this film by at least five minutes. It takes a long time for the film to move beyond the initial `act' of the film, in which it is established that the character has an emissions problem. For example, it feels unnecessary to show the man with his family and in his workplace twice. A variety of public situations are also depicted before the man finally comes to understand that he is not alone and that he should be proud of his unique abilities. This is a stylish one or maybe two gag film that could be strengthened by some editing.

Village of Idiots. © National Film Board of Canada.

Village of Idiots. © National Film Board of Canada.

Village of Idiots

Village of Idiots is another visually interesting film, but this time with a subject matter that has broader appeal. Createdat the National Film Board of Canada by Academy Award winning director/animators Eugene Fedorenko and Rose Newlove (for Every Child, 1979), the story revolves around a simple man from the city of Chelm. He sets off from his home to visit Warsaw, but gets turned around. He inadvertently returns to Chelm but assumes he has instead traveled to another town that looks exactly like his own, down to the fact athat there is a fatherless family and a house that mirrors those he just left. The film is based on a Jewish folk tale.

The monochromatic brown tones of the film, which was created using cutouts on glass, provide a visually interesting production. The fact that the story revolves around a single mistake by a loveable `idiot' makes the premise fairly simple, so that one may feel slightly stretched at the end of the film's thirteen-minute running time. It's based on an intriguing premise, though, and pleasant enough to watch. On a deeper level, the film suggests something about the nature of our existence, with the desire to change being negated by the fact that things apparently are pretty much the same. One might read into this message that human nature really won't allow us to change, but that might be just the film analyst in me. In any case, Village of Idiots has garnered some critical attention, including an award for Best Animated Film at the International Film Festival, Vancouver, in 1999.

Silence. © Halo Productions, Ltd.

Silence. © Halo Productions, Ltd.

Silence

Silence is the only dramatic short among the shortlistand thus it seems to command more attention. Films about the Holocaust are not uncommon among Academy nods, for several reasons. One is of course that the topic rarely fails to stir deep emotion and that many feel it is a topic we should never forget. The availability of support from the Fund for Jewish Documentary Filmmaking and the National Foundation for Jewish Culture (which aided this production) and others assure that the atrocities of World War II remain in our minds.

I feel this film is the most completely realized both in terms of form and content. The 11-minute production, which is based on the true story of survivor Tana Ross, who narrates the film in English,manages to capture the psychological state of its subject throughits visuals. This is done through the combination of live-action documentary footage, black and white animated imagery and, toward the end of the film, color animation. London-based producer/directors Orly Yadin and Sylive Bringas depict the situation of the young girl who was saved through her silent hiding from German soldiers but later was silenced in terms of her questions about her parents and her past. A variety of visual styles is used in the film, which adds to our understanding of the subject's perceptions. Particularly beautiful is a religious procession which seems to glow in luminous yellow.

Accompanied by music and text adapted from "Through the Silence" (Concerto for Cello and Survivor) by Noa Ain, Silence was produced by Halo Productions for Channel Four Television Corporation in England as a co-production with Sweden Rackfilm.

Maureen Furniss, Ph.D., is Assistant Professor and Program Director of Film Studies at Chapman University in Orange, California. She is the Founding Editor of Animation Journal and the author of Art in Motion: Animation Aesthetics (John Libbey, 1998).

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