Friday, February 10, 2012

Shorts Circuit

Some of the Best Shorts from Pratt's 16mm Film Archives

Saturday, February 18, 2012 @ 2 P.M.
Enoch Pratt Central Library
400 Cathedral St.
(410) 396-4616

Starting this weekend, the Charles Theatre will be screening "Oscar Shorts" - a two-part program featuring the 2012 Oscar-nominees for best live action, documentary and animated shorts - continuing the annual Academy Award-nominated shorts roadshow started by ShortsHD (a cable TV network specializing in short films) seven years ago. Among this year’s nominees are Pixar’s longest theatrical short, a live action film by Hotel Rwanda director Terry George, and a documentary about Japan's tragic tsunami disaster of 2011. I highly recommend taking advantage of this rare opportunity to see some of the best short films in their ideal environment - a movie theater (as opposed to viewing them on TV or YouTube) - in this, the appropriately "shortest" of months, February.

For those who long to see even more shorts - or who simply don't want to pay to see the ones at The Charles - I recommend checking out the free "Shorts Circuit" film program next Saturday at the Enoch Pratt Central Library. This 82-minute program features nine of the best live-action and animated shorts from Pratt's extensive 16mm film archives and includes four Oscar-nominated shorts and two Oscar-winners in Norman McLaren's Neighbors (Best Documentary, Short Subjects, 1952) and Chuck Workman's Precious Images (Best Live Action Short Film, 1987). All of the films featured at this free screening are available for loan from Pratt’s Sights & Sounds Department; call (410)396-4616 or check Pratt’s Web site at for more information.

Many of Pratt's 16mm film shorts are commercially unavailable (or extremely hard to find) elsewhere, including Muppets-creator Jim Henson's early live-action student film Time Piece (1965), Stan VanDerBeek's influential but rarely seen collage-montage Breath Death (1964), and Workman's Precious Images (1986). Part of the explanation why has to do as much with the nature of the format as with the market for such films; unlike Hollywood feature films (which are typically produced by a single studio), short films come from various sources and are rarely compiled into anthologies, though Pixar has released a few over the years.

"SHORTS CIRCUIT" Program Guide

(Juliet Stroud, 1980, 2 minutes, color animation, 16mm)

We open our program with macabre humor in the vein of Godzilla Meets Bambi in this unlikely encounter between a baby dragon and a baby bird.

(Jim Henson, 1965, 8 minutes, color, 16mm)

UNAVAILABLE ANYWHERE ELSE. This early live-action film produced by and starring Jim Hensen (of Muppets fame) documents a day in the live of one man in the urban rat race. While he is in a hospital bed, the typical day of a young executive flashes before his eyes. Realistic scenes cut to wild dream sequences that comment on the reality they interpret. Anticipates the free-form editing style Bob Rafelson would later employ in his Monkees cult film Head (1968). Nominated for an Oscar (Best Short Subject – Live Action) in 1966. Produced by Jim Henson, photographed by Ted Nemeth with music by Don Sebesky.

(Stan VanDerBeek, 1964, 15 minutes, b&w, 16mm)

UNAVAILABLE ANYWHERE ELSE. Stan VanDerBeek, an early experimenter with collage-animation, creates a surrealistic fantasy based on 15th century woodcuts of “the dance of the dead” by cutting up photos and newsreel footage to produce images that are "a mixture of unexplainable fact ... with inexplicable act”; he dedicated the results “to Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton." Artist/director Terry Gilliam has cited this film as an early influence on his collage-style animation with Monty Python. In 1975, VanDerBeek became an instructor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), where he founded the digital media center. He died in 1984.

(Norman McLaren, 1952, 8 minutes, color, from 16mm)

In 1952, Norman McLaren was credited with introducing the technique of pixilation with this ground-breaking film that won a 1953 Oscar for “Best Documentary, Short Subjects.” Described as “the most eloquent plea for peace ever filmed,” it’s an anti-war parable that shows how a dispute over which neighbor owns a flower escalates into territorialism, war, and genocide. The film’s climax, in which the men’s wives and children are killed, was originally cut from prints (including the one shown at the 1953 Academy Awards ceremony) because the sequence was considered too shocking to the sensibilities of the time. Animator Grant Munro also acts in the film (he’s the neighbor on the right side of the picket fence.)

(Chuck Workman, 1986, 8 minutes, b&w/color, from 16mm)

UNAVAILABLE ANYWHERE ELSE. No one captures "the moment" - iconographic images that define a film, an emotion or an era - better than montage master Chuck Workman (pictured at left), the Eisenstein of celluloid flashcards. In this Academy Award-winning film (Best Short Film, Live Action, 1987), Workman presents the greatest scenes from 50 years of film - from Citizen Kane to Star Wars – in eight breakneck minutes of skillful editing. Over 500 images appear in rapid-fire cuts of roughly a second each, presenting the “defining moments” of great films of half a century. Precious Images went on to become the most widely-viewed short appearing in schools, museums, film festivals and movie theaters worldwide. Precious Images is one of five Workman films in the collection of The Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Rosebud is just one of Workman's "Precious Images"

Workman’s montages of Hollywood films are visual highlights of each year's Academy Awards telecast and his 100 Years at the Movies (1994) is frequently shown on cable TV’s Turner Classic Movies channel. Though editing dozens of images a minute became his trademark, Workman ironically also made a feature-length documentary on Andy Warhol (1987’s Andy Warhol: Portrait of An Artist), a man whose own specialty was using only a few images and keeping them there for up to eight hours. He also directed a feature-length documentary on the Beat Generation, 1999’s The Source, and has created movie trailers for Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Paris, Texas.

(Ted Parmelee, 1953, 8 minutes, color animation, 16mm)

Director Ted Parmelee’s animated adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe's classic horror tale of a man who is driven by an old man's "vulture eye" to kill him (only to be forced to confess his crime by the loud, insistent beating of the dead man's heart) comes from UPA, the studio most associated with Mr. Magoo, Gerald McBoing-Boing and Woody Woodpecker. It’s considered a classic in the development of the animated film because of its unusual subject matter, its use of dramatic visual techniques (created by Paul Julian and clearly indebted to the German Expressionist style featured in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari), and the effectiveness of its soundtrack, which includes narration by the great James Mason – reason enough to see this film. Incredibly, it was the first cartoon to be X-rated (adults only) in Great Britain under the British Board of Film Censors classification system! Oscar-nominated in 1954 (Best Short Subject, Cartoons) and added to National Film Registry in 2001. For some reason, this short was included on the 2-disc edition Hellboy DVD.

(Robert Maier, 1975, 14 minutes, color, from 16mm)

"I like being a star," says Edith Massey, in this tongue-in-cheek film "biography" which traces her life from a foster home, to a career as a B girl on the Block, a barmaid at Pete's Hotel in Fells Point, owner of the "Miss Edith's Shopping Bag" thrift shop at 726 S. Broadway and to the career which has made her famous across the U.S. - as the "glamorous" star of John Waters' underground films. Written, produced and directed by Robert Maier (line producer of Waters’ Desperate Living, Polyester and Hairspray), it won an award at the 1975 Baltimore Film Festival. Great period footage of 1970s Baltimore shops, bars, and people (including John Waters, Pat Moran, Mink Stole, Mary Vivian Pearce, Vincent Peranio, and LA showgirl Delores Delux).

We end our program with two psychedelic experimental films from the ‘60s...

(Scott Bartlett, 1967, 9 minutes, color, from 16mm)

From Treasures IV: American Avant-Garde: “OffOn is a landmark avant-garde film, the first to fully merge video with film. Scott Bartlett’s goal was to ‘marry the technologies’ so that neither would ’show up separately from the whole.’” Made by feeding film loops into a color television channel and filming the results off a TV monitor (at 30 frames a second to eliminate flicker), Bartlett then optically printed much of the footage frame by frame, adding additional complimentary images solely on film. Then, to intensify the weaker colors of video, he dyed the film strips with food coloring.

Bartlett later commented, “There’s a pattern in my film work that could be the pattern of a hundred thousand movies. It is simply to repeat and purify, repeat and synthesize, abstract, abstract, abstract.” Significantly, OffOn opens with a close-up of an eye as if to suggest a new way of seeing. Interesting both for its technique and the implication "of the reality behind the reality we normally perceive",” this film is part of the National Film Registry.

7362 (1967)
(Patrick O’Neill, 1967, 10 minutes, color, from 16mm)

“I was interested in making something that was neither a negative nor a positive but an amalgam of both,” says filmmaker Patrick O’Neill of 7362, which takes its name from the stock number of the high-contrast black-and-white Kodak film commonly used for titles and mattes; this stock became the building block for the film’s special effects, which start with machine-like imagery and gradually merge into abstracted forms of the human anatomy. From Treasures IV: American Avant-Garde: “As they swing to the electronic throb of the sound track, the shapes grow more complex, refracting the oil pump and a dancer into mirrored patterns as they divide and mutate with strobe-light urgency...eventually the line between human and machine becomes impossible to determine. Black/white, negative/positive, man/machine, yin/yang – neither can exist without the other. In 7362, the unity of opposites enters the psychedelic age.” The soundtrack features music by Joseph Byrd and Michael Moore (no, not that Michael Moore!).

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