The Apartment won Best Picture this year; meanwhile, obscure-categories-wise, I kept on ignoring Best Foreign Language Film (in favor of including them in the regular nominations, by American release date); Best Editing; Best Sound Recording; Best Documentary Feature; Best Documentary Short; and Best Live Action Short. Best-wise, I was bested by how hard it was to find these nominees on a consistent basis, and by not having enough hard information to commit to an opinion for Editing and Sound.
Blog-wise, I’m much less fearful of saying stupid things…I can always edit past posts, but a book is forever…or should be! Buy a few and help me prove I’m right again, wouldja? We all know how much you enjoy me being right!
Let’s go long this time around, first-wise.
Best Documentary Feature:
Walt Disney came galloping back to dominate this category again, with The Horse with the Flying Tail, a look at the champion horse Nautical, who won the gold medal at the Pan-American Games in 1959. Every time the horse successfully jumped an obstacle, he would stick his tail high in the air, producing a rather odd effect.
Naturally, this being Disney, dramatic license was added to make for a better story. The horse was never abused; he was also not a common horse. But at least Disney didn’t push him off a cliff like they did with those poor lemmings…
Here is the trailer:
The other nominee was Rebel in Paradise, about Gauguin and his time in Tahiti. More than that, I know not, for this is yet another victim of a small film company not protecting their cinematic legacy. To the best of my knowledge, this film has never been released on VHS or DVD, and may not even exist any more. The producer, Robert D. Fraser, has precisely this one credit to his name, for a company called Tiare Films. Gone. Just gone now.
One can’t really argue with the winner this year for Best Editing, from the original nominees (the obvious winner is a real howler to have overlooked it), because stories don’t come much tauter than this (even if the ending isn’t quite the stunner that Wilder and Diamond pulled for Some Like It Hot). The Apartment is beautifully edited, taut and tender:
Editor Daniel Mandell was one of the finest in Hollywood, also winning for The Pride of the Yankees and The Best Years of Our Lives.
The other nominees included Inherit the Wind, Pepe, Spartacus, and The Alamo.
I love Inherit the Wind, although I think the film drags whenever Spencer Tracy isn’t front and center. The editing might have helped with that, but director Stanley Kramer had a hard time restraining himself (He didn’t quite have what Irving Thalberg said Erich von Stroheim had — a “footage fetish” — but it wasn’t that far away at times). For the courtroom scenes, a decent nomination.
Pepe is an odd nomination, given that it’s filmed rather poorly, as a vehicle for Cantinflas to do his shtick. Fun movie, but not a good nomination here.
Spartacus is yet another historical epic, somewhat stiff and bloated, despite Stanley Kubrick’s presence and Kirk Douglas’ chin cleft. I’ve seen it on the big screen, and enjoyed it, but tighter editing might move it along more effectively.
For real bloat, on the other hand, one could hardly do worse than John Wayne’s The Alamo. Far too long, and far too staid and uninspired. Not a good nomination for editing.
If you haven’t already been screaming the name of the film that should have won, let me help: shower scene.
How could Janet Leigh’s shower scene not have been nominated — or won?!? I literally have no idea, except that the editing branch wasn’t willing to recognize the genius of perhaps the most famous editing in American film history up to this point.
Best Sound Recording:
One of the reasons why this category got ignored is that Hollywood tends to use it indiscriminately to toss an Oscar at somebody they like, but who didn’t deserve the award. Hence, the win for The Alamo, John Wayne’s near disaster of a film. Gunshots and cannon booms, on the other hand, tend to dominate this category, along with musicals.
The other nominees were Cimarron, It Started in Naples, Pepe, and Sunrise at Campobello — and let me just say right here, not a single one of them has memorable sound recording. Studio bloc voting, grabbing nominations, in my opinion.
Cimarron sucked the first time around, way back in 1931 — but this version does that wacky combination of racism, sexism, and male bravado one better by being boring. Gunshot nomination, again.
This one is due to catching Ralph Bellamy’s best FDR imitation, and Greer Garson’s terrible Eleanor voice. Not a good nomination either.
Pepe is probably for the horse whinnies. No clue as to any other reason.
Finally, The Apartment was nominated, and given the quiet desperation of the voices, and the harsh noises of the bars and parties, and the hushed clatter of the offices, I would suggest this one was far more deserving to win. One might also argue for Psycho deserving a nomination, and perhaps the win, for the sound that accompanies the shower scene as well as the editing.
Best Foreign Language Film:
Once again, the Academy chose a very fine film for their Best Foreign Language ghetto. Rather than encouraging these films to compete openly in all the competitive categories, they roped them off into this separate category to try and save all the shiny statues of naked men holding swords for themselves.
The Virgin Spring won, for Sweden and Ingmar Bergman. As I said in my book, “The Virgin Spring is another medieval morality tale from Ingmar Bergman, following in the stylistic footsteps of The Seventh Seal. A young virgin (Birgitta Pettersson) en route to light candles at church is raped and killed by some peasant thieves; later, they seek shelter in her parents’ home, setting the stage for Max von Sydow’s paternal revenge. Never before had a rape been this fully depicted on screen (such events in Two Women and The Chapman Report would soon follow).” A cutting edge film for the topic, if not the presentation.
The other nominees were Kapò (Italy); La Vérité (France); Macario (Mexico); and The Ninth Circle (Yugoslavia).
Kapò is a heartbreaking presentation of the Holocaust, starring Susan Strasberg, and directed by Gillo Pontecorvo, who would go on to The Battle of Algiers. To this day, a wrenching experience to see.
Brigitte Bardot tries to go serious, instead of naked. Ok, I lied. She gets naked and serious! There’s a reason Americans got worried about the French after WWII — and this movie is a good representation of all that confusion. Murder, repeated suicide attempts, a trial — only the French would think this was good, clean fun. As Robin Williams used to joke, if the French played baseball, everybody would be in left field, and nobody would be safe. Worth a look for those who like their drama dark and intense, and/or for those who want to see Bardot both naked and serious. The director is Henri-Georges Clouzot, he of The Wages of Fear and Les Diaboliques. A half-step down from those masterpieces, but not by much.
Mexico received their first Academy Award nomination in this category for this adaptation of a story (The Third Death) by the mysterious B. Traven, who remains far better known for The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. The title character of this modern fable — an adaptation of the Brothers Grimm’s “Godfather Death” — is a peasant who wants to eat a whole turkey; when he steals one, he is met by the Devil, God, and Death. He shares the turkey with Death, who rewards him with a healing water that can cure any disease. Well worth your time — and the nomination!
Hell, and welcome to it. Dante’s ninth circle has nothing on this story of a notorious concentration camp. That we also have a love story is unexpected, and an effective melodramatic tool to pull in the audience and make them care about these characters. I saw this one and Kapò twenty years ago at UCLA, at their film school theater — some professor must have been doing a class on the presentation of the Holocaust in film, probably in response to either Schindler’s List and/or Life Is Beautiful. I don’t know that there’s any other way of ever seeing it, as it hasn’t been released on DVD or VHS (that I could find); Kapò, on the other hand, has.
Other potential nominees for this category this year include: Black Sunday (Italy, Mario Bava); Breathless (France, Jean-Luc Godard); La dolce vita (Italy, Federico Fellini); Jigoku (Japan, Nabuko Nakagawa); Late Autumn (Japan — another Ozu!); Plein soleil (France, René Clément); Shoot the Pianist (France, Truffaut); Le Testament d’Orphée (France, Cocteau); and The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse (Germany, Fritz Lang).
Several of those are not only more worthy nominations, but at the least, both Breathless and La dolce vita are considerably more potent winners.
Let’s argue about it in the comments!
And now, time to get small!
Best Live Action Short:
The winner was Day of the Painter, a spoof of abstract painters like Jackson “Jack the Dripper” Pollock, and the pretensions of the avant-garde.
Harmonica player and composer Richard Hayman did the music, which you may listen to here:
The other nominees were The Creation of Woman; Islands of the Sea; and A Sport Is Born. As is so often the case in this category, information is scarce, and viewing impossible.
Then again, maybe we got lucky this year.
The Creation of Woman has survived because the future of those participating made it worth preserving. Ismail Merchant — he of the famed Merchant-Ivory partnership which created so many high-tone classics — produced this film of a dance recreating Brahma’s creation of the world. Merchant has watched over this short, which so rarely happens with these small productions.
Here is the short in its entirety:
Islands of the Sea is yet another nominee for Walt Disney; Winston Hibler, one of Disney’s writers, narrates this look at wildlife on various islands in the Pacific, primarily birds. The typical Disney humor is here, particularly with goony birds trying to land (and almost failing…spectacularly!). Disney has released this one as part of a True-Life Adventure DVD set, all of which are worth watching, if nature films are your thing. My grandkids laughed at the goony birds.
A Sport Is Born is all about yelling Geronimoooooooooo!!! as you jump out of a plane. Sky-diving is the sport in question. The skydivers take the cameras up, in what are now familiar shots of crazy people in free fall, but at the time, they were unprecedented. We watch as a skydiver carefully jumps, and flies, and the effect is still breathtaking, despite how many times in the last half-century we’ve seen it. Here is a big chunk of what remains of the short for you earthbound sane people to watch!
Best Documentary Short:
Giuseppina is an odd little film to win, since it is set at an Italian gas station, as various customers come through and talk to the owner’s daughter. British Petroleum produced this sentimental little short, probably to associate happy times with buying their product. Essentially, this is a kind of Hallmark card commercial made for oil products, and it works your heartstrings — in color, no less. Apparently, the BBC used to run it over and over to fill dead air space, so some Brits are about as fond of this as older Americans are of that Indian head test pattern from the Fifties.
Here is a piece of it, for you to decide whether it deserved an Oscar:
The other nominees were Beyond Silence, A City Called Copenhagen, George Grosz’ Interregnum, and Universe.
Beyond Silence is a documentary on Gallaudet University, the only college for the deaf in the U.S. at the time (and nearly 100 years old). Again, here is a piece of it for you to respect:
A City Called Copenhagen is about, well, you know! Or you know as much as I do! Or at least you will after you watch this tourist invitation to come to Copenhagen!
And part 2:
So who is George Grosz, and why is he interregunmating? George Grosz’ Interregnum is a display of Grosz’ art, portraying Nazi brutality in an attempt to capture the horrors of that despicable group of people. While I’d rather watch Indiana Jones punching Nazis, I suspect I would respect this little film, if I could see it. Mrs. Kurt Weill, and Louis Armstrong’s favorite German, Lotte Lenya, narrates. While the original film isn’t available. here is a short look of Grosz’ art (he was precisely the kind of artist the Nazis labeled as degenerate; Grosz fled to the US, and died in 1959, which is probably what prompted the making of this film project):
Oh, those Canadians! Universe is yet another of their entries in these short forms, where they came to dominate as much as Walt Disney. Universe is an animated short, based on the photography of Canadian astronomer, Dr. Donald MacRae. Cinefiles should definitely watch Universe, as the narrator Douglas Rain went on to voice Hal 9000 in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, which was very inspired by this short.
Here is the short in its entirety:
And that brings another year closed, penance-wise. I hope enjoyed this short visit to 1960, and will look further into my own work, book-wise!
Feel free to make other suggestions below in the comments.
As always, I have much more to say in my book: http://www.amazon.com/WHO-Won-Irreverent-Look-Oscars/dp/069232318X/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8