Salute Our Shorts!

This weekend, the Saratoga Film Forum is screening this year’s Oscar-nominated short films. They’re divided into three screenings: tonight (7:30 p.m.) are the Animated Short Films, tomorrow (Friday at 7:30 p.m.) are Live Action Short Films, and Sunday (3:00 p.m.) are the Documentary Shorts.
The Academy Awards’ Animated Short Film category dates back to 1932 (the 5th Academy Awards) when it was called Short Subjects (Cartoons). From day one, Disney dominated; the first ever animated short to win an Oscar was one of Walt Disney’s Silly Symphonies called “Flowers and Trees”which also, as it happened, was the first commercially released film to be produced in full color (two-color Technicolor had been around for a while). Although the poster and titles for “Flowers and Trees” reads “Mickey Mouse Presents,” said rodent does not appear in it. (Disney’s Mickey Mouse shorts were already a successful series in 1932, and remained in back and white for three more years since it was felt that they didn’t need the novelty of color to give them a commercial boost.) You can watch “Flowers and Trees” here—and remember, this was before LSD had been invented. Interestingly, “Flowers and Trees” began production as a black-and-white short.
Walt Disney’s Silly Symphonies wasn’t the only successful cartoon series; it is actually tied with Hanna-Barbera’s Tom and Jerry cartoons for winning the most Oscars (seven each) in the Best Short Subject (Cartoons) category. The first Oscar-winning Tom and Jerry short was 1943’s “A Yankee Doodle Mouse.”
The Oscar category Short Subjects (Cartoons) lasted until 1971, when the Academy changed it to Short Subjects, Animated Films in 1971 (“animated films” perhaps having a bit more gravitas than “cartoons”) and, finally, Animated Short Film in 1974. 
So when you watch this year’s nominees, think about the cultural impact of their forebears, and of the legacy to which this year’s shorts are heir.

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2B or Not 2B, That Is the Apartment?

The Saratoga Film Forum’s “Countdown to Oscar” Monday night series of past Best Picture winners continues on February 20th, with Billy Wilder’s 1960 film The Apartment, starring Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine (in a past life), and Fred MacMurray.
The Apartment, a wry comedy-drama, was nominated for 10 Oscars at the 1961 Academy Awards, and ultimately won five of them: Best Picture, Best Director (Billy Wilder), Best Original Screenplay (I.A.L. Diamond and Billy Wilder), Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (Black and White) (Edward G. Boyle and Alexandre Trauner), and Best Editing (Daniel Mandell). While Jack Lemmon disappointingly lost out to Burt Lancaster (for Elmer Gantry), when Kevin Spacey won Best Actor in 2000 for American Beauty, he dedicated his award to Lemmon’s performance in The Apartment.
Here’s a piece of film trivia: The Apartment was the last all-black-and-white film to win a Best Picture Academy Award. (Schindler’s List, which won in 1994, had some color scenes.)
Although it was a hit both critically and commercially, the subject matter of The Apartment—Lemmon’s character lets his managers at the insurance company for which he works use his apartment for their extramarital trysts—was considered fairly controversial at the time, with the Saturday Review deeming it “a dirty fairy tale.” It was even more unacceptable 15 years earlier when Wilder first conceived the basic premise, wanting to do an American version of David Lean’s 1945 UK film Brief Encounter (written by Noel Coward), in which married Laura Jesson (Celia Johnson) has an affair with doctor Alec Harvey (Trevor Howard) in a friend’s apartment. However, the Hays Office at the time—which enforced the Motion Picture Production Code—would not allow anyone to make a film about adultery in the 1940s.
Here’s another bit of film trivia: what other movie opened the same weekend in 1960 as The Apartment? Hitchcock’s Psycho. Those were the days!
Although way down at #80 on the American Film Institute’s Top 100 Movies list, The Apartment has been called an “undervalued American classic.” See what you think. The Film Forum will be screening The Apartment Monday night, February 20th, at 7:30 in the Spring Street Gallery (110 Spring Street). 

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Forever Jung

“I was in analysis with a strict Freudian and if you kill yourself they make you pay for the sessions you miss.” —Woody Allen
The “dangerous method” in the title of this week’s Film Forum screening A Dangerous Method is the psychoanalytical method, the so-called “talking cure.” In the days before Prozac and other psychopharmaceuticals and happy pills, psychoanalysis was the preeminent method for dealing with mental illness, and still is in many cases. Imagine, however, if ads for psychoanalysis had to have those lengthy lists of possible side effects like drugs do (many of which sound worse than the things they’re supposedly curing). One of them would almost certainly be “transference.” And maybe dry mouth (from all the talking).
Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. 
Transference is defined as “a phenomenon in psychoanalysis characterized by unconscious redirection of feelings from one person to another.” Transference can take the form of a person redirecting certain feelings from a past (especially a childhood) relationship onto a current one—such as when a person dates someone who is a dead ringer for a parent—or it can involve a patient redirecting his or her feelings toward the therapist. While those feelings are often erotic, other emotions can be transferred to the therapist, such as mistrust, “parentification,” or even a kind of deification. Transference was first described by Sigmund Freud, who felt that it was an obstacle to psychoanalysis, but also that understanding the unconscious underpinnings of the transference was the clue to understanding the symptoms that drove the patient to analysis in the first place.
(By the way, a somewhat related phenomenon in psychology is “projection,” or when “a person subconsciously denies his or her own attributes, thoughts, and emotions, which are then ascribed to the outside world, usually to other people.” However, it would be incorrectto say that the Film Forum’s projectionist ascribes her own emotions to others. She does nothing of the kind.)
One of the dangers of transference is that it can give a therapist power over the patient and the therapist’s own counter-transferences (or exploitation of the patient’s transferences) can cause a great deal of damage—and is highly unethical. An unethical analyst can easily manipulate the patient into sexual thoughts and feelings toward the analyst—and, eventually, actual sex. Or, in the case of A Dangerous Method, a patient can use transference to coerce an analyst into crossing that line. 
A Dangerous Method features two of the most important figures in the history of modern psychology: the Big Guy himself (Freud, played by Viggo Mortensen) and his star student Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender). The movie is based on Christopher Hampton’s play The Talking Cure, which was in turn based on John Kerr’s 1993 non-fiction book A Most Dangerous Method, which looked at the relationship between Freud, Jung, and a patient named Sabina Spielrein (played by Keira Knightley). (The book was the result of the then-recent unearthing of Spielrein’s diaries, papers, and correspondence with Freud and Jung.) Spielrein was initially a patient (or “analysand,” as they are called) of Jung’s, in fact the “test case” of Freud’s “talking cure,” which at the time (~1908) was still largely theoretical. She later became a student of Jung’s, and eventually became one of the first female psychoanalysts. (She is perhaps best known for her conception of the sex drive as comprising the instincts of both destruction and transformation—she’d have had a heck of a profile on Match.com.) Oh, and speaking of which, she was also Jung’s lover—thanks to our old friend transference, as well as some ideas about pleasure implanted in Jung’s mind by another patient of his (and maybe she tried to seduce him by wearing a Freudian slip?). Spielrein later became Freud’s patient and, when he learned of the affair with Jung, he used it as a weapon in his ideological war with Jung.
What’s interesting is how Jung’s behavior confirms many of The Master’s then-nascent psychological tenets, becoming a textbook case of Freud’s “return of the repressed” (or would have been if there had been any psychological textbooks at that time).
Kind of makes that Zoloft prescription sound a lot less complicated…and have fewer side effects.
The Film Forum will be screening A Dangerous Method Thursday and Friday, February 16th and 17th, at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, February 19th at 3:00 p.m.

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Picture Me Big Time

Believe it or not (add Jack Palance-esque rasped ellipsis here), there is a whole cinema classification called “age-changing films” (aka “body-swapping”). Because I grew up in the 1970s, the classic of the genre will always be the original Freaky Friday (1976), but the 1980s* brought a slew of young-and-old-switch-bodies movies. There was the magic potion that switched Kirk Cameron and Dudley Moore in Like Father Like Son (1987), the oriental skull that switched Fred Savage and Judge Reinhold in Vice Versa (1988), and the (creaky) George Burns vehicle 18 Again! (1988). There was also Peggy Sue Got Married (1986) in which Kathleen Turner wakes up and is back in high school (a terrifying thought).
One variation on this theme was an Italian film called Da Grande (1987) in which 9-year-old Marco, smitten with his teacher, wishes he could be a grown-up…and, when he wakes up in the morning, finds himself in the body of a 40-year-old.
If that last film sounds a wee bit familiar, it’s because it was believed to bethe inspiration for the mega-hit Big (1988), with Tom Hanks starring as a 13-year-old who wakes up in the body of a 30-year-old.
Big will be screened at the Saratoga Film Forum, Saturday, February 11, at 7:30 p.m. as part of the Film Forum Family Flick series. In keeping (vaguely) with the theme of Big, the Family Flick screenings are run entirely by kids who choose the film, man the projection booth, sell the concessions, and generally run the show. The Family Flick series is sponsored by the Nordlys Foundation and all proceeds will be donated to charity. If you happen to know any kids who might be interested, let us know at films@saratogafilmforum.org.

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Film Forum Screening Like Crazy

No, that doesn’t mean that the Saratoga Film Forum is feverishly screening movies 24/7 (or, for that matter, screening its calls). Rather, it means they will be screening the movie Like Crazy this weekend. Sorry for the mix-up.
Like Crazy has earned its share of accolades (74% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, and produce doesn’t lie), as well as a brace of Sundance awards (the Grand Jury Prize for Dramatic Film as well as a Special Jury Prize for Felicity Jones). Young director Drake Doremus made the most of a small budget (under $250,000)—it was shot on a Canon EOS 7D DSLR digital camera (you can snag one for under $1500 at Amazon). Said Doremus in an interview: “We shot on this consumer camera called the 7D, the Canon 7D. It’s a still camera, but it takes videos, and you put film lenses on it, and it looks great.” The actors also did their own hair and makeup, and the dialogue was improvised. Doremus was clearly influenced by his French New Wave forebears (Godard’s Breathless, e.g.). (More and more “films” today are being shot on consumer or prosumer grade digital cameras. And, yes, in case you’re wondering, the first cinematic feature to be shot on an iPhone has already been released.) 
The story itself, about a love affair forced into transatlanticism by an expired student visa, is based on Doremus’ own experiences when his then-wife was having visa issues and was sent back to Austria.
Even without a lavish budget, the movie has a lot of texture—and texting, as the two young lovers are separated for the bulk of the movie. 

The film is unabashedly romantic—and anyone who has ever endured a long-distance relationship (and/or been in their 20s) can sympathize. By the way, is there anyone you want, need, love, and/or miss like crazy? You can customize the movie poster for Like Crazy using your own photos. Check out the movie’s “poster creator” over on Facebook.

Screening times are Thursday and Friday, February 9 and 10, at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, February 12, at 3:00 p.m.

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“What we’ve got on our hands…is a dead shark”

1977’s Annie Hall was a turning point for Woody Allen as a filmmaker, marking as it did the transition between his “early funny films” and the more serious (but often no less funny) later “relationship” movies. (Allen’s previous film was 1975’s Love and Death, a broad satire of 19th-century Russian literature that, among other things, involved a plot to assassinate Napoleon. A more jarring juxtaposition of films there has never been.) Annie Hall was also a turning point in that it was Allen’s first Oscar nod, winning Best Picture, as well as Best Screenplay and Best Director.
 
Allen’s original title for Annie Hall had been Anhedonia, a psychoanalytic term that means “the inability to experience pleasure from activities usually found enjoyable.” It’s hard to imagine why United Artists had a hard time coming up with a marketing plan for that! Interestingly, what became Annie Hall was originally planned to be a murder mystery, although that element was jettisoned in favor of a straight romantic comedy. It was revived almost 20 years later for Allen’s 1993 film Manhattan Murder Mystery which re-teamed Allen with Diane Keaton (the titular Annie Hall).
Although Annie Hallwould mark a departure for Allen (more fully realized in his next film, 1978’s Bergman homage Interiors), it doesn’t lack for comedy. The Marshall McLuhan cameo, the lobsters, the “spider the size of a Buick,” “a large, vibrating egg”…Annie Hall is still one of the funniest movies ever made. But, like the old joke that ends the film—“two elderly women are at a Catskill mountain resort, and one of them says, ‘Boy, the food at this place is really terrible.’ The other one says, ‘Yeah, I know; and such small portions’”—there is a more serious message lying below the surface.
See what you think. The Film Forum will be screening Annie Hall Monday night, February 6, at 7:30 in the Spring Street Gallery (110 Spring Street) as part of the Monday night “Countdown to Oscar” Best Picture Winners series. 

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Marginal Revolution

There has been no shortage of documentaries about the 2008 financial meltdown and related issues. Inside Job, which the Saratoga Film Forum screened last year, was perhaps the highest-profile of these. 2009’s Collapse was another, and the Enron-collapse doc The Smartest Guys in the Room dates from 2003. But “financial dramas”—let alone financial thrillers—have tended to be few and far between. 2010’s The Company Men was a bit of a flop and got mixed reviews (including only a 67% on the Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer). HBO’s Too Big to Fail, based on the nonfiction book by Andrew Ross Sorkin, has been described as a dramatized version of Inside Job. (Metacritic has a pretty thorough roundup of recession-themed films here.) Speaking of HBO, one of my favorite “finance films” was 1993’s Barbarians at the Gate, which, though not without its suspense, was played more as a black comedy, thanks to a screenplay by the late great Larry Gelbart. There is also Trading Places, speaking of dark financial comedies. (Wall Street and Boiler Room round out the master list of Wall Street flicks.)
The idea of a “financial thriller” may sound somewhat oxymoronic, although in the book world, it is a growing genre. One of the challenges of this genre, is grokking the lingo. Even after reading the explanation of a margin call, it’s still a bit of a mystery. So the challenge of a good financial thriller is to ramp up the suspense while keeping exposition sounding less like an MBA thesis.
About 20 minutes into Margin Call, Peter Sullivan, a fairly junior member of an investment bank (loosely based on Lehman Brothers), begins the initial explanation of what is happening that will end up triggering the financial meltdown. “It’s fairly complicated,” Sullivan begins. “Simplify!” urges trading floor head Will Emerson (Paul Bettany), who no doubt speaks for the viewer. That Sullivan is played by Zachary Quinto, whose most famous role (arguably) is that of Mr. Spock in the 2009 Star Trek reboot, perhaps lends a tone of “technobabble” to the proceedings, but it gives us just enough to let us know what’s happening without offering “too much information.” Emerson then tries to further explain to his boss Sam Rogers (Kevin Spacey), who says, “Just talk to me in English,” a sentiment repeated by the Boss of All Bosses John Tuld (Jeremy Irons) in an early morning meeting. “Speak as you might to a small child or a golden retriever.”
“Look at these people,” says Sullivan, as he and his colleague Seth Bregman (Penn Badgley) drive through the streets of Manhattan, “wandering around with no idea what’s about to happen.”
And that’s the issue with movies like Margin Call, particularly post-Occupy Wall Street. With the effects of the 2008 financial crisis still profoundly affecting many of us, is it too soon to accept moral ambiguity on the part of the folks that helped cause it? Can the bankers be humanized?
Director J.C. Chandor wrote Margin Call in the days after Lehman’s dramatic failure, and, as he told the New York Times, wanted to understand the human side of a financial crisis, or “the decision-making process that got us into this mess….Everything in my gut said don’t lie here.” Chandor’s father was a Merrill Lynch investment banker, and he got to see the human side of the “Wall Street banker” firsthand, the ups and the downs. Thus, Margin Call is not intended to condemn the system, and if nothing else, it aims for a calm, realistic portrait of the industry. From the Times:
“A lot of what our film is really exploring is that it’s easy to vilify, it’s easy to moralize and judge and blame people for what happened,” Mr. Quinto said. “And not inappropriately, completely! But there’s also a whole swath of people who were just doing their jobs, who weren’t complicit in the decision-making process that led to all of this.”
That is, do we paint everyone in a large industry with the same brush?

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