Salute Our Shorts, Part 3

The Saratoga Film Forum’s weekend Short-Film-o-Rama concludes on Sunday, February 26th, at 3 p.m. with the last of the three short film Oscar categories: Best Documentary (Short Subject).
This category was established at the 1941 Academy Awards. The very first Academy Award winner in the category should give you some idea of the impetus for creating it: “Churchill’s Island,” a document of the Allied defense of Great Britain during World War II. A year later, at the 1942 Academy Awards, the War accounted for all 25 films nominated—and four special awards presented—in the Documentary category that year. The War and its aftermath continued to dominate the Oscars for much of the rest of the decade, and then Korea took over in 1950. So if we find an emphasis on current events among this year’s nominees—“Incident in New Baghdad,” “The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom,” e.g.—it’s nothing new.
By the way, as you watch this year’s shorts, you may be wondering what the criteria for short films are. Well, according to the Academy:
A short film is defined as an original motion picture that has a running time of 40 minutes or less, including all credits.
This excludes from consideration such works as:
1.  previews and advertising films
2.  sequences from feature-length films such as credit sequences
3.  unaired episodes of established TV series
4.  unsold TV series pilots
Furthermore:
The picture must have been publicly exhibited for paid admission in a commercial motion picture theater in Los Angeles County for a run of at least three consecutive days with at least two screenings a day. Films must be screened in 35mm or 70mm film or in a 24- or 48-frame progressive scan format with a minimum projector resolution of 2048 by 1080 pixels…
OR
The film must have won a qualifying award at a competitive film festival, as specified in the Academy Festival List. Proof of the award must be submitted with the entry….
A student film may also qualify by winning a Gold Medal award in the Academy’s 2011 Student Academy Awards competition in the Animation, Narrative, Alternative, or Foreign Film award category. Winners in the Documentary category are not eligible.
A short film may not be exhibited publicly anywhere in any nontheatrical form, including but not limited to broadcast and cable television, home video, and Internet transmission, until after its Los Angeles theatrical release, or after receiving its festival or Student Academy Award.  Excerpts of the film totaling no more than ten percent of its running time are exempted from this rule.
So there.
If you’re attending any of the Film Forum’s Oscar Comes Home parties or watching all by your lonesome, keep track of the winners—in the three Short Film categories, and/or in any or all of the other categories—this Sunday, February 26, kicking off at 7:00 p.m. on ABC. Visit the official Oscar site for more information than you may require, and even download a special Oscar iPhone and iPad app.

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Salute Our Shorts, Part 2

The Saratoga Film Forum’s weekend festival of this year’s Oscar-nominated short films continues tonight (Friday, February 24th) at 7:30 with the 2012 contenders for Short Film, Live Action. The changes in the actual name of this category track the evolution of cinema, in a way. When the category was first established in 1932, there were two categories, “Best Short Subject, Comedy” and “Best Short Subject, Novelty.” This lasted until 1936, when they changed the categories to “Best Short Subject, One-Reel” and “Best Short Subject, Two-Reel” and added a third “Best Short Subject, Color” category. The separate “Color” category was dropped after 1937, but the one-reel/two-reel division continued 1956, after which the category has been known as “Short Film, Live Action.”
Short films rarely if ever get any Oscar buzz, but it’s an important category for filmmakers. Many directors launch their careers with shorts, using the much shorter format and budgetary requirements to hone their cinematic storytelling skills before tackling a feature. The shorter format also lends itself to certain topics that may not be suitable for a feature-length production. Said Stefan Gieren, producer of nominated live action short, “Raju”:

Short film is an art form in itself and there are certain topics that I believe can only find their audience if they’re done well in short film. A feature film is something totally different.

In the dim and distant past, short films used to be shown before features (Pixar’s animated features are routinely preceded by a short, a rare exception these days), but film festivals are one of the only venues left to see some truly creative examples of filmmaking. And, of course, weekend screenings like the Film Forum’s.

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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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