Sunday, February 19, 2006

Oscar Contest Advice - Documentary Short

I went out yesterday to Screenland and saw a presentation of all four nominees for the Academy Awards' Documentary Short Category. I had never been to Scrrenland before, but I will be making it a regular visit now - really nice theater, cocktails available, reasonable concession prices, and comfortable seats. If they had turned the heat up over, say, 40 degrees, the viewing experience would have been perfect.

As for the movies - the winner is definitely going to be A Note of Triumph: The Golden Age of Norman Corwin. It's a grand, stirring portrayal of a giant of the golden age of radio at the peak of the medium. Based loosely around his broadcase on the night of WWII's VE Day, it conveys the emotion and passion of an earlier age and an earlier art form, both long departed.

If the Academy were to somehow reject A Note of Triumph, the next most likely winner would be The Mushroom Club, which is a rambling assessment of the continuing, though fading, impact of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. It isn't a bad movie by any means, but it casts too broad a net for its 35 minute length. It tries to cover everything from birth defects to loud jet skis intruding on Hiroshima's Peace Park, and leaves you with little more than the thought that the atomic bomb was catastrophic for Hiroshima. I got the sense that the director was too respectful of the sad stories he filmed to leave any of them on the cutting room floor.

I really enjoyed The Death of Kevin Carter: Casualty of the Bang Bang Club, a touching portrayal of the charismatic South African photographer who won a Pulitzer for the famous photo of a vulture watching a dying child in the Sudan. Carter committed suicide as apartheid came to an end in his home country, and the driving force for much of his career and passion came to a close. This movie has the distinction, however, of ending on the stupidest closing line ever, as one of his friends intones, "The new South African society has been growing for ten years now, and Kevin is ten years dead. I don't think that's a coincidence." Isn't it strange that anniversaries of events that happen at the same time tend to occur at the same time?

Finally, God Sleeps in Rwanda manages to make 28 minutes seem like two hours, as a flat-voiced narrator introduces interviews of women who survived the horrible ethnic cleansing in Rwanda and are rebuilding a country with a greatly expanded role for women. The movie just can't make up its mind. It wants to be a triumphant feminist documentary about the survival and strength of these women rebuilding a society, but it cannot help but indulge itself with lengthy looks back at the history of rape and murder. Overly dependent on close-cropped talking head interviews with subtitles (even when the speakers use English), you are left with admiration for the women portrayed and a sense that the director has punished you for not caring enough.

So, there you go. If you're in an office pool, go with A Note of Triumph.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I certainly hope you're right, and the Norman Corwin documentary will win the Oscar. Corwin is quite amazing; how many 95-year-olds have a website, let alone one as extensive as ?
But I've got to disagree with you on one point: you said, "it conveys the emotion and passion of an earlier age and an earlier art form, both long departed." The age is gone, but the art form is alive and well. Audio theatre had its greatest flowering when radio was king and television just a promise, but the art form developed before radio, on recordings -- and has now returned to that medium. More info is available at websites like:

You short-change a lot of new producers -- and Norman Corwin himself! -- when you say that this marvellous art form is "departed."

It just ain't so, Joe!

3/05/2006 4:05 PM  

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