Restoring The Front Page.

Film Find above a fascinating snippet about the process of restoring The Front Page for the Criterion Collection. I won't spoil it, but it's one of those occasions when you learn something genuinely interesting about classic film production.

Big Yellow Taxi.

Politics It's a week until inauguration and while I was in the shower this morning I found myself singing some Joni, specifically Big Yellow Taxi. Metaphorically the lyrics really seem to capture the transition the US and the world is about to go through from the strong, articulate man who's been in the Oval Office this past eight years to [censored]. The stark difference between Obama's compassionate, open, forward looking farewell speech and Trump's behaviour at the press conference do bring to mind at least the first couple of verses:

They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot
With a pink hotel, a boutique
And a swinging hot SPOT
Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got
‘Til it's gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

They took all the trees
And put them in a tree museum
Then they charged the people
A dollar and a half just to see 'em
Don't it always seem to go,
That you don't know what you've got
‘Til it's gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot.

If you want a curious visual representation of what Trump's time in office will probably be like, here's the all too literal promo for the Amy Grant cover version:

That point made for completion stake here's the Counting Crows version featuring Vanessa Carlton, looking for all the world like 70s Sarah Jane Smith:

"a wormhole in my bank account"

Audio Big Finish have announced that they're opening up a wormhole in my bank account.  There's more Eighth Doctor material to come as the Short Trips series takes a sideways glance at the Time War:
"With the universe fracturing around him in the crossfire of the Time War, the Eighth Doctor has turned his back on his people, choosing to help those suffering from their actions. But what happens when events of the Time War touch upon those he's known and cared for? Two new Doctor Who Short Trips in 2017 explore what it means for former companions when Time War influences reach their lives..."
Sarah Sutton reads a Nyssa story set during the war and Carole Ann Ford reads an Eddie Robson written what could be a re-encounter for Susan and the Eighth Doctor.  Just when I think I've got this under control.

My Favourite Film of 1917.

Film Here's guest writer Brendan Connelly on the first ever animated feature film El Apóstol:

Sometimes, marketing is so successful that it impacts our ideas of what is real and what is not for much longer than was expected, or is maybe even desirable.

So people still claim today that Coca Cola invented Santa Claus, that Warner Bros. pursued Ronald Reagan to play Rick in Casablanca, and that the first full-length animated film was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. All of these things are tall tales that can be traced back, one way or another, to marketing misdirection.

The history of early cinema is truly quite patchy and has often often been dramatically revised, but it seems pretty certain right now that anybody looking to name the first animated feature of all time should actually look past Disney's fairytale to Quirino Cristiani's El Apóstol, or The Apostle.

For what it's worth, Cristiani delivered the second animated feature, Sin Dejar Rastros, or Without a Trace, just one year or later.

Both of these films are now listed as officially lost, with their only known prints perishing in a fire*. All we really know of these movies now is what was written about them at the time, what Cristiani has explained himself, and some scraps of archive photography and concept art.

Just a few years back, a documentary was released, built around an interview with Cristiani, that attempted to explain what these films were – what they were about, how they looked, how they were made, and why. It's unfortunately very possible that this is the closest we'll ever get to witnessing Cristiani's pioneering works for ourselves.

The key to understanding anything about The Apostle from such great distance is to know not only its satirical objectives but also the social and political context that gave rise to the film. The Apostle was a then-contemporary political allegory, in which a thinly-veiled fictonalisation of the Argentinian president, Hipolito Yrigoyen, scales a mountain and calls upon the gods to rain destruction down upon corrupt Buenos Aires.

In the climax, the film depicted a scene of the city on fire, accomplished by building a scale model and then burning it on camera. Does this mean the film isn't an animated movie? Well, some Disney disciples will have claimed so, but I think it's more important, overall, to prick the Snow White myth than to argue over technicalities.

I'm neither Argentinian nor anything like old enough to know things about Hipolito Yrigoyen that I haven't been able to dig up online, but it seems clear that his political campaigns made effective use of religious, sometimes apocalyptic imagery. Cristiani's intention was - or at least it seems so, from my very restricted viewing platform - to leverage that same style of rhetoric, but exploding it, making it humorous, and wielding it against the president. The title is a great first sample of this, using a nickname for Yrigoyen that was well known and not always well-intentioned.

The style of the film was set, to a large extent, by political cartoonist Diógenes Taborda, aka El Mono, or The Monkey. Unable, and certainly unwilling, to draw the thousands of frames that would have been necessary to make the film the Disney way, El Mono drew the characters just a few times, which were then broken down into components, printed on card and cut-out.

Cristiani's technique for animating the cut-out pieces would be familiar to anybody who has seen Terry Gilliam's work on Monty Python's Flying Circus.

This technique gives rise to some very strict stylistic limitations, particularly in how shots can be devised or executed. We are very far away from the more naturalistic, live action-like choices in staging or shot composition that hand-drawn cel animation can offer. Nonetheless, a good filmmaker can still make hay here, and the reception of The Apostle suggests very powerfully that, even with his hands tied financially, stylistically and technologically, Cristiani made a relevent, effective film.

Many of us are fully used to dipping back into film history and plucking out all sorts of movies – this blog absolutely proves it. If I know more about 20th Century America than any other set of cultures in world history, and I think I probably do, then I'm sure that the ready availability of their cinema is the real reason why.

I'm relatively uneducated about Argentina, hardly aware of how the country was in the 19-teens, and I know extremely little about Hipolito Yrigoyen. What I do know, I've scraped up reading about The Apostle, first as a general enthusiast about animation, later when this film in particular had caught my imagination.

It's another lingering effect like the Santa and Reagan stories, a tale made in the media that has rolled on for a lot longer than anyone might have predicted. Cristiani was making a film about and for the Argentina of his time, and yet, here I am, interested and, to some minor extent, informed about that world because of a film.

I expect that I would understand the situation much more deeply, if maybe in a way that I'd find even less easy to articulate, had the film have survived.

The Aspotle made animation and cinema history, and that's one reason why it's especially tragic that it was lost. It also captured and commented on history, and that is another.

[*a tragic irony as one climaxes with an inferno, the other is called Without a Trace]