The Forgotten Arms Race

The reels of footage from America were, to say the least, a cause for concern. So concerning, in fact, that Serov personally presented the official report to Khrushchev. Witnesses in the room claim that the First Secretary of the Central Committee looked visibly shaken, the blood draining from his face. The idea that the enemy would be in possession of such an animal, empowered with such advanced situational awareness and capable of communicating with humans was astonishing. His first question upon composing himself was to ask just how the KGB could have been unaware of a program to create such a creature; a question for which Serov had no answer. It was a spectacular failure of intelligence that would haunt the rest of his career and, some speculated, would ultimately be the reason for his dismissal (unfairly, one might point out, as the experiment had come to fruition before his appointment as the Ministry’s head).

Needless to say, work began almost immediately on a response. The canine was smart, yes, and agile but it was still a dog and, therefore, still susceptible to all the dangers that might befall the squishy, fragile body of a living creature. Dr. Sergey Sergeyevich Bryukhonenko had already laid the groundwork for what Russian scientists were proposing, and they wasted no time in putting it into practice. No such head-start was afforded them in the construction of the mechanical body, however, and yet the team still managed to build a working prototype in the span of two years.

World Press Photo Of The Year

I’m a bit behind the curve on this, but the image above is too arresting not to post here. Last month The World Press Photo jury announced their winners for best press photos from 2010. The overall winner was the image you see above by nine time winner Jodi Bieber, a photographer from South Africa, and was shot for the cover of Time. The back story is just as horrifying as you probably imagine:

Her winning picture shows Bibi Aisha, an 18-year-old woman from Oruzgan province in Afghanistan, who fled back to her family home from her husband’s house, complaining of violent treatment. The Taliban arrived one night, demanding Bibi be handed over to face justice. After a Taliban commander pronounced his verdict, Bibi’s brother-in-law held her down and her husband sliced off her ears and then cut off her nose. Bibi was abandoned, but later rescued by aid workers and the American military. After time in a women’s refuge in Kabul, she was taken to America, where she received counseling and reconstructive surgery. Bibi Aisha now lives in the US.

Juror Ruth Eichorn said of the picture:

It’s an incredibly strong image. It sends out an enormously powerful message to the world, about the 50% of the population that are women, so many of whom still live in miserable conditions, suffering violence. It is strong because the woman looks so dignified, iconic.

Via lens culture

The Friday Afternoon Movie: The Secret Of NIMH

I’m not sure how Hulu works in countries outside the US at this point. My apologies if you cannot watch this, it’s one of the reasons I try to avoid sites like Hulu.

It’s Friday, people, which means that there’s only a few more hours until you can stick a fork in another soul-crushing work week. Allow the FAM to help that time pass a little more quickly with this week’s presentation of Don Bluth’s 1982 classic The Secret of NIMH, starring, among others, Mary Elizabeth Hartman (in her last role before her suspected suicide), John Carradine, Dom DeLuise, Aldo Ray, and Wil Wheaton.

An adaptation of Robert C. O’Brien’s 1971 children’s novel Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, the movie tells the story of Mrs. Brisby, a widowed field mouse, whose son falls ill with pneumonia and cannot leave the house for three weeks. At this time, Spring plowing is set to begin on the farm the Brisbys live on and Mrs. Brisby, knowing she cannot stay where she is, visits the Great Owl who directs her to a group of mysterious rats who live in a rose bush and are led by a wizened old rat named Nicodemus. Brisby learns that the rats, along with her late husband Jonathan, were part of an experiment performed at the National Institute of Mental Health which boosted their intelligence to human levels at which point they made their escape.

The Secret of NIMH was a favorite of mine as a child and recent viewings have done little to dampen my enthusiasm for it. Bluth and his partners, most of who had defected from Disney with him, were fixated on what they perceived to be the decline of animation as an art form. The Secret of NIMH, then, was a collection of expensive and, even at the time, outdated animation techniques. The glowing eyes of Nicodemus, for example, were created by back-lighting colored gels. Characters had different color palettes for individual lighting situations (Mrs. Brisby alone had 46). It’s a veritable showcase of animation and it all makes for a beautiful film. Still, it came at a price, and the film came in so over the original budget that Bluth and his co-producers had to collectively mortgage their homes to finance some of it. There was even a problem with their diminutive protagonist’s name:

During the film’s production, Aurora contacted Wham-O, the manufacturers of Frisbee flying discs, with concerns about possible trademark infringements if the “Mrs. Frisby” name in O’Brien’s original book was used in the movie. Wham-O rejected Aurora’s request for waiver to use the same-sounding name to their “Frisbee”, in the movie. Aurora informed Bluth & company that Mrs. Frisby’s name would have to be altered. By then, the voice work had already been recorded for the film, so the name change to “Mrs. Brisby” necessitated a combination of re-recording some lines and, because John Carradine was unavailable for further recordings, careful sound editing had to be performed, taking the “B” sound of another word from Carradine’s recorded lines, and replace the “F” sound with the “B” sound, altering the name from “Frisby” to “Brisby”.

In the end, there are really two things that make NIMH stick out: its tone and its protagonist. The mood of the film is exceedingly foreboding, especially for a G-rated feature intended for children, without crossing into the historical seriousness of, say, Grave of the Fireflies or the political allegory of Watership Down. When I think of it, the images that come to my mind are bleak, eerie, and filled with fire. Likewise, its heroine is unlike anything one would have seen from Disney. Mrs. Brisby is no princess. She is a middle-aged mother and widow. Her quest is not an epic struggle between good and evil, it is to save her family. She doesn’t fall in love with a dashing male lead, she is not even looking for it, the love she had for another is in her past, before we are even introduced to her. Is she one of the great feminist characters in film? No. But she is a refreshing change from the typical Barbie doll pap most peddle.

Watching The Secret of NIMH it is perhaps most evident that it is a labor of love, both for its story and for the medium it is presented in. It is not a stretch to say that they don’t make them like this anymore. After all, who would be crazy enough to try?

Trails Of Tarnation

Black Coffee: Chapter 1 of Trails of Tarnation from New Picture Agencies on Vimeo.

From Nicholas Gurewitch, cialis sale creator of The Perry Bible Fellowship comes Trails of Tarnation, recounting the travels and travails of Jeff and Derek. In this inaugural episode, entitled “Black Coffee”, Derek instructs Jeff on the proper way to brew that most holy of morning beverages with unintended consequences.

Handle With Care

It wasn’t even the deliveryman’s use of profanity that bothered Joanne. No, she had endured plenty of course language in her time (and used a fair bit herself for that matter). What really irked her was his indifference to her protests over the state of the package he asked her to sign for. Indifference was, perhaps, a misnomer. So smug was his bearing that Joanne had no doubts that the man had interpreted the “Fragile” stickers that festooned the box as “Kick Me” signs. She was sure he had done this on purpose and when he spat “Go ahead, call the goddamn office if it makes you feel better,” in response to her indignant threat it only made that conviction stronger. This miserable little man, unshaven and reeking of cigarettes, obviously got his kicks by torturing customers. No doubt he was a member of some awful labor union, and felt safe in the knowledge that this offense was just another in a long line of similar incidents that would go unpunished. This time would be different, however. His employer may have been rendered impotent by socialists but Joanne had no such impediment. This man was about to learn that no one fucks with the Pink Armadillo and walks away unscathed.

It would be a lesson he would not soon forget.

North Korean Film School

Al Jazeera English has proven to be, perhaps, the best news organization going at the moment with their top-notch coverage of the events transpiring in the Middle East. In this particular segment of their program 101 East, they turn their eye to another oppressed nation: North Korea, specifically the Pyongyang University of Cinematic and Dramatic Arts. Here, as everywhere else, the curriculum is focused on the teachings of the state, specifically Kim Jong Il, heralded in his country as a cinematic genius. The university, then, is a training ground for the actors and directors who will make up the North Korean government’s propaganda machine.

To their credit, reporters Lynn Lee and James Leong have few illusions as to what their report is about. While they do manage to get inside the school, much of their footage is confiscated due to the draconian rules for filming within the university (only uncropped, stationary shots of images of the Dear Leader and his words). It is, however, an interesting look at how the elite live in the nation’s capital city. The country is once again experiencing food shortages, but while most of the country starves, its embassies instructed to beg for food, high ranking members of the North Korean government live in relative luxury. Of course, as we have seen before, not everything is quite as it seems in the DPRK.

The FAM: Animation Fun Time With David O’Reilly

Please Say Something from David OReilly on Vimeo.

Like Edgar Allan Poe, the FAM returns after a week’s absence, delirious and with no memory of its whereabouts. Who knows what trouble it got up to? Regardless of whether or not the FAM spent last week in a meth-fueled haze, the fact of the matter is that it is back, looking to put the deaths of all those Shriners behind it. So let us get to today’s films instead of dwelling on the fact that those tiny cars are not street legal and one cannot be blamed for driving through a parade if the route is not clearly marked.

Today it’s two short films by David O’Reilly: 2009’s Please Say Something and his most recent External World. Both feature his off-beat direction combined with a dark sense of humor. External World takes a page from Robot Chicken with stories told in bite-sized morsels stitched together with a thin, overarching tale while Please Say Something follows a cat and her mouse husband through their dysfunctional relationship. O’Reilly and his team do a spectacular job, using a bare minimum of detail to convey each scene. The characters are equally simple though they still manage to display a wide range of emotions. They are wonderful and delightfully weird, though your tolerance for acerbic wit will determine how well you take to them.

Alternative Trailer: The King Spits

I’ve not seen The King’s Speech, though I have heard nothing but good things about it. The trailer made me immediately think of The Madness of King George. This is, perhaps, unfair and may be due mostly to the fact that both films are about British royalty. Whatever the case, I can’t help but think that this trailer, with music by Dan Bull, would have sold the movie better, though perhaps not to its intended audience.

Roa In Mexico

Street artist Roa does some amazing work, site producing giant images of animals. He recently posted some work he did in Mexico and it is no less stunning. The severed bird head using the swinging gate to expose a skull behind it is particularly clever.

The Fantastic Planet Is Rotting

An admission of hypocrisy: Up close and personal, fungi kind of gross me out but put them in a painting and I’m all over them. I know, it makes no sense. It may be that, in a painting, they still portray a a sense of decay and fluidity without the moist, musky, oozing mucilage found in reality. Everything in a painting is blessedly dry, I suppose is what I’m saying. And while I realize that the appearance of a viscous sheen can be recreated I also know that if I were to touch it I would not draw back a hand coated in a vile mucus.

Enter these paintings by Dhear One, portraits of creatures on alien worlds, enveloped by otherworldly fungi, turning everything into a landscape — stalks and tendrils reaching up into the air seemingly in defiance of gravity, if there is any present. They are snapshots of worlds overrun. This is what happens when nature takes back the Fantastic Planet.