A Year in Shorts Day 1: "Precious Images"
I love the Oscars. That really shouldn't come as a surprise. Of course I do. After all, one does not create a blog dedicated to watching every film ever nominated for an Academy Award if they do not possess what can be characterized as an unhealthy level of affection for them. And one doesn't read such a blog unless they've got a soft sport for them as well, I might add.
Still, when we talk about the Oscars, we tend to focus on the big things. What won Best Picture. What didn't win Best Picture but should have. What DID win Best Picture but shouldn't have. What wasn't even nominated for Best Picture, proving that the Academy Awards are a joke and always have been. And, of course, what does Amy Adams have to do to finally get an Oscar?
Too often, these discussions tend to ignore the little guy. And by that I mean the short films. Well no more! And so, starting today, I officially launch my mission with A Year in Shorts, in which every day I will pick an Academy Award nominated short and give it the attention it so richly deserves.
And what a better way to start than with the Oscar montage that won an Oscar, Precious Images?
Of all the Oscar traditions, few have proven to be so begrudgingly tolerated as the Oscar montage. For many, the Oscar montages are nothing but filler at best, self-congratulatory circle jerks at worst. And it is hard to argue with that.
But honestly, if you have such a problem with self-congratulatory circle jerks, why are you watching the Oscars in the first place? I do admit that I have something of a soft spot for those montages. When they're done right, they can be a fun, glorious celebration of cinema history. And even the lesser ones can still lead to some great moments, such as the time we got to witness Martin Scorsese try to comprehend the fact that he'd been tricked into watching an Eminem performance.
But as magical as that moment was, I'm not sure I'd give it an Oscar. And yet, that is exactly what happened at the 59th Academy Awards, when the Oscar for Best Live Action Short went to Precious Images.
Precious Images is a hard short to talk about, mostly because it's rather hard to talk about as a movie. The film is directed by Chuck Workman (who has gone on to edit many of the Oscar montages that followed it), working on a commission from the Director's Guild of America as they celebrated their 50th anniversary.
The film covers over eighty years of film history and features clips from 470 films, including The Great Train Robbery, Casablanca, Psycho, Shaft and Rocky IV. Finding suitable footage from that last film was a real coup, considering Rocky IV was already ninety percent montage anyway.
Still, as far as Oscar montages go, Precious Images is pretty unimpeachable. It's tightly edited, with iconic music choices perfectly complementing the film clips chosen. No clip overstays its welcome, and Workman was wise to pick films from a wide variety of genres to showcase. Films like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Some Like It Hot are given the same amount of respect as 2001: A Space Odyssey or Citizen Kane. Plus, it's hard to be mad at any film that pays sufficient homage to Fred Astaire or the Marx Brothers.
At just under eight minutes, Precious Images is a fun, zippy little celebration of film history. The Academy liked it so much that they even showed it as part of the ceremony that year, making it the first and last time in Oscar history where everyone watching the show had seen the winner for Best Live Action Short. Heck, it was probably the first and time everyone in the audience had too.
Ultimately, your feelings on Precious Images will depend greatly on your feelings on Oscar montages in general. If you can't stand them, this film probably won't do much to change your mind. But if you like them when they're done right, they don't get done much better than this.
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