Animation

Fantasia 2017 Review: The Senior Class

Jung-woo and Ju-hee are art students in the animated Korean film The Senior Class. (Lee Joo-seung provides the voice of Jung-wwo and Kang Jin-ah plays Ju-hee.)

When I’m watching a horror movie, I often want to yell: “Don’t go in the basement!” While watching The Senior Class I was pulled into the story enough that I wanted to shout: “Don’t do that; don’t say that; don’t go there!”

The Senior Class is not a horror movie, strictly speaking, though many people behave horribly. It was written by Yeon Sang-ho, who wrote The King of Pigs, The Fake, Seoul Station and Train to Busan, evidence enough that Yeon knows plenty about bad behaviour. (Hong Deok-pyo directed the film, and he came to Fantasia to present it to us and to take questions after the screening.)

The story is set in a class of art students in their final year of university. The students all have anxiety over final projects, the evaluation of their year’s work and a coming exhibition of that work.

The main characters are the quiet, slightly nerdy Jung-woo, his loudmouth, jerky friend Dong-hwa and pretty Ju-hee, who concentrates on her work and is rather quiet herself. Some classmates assume she’s a snob because of that. The female students talk about her behind her back, but they put on friendly faces  when they want to know where she bought her handbag.

Jung-woo has had a crush on Ju-hee for a long time. Maybe it’s more like an obsession. She appears as a delicate, ethereal angel in an online cartoon he works on regularly, while he portrays himself as a scrawny, caring, sensitive merman. (Really!) In many belief systems, angels protect us, but this angel seemingly needs the protection of Jung-woo’s alter-ego. In real life, Jung-woo can barely say hello to Ju-hee.

Jung-woo and Ju-hee get to know each other better when he discovers something about her and she begs him to keep it to himself. He agrees to do that, but can he keep his mouth shut? And since he made this discovery while doing an errand for Dong-hwa, it’s quite possible that Dong-hwa will find out, too. We’ve got some tension, now!

In the animated Korean film The Senior Class, Jung-woo, centre, is quite literally stuck in the middle of a dispute between his jerky friend Dong-hwa, left, and the young woman on the right, who was seduced and then rejected by Dong-hwa.

The Senior Class is distressing to watch, because there is so much meanness and betrayal in it. There’s also some “cutting off your nose to spite your face” behaviour, that makes no sense, logically, but people do act illogically all the time.

Though The Senior Class lacks the physical violence seen in the other films written by Yeon Sang-ho, it is like them in that it exposes a rampant hypocrisy that is hardly unique to Korean society. Gossip is harmful, but hypocrisy is so much worse.

I haven’t included a link to the trailer because I think it gives away too much of the story, but you can find it on the Fantasia web site, if you want to. (Link is below.)

Director Hong Deok-pyo will attend the screening and answer questions after. I’m sorry that I did not ask one myself. A certain character reminded me of Marilyn Monroe. I wonder if that was an intentional thing, or just my imagination? I’ll try to find out before he leaves! (The last time I thought I saw something in a Korean film, it WAS all in my head!

At the Q&A for The Senior Class: Fantasia International Film Festival programmer Rupert Bottenberg, translator Noeul Kang, and director Hong Deok-pyo.

The Senior Class, in Korean with English subtitles, 82 minutes long.
Directed by: Hong Deok-pyo
Written by: Yeon Sang-ho
(Voice) cast: Lee Ju-seung, Kang Jin-ah, Jeong Yeong-gi
Company: Contents Panda

The Senior Class will be shown Monday, July 17, 5:10 pm, Salle J.A. De Sève of Concordia University, 1400 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W., as part of Montreal’s Fantasia International Film Festival, which runs until Aug. 2, 2017.

Visit the Fantasia web site for more information.

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Review of La sociologue et l’ourson: Puppets, politicians and same-sex marriage

French sociologist Irène Théry appears in the form of a stuffed bear in the documentary film La sociologue et l’ourson (The Sociologist and the Bear Cub).

It’s not every day that we can learn about the evolution of the family and changing social mores from a witty, articulate, stuffed bear. So why not take advantage of the opportunity and watch La sociologue et l’ourson?

In the fall of 2012, the video and filmmaking duo Étienne Chaillou et Mathias Théry set out to make a film about the debate over a proposed law that would allow same-sex marriage in France. The law, which had been one the campaign promises of recently elected President François Hollande, would also allow same-sex couples to adopt children. As part of their research for the film, Mathias Théry recorded many phone chats with his mother, Irène Théry, the sociologist of the title. She’s an academic who studies the family and human rights. She was also one of many experts who had advised the French government on the proposed law.

President François Hollande in the French documentary film La sociologue et l’ourson (The Sociologist and the Bear Cub).

Chaillou et Théry wanted to use those chats in the film, but they had no video footage to go with it. What to do? I don’t imagine they wanted to use “Ken Burns technique” of panning over photos. They decided to use stuffed animals to represent Irène Théry and other participants. Irène Théry becomes a Mama Bear with swinging hair, (and Mathias Théry is her  “ourson” – the bear cub, of the title.) President François Hollande looks like some kind of Lego figurine, while newscasters are depicted as birds of various kinds – some halfway realistic ones, along with others that are clearly made from grey socks. This introduces some humour into a situation that became more heated than the filmmakers had expected. Though Chaillou et Théry are on record as saying there is no particular meaning to the animals they chose viewers might wonder about that when they see that some lawyers are depicted as pigs.

In the French animated documentary La sociologue et l’ourson, reporters and newscasters appear as birds.

While there is some footage of the real life Irène Théry on public transit, appearing on TV, at demonstrations, etc., we mostly see her animal avatar in her office, her kitchen, riding taxis, etc., as she explains how much families have changed over the centuries, and how cruel French society once was toward unmarried mothers and their children. There are also some funny bits of a more personal nature, connected with her marriage, her husband, his fish stick errand, etc. I wonder if Chaillou et Théry are fans of the Muppets, because the puppet version of Irène sometimes tosses her hair in a way that makes me think of Miss Piggy.  (Irène Théry is better looking, of course.)

Many people were against the proposed legislation, including religious leaders. Close to 2,000 mayors said they were unwilling to marry gay couples. Between October 2012 and May 2013 thousands of people attended demonstrations for and against same-ex marriage and adoption. Many of the “anti” demonstrations were led by a right-wing satirist and activist known as “Frigide Barjot.” (Her real name is Virginie Tellenne; Barjot means daffy, crazy, nuts, bonkers.) When Irène Théry attends those  demonstrations, her gregarious nature and her network of connections become obvious. Many people come to greet her and more than once she is introduced to “my future husband.”

NOT A SPOILER! Anyone with an Internet connection and an interest in the news will likely know that the legislation did pass. There were 7,000 same sex marriages in 2013, 10,000 in 2014, 7,751 in 2015 and 7,000 in 2016. However, Marine Le Pen, leader of the right-wing Front national, has said that she would rescind the law if she is elected president this year.

Mathias Théry and Étienne Chaillou, directors of La sociologue et l’ourson, will present their film in Montreal on Friday, April 7, 2017. Irène Théry will be there, too.

La sociologue et l’ourson begins its run at Cinéma Beaubien on Friday, April 7, 2017. Étienne Chaillou, Mathias Théry and Irène Théry will be there to introduce the 7 p.m. screening of the film and answer questions afterward. Will they bring some of their puppets with them? I hope so! When the film was shown by RIDM + at Cinéma du Parc last week, Chaillou and Théry talked to the audience via a glitchy Skype connection. It was the middle of the night for them, as they sat in their respective kitchens. They said they were looking forward to a “real discussion” when they arrived in Montreal.

Cinéma Beaubien is at 2396 Beaubien St E. Visit the Cinéma Beaubien web site for more information about the film and the screening.

Sommets du cinéma d’animation 2016: Review of animated film Fox Fears

In this scene from the animated film Fox Fears, Bunroku can't keep up with his friends because he is wearing his mother's clogs.

In this scene from the animated film Fox Fears, Bunroku can’t keep up with his friends because he is wearing his mother’s clogs.

The mystery of the night, primordial fears, the power of a mother’s love – those are some of the ingredients in Fox Fears (Kitsune Tsuki)
a lovely short animated short from Japan. (Nothing to do with the nefarious U.S. TV network!) Director Miyo Sato made Fox Fears using sand and paint on glass.

The story begins the way a low-key horror film might. A young boy named Bunroku narrates the story. Under a bright moon, he was walking to a night festival with his friends, but he couldn’t keep up with them because he was wearing his mother’s clogs. (Not the right size, I guess. What happened to his own shoes? Too small? They broke?)

He and his friends stop at a clog shop so he can buy new ones. While they are in there, we hear distant music from the festival – flutes and drums. One flute sounded a bit like a wolf’s howl, to me. After the boy makes his purchase, a mysterious old woman appears and tells them that buying clogs after dark means you will turn into a fox. Don’t they know that? “Lies!” they shout, and head off to the festival, with its lanterns, banners, floats and music. (I would have liked to spend a few more seconds at this festival!)

Bunroku tells us that his friends would always see him safely home, and yet somehow this night, they do not. He imagines foxes and their shadows stalking him all the long, long way home. Once he gets there (guess that’s a spoiler, sorry!) he tells his mother what happened and she reassures him there’s nothing to worry about. She uses the word “lies,” as well. Maybe superstition is too big a word and too big a concept for a little kid. Not to mention folklore or mythology.

But Bunroku needs further reassurance. “But what if I DID turn into a fox?” His mother has an answer to that. He has more complicated questions and she has more detailed answers. I won’t spoil all that for you. One of the imagined scenarios is tragic and might bring the susceptible to tears.

Bunroku and his mother, from the Japanese animated film Fox Fears.

Bunroku and his mother, from the Japanese animated film Fox Fears.

Even thought they are having a theoretical, late-night, drowsy chat about shapeshifting, it is very clear that Bunroku’s mother would do anything and everything to keep him safe. That’s what good mothers everywhere do. It’s quite an amazing thing!

References and my reactions: It is possible that I am seeing things in Fox Fears that director Miyo Sato did not intend. Who knows, really. But, one way or the other, those things added to my enjoyment of the film.

Fox Fears has a dreamy, timeless quality. I don’t remember seeing any cars, buses, trucks, cellphones. If not for a light bulb seen at Bunroku’s home, and the Western clothes on some characters, the story could have taken place hundreds of years ago.

I find it cute that he’s wearing his mother shoes. I used to wear my mother’s boots when I was quite young (I had big feet!) That made me feel closer to her, not to mention that her boots were prettier and more stylish than mine.

The clog shop looks isolated, on the edge of the forest. That reminded me of so many films, Japanese ones in particular, where magical (and/or evil) places only exist at night. In the light of day, there is nothing there at all. Or just some ruins. The people who seem to live in those places are really ghosts or demons. Eat or drink what they give you and you will be under their power forever. Does that clog shop even exist in the day time?

A fox family in sihouette in the animated film Japanese Fox Fears. Director Miya Sato created the images using sand and paint on glass.

A fox family in sihouette in the animated film Japanese Fox Fears. Director Miya Sato created the images using sand and paint on glass.

Foxes and fox spirits figure in Japanese folklore and films; I’ve read some of those stories and seen some of those films. They appear in Chinese and Korean tales and films too, though the details vary.

I saw Fox Fears (Kitsune Tsuki) at Les Sommets du cinéma d’animation de Montréal 2016, at the Cinémathèque Québecoise.

Fox Fears (Kitsune Tsuki)
Animation (PG)
Director: Miyo Satori
Length: 7 min., 38 sec
Language: Japanese
Subtitles: English
Completed date: 2015

 

Sommets du cinéma d’animation 2016: Review of the documentary Oscar

A screen grab from Oscar, an NFB/ONF documentary about jazz pianist Oscar Peterson. The film was directed by Marie-JosŽe Saint-Pierre.

A screen grab from Oscar, an NFB/ONF documentary about jazz pianist Oscar Peterson. The film was directed by Marie-JosŽe Saint-Pierre.

In the 12-minute NFB/ONF documentary Oscar, filmmaker Marie-Josée Saint-Pierre uses animated sequences, archival footage, photos, news clippings and other documents, radio and TV interviews with Montreal-born jazz pianist Oscar Peterson to chart his career and to depict the loneliness of life on the road and the toll it takes on a marriage, on the relationship between a father and his children and on musical performance, too. (Peterson was only 19 when he married for the first time. He tells an unseen interviewer that he should have waited until he was at least 40.)

A telegram reads: “I miss you Daddy. When are you coming home?” We also see a divorce document – genuine or recreated, I don’t know – that lists the respective parties as “Oscar Peterson” and “Mrs. Peterson.” That’s how it was in those days, married women didn’t even have a name of their own. More cringe inducing is a radio segment from 1944 in which announcer Jeff Davis calls 18-year-old Peterson a “coloured boy with amazing fingers.”

Oscar Peterson had a regular gig at Montreal's Alberta Lounge.

Oscar Peterson had a regular gig at Montreal’s Alberta Lounge.

In addition to talk about the hardships of touring, we see daytime and night-time photos of Montreal back in the 1940s, are reminded how popular our city was with U.S. tourists, and revisit the tale of how U.S. impresario Norman Granz was riding in a Montreal taxi when he heard Peterson on a live radio broadcast from the Alberta Lounge. Granz instructed the driver to take him there right away.

When he was still a young man, Oscar Peterson shared a bill at Carnegia Hall with his idols Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie and Ray Brown.

When he was still a young man, Oscar Peterson shared a bill at Carnegia Hall with his idols Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie and Ray Brown.

In the next sequence, Granz has taken Peterson to Carnegie Hall, where he plays on a bill that includes Ella Fitzgerald and Dizzy Gillespie. (Granz was Peterson’s manager for most of his life; a New York Times obituary for Granz says that Peterson named one of his sons after him. Google tells me that late in life Peterson had a daughter named Celine. Was she named for our national songbird? Anybody know?)

An animated depiction of CBC radio host Peter Gzowski is astounded when Peterson tells him that he thinks ahead while he’s playing, or more precisely, that he plays behind his thinking.

Needless to say, Oscar contains lots of Peterson’s music, too, a bonus for old fans and newly created ones.

Oscar is part of a three-film selection called Animating Reality 1: Familiar Faces, that will be shown on Sunday, Nov. 27, at 1:15 p.m., as part of the Sommets du cinéma d’animation film festival, at the Cinémathèque Québecoise, 335, de Maisonneuve Blvd. E.

NOTE: Casino, a 4-minute film by Montreal director Steven Woloshen, uses music by Oscar Peterson. Casino is among the films in the International Competition – Programme 3, that will be shown at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 27, at 1:15 p.m., at the Sommets du cinéma d’animation.

 

Sommets du cinema d’animation: ‘If you scan an octopus, be sure you really clean your scanner well afterwards’

joan-gratz-blue-clay

You don’t hear about scanning tentacles everyday; neither do you get to talk to an Oscar winner. But some of us did both yesterday (Friday, Nov. 25, 2016) when filmmaker Joan Gratz gave a master class at the Les Sommets du cinéma d’animation here in Montreal. We learned a lot and laughed a lot, too.

Gratz’s Mona Lisa Descending a Staircase won Best Animated Short at the 65th Annual Academy Awards in 1993. (Snow White announced the award. Seriously! Gratz did not mention this herself, but I saw it on YouTube.)

I had seen it before, but did not realize that she had created the images with clay. Gratz explained how she does that, and showed us many of her other films, including Kubla Khan, Puffer Girl, and Pro and Con.

I will expand this post with more images and anecdotes from Joan C. Gratz.

Meanwhile, you can see her latest film Primal Flux, as part of the International Competition 3 selection, at Sommets du cinéma d’animation, on Saturday Nov. 26 at 5p.m. and Sunday Nov. 27 at 3 p.m. Both screenings will be in the Salle Principale of the Cinémathèque Québecoise.

Cinémathèque Québecoise
335, de Maisonneuve Blvd. E.
Montréal, Québec, H2X 1K1
Berri-UQAM Metro

There’s lots to see and do at Les Sommets du cinéma d’animation in Montreal

A frame from Diane Obamsawin's film Here and There. Is Obamsawin a Habs fan?

A frame from Diane Obamsawin’s film Here and There. Is Obamsawin a Habs fan?

The 15th edition of Les Sommets du cinéma d’animation, at the Cinémathèque québécoise, will squeeze many activities into a mere five days.
The film festival’s schedule includes short and feature-length animated films from around the world, master classes, and a free stop-motion workshop for children (I’m jealous!).

Canada’s venerable nation Film Board (NFB/ONF) is well represented and there are competitions for student films, from Montreal, Quebec, elsewhere in Canada and abroad.

Admission to the films: $10 for adults, $9 for students, seniors and those 4-16 years old.

At Les Sommets du cinema dÕanimation, filmmaker Joan Gratz will demonstrate her signature technique, claypainting.

At Les Sommets du cinema dÕanimation, filmmaker Joan Gratz will demonstrate her signature technique, claypainting.

Among the other presentations: Finding Work in the Animation Industry; The secrets behind virtual monsters and creatures; Money and Eyeballs (How to get funding and exposure for your films); Round table discussion (How do journalists and critics work in a community as tight-knit as animation?); A Near-Perfect History of Animation. The Animation lecture cost $9, but the other events listed above are free.
There are two master classes: A 90-minute Master Class with Joan Gratz, who “will present her films and reveal the secrets behind her signature technique, claypainting” is free.

A frame from Diane Obamsawin's film I Like Girls. Mathilde, right, says that her first girlfriend was "half horse, half Wonder Woman."

A frame from Diane Obamsawin’s film I Like Girls. Mathilde, right, says that her first girlfriend was “half horse, half Wonder Woman.”

A ticket for a five-hour Master Class with Diane Obomsawin is $9.

Visit the web page of Les Sommets du cinéma d’animation here.

The catalogue of Les Sommets du cinéma d’animation is here, in PDF form.

Les Sommets du cinéma d’animation, Nov. 23 to 27, 2016

Cinémathèque québécoise
335, de Maisonneuve Blvd. E.
Montréal, Québec, H2X 1K1
Berri-UQAM Metro

Review of Window Horses: The Poetic Persian Epiphany of Rosie Ming

Ann Marie Fleming's animated film Window Horses: The Poetic Persian Epiphany of Rosie Ming is incredibly colourful.

Ann Marie Fleming’s animated film Window Horses: The Poetic Persian Epiphany of Rosie Ming is incredibly colourful.

It is cold here in Montreal. We had the first snow of the season on Monday the same day that I saw Ann Marie Fleming’s animated film, Window Horses: The Poetic Persian Epiphany of Rosie Ming. It was like the proverbial breath of fresh air – warm, welcoming, colourful, joyful, musical, magical, mesmerising and marvelous! It’s about the love of family, love for words and music and other good things. It’s also about more complicated stuff like history, dissent, exile, reconciliation and finding your own voice. So many elements, but they all work together well, as in a symphony, or (corny reference, sorry) a beautiful carpet. Window Horses is a treat for the eyes and ears that will touch your heart. (Not exaggerating!)

The film’s French title is La vie en Rosie : L’épopée persane de Rosie Ming – a different cultural reference, while the alliteration remains.

Rosie Ming is a young Vancouver woman of Chinese and Iranian parentage. She was raised by her loving Chinese grandparents and still lives with them. (Rosie has the voice of actress Sandra Oh and a stick-figure body. That body is the alter ego of director Ann Marie Fleming. The other characters look like more conventional human beings.)

Rosie loves Paris even though she has never been there. After self publishing a slender book of her poems (My Eye Full, Poems by a Person Who Has Never Been to France) Rosie is surprised to receive an invitation to a poetry festival in Iran.

Her best friend Kelly (voice of Ellen Page) tells Rosie that she MUST make the trip. (Kelly did not even know that Rosie wrote poetry, so she’s a bit hurt that Rosie kept that info to herself.)

Rosie Ming is drawn as a stick figure in the film Window Horses: The Poetic Persian Epiphany of Rosie Ming. Rosie loves Paris, but there's a map of Iran under her Paris poster.

Rosie Ming is drawn as a stick figure in the film Window Horses: The Poetic Persian Epiphany of Rosie Ming. Rosie loves Paris, but there’s a map of Iran under her Paris poster.

Rosie’s grandparents are happy that their little girl has been honoured; they are less enthusiastic when they learn that the event is in Iran. But once Rosie has decided to go, they can’t dissuade her. (Grandpa Stephen is played by Eddy Ko, Grandma Gloria is played by Nancy Kwan. THE Nancy Kwan, of The World of Susie Wong, Flower Drum Song, etc.)

As the airplane starts its descent to the airport, all the women cover their hair with scarves. Rosie outdoes them, going full chador. (Throughout her visit, she is told: “You don’t have to do that, you know.”)

When Rosie tells the customs officer that she is attending a poetry festival in Shiraz, he says that he is a poet, too. Everyone in Iran is a poet!

Even though she is quite young and has only written one book, Rosie is treated with warmth and respect by everyone at the festival, apart from snarky German guest Dietmar, who usually has his nose buried in his phone.

Don McKellar and Sandra Oh enjoy themselves recording the voices of Dietmar and Rosie, for the film Window Horses: The Poetic Persian Epiphany of Rosie Ming.

Don McKellar and Sandra Oh enjoy themselves recording the voices of Dietmar and Rosie, for the film Window Horses: The Poetic Persian Epiphany of Rosie Ming.

(Canadian actor and director Don McKellar provides the voice of Dietmar. “I have angst. I’m doomed,” he says.) Other guests include Chinese exile Di Di and U.S. poet Taylor Mali. (Mali is a real-life person.)

Rosie knows about Rimbaud, Baudelaire and other French poets; in Shiraz her hosts introduce her to the verses of Iranian poets Rumi, Hafiz (also spelled Hafez) and Saadi. The last two were both sons of Shiraz.

Window Horses is full of beautiful sequences; here are two. We hear the call to prayer coming from a minaret. The sounds are represented by colourful ribbons that fly through the air. Soon an enraptured Rosie is floating with them. (This sequence was made Kevin Langdale, who is the lead animator and designer of the entire film.) A sequence describing the life of Hafiz is exceptional, with complicated paper cut-outs, whirling calligraphy, etc. Bahram Javaheri, a Vancouver-based Iranian filmmaker, made the cutouts and Michael Mann assembled and animated them using Adobe’s After Effects software.

The Iranian poet Hafiz, right, listens to his father recite poetry in a scene from Ann Marie Fleming's animated film Window Horses: The Poetic Persian Epiphany of Rosie Ming. Bahram Javaheri, a Vancouver-based Iranian filmmaker, made the paper cutouts and Michael Mann assembled and animated them using After Effects software.

The Iranian poet Hafiz, right, listens to his father recite poetry in a scene from Ann Marie Fleming’s animated film Window Horses: The Poetic Persian Epiphany of Rosie Ming. Bahram Javaheri, a Vancouver-based Iranian filmmaker, made the paper cutouts and Michael Mann assembled and animated them using After Effects software.

(People come from all over Iran to visit the tomb of Hafiz; Rosie visits it, too. We learn that Iranians consult books of his poetry to answer questions about their lives – open any page, and his ancient words will have meaning in the present-day situation. This made me think of people consulting the I-Ching back in the 1960s.)

Rosie does not know much Mandarin beyond “ni hao,” yet she is moved to tears by Di Di’s untranslated poem. Even though she does not know the words, she feels their meaning and the emotions behind them. In a flashback scene, Rosie’s parents meet and bond immediately over their shared love for Rumi. When Rosie’s father recites a Rumi poem in Farsi, Rosie’s mother cries crystal tears.

When Rosie's parents meet, her future mother, Caroline, is reading a book by Rumi. Caroline cries when Rosie's future father recites a Rumi poem in Farsi.

When Rosie’s parents meet, her future mother, Caroline, is reading a book by Rumi. Caroline cries when Rosie’s future father recites a Rumi poem in Farsi.

Despite much warmth and happiness in Rosie’s life, and in her visit to Shiraz, there is an undercurrent of melancholy, with gusts to bitterness. Her mother is dead, and her father abandoned her when she was 7 years old. How could he do that? Many people in Shiraz knew her father, and they tell her he was a very good man. At first, Rosie does not want to hear anything about him, but then she, and we, make some surprising discoveries about him. To reveal more would be to spoil things.

Window Horses is among the two opening films of Les Sommets du cinéma d’animation, 15th edition, at the Cinémathèque Québécoise. It will be shown Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2016. at 7 p.m. (Oooops, the screening is now sold out.) Window Horses will get a general release in Canada in 2017.

Read more about Window Horses on the Cinémathèque’s web site.

RIDM 2016: Review of documentary film NUTS!

The documentary NUTS! uses animation, photos, old film footage and newspaper clippings to tell the story of medical charlatan Dr. J.R. Brinkley.

The documentary NUTS! uses animation, photos, old film footage and newspaper clippings to tell the story of medical charlatan Dr. J.R. Brinkley.

The documentary film NUTS! tells the story of Dr. J.R. Brinkley (1885-1942). He became a very wealthy man by selling his alleged medical expertise, along with his dubious potions and questionable procedures.

J.R. Brinkley was a pioneer in three fields – medicine, business and radio. He became rich and famous as the “goat-gland doctor.” He claimed to cure impotence and infertility by implanting goat testicles, or pieces of them, into his male patients, who then went on to father “miracle babies.” A public relations man saw to it that articles about Brinkley appeared in newspapers across the U.S. It was suggested that one of these miracle babies might grow up to be another Lincoln, Edison or Shakespeare. Men flocked to Brinkley’s clinic in the tiny town of Milford, Kansas for the surgery and paid hundreds of dollars for it.

Brinkley gave health advice, sexual and otherwise, on his own radio station, KFKB, which was one of only four commercial stations in the U.S. at the time. He received thousands of letters from listeners and answered them on a show he called Medical Question Box, which ran several times per day. He recommended his own elixirs, which could be ordered from the station or bought from many pharmacists. KFKB grew from 500 watts in 1923 to 5,000 in 1927. In between his talks, the station ran lectures, French lessons, and played country music instead of the staid “potted palm music” of more conventional stations. This increased the popularity of country music.

NUTS! artfully combines animation with archival footage, photos, and newspaper articles about Brinkley. He’s often seen in a white suit, like Col. Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame. Like a wealthy entrepreneur of our own day, Brinkley also ventured into politics. He ran for governor of Kansas twice, and got lost of votes. When his broadcasting license and his license to practice medicine were revoked in Kansas, he moved to Texas where he built a palatial estate and set up a one-million-watt radio station over the border in Mexico. (Many years later, the DJ Wolfman Jack would broadcast his shows from that station.)

Brinkley bought fancy cars, airplanes, three yachts and even hired a filmmaker to document a family cruise to the Galapagos Islands. Brinkley, wife Minnie and son John are seen toting guns and looming over dead creatures. They caught five turtles, too. Green Turtle Soup!

Most of the film describes Brinkley’s life as just one roaring success after another, the same way his prolific biographer-for-hire Clement Wood did in the book The Life of a Man. The only thing that kept his life from being totally perfect were some little skirmishes with hidebound naysayers in the American Medical Association and elsewhere who were determined to halt the course of progress, etc., etc. They called him a quack.

The financial success was real, but unfortunately for many of his patients, Brinkley WAS a quack, much better at selling than he was at surgery, but somehow it took years for the general public to find that out. He had gone to medical school, but it was an unaccredited one, and he did not complete the course.

In 1939, in a very unwise move, Brinkley took his nemesis, the editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association, Morris Fishbein, to court, accusing him of libel. Brinkley lost the case and his reputation was shattered. Injured patients (or their survivors) sued him for damages. By 1941 he was bankrupt, and in 1942 he died of a heart attack.

NUTS! is quite fascinating just as it is, but I would have liked to know more about all the harm Brinkley did. The Internet helps with that, though. A review of the book The Fraudulent Life of John Brinkley, by Pope Brock says that hundreds of his patients died. That being the case, I find it amazing that he couldn’t be stopped sooner.

We might like to think that we live in a more sophisticated age these days, but there are all too many quacks out there, and the Internet is even more powerful tool than a one-million-watt radio station.

Minor Canadian connections that don’t appear in the film: When he was separated from his first wife, Brinkley kidnapped his young daughter and fled to an unspecified location in Canada, for an unspecified period of tiime. Later, after he achieved fame and fortune, Brinkley liked to fish in Nova Scotia. Oh, not particularly a Canadian thing, but Brinkley was also a bigamist.
NUTS!
Country : United States
Year : 2016
Duration : 79 min.
Director: Penny Lane
Editing : Penny Lane, Thom Stylinski
Production : Caitlin Mae Burke, Penny Lane, James Belfer, Daniel Shepard
Writer : Thom Stylinski
Sound Design : Tom Paul

You can see NUTS! Saturday, Nov. 19, 3:30 p.m. as part of RIDM, Montreal documentary film festival.
Cinémathèque Québécoise – Salle Principale
Director Penny Lane will attend the screening, which will be presented with French subtitles.

Fantasia 2016 presents TWO Zappin’ Parties from DJ XL5!

DJ XL5's Vibraslap Zappin' Party at the Fantasia International Film Festival will include four episodes of festival favourite Simon's Cat. That Zappin Party happens at 10 p.m. on Wednesday, July 27, 2016.

DJ XL5’s Vibraslap Zappin’ Party at the Fantasia International Film Festival will include four episodes of festival favourite Simon’s Cat. That Zappin Party happens at 10 p.m. on Wednesday, July 27, 2016.

What’s a Zappin’ Party? It’s a Fantasia International Film Festival tradition that Montrealers should check out at least once, especially they are already fans of the festival.

The party takes place in a cinema, and laughs, weirdness and lots of variety are guaranteed.

For DJ XL5’s Vibraslap Zappin’ Party, at 10 p.m., on Wednesday, July 27, 2016, “DJ XL5 has selected 20 intriguing items and slipped them in amid a mix of old TV ads, film snippets and bursts of static, to simulate a productive evening of channel surfing with the gang at home.”

The characters Cowboy, Indian and Cheval from the animated epic Panique Au Village / A Town Called Panic appear in La rentrée des classes, which won the Jury Prize for a TV Special at the Festival international du film d'animation d'Annecy in June

The characters Cowboy, Indian and Cheval from the animated epic Panique Au Village / A Town Called Panic appear in La rentrée des classes, which won the Jury Prize for a TV Special at the Festival international du film d’animation d’Annecy in June.

Those 20 items will include four episodes of Fantasia favourite Simon’s Cat and five pieces from Lee Hardcasle, a master of claymation horror. (Seriously!) The characters Cowboy, Indian and Cheval from the animated Belgian epic Panique Au Village / A Town Called Panic return for La rentrée des classes, which won the Jury Prize for a TV Special at the Festival international du film d’animation d’Annecy in June. Read more about DJ XL5’s Vibraslap Zappin’ Party on the Fantasia web site.

Very important info: “DJ XL5 is the only Fantasia programmer who gets thing started 20 minutes ahead of showtime. Wild trailers and musical oddities await those wise enough to arrive early!”

The second installment, DJ XL5’s Mondo Superhero Zappin’ Party, at 9:45 p.m. on Saturday, July 30, will look at superheros from the 1940s until the present. Not just American ones either; these crime fighting men and women are from Spain, Hong Kong, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, the Philippines, Thailand and Turkey. The Fantasia catalogue says “Expect lousy fight choreography, ill-fitting costumes, dollar-store masks and similar cinematic stumbles and bungles. Arrive early — surprise screenings await the first folks in the room!”

Read more about DJ XL5’s Mondo Superhero Zappin’ Party on the Fantasia web site. The Fantasia International Film Festival continues until Wednesday, August 3, 2016.

BTW: I’ve heard that the Fantasia tradition of meowing when the lights go down was started by fans of Simon’s Cat.

Fantasia 2016 Review: Seoul Station

Arriving soon on a track near you - zombies! An image from the Korean animated film Seoul Station, written and directed by Yeon Sang-ho. The film is being presented at the Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal.

Arriving soon on a track near you – zombies! An image from the Korean animated film Seoul Station, written and directed by Yeon Sang-ho. The film is being presented at the Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal.

Want some social commentary with your zombies? Anyone who’s seen Yeon Sang-ho’s earlier, animated films The King of Pigs and The Fake would be expecting as much.

Seoul Station is an animated prequel to the live-action feature Train to Busan. (Zombies are notably slow-moving, so I guess that’s why they need a train!) Both films are on the menu at the Fantasia International Film Festival and both feature hungry zombies.

Before those zombies show their scary faces we see how quickly bystanders lose their sympathy for a sick, elderly man when they realize that he’s “just a homeless.”

I’m willing to bet that “a homeless” is not sloppy subtitling, but a way to indicate that the more fortunate citizens see the man in question as just a smelly problem, and not a fellow human being. He is defined by his status alone, and has no other identity for them. His work, back when he still had some, would have helped to make Korea the successful country that it is today, and since military service is compulsory for all able-bodied men, he served his country that way, too. Now he’s just one of the many people, mostly men, who spend their days hanging around Seoul station, where the train and subway lines meet, and sleep there at night.

Despite being in the same predicament, there’s no unity among the station dwellers – they only seem to care about people who come from the same part of the city or the country that they do. In this, they are just like the more prosperous citizens, who like to deal with people from their own home towns, from their universities, etc.

The old guy is slow-moving, weak and sweaty. It is obviously a hot day, but maybe he’s suffering from something more than the heat? His younger friend struggles mightily to get help for him, but nobody cares. When the friend can’t find the old guy where he left him, he searches all over until he discovers that the old guy has become Zombie No. 1. (Or is that Zombie 0?)

At the same time, runaway Hae-sun and her boyfriend Ki-woong are way behind on their rent and facing eviction. Rather than look for a job himself, he’s hanging out at an Internet café, playing games and creating an online escort ad so he can pimp out Hae-sun. She says she’s not having any of that and stomps off. As a newly homeless person, she might have to join the others at Seoul station. There aren’t enough shelters to meet the need, so the authorities let the homeless sleep in the station if they stay quiet.

Hae-sun’s tough-guy father sees the ad, tracks down Ki-woong and they try to find his “little girl” while keeping one step ahead of the zombies.

The police and the military are called out, but they’re worse than useless because they haven’t got a clue about who’s really dangerous and who needs their protection. It wouldn’t be the first time.

Montrealers can see Seoul Station at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, July 27, 2016 at the Hall Theatre of Concordia University, 1455 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W. as part of the Fantasia International Film Festival.

The film’s live-action sequel Train to Busan, will be shown at 11:30 a.m. on Sunday, July 31, also at the Hall Theatre.
The first Fantasia screening, on Thursday, July 21, was sold out.

Seoul Station, written and directed by Yeon Sang-ho, with the voices of Ryu Seung-ryong, Shim Eun-kyung and Lee Joon, is 92 minutes long, in Korean with English subtitles.