The Critic (film)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

The Critic is a 1963 short animation by director/producer Ernest Pintoff and creator/narrator Mel Brooks, that won an Academy Award for Short Subjects (Cartoons) in 1964.

Background[edit]

The film was reportedly inspired by an actual incident. In Spring, 1962 Mel Brooks attended a movie theater, which among other films screened an animated short by Norman McLaren. It featured surrealistic, abstract imagery. During the screening of this short, Brooks listened to another audience member "mumbling to himself". He was an old immigrant man who was voicing his disappointment at the lack of a plot. Brooks was inspired to make a film out of this experience.[1]

Brooks contacted Ernest Pintoff, who had experience producing animated works such as Flebus. They agreed to create a short film, and Brooks had two requests for his new partner. The visuals of the film had to be fashioned in a style similar to that of McLaren, and Brooks himself would have no specific warning of the content. He intended to improvise his monologue.[1] Pintoff and animator Bob Heath completed the visuals as agreed, then Brooks watched the result and improvised his monologue. He used a Russian Jewish accent and attempted to find lines appropriate for an old man "trying to find a plot in this maze of abstractions."[1] Henry Jenkins points that the comments themselves belong to a recognizable narrative mode, the stream of consciousness.[2]

Plot[edit]

Simple, abstract, geometric shapes move and morph on the screen to what sounds like harpsichord music. The voice of an audience member, who claims to be 71, complains throughout most the film despite being told repeatedly by other audience members to keep quiet.

The images on screen feature geometric patterns. The "cranky and clueless" old man is trying to make sense of them, and describes what he sees at various points. For example a squiggle, a fence, a cockroach.[1] The old man finds that certain images remind him of his biology classes, from when he was a boy back in Russia. When two abstract shapes approach each other and unite, the old man sees it as a mating sequence. "...They like each other. Sure. Lookit da sparks. Two things in love!... Could dis be the sex life of two things?" [3]

When the scene shifts from the "mating" to other abstract images, the old man gets bored. He proclaims the images must be symbolism, then adds that they are symbolism of junk.[3] He eventually concludes that some of the images, depicting lips, are "dirty", obscene.[1][3][4] He admits at some point that he was looking for "a hot French picture", which he hoped would involve nudity. The implication is that the old man is in the wrong movie theater, probably one screening art films.[1]

He also wonders why the creator of the film wasted his time with this. He points that this creator could instead do something meaningful, like driving a truck, or do something constructive, like working in shoemaking.[4]

Analysis[edit]

Mel Brooks came to prominence as a performer by playing the 2000 Year Old Man (1961). This "ancient Jewish gentleman" had a characteristic voice and manner of speaking. A "raspy", "gravelly" voice which was rambling on, speaking with a Yiddish accent. To American audiences the accent implied a foreign-born background, German Jewish or Eastern European.[5] In The Critic, Brooks serves as the narrator. He essentially reprises his role of the 2000 Year Old Man with minor variations. The tone of voice is "marginally deeper", the dialogue-style of the original role is replaced with a fragmented monologue. But otherwise there is little to set apart the two roles.[5]

Brooks voices a character who is heard but not seen on screen. He is also never named, only identified as an old man from Russia.[5] The character is an audience member in a movie theater which is screening the film within a film. Said film is an experimental film, the product of avant-garde filmmaking. Clearly unfamiliar and unappreciative with films of this type, the old man delivers witty and insulting commentary on the film.[5] Donald Weber points that with his "contemptuous" common sense, the old man unmasks the pretensions of art criticism.[4]

James Monaco suggests that the film approaches matters of film criticism in a humorous way. When the old man complains about the two dollars he paid to see this worthless film, he is touching on two subjects. First, what does the film audience get for the money they spend on a film? Second, how can the "cinematic value" of a film be determined? [3] Monaco also points to the other film viewers, those who seem to be enjoying the film within a film. Which implies that there are subjective tastes when approaching a film, and consequently that the "cinematic value" is a matter of relative points of view.[3]

Kevin Murphy recalls the film as his introduction to the concept of riffing (MSTing). He describes the images on screen as abstract pop-art animation, similar to that used in art classes and supposedly educational television. He describes the soundtrack as a droning and nondescript tune, somewhat reminiscent of Jazz and Baroque pop. And above them the voice of the old man provides riffing-style commentary, voicing what everybody else is thinking.[6] He finds that the film addresses a key subject of audience reaction. The audience members have paid to see the work of an artist, and discovered that said work is "awful". Then why should they be expected to "just... sit there, shut up, and just take it?". They can instead start riffing, in an attempt to make their film-going experience at least "tolerable, fun".[6]

Release[edit]

The film debuted on May 20, 1963, opening at the Sutton Theater. The movie theater was located at the East Side of Manhattan. The film benefited by being screened for weeks alongside a British comedy which was attracting a large audience, Heavens Above! (1963).[1] The animated short received positive reviews by film critics, as a "spoof of the pseudo-art film". Positive reviews appeared in prominent newspapers such as The New York Times and the New York Herald Tribune.[1]

The film reportedly won an assorted number of awards, including one from a film festival in West Germany and one from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. It was eventually nominated in the 36th Academy Awards, in the Best Animated Short Film category. It won the award on April 13, 1964.[1]

Sources[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Parish (2008), p. 156-158
  2. ^ Jenkins (2013), p. 151
  3. ^ a b c d e Monaco(2009), p. 434-435
  4. ^ a b c Weber (2003), p. 139
  5. ^ a b c d Symons (2012), unnumbered pages
  6. ^ a b Murphy (2011), p. 1-2

External links[edit]