The Lady In Number 6 Wins 2014 Oscar for Best Documentary Short Subject

The Lady In Number 6: Music Saved Her Life

Alice Herz-Sommer, who died in London last Sunday at the age of 110, was widely described as the oldest known Holocaust survivor. She had been a distinguished pianist in Europe before the war. However, it was only after the Nazi occupation of her homeland, Czechoslovakia, in 1939 that she began a deep study of Chopin’s Études, some of the most technically demanding and emotionally impassioned works in the piano repertory.

For Mrs. Herz-Sommer, the Études offered a consuming distraction at a time of constant peril. But they ultimately gave her far more than that, far more, even, than spiritual sustenance. “They are very difficult,” Mrs. Herz-Sommer said. “I thought if I learned to play them, they would save my life.” And so they did.

In recent years, because of her great age; her indomitability; her continued, ardent involvement with music and her recollections of her youthful friendships with titans like Franz Kafka and Gustav Mahler; Mrs. Herz-Sommer became a beacon for writers, filmmakers and members of the public eager to learn her story. Mrs. Herz-Sommer was also profiled in documentary films, one of which, The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life, a documentary portrait directed by Malcolm Clarke, won the 2014 Oscar for Best Documentary Short Subject.

The Lady in Number 6 has been described as one of the most inspirational stories ever told. In the film, Alice Herz-Sommer, the world’s oldest pianist and oldest holocaust survivor, shares her views on how to live a long happy life. She discusses the vital importance of music, laughter and having an optimistic outlook on life. This powerfully inspirational film tells her amazing story of survival and how she managed to use her time in a Nazi concentration camp to empower herself and others with music.

Read more about the life of Alice Herz-Sommer in the New York Times here.

The Lady In Number 6: Music Saved Her Life

Logorama Wins the 2010 Oscar for Best Animated Short Film

Logorama Wins the 2010 Oscar for Best Animated Short Film

Logorama is an award-winning, provocative and daring animated short film from the French H5 design collective, directed by François Alaux.  The film screened this year as an Official Selection at The Sundance Festival, and it has now won the 2010 Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film.

Logorama Wins the Oscar: Thank You Comments by Nicolas Schmerkin, Producer

Logorama: A Hard-Boiled Heist Flick With An Earth-Shattering Twist!

Logorama is an award-winning, provocative and daring animated short film from the French H5 design collective.  The film screened earlier this year as an Official Selection at The Sundance Festival, and it has now won the 2010 Oscar for Best Animated Short Film.  The film takes the viewer on an entertaining, violent, profane, action-packed caper set in a world comprised entirely of well-known corporate logos and iconic mascots.  How familiar are the stars of this film?  Well, an evil Ronald McDonald embarks upon a shooting spree on a street overflowing with 7-Elevens, U-Haul trucks, Wal-Marts and Pizza Huts.   The Michelin Men are bumbling, foul-mouthed cops on his trail, and Bob’s Big Boy picks his nose and flings it on an unsuspecting victim.

But make no mistake, Logorama is a cleverly executed critique of our times.  Our world is fueled with the signatures of commerce and consumption, where everyday symbols are imprinted in our collective memories, nagging away on the subconscious, hand in pocket and ready to draw money from our wallets.  It is within this context that H5 go far beyond a simple exercise in artistic defiance.  This is the beauty of their work: they transgress the graphic codes of our everyday experience.  They place them within a completely different context, which sufficiently sparks considerable food for thought.

Logorama: A Hard-Boiled Heist Flick With An Earth-Shattering Twist!

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The Birth of the Cinema: A Journey Through the Magical Kingdom of Shadows

The Birth of the Cinema: A Journey Through the Magical Kingdom of Shadows

Like fun house mirrors, motion pictures over the past one hundred years have reflected, challenged, influenced and altered our visions of ourselves and the world.  Movies have taken us to foreign lands and cultures, plunged us into events that took place long before we were born and even rocketed us into outer space.  Today moving pictures are so much a part of modern life that it is hard to imagine a time before their invention.

One of the earliest pioneers was British photographer Eadweard Muybridge, a student of locomotion who devoted much of his American career to recording on film each step in the movement of humans and animals.  Muybridge knew this was necessary in order to reproduce a semblance of motion.  Arranging drawings produced from these pictures in a circle on a glass plate, he made a colored print that could be rotated in his Zoopraxiscope projector in the early 1890s, and both American and European audiences marveled at the Zoopraxiscope images.  By 1895, inventors in Europe and the United States had designed several projectors that enlarged film images for viewing by large groups: the Cinematographe, invented in France by Auguste and Louis Lumiere; the Phantoscope of Charles Francis Jenkins and Thomas Armat, of Washington, DC; and the Woodville Latham family’s Eidoloscope.

The first movie houses were dubbed “Nickelodeons” and by 1908 there were nearly 8,000 Nickelodeon theaters in the U.S. and in two years the number had grown to 10,000.  Flashing marquees, glossy posters, noisy phonographs and player pianos made a huge commotion outside these establishments, sparking people’s curiosity about this new, dazzling medium.  At the Nickelodeon, audiences saw a film shown along with a mixed bag of live entertainment: singing, dancing, comedy acts and sound effects. The shows were fifteen to ninety minutes long and changed every couple of days (or sometimes even daily).  The film segments were quickly produced, with only rudimentary story lines.  The Nickelodeon doors were open to people from all walks of life, but initially the seats were filled with European immigrants and the poorest citizens.

Soon, ambitious producers headed away from New York, to places like Cuba, Florida and Los Angeles.  Southern California, with its warm climate and cheap labor, proved to be the ideal setting for filmmaking, and it was not long before Hollywood was established.  Business was booming, and motion picture profits soared as audiences grew larger and larger. The simple, silent films had grown into an art form.  Directors created new techniques that were impossible to replicate on stage, sets became more and more elaborate, and scripts were adapted to better suit film acting.  By 1913, Hollywood film crews were working non-stop to crank out 200 reels a week.  Some of the leading players and actors in the early films included D.W. Griffith, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks.  In 2008, movie box office receipts totaled over $9.6 billion, putting the motion picture industry among the top in the world.  While some of the early innovators didn’t clearly recognize its potential, film has unlocked a wealth of possibility and unlimited business opportunity.

The Birth of the Cinema: A Journey Through the Magical Kingdom of Shadows

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Polaroid Love: Love Lost and Redeemed Through the Lens of a Polaroid Camera

Polaroid Love: Love Lost and Redeemed Through the Lens of a Polaroid Camera

Well I stumbled in the darkness
I’m lost and alone
Though I said I’d go before us
And show the way back home
There a light up ahead
I can’t hold onto her arm
Forgive me pretty baby
But I always take the long way home

Tom Waits

Polaroid Love (2008) is a half-hour long short film from Russia that already has won three awards at the 2008 28th Annual International Moscow Film School (VGIK) Film Festival. The short film won awards for the Best Actor, Best Editing and Best Production. Polaroid Love is a quiet, very introspective drama expressed in a quite unusual way; the film’s story can evoke from viewers a multitude of personal ideas and nostalgic thoughts.

Polaroid Love is a narrative about an unusual romance: It tells a bittersweet story about how a consuming passion for a Polaroid camera played the central role in being in love, losing that love and (I think) the love being unexpectedly regained. More generally, Polaroid Love might suggest that the world seems to be more beautiful when viewed while listening to your favorite music, or seen through the eyes of the one you love, or maybe even captured through the lens of a Polaroid camera.

Polaroid Love: Love Lost and Redeemed Through the Lens of a Polaroid Camera

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Drux and Flux: The Flow of Progress into Tragic Social Decay

Drux and Flux: The Flow of Progress into Tragic Social Decay

It is only for the sake of those without hope
that hope is given to us

Walter Benjamin

Drux and Flux: Visual Comments on Today’s Deepening Economic Crisis

Drux and Flux won the Canadian Film Institute’s 2008 Award for Best Canadian Animation, as well as an Honorable Mention for Best Experimental/Abstract Animation at the 2008 International Animation Festival in Otowa, Canada. Director Theodore Ushev’s Drux and Flux presents an oppressive and miserable vision of how both the contemporary commitment to an over-arching belief in progress and to the ever-expanding industrialism in society have effected modern life. The five-minute short film opens with shots of a printing press, which are used to present the film’s opening titles. That scene then switches away and shifts, through rapidly choreographed cuts, to an elevated train, a dimly-lit manufacturing city-scape, the interior of a factory, then to the manufacturing building’s inner workings. The cuts are rapid, and the fast pace is maintained throughout the film.

The quickly cut scenes track the rise and fall of industry and are accompanied by increasingly discordant sounds on its background music track. Scenes from Soviet propaganda posters and the clashing of gears and girders are juxtaposed, along with almost subliminal flashes of the words “1932” (the year of Hitler’s first election-run for Chancellor of Germany) and “Juggernaut” (a possible reference to perceptions of WWII Germany as an “unstoppable force”). The latter disturbing associations between ever-increasing industrialization, exponential technological advance and the rise of totalitarian political regimes can be quite unsettling. Drux and Flux culminates with clip-art style images of a human skeleton that is reinforced with building materials, yet it’s still unable to support itself. The overall result for the viewer of this film is a vision of the potential horrors of modern-day industrialization, which has been summoned like a nightmare brought about by watching too many hours of late-night horror films while listening to a constantly-looping off-speed recording of Verdi’s Il Travatore Anvil Chorus.

Ushev drew his inspiration for Drux and Flux from a variety of sources. Sociologist-philosopher-political radical Herbert Marcuse’s One-Dimensional Man (1964) is cited as his starting point, a work that presents a wide-ranging critique of both advanced capitalist and communist societies. This book theorized about the inevitable decline of revolutionary potential in capitalist societies and about the development of new and potent forms of social control, especially over the common working person. Marcuse argued that “advanced industrial society” created false needs which fused individuals into homogenized particles that comprised the existing system of production and consumption. Advertising, industrial management, politicians and the mass-media cooperated to brainwash members of the working class, eliminating their potential for effective expressions of negativity, critique, and opposition. The result, according to Marcuse, was a “one-dimensional” universe of thought and behavior, in which the very aptitude and ability for critical thinking and for developing either opposing or alternative social positions was withering away.

As Drux and Flux travels through its series of dismal industrial scenes, one is left with a deeply sad mood about the frightening impressions of the enormous slabs of metal and rust, the smells of rotting death. By the end of this short five-minute journey, the viewer is left to wonder whether this is what things actually might be like when our industrial world finally reaches its end.

Drux and Flux: The Flow of Progress into Tragic Social Decay

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The Times of Harvey Milk: A Documentary Portrait of Communities in Conflict

The Times of Harvey Milk: A Documentary Portrait of Communities in Conflict

Prologue: A Historic Struggle of Communities in Conflict

The acclaimed bio-documentary Milk, for which Sean Penn and Dustin Lance Black won, respectively, 2009 Academy Awards for Best Actor and Best Screenplay, was Director Gus Van Sant’s adaptation of the emotionally-powerful powerful The Times of Harvey Milk, the 1984 Academy Award winner for Best Documentary Feature Film. I remember seeing The Times of Harvey Milk at a small East Village theater one wintry night in 1985, during a year that I was spending in New York City doing a pre-doctoral internship in clinical psychology. I also recall feeling emotionally stunned after leaving that theater, walking through the East and West Village just to remind myself how much more freedom gay and lesbian people seemed to enjoy since the previous years that I had lived in the village, during the mid-1960’s.

For generations of gay people, myself included, Harvey Milk has been a hero, martyr, inspiration and role model. As our country’s first openly gay elected official, Milk made a national impact after being elected to San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors, from his battles against a statewide proposition that would have made it illegal for gay people to be schoolteachers in California, to his call for gays and lesbians to come out of the closet. He once famously stated that, “If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door.” Harvey waged an amazing, successful battle against Anita Bryant’s national anti-gay crusade in California, not knowing that it would be one of his last great acts before his tragic assassination. And if his assassination didn’t quite accomplish the lofty goal of opening every closet door, it certainly made a difference in the lives of millions of people.

Hollywood’s new re-telling of Harvey Milk’s story has made it possible for the impact of Milk’s life and his untiring community organizing efforts to have an effect not only upon straight audiences, but also on the new generations of young gay persons who might never have heard of him. And in particular, it brings into sharp relief Harvey Milk’s war against California’s Proposition 6, especially crucial for our present-day confrontations with California’s Proposition 8 banning gay marriage. California’s Proposition 6, more commonly known as The Briggs Initiative, was an initiative on the California State ballot on November 7th, 1978. The initiative would have banned gays and lesbians, and even possibly any person who supported gay rights, from working in California’s public schools. Hurting from recent civil rights losses in other parts of the nation, the gay and lesbian community quickly organized a statewide campaign against Proposition 6.

While Van Sant’s Milk reconstructs Harvey Milk’s successful organizing battle against Prop 6, it is no match for watching the actual Harvey Milk and his colleagues in their grassroots political action in The Times of Harvey Milk. A huge coalition of predominantly progressive community-based activists was formed into a campaign led by Gwen Craig and Bill Krause, who were appointed to their positions by San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk, teacher (and later Supervisor of the SF Board of Supervisors) Tom Ammiano, activist Hank Wilson and many others. Rallying under the slogan “Come out! Come out! Wherever you are!”, the campaign mobilized and quickly gained immense statewide momentum to defeat the initiative. Former Governor Ronald Reagan, later President, eventually moved to publicly oppose the measure. Gerald Ford, and (at the end of the campaign) then-President Jimmy Carter also came out with public opposition to the bill.

In what became the “No on 6” campaign, gay men, lesbians and their supporters went door-to-door in cities and towns across the state to talk about the harm the initiative would cause. Gay men and lesbians came out to their families, their neighbors and their co-workers, spoke in their churches and community centers, sent letters to their local editors, and otherwise revealed to the general population that gay people really were “everywhere” and included people they already knew and cared about. At the beginning of September, the ballot measure was ahead in public-opinion polls, with about 61% of voters supporting it, while only 31% opposed it. But just a month later, the Briggs Initiative ended up being defeated by more than one million votes, with 58.4% voting against Proposition 6, compared to just 41.6% in favor. It represented the largest shift of public opinion that had ever been recorded within such a short time frame.

Please do yourself the huge favor of taking the time to watch this full version of the extremely valuable documentary The Times of Harvey Milk. You’ll find that this classic portrait of communities in conflict is a stunning reminder of what many of us are still facing today. Our most urgent present-day struggles are reflected in this film’s original, dramatic account of Harvey Milk’s grass-roots political organizing and election, through the shocking murders and their repercussion, from the eloquent candle-light memorial joined by tens of thousands of San Franciscans on the evening of the assassinations, to the rage of angry crowds in the aftermath of the lenient sentence Dan White received at his murder trial.

The Times of Harvey Milk: A Documentary Portrait

Before there was this year’s Academy Awards celebrated Milk, there was the widely acclaimed The Times of Harvey Milk, which won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature Film in 1984, and was awarded The Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, among other awards. The documentary chronicles the political career of Harvey Milk, who was San Francisco’s first openly gay elected Board Supervisor. The film, at times humorous, at times nostalgic, and at other times quite tragic, tells the story of Harvey Milk’s rise to political power and emergence as a symbol of gay political achievement.

The Times of Harvey Milk documents through assembled historic film clips the tumultuous story of Milk’s grass-roots political organizing and election, through the shocking murders and their repercussions. It takes the film’s viewers along with the eloquent candle-light memorial joined by tens of thousands of San Franciscans on the evening of the assassinations, to the scenes of angry crowds who stormed San Francisco’s City Hall in the aftermath of the lenient sentence that Dan White received at his murder trial.

This Academy Award-winning documentary feature film depicts not only Harvey Milk himself, but also the political and social milieu of the era in which he lived. From this perspective, the film continues to have significant relevance for our nation today, standing as a classic portrait of communities and cultural values in severe conflict. The film was produced subsequent to Harvey Milk’s death using archival footage, so that Milk is credited posthumously as the lead actor. Other politicians, including San Francisco’s then-mayor George Moscone (who was assassinated along with Milk) and Moscone’s successor and now United States Senator Dianne Feinstein, also appear in the archival footage. Also featured in the film is then-schoolteacher Tom Ammiano, who has been a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors since 1994, and was recently elected to the California State Assembly. The film’s outstanding narration is provided by the acclaimed stage and screen actor Harvey Fierstein, who at that time had just achieved great success with his own Tony Award-winning Broadway play Torch Song Trilogy.

What follows here is the Official 1984 Trailer for The Times of Harvey Milk, videos of the network murder reports and the candlelight memorial march. In addition, it presents the full-length version of this celebrated documentary feature film, as well as a rare photo-gallery of vintage photographs of Harvey Milk and San Francisco during the social era of the mid-1960’s and 70s.

News Report: The Murders of Mayor Moscone and Harvey Milk

The Times of Harvey Milk: The Candlelight Funeral Rites

The Times of Harvey Milk: The Full Version of the Documentary

Slide Show: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk

(Please Click on Image to View Slide Show)

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Sean Penn Wins Best Actor for Milk: My Name is Sean Penn, and I’m Here to Recruit You

Penn Wins Best Actor for Milk: My Name is Sean Penn and I’m Here to Recruit You

You Commie, Homo-Loving Sons of Guns

Sean Penn won the Academy Award for Best Actor Sunday night for his moving portrayal of slain gay rights leader Harvey Milk in Milk. He earned a standing ovation from the starry crowd as his wife, Robin Wright Penn, tearfully looked on. “You commie, homo-loving sons of guns,” Penn began in accepting his award for Milk. “I did not expect this and I want it to be very clear that I do know how hard I make it to appreciate me often.” Penn had already won the Screen Actors Guild and Critics Choice awards, as well as numerous honors from film critics groups across the country. The 48-year-old actor had deeply immersed himself in order to act the role of Harvey Milk, culminating in a stellar performance that brought out a warmth and sweetness rarely seen throughout Penn’s acting career, often marked by intense, complex characters.

Harvey Milk was the first openly gay man elected to major public office in the United States when he won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. The following year, he was shot to death, along with San Francisco Mayor George Moscone, by board colleague Dan White. But during his life, he inspired gays and lesbians to stand up and come out, helping to turn San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood into the gay mecca and safe haven that it would become. He roused cheering crowds with impassioned speeches that often began with the words, “My name is Harvey Milk, and I am here to recruit you.”

In wrapping up his own acceptance speech at The Academy Awards ceremony, Penn mentioned the protesters who had lined the streets of Hollywood near the Oscar festivities, holding anti-gay signs: “For those who saw the signs of hatred as our cars drove in tonight, I think that it is a good time for those who voted for the ban against gay marriage to sit and reflect and anticipate their great shame and the shame in their grandchildren’s eyes if they continue that way of support. We’ve got to have equal rights for everyone.” Backstage, when asked what he would tell those protesters if he could speak to them, Penn responded: “I’d tell them to turn in their hate card and find their better self.”

Sean Penn Wins Best Actor Academy Award for “Milk”

Dustin Lance Black Wins Academy Award for Best Screenplay for “Milk”

The Story of Harvey Milk Gave Me Hope to Live My Life

In addition to Sean Penn’s Oscar, Dustin Lance Black won The Academy Award for Best Screenplay for Milk. Black, who was wearing The White Knot for marriage equality, gave an eloquent acceptance speech about how Harvey Milk had personally inspired him:

When I was 13 years old, my beautiful mother and my father moved me from a conservative Mormon home in San Antonio, Texas, to California, and I heard the story of Harvey Milk. And it gave me hope. It gave me the hope to live my life; it gave me the hope that one day I could live my life openly as who I am and that maybe even I could fall in love and one day get married.

Most of all, if Harvey had not been taken from us 30 years ago, I think he’d want me to say to all of the gay and lesbian kids out there tonight who have been told they are less than by their churches, or by the government, or by their families, that you are beautiful, wonderful creatures of value. And that no matter what everyone tells you, God does love you, and that very soon, I promise you, you will have equal rights federally across this great nation of ours.” Dustin Black’s sometimes tearful acceptance speech was greeted by the Academy audience members with loud applause.

Dustin Lance Black Wins Oscar for Best Screenplay for “Milk”

Harvey Milk Takes Oath of Office after Winning 1977 San Francisco Election

Harvey Milk: You’ve Got to Give Them Hope

Academy Award Documentary: The Times Of Harvey Milk

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