Christmas is nearly upon us and with that in mind, MMC! is sending out its best wishes with one of our favourite discoveries of 2021 – Gilles Carle’s The Merry World of Léopold Z (1965)! This classic of Québécois cinema was originally commissioned by the National Film Board of Canada to be a documentary on snow-clearing but was transformed into an innovative fiction film by its director. Guy L’Écuyer stars as the affable Léopold Z. Tremblay, a Montreal snowplow driver juggling the demands of work and home on Christmas Eve. Between clearing roads, Léopold runs various errands for himself, his wife Catherine (Monique Joly), and her visiting relation Josette (Suzanne Valéry), not to mention dealing with the complaints, demands, and asides of his boss and friend Théophile (Paul Hébert). With plenty of great documentary footage of ’60s Montreal in the winter, Merry World reflects the Direct Cinema spirit of the times, and Carle uses the holiday season to incorporate some insights on consumerism, sexual desire, religion, and the power structure of language in la belle province (something more notable in the French language version of the film). Carle filmed Merry World over 18 months due to an almost snowless season in Montreal, though you would be hard-pressed to notice from watching the film. Lively and good-natured, this cleverly edited, slice-of-life short feature is the perfect film for MMC! to offer its season’s greetings!
MERRY CHRISTMAS and HAPPY HOLIDAYS! (Stay safe you crazy kids!)
Before The Triplets of Belleville (2003) and The Illusionist (2010), Sylvain Chomet made the award-winning The Old Lady and the Pigeons (La Vieille Dame et les pigeons, 1997). The animated short features an impoverished and starving gendarme who dresses up like a giant pigeon in order to be fed by an old woman (and that barely scratches the surface of how hilariously bizarre the short gets). Chomet was inspired to make a film of his own after seeing Nick Park’s Creature Comforts (1989) and set upon his production after pitching the concept to Didier Brunner of the French animation studio Les Armateurs. Backgrounds were designed by Chomet’s comic book collaborator Nicolas de Crécy, although the two would later fall out over Crécy’s view that Chomet improperly copped his style for the designs of The Triplets of Belleville. The Old Lady and the Pigeons is silently comic and strangely surreal and establishes many of Chomet’s characteristic styles and themes, making it an easy access point to Chomet’s limited filmography. It is also a quick 24-minute scratch for those of us still itching to see his next film, The ThousandMiles, a Fellini-inspired story about the world’s most beautiful road race, Italy’s Mille Miglia.
Happy Christmas Eve! And what better way for MMC! to extend its season’s greetings than by sharing Chowboys: An American Folktale (2018), the final work of Winnipeg’s irreverent Astron-6. Here, three stupid cowboys struggle to survive in the frigid mountains on the coldest night of the year. Beautiful hands, sheet cakes, St. Nicholas, and cannibalism make for a wacky and gory holiday short set on Christmas Eve. God bless us, everyone (although maybe not Wendigo Santa).
Nothing says Christmas like a post-apocalyptic rumination on peace by anthropomorphic rodents and so MMC! happily presents Hugh Harman’s Peace on Earth (1939) and its Cinemascope remake, Joseph Barbera and William Hanna’s Good Will To Men (1955). Peace on Earth’s anti-war sentiment is expressed through a grandfather squirrel who describes the senseless self-destruction of humankind through war (guessed at as a battle between vegetarians and meat-eaters). The short’s rotoscoped depictions of gas masked soldiers are chilling and provide a rather staggering contrast to the pleasantly plump and happily caricatured animals that now claim domain over the Earth. Hanna and Barbera’s post-World War II version manages to be even grimmer in its details, taking images of infantry helmets and gas masks and adding flame-throwers, machine guns, bazookas, missiles, and nuclear annihilation. In doing so, Good Will To Men brings man’s capacity for mutual destruction into fearsome relief. Both of these MGM shorts garnered Academy Award nominations and Peace on Earth in particular has developed a reputation in the animation field as being Harman’s masterpiece and a heralded classic of the form.
To all those who stumble into the blog (intentionally or not), Make Mine Criterion!wishes you and yours a Merry Christmas and a happy holiday season!
Stay safe, share some love, and watch something amazing!
I feel like 2018 is the year that the internet had enough of people saying that Die Hard (John McTiernan, 1988) is a Christmas movie and I’m thankful. Don’t get me wrong; I love me some Die Hard but the self-congratulatory smugness of the Die Hard-as-Christmas classic declaration had its day long ago. To both celebrate and hopefully memorialize this effort in a once clever and now tired idea, MMC! wishes everyone a safe and happy holidays with Brad Neely’s 2009 Baby Cakes short, The In-House Carol, a crudely fashioned and hilariously daft portrayal of Die Hard love gone too far.
This year, MMC! brings you good tidings of great joy by way of the Film Junk short, A Very Gerry X-Mas! (Jay Cheel, 2010). Starring Reed Harrington, made by Jay Cheel (director of another MMC! favourite – Beauty Day), and featuring a brilliant opening sequence by Rob Niosi, A Very Gerry X-Mas! provides a quirky, awkward take on traditional holiday television programming. Part cooking show, part instructional video, part video confessional, part dream sequence, part fireside reading, this is all tongue-in-cheek, holiday goodness.
Happy holidays to everyone out there! Stay safe!
(And our next post will go up before the end of the year … and this time I mean it!)