Don't forget to watch the Academy Awards ceremony live on February 26th, 2017!
In preparation for the Oscars ceremony that is now just a little over two weeks away, I put together a quick timeline infographic about the awards.
I know I learned some things in putting this together. Hopefully you learned something too!
Don't forget to watch the Academy Awards ceremony live on February 26th, 2017!
Back when I originally started this project, I planned on doing all of the Best Picture winners in order of their release and subsequent Oscar win. This poem deviates from that plan a bit, but only by a few years.
If you want to skip the rambling below, you can check out the new poem "Jericho" right now.
It Happened One Night (Amazon Affiliate link) is largely considered one of Frank Capra's greatest films and was the first film to win all five major Academy Awards. It has been referenced numerous times throughout film and television and has even spawned remakes in countries including Pakistan and India.
My Relationship With the Film
I first encountered this film as a student in English department at SUNY Brockport back over a decade ago. I had decided to take on a Film Studies minor to broaden my horizons a bit and this film showed up in the syllabus for the first class I took as an overview of film history.
I don't think I truly appreciated the film for what it was when I watched it back then. When I look back on it now and place it in the context of the mid-1930s when it was produced, I'm a bit surprised by what Capra was able to get away with. That being said, this was one of the last films of that era that WAS able to get away with those things before the Production Code started being enforced in Hollywood.
On to Jericho
If you've seen the film, the title of this new poem will probably be a very obvious reference back to the film. It was the biggest recurring element of the film that I could pull out and the one piece that stuck in my head as I was writing the poem.
As I mentioned in one of my previous posts, I wanted to take some additional time with the poems moving forward and allowed myself to do that with this poem. I took my usual first pass where I just write from the gut and let the words spill out onto the page. With this poem, I took time to read back through it and re-write things a bit to not only sharpen the poem itself, but add some additional little reference hidden throughout.
I'm also trying a different approach in terms of posting the poems here on the blog like I have with other poems in the project so far. If you've read this far, thank you for indulging my ramblings.
Check out "Jericho" now and happy reading!
Don't worry...there is a poem coming. There are actually two poems coming within the next week.
I know what you're saying, I disappeared for seven months, came back to say I was here again, and then disappeared after one post. But that's not the case, I promise!
One of the things I promised myself when I restarted this project a few weeks back was to spend more time on the poems themselves. I had the entire process a bit backwards before, spending many hours (sometimes up to 10-15) reading source material followed by roughly 2 hours on each film. After I had put all that time in, I allowed myself to finish by ripping off the poems in just a half hour or so.
I say this not to brag, but to hang my head a bit. I was approaching it as a college student who has an assignment due the next day and writes 500 words for the 500 word essay and calls it done, rather than writing the 750 words that were truly necessary to say what needs to be said. I was being lazy. I was writing my poems and hitting publish right away without letting them simmer.
So this is an additional promise that I'm making today, the poems that I write for this project from now on will have more thought behind them. I am striving to create better poetry and to craft insightful pieces that can both stand alongside the masterpieces of film that inspire them, but also stand on their own.
Let me be honest...I wasn't sure I would ever return to this project. Looking back at the last posts from October of last year, I realized that I had a chance to get this moving again in a slightly different way and still accomplish the original goal.
The Library as Motivation
I was at the local library the other day and decided to see how many of the 1930s Best Picture winners I could find on the shelves. I pulled up my trusty list that is still where I left it on Wikipedia. I scrolled through the titles that won the award between 1930 and 1939 and was able to find half of them on the shelf. So I checked them all out!
Now, am I honestly going to watch five films in the next week (the normal check out period for DVDs) and write five poems to go along with them soon after? Probably not. But at least I have them in my hand and I have the opportunity to move on with the project.
What I'm NOT Doing
When I tackled this project last year, I added an unnecessary layer of complexity buy trying to read all of the source material (novels, short stories, plays) that inspired the films on this list. I realize now that taking on something of that magnitude was beyond what I have time for in my busy life. So, while I would love to be able to sit around all day and read those books, then watch the films in the evening, I can't. I wrote a bit more about this in one of last year's last blog posts.
So I hope you join me on this adventure. Share your thoughts on the films. I'll re-post some of the lists that I put up last year when I was just starting to get back in the groove. Thanks!
When I first started this blog, I mentioned that I enjoyed the work of Chris Guillebeau. I continue to read his blog on a regular basis and came across an inspiring article a few weeks back that I had to share.
Each week Chris publishes a profile of someone who is on a quest. It can be anything from SCUBA diving in all 50 states to writing a new haiku every day for a year. Some quests may seem small, others large in scope, but one thing that they all have in common is that they are personal. Each quest is a reflection of the person performing it and oftentimes, the questers learn something about themselves that they never expected when they began.
Well, I finally decided to admit it...I bit off more than I could chew with this project.
Don't worry, it's still going to happen. I am still going to write poems based on and inspired by all of the Best Picture Oscar winners, but I'm going to allow myself a little more room to work.
When I sat down the other day to think about what I had set out to do, I realized that one poem per week was much too ambitious and I had become disillusioned with myself because I had fallen a bit behind. I threw up my hands and said "Forget about it! It's never going to happen."
Then I got to thinking. Instead of giving up on the project (which had received great support at the beginning) I needed to re-frame my own expectations of what the project would be.
Once this round is done I have two additional sets of films lined up that I want to tackle. One is going to be a Director Series which will go through and view all films by an individual director. The other will be the Foreign Film Series which will take a look at the best films from certain countries or regions. This will surely be a more subjective listing of films, but I want to make sure to include all types. Some other series I am considering are Genre focused or Actor focused.
If you can think of any other lists that I'm neglecting or find lists of great films around the internet, post a comment below.
Last week I posted a poem inspired by Minions. You can read that here if you haven't already (P.S. I finally decided on a title). Today I give you a new poem inspired by Inside Out. If you didn't read my post about our trip to the drive-in, you might want to look over my thoughts of both films before reading the poems.
There are fewer spoilers in this poem than last week's, but if you're intent on seeing the film and don't want to know anything, you probably should wait and see it first before reading any further.
Our essence, the core of our being,
is ever changing.
Sometimes for ill,
other times for good,
but never is it static.
New memories can shape and alter old
just as the old will color the new.
Emotions will change their power,
some pushing to the surface
while others recede away.
Yet all are as important as the others.
For without sadness, joy becomes mundane.
Fear can lead to sadness, disgust can lead to anger.
All are intertwined together,
A complex knot that cannot be undone.
It's what's on the inside that matters most.
Copyright © 2015 Jonathan Ytreberg
Yellow and pill shaped they long for a master.
Someone to keep them and their capers from falling into disaster.
They toil away for eons before landing ashore in a new land of York.
Long before they became despicable, they followed the Overkill in red.
Overkill this is for long have we yearned to understand
what guides these little yellow men(?)
and followed this story in hopes of finding
that long searched for answer.
But...no answers will you find here.
If you can tell me what they say,
more power to you.
Bee do po-ka hana papoi!
God love them anyway.
Let me first say that I can understand why these places are a dying breed in this country, but also why there are a few left standing that will hopefully be around for a long time to come. It was a truly unique experience, sitting in the back of our minivan, blankets and pillows laid out while we munched on popcorn and candy through a wonderful kid-friendly double feature (Minions and Inside Out). When we first arrived, it was still a little light out and being a warm evening, the bugs were out, not something you usually have to worry about at Regal or Cinemark. Fortunately the evening cooled off and by the time the second movie came on, the bugs had all left (along with a third of the audience).
We worried a bit about having our two little ones out so late at night (Inside Out didn't start until almost 11:00 PM) but decided to give it a try anyway. The beautiful thing about the double feature is that if you don't like one movie, there's a chance you'll love the second.
This was exactly how it was with these two films last weekend. It's not that any of us disliked Minions. There is plenty of room in the world for the little yellow guys to do their version of slapstick, complete with grade school butt/fart jokes. But if I'm being perfectly honest, the minions are getting a little tired. They were cute in the first Despicable Me movie, with their nearly unintelligible "language," but when the entire movie focuses on characters you can't understand, it's harder to love them like I once did.
Was it a good film? No. Was it a fun "movie" to watch? Yes. We all laughed at the right places and it was fun to see how the creators placed this film in the overall story of the Despicable Me films.
Now Inside Out, this was a film on another level altogether. I'm usually not one to make bold predictions, but I would not be surprised if you hear Inside Out announced as the winner of the Best Animated Feature Award at the Oscars next February. I know it will never happen, but I would love to see this film nominated as a potential Best Picture as well.
While the Minions concept felt a little old and worn out, the idea behind Inside Out was fresh and new and was approached in an incredibly innovative fashion. I really shouldn't be surprised by this as the team at Pixar continues to crank out some of the greatest animated films of this generation (see Toy Story, WALL-E, Up and Finding Nemo). If you've seen the trailers for the film, you get the basic premise. Those short glimpses don't do the film justice however, and you really need to see it to fully appreciate the thought and effort that went into putting together an incredible, emotion filled story. (Sorry, couldn't resist)
Why Drive In?
Let me finish by saying that as much as I loved the experience of doing these films together and I'm glad it was something I could share with my kids, I can't say that I would go to the drive in for most other types of movies. I love action films and science fiction. Those are the types of films where I want the full sound and image experience. I want the thousands of watts of sound or an IMAX experience to immerse me in the world I'm watching. I wouldn't get that with a car stereo or portable radio brought to the drive in.
So what's the point?
The point is to spend time with your family. We made an event out of this excursion. The theater was a little over a half hour from home and we passed by probably a half dozen multiplexes that would have been closer. But the kids are still talking about it a week later and asked on the way home if we could do it again.
My wife and I are already looking at the coming attractions to see if there is another double feature they will like before the summer is over. We want them to remember the times of laying in the back of the van at the movies and hopefully pass this tradition along to their own children some day.
The Short Film!
One last thing. How could I forget to mention the obligatory Pixar short film that accompanied Inside Out? Honestly I did forget it until I was doing a Google search of all the Pixar films for an earlier part of the article. As is par for the course with them, the short film "Lava" perfectly set up the feature to follow. I looked around on YouTube for a full version of it, but couldn't find one. There is however a first look below which should give you an idea of how stunningly beautiful this short is.
This was the first film adaptation of a novel (of the same name) to win the Oscar for Best Picture and it would set a precedent for this going forward as almost 75% of all Best Picture winners to date have been based on a book, short story, magazine article or stage production. These range from Shakespearean classics such as Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet (West Side Story) to lesser known short stories like "Night Bus" (It Happened One Night).
One other trend that I want to mention as it will likely come up throughout this project is the subject of war. All Quiet on the Western Front shows the horrors of war as people of the day knew it. World War I (or The Great War) was a fresh memory and the world had not yet seen the unspeakable horrors of the Holocaust that was to come a decade later. It is hard to watch this film and not be affected by the story of young Paul as he leaves school to fight for the Fatherland with his friends.
And now, "What Good is War?"
What Good is War?
Good for killing young men
those primed to enter society,
pumped full of knowledge,
eager to make a difference,
then plunged head first in a ditch
to stare blankly across the open plain
past the wired at men just like them,
only speaking in a different tongue.
Good for creating rubble by the ton
as the bombs fall in towns
long emptied of their inhabitants
yet filled with men sent
only to kill and create more
rubble in a mirror town
across the line.
Good for filling the bellies
of survivors, for when one man
falls, his brothers that live
share the spoils of his absence.
Good for creating quick inheritance,
for the man with only one leg
no longer needs two boots, but his
comrade on the line can use them well...
until he too become separated from leg...or life.
Good for training men to march
in lines neat and organized,
the better to be forgotten when
charging helter skelter over
"no man's land."
Good for brewing despair overnight,
causing fresh young minds to
turn to madness and run blindly
toward death rather than stay
still and hope for salvation.
Good for warping time, making
every day seem as a year,
every night as a century.
Good for learning to kill or be killed.
Good for forgetting home and family.
Good for settling disputes of men
who never picked up a gun or
set foot on the field of battle.
Good for dying.
Copyright © 2015 Jonathan Ytreberg
So why do I bring this up now?
Well, I decided to add another wrinkle to my project. For any films on the list that were inspired by or based on a book or story, I am going to try and read the story prior to watching the movie.
Why add this complexity?
Well, part of the idea behind doing this project was to put myself in the world of people seeing these films at the time they were first released. Part of that would be knowing of the books or stories and perhaps seeking them out around the time of seeing the film.
I firmly believe in reading the book before seeing the film whenever possible. In 99.9% of cases, the book is always better. It's so much easier to provide backstory and explanations through a 300 page novel, than in a two hour film. Inevitably, things get left of when you make a movie based on a book.
Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of excellent film adaptations of books, from Gone With the Wind to The Lord of the Rings, it seems like we have wanted to see our books come to life in more than just our imaginations for as long as cinema has existed.
Now, all this being said, it may cause some minor delays between poems as I try to crash through some rather lengthy novels (yes I'm looking at you Gone With the Wind and All the King's Men) but I'm going to do my best to cover every angle of these stories, regardless of the format they came in.
Two sisters aim to make it big
achieve their great success
but one will rise as other falls
and love will end a mess.
They say all's fair in love and war,
and this may yet be true,
but find it easy you will not
when he breaks up with you
to marry your young sister dear,
and save her from her fate
at the hands of a lover false.
Just pray he's not too late.
A beautiful song now fills your heart
and you begin to sing
in hopes that you may soon find love
and end up with a ring.
Copyright © 2015 Jonathan Ytreberg
One of the things that I researched before starting this project was the financial commitment that I would need in terms of the actual films themselves. The good news was that I was able to find most of the films available at little or no cost to me. Here are my secrets to finding these films for free (or at least VERY cheap). And it's all COMPLETELY legal!
Yes, they still exist! It takes a little work, but I was able to find all but one of the Best Picture winners on my list at a library within the county library system where I live. Depending on the number of libraries in your area, this may be easier or harder, but most library systems have an online catalog that you can search at any time. My county library system offers holds so that I could have the next movie on my list delivered to the branch closest to my home or work within a few days. There was a $1.00 fee for this, but even that was cheaper than just about any other method. If I had more time and wanted to drive to the branch that had the movie available, it would be free.
Another important note is that public libraries are not the only ones out there. There are at least five university libraries within 25 miles of my house, all of which have some films in their collections. Just like the public libraries, you can search university libraries online. The only potential catch is that the materials can only be checked out by students. However, if you're in a bind, you should be able to speak with someone at the circulation desk and get permission to check out materials on a limited basis even if you are not an active student.
I know, Netflix isn't free, but it was something I was already paying for on a monthly basis before starting this project, so I don't consider it an "additional" cost. 13 of the Best Picture films are available via Netflix streaming services with many more available on their DVD through the mail service. (Note: this may change as Netflix does add and remove films from the streaming service) I checked Netflix first since I can call those up at any time so most of the films I found on Netflix are likely available at my local libraries as well.
You can find anything on Amazon. Literally anything that has been published since...well whenever is available in some form or fashion. If you want something that is out of print, there may be someone selling their used copy on Amazon.
Amazon also offers streaming services for movies. There is a charge for this just like Netflix, but I was able to be selective with my purchases. There was only one film (Cavalcade) that I was unable to find at any library in my area or on Netflix. A quick search on Amazon brought me to an option to stream it for as little as $2.99 on a "rental" basis. Still cheaper than buying the film outright or driving to some other city to find a library that has a copy.
As I looked through the more recent films on the list, I found that some of them existed in my own personal collection. If you know anyone who is a film buff, especially older films, ask them to see if they have copies of anything on the list. Some people are protective of their movies, but if you explain the goal of the project, you can probably convince someone to let you borrow a copy of the one film you can't find through other means.
So perhaps it's not possible to view all of these films without shelling out a few dollars here and there, but with a little leg work at the beginning, you should be able to keep the expenses to a minimum and get to enjoy hours of excellent cinema.
After posting the first poem in the project yesterday, I realized that I had more to say about the film that inspired it. Here are some of those additional thoughts about Wings and silent movies in general that didn't make it into "C'est la Guerre!"
Since this is one of only two silent films to win Best Picture (see The Artist) I thought it important to delve a little deeper into silent films. I have loved the simplicity of the silent film ever since I was first exposed to them in my college film classes. They are a true representation of the old writing adage, "show, don't tell." When the "dialogue" takes up a fraction of the film and is only on screen for a few seconds while you read it, the eye is allowed to focus on the action and the scene much more than we're used to with today's movies.
Speaking in a Silent Film
By today's standards, the acting in these silent films is over-expressive and over-emotive, some people would probably call it just plan over the top. But think about what these actors were up against. No one would ever hear their voices. They could shout at the top of their lungs during filming and we as the viewers wouldn't know the difference.
For this film in particular, I can see why it was selected as the Best Picture of the recent time. It was a huge feat to create aerial battles that felt real. Granted, they pale in comparison with films like Pearl Harbor or Top Gun, both big budget Hollywood action pieces, it was impressive what they were able to accomplish with clever editing, close-ups and wonderful establishing shots. Some of the most impressive shots in the film are take-offs and landings captured both from the side as the camera followed plans across the grass fields and even a wonderful shot of several plans taking off, filmed from above!
Sounds of Battle
The version of the film I saw had a wonderful soundtrack put together by Ben Burtt (sound designer for the Star Wars and Indiana Jones films, just to name a few) which really helped bring the planes to life so I had to remember that audiences seeing this back in the day would not have the benefit of those sounds. They would have been watching the film in a theater, perhaps with a small orchestra playing along, but more then likely just a small piano in the back to provide some music accompaniment. That being said, when the camera turns to face the pilots in the planes and they open fire, it feels like those guns are shooting straight at you the viewer and you begin to realize how terrifying this sort of warfare must have been 100 years ago.
Love and War
Lastly, while the technical feats of this film are impressive, I'd be remiss if I didn't discuss the story as well. There are basic themes of love, betrayal and forgiveness in this film. Love take form in both the love of the male protagonists (Jack and David) towards the beautiful girl back home (Sylvia), and the unrequited love of the girl next door (Mary) for Jack. Even though the two men love the same girl, they become best friends and wingmen in the service and form a bond of brotherly love. I won't spoil the ending, but there are two main pieces of forgiveness, both directed at Jack when he returns from the war. And not to be lost in all of this is one comedic figure, Herman Schwimpf, who is the bumbling mechanic who couldn't pass the tests to become a pilot. Even his name causes problems in the American military set out to fight the Germans.
I'm not sure if I will keep up this "additional thoughts" posting throughout the full project, but you may see posts like this from time to time if and when I feel there is more to say about a film.
I'm glad you're here to spend some time with me at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel in 1929. It's time for us to celebrate the best that the motion picture industry has to offer by handing out the first ever awards for achievement in film.
1927 brought us an excellent film about love and war called Wings starring Clara Bow, Charles "Buddy" Rogers and Richard Arlen. It tells the story of two young pilots joining the army to fight against the Germans in Europe during the Great War, their love of flying, adventure and the beautiful girl back home.
I hope you enjoyed the first of many Film Poems. Sign up the email list below to make sure you receive the latest Film Poems when they are released along with the latest blog posts. You can also leave comments below with your thoughts on the poem or the film in question.
Before I begin, I wanted to share with you the list of films I will be watching for this project. You can probably find this online with a quick Google search, but since you're already here, I figured I'd give you a nice list to follow along with.
Post which film you're most looking forward to in the comments below!
Without further ado, the Oscar goes to...
Note: Titles in italics indicate films that I have already seen. In this case, I count only films where I have consciously sat for a full, uninterrupted viewing of the film. I have seen the majority of many of the "classics" on this list (Gone With the Wind, Casablanca, Sound of Music and the Godfather films just to name a few) but if I'm being completely honest, I don't recall ever seeing them in more than just bits and pieces.
One more note: The years listed next to each film are the years in which it was released. The awards were actually handed out in the following year.
Jonathan Ytreberg is a writer and poet with a lifelong love of films. This project is aimed at combining those loves and creating something that lasts at the same time.