Friday, May 27, 2016

A (not so) short blog post about a short film called A Short Vision


1. This has nothing to do with fighting robots. If you are here only to see posts about my fighting robots, then you won't like this post.
2. The subject of this blog post deals with serious and disturbing subject matter. I would suggest you avoid this post if you do not feel comfortable reading about this sort of content.

Today marks the 60th anniversary of the airing of my favorite animated short film, A Short Vision, on the Ed Sullivan show. I wanted to talk about why I like it for a while, and I think that today is the perfect day to do so.

The first thing you need to know about me is that I find nuclear war fascinating. Dr. Strangelove is my favorite film of all time, with Threads and The Day After in my top ten. I've seen the Enola Gay in person, and I plan on visiting the Nevada Test site and both Hiroshima and Nagasaki at some point in my life. I have no idea what started this fascination, it just sort of happened.

Last year I found a article entitled 5 Sinister Old Films Way Too Disturbing For Modern Audiences. They were sort of "eh" but number 2 on the list interested me. The spot on the list went to a 1956 animated short film called A Short Vision, made by Peter and Joan Foldes. I skimmed the article and clicked on the video. 

Peter and Joan Foldes
The short films opens up with an ominous soundtrack as a calming British narrator (James McKechnie) talks about the night in which he sees a mysterious figure, only know as "it" flying through the night sky. 

"It" flies over the mountains, and the leopard looks up from the deer it has pounced on. The deer runs away, and both animals hide in fear. The owl and rat do the same when they see it fly over the field.

The sleeping people in the city do not see the mysterious figure as it flies over them. The only people awake to see it are the leaders and wise men.

The narrator utters the line "But it was too late".

The soundtrack's drum beats faster and faster (credit goes to Matyas Seiber for the haunting score).

Shit just got real.

"It" creates a mushroom cloud, completely engulfing the city. We see the face of a man who watches the blast, and its promptly destroyed. His eyes boil in his sockets and and is reduced to a skeleton, and then to nothing.

The blast goes through the field and mountains, doing the same to the animals (only the deaths of the owl and deer are seen). Finally, a sleeping woman's face deteriorates into a skeleton before being engulfed in flames as well. Afterwards, everything becomes covered in the flames of the explosion.

The narrator, still calm, states, "When it was all over, there was nothing else left, but a small flame". All that is left is the flame, surrounded by darkness. The last remaining living thing, a moth, flies around the flame. It circles the flame, and then flies into it. Both it and the flame die, and the short ends.

I was blown away by it. I watched it over and over just because it was so well put together.

The title seems vague for the subject matter, but I really think it fits. This short film is a short vision of what the creators (and everyone else at the time) thought would happen to the world if we go down the path of destruction. Peter and Joan Folds are not afraid to use shocking imagery to give the message that everyone can understand.

The narrator's calm dialog throughout the entire short makes it more haunting. From the moment he looks to the sky, to the destruction of everything on Earth, he never shows emotion towards what is happening, as if he was indifferent to what is going on.

As for the ending, the total destruction of everything on Earth is the only possible way for the short to end. The point of the short is simple, no good can come from nuclear war.

 When the short was aired on The Ed Sullivan show, the host issued a light warning for what was to come, stating:

"Just last week you read about the H-bomb being dropped. Now two great English writers, two very imaginative writers — I’m gonna tell you if you have youngsters in the living room tell them not to be alarmed at this ‘cause it’s a fantasy, the whole thing is animated — but two English writers, Joan and Peter Foldes, wrote a thing which they called ‘A Short Vision’ in which they wondered what might happen to the animal population of the world if an H-bomb were dropped. It’s produced by George K. Arthur and I’d like you to see it. It is grim, but I think we can all stand it to realize that in war there is no winner."

 Despite this warning, many children stayed up to watch the short and ended up traumatized. The blog CONELRAD Adjacent has put together a sampling of stories from baby boomers who the the short when it first aired.

After the short ended, the screen faded back to Sullivan, staring at the audience, with an expression saying "I told you so". Instantly afterwards, he introduced the next act of his show (singer David Whitfield).

The airing of A Short Vision caused the studio to receive a massive amount of fan mail in regards to the short. Newspapers ran headlines with titles such as "Ed Sullivan A-Film Shocks Viewers” and “Shock Wave From A-Bomb Film Rocks Nation’s TV Audience." By popular demand, Sullivan aired the short a second time two weeks later. This time he included a different warning, letting parents know that the material was not suitable for their children.

The airing of A Short Vision isn't considered one of The Ed Sullivan Show's most notable episodes (to be fair, it does have some tough competition), but it still holds a place in my heart. It was shown at a time in which the events of the short seemed all too real, and it deserves to be shown for future generations for the same message it showed yesterday's audiences sixty years ago today.

I'd like to thank the blog CONELRAD Adjacent for putting together a history of the short film (not to mention getting a chance to interview co-creator Joan Foldes), and the British Film Institute (BFI) for putting a copy of the short on YouTube for easy viewing

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