Whenever I’m feeling like there’s a lot going on in my mind, I go for a run. Once I’ve got my rhythm going, it gives me a unique chance to clear my mind away from distractions.
Recently, I’ve been going on a lot of runs.
One of the most joyous things that has ever happened in my life is the birth of my first child. Now 18 weeks old, she is at the age where things are developing fast. One day she’s singing back at me, trying desperately to mimic my mouth to replicate what she can hear. The next day she’s trying to roll over from her front onto her back (something I’m sure will cause increasing panic as her proficiency develops). The excitement experienced every day is a feeling I hope I never tire of.
Sometimes it’s hard to be a father when you feel like this. My company afforded a generous paternity deal for me, meaning I got two weeks off plus my saved annual leave – about six weeks in total. Regardless of this, it’s heartbreaking to say goodbye in the morning to my beautiful wife and child and know I won’t see them for nine hours. WhatsApp videos from my infinitely-understanding wife get me through the day; I know she’s fully aware of how I feel.
I simply don’t understand people who are glad to get away from their children by going to work.
So, why do I need some time to contemplate when I’ve got such joy in my life? Well, my positivity at being a father is currently counterbalanced by what’s happening with my own father, who this week is entering a carehome specialising in dementia support.
Life can be cruel sometimes, but snatching away the relationship between a girl and her grandfather when she’s only 18 weeks old is particularly tough to stomach.
My father would have loved to have a granddaughter. Of course, I get to experience the excited conversation of telling him he’s a grandfather over and over again. No matter how frequently I see him, he’s always pleasantly surprised to learn his son now has a child, even if he still hasn’t worked out that she’s female.
He was a proud man and the feeling of him losing his dignity isn’t something worth dwelling on. It is hard for everyone, but the move to a home is the best way to ensure his health and that of my mother. It’s best for me too.
It’s funny that I slip into the past tense when I talk about him. He isn’t the man I used to know at all. It reminds me of the scene at the end of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, one of my favourite films of all time. Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet portray an estranged couple who have agreed to have their minds erased so they can forget about each other. Clementine (Winslet) goes first, with the narrative following Joel (Carrey) inside his mind as his memories disappear. Partway through his procedure Joel decides to reverse his decision and preserve his memories of his lover, but it is too late. Michel Gondry’s brilliantly-visual realisation of what this would be is a vibrant representation of dementia. Or maybe I’m just convincing there’s a version of him fighting what’s happening to help me cope with a horrible situation. Romanticising the horrible is completely human nature.
Whilst my father’s present mind is all but gone, his legacy will live on thoroughly through me. As I approach the everyday decisions of bringing up my own daughter, I can think back to my own childhood. What did he do right? What did he do wrong? I can learn from all of his decisions and prepare myself for what lies ahead. Nobody is perfect, but all we can hope for is to do the best we can, and – to paraphrase Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird – ensure our children are the best versions of themselves that they can be.
Sometimes life deals you a horrible and unfair hand, and all you can do is deal with it the best you can.
Some say life is made up of fantastic memories shared with loved ones.
If you take away your memory, what are you left with?
When production on 1930s short The Sorcerer’s Apprentice was nearly finished, Walt Disney knew he had something great on his hands. He also knew he had something costly on his hands. It was originally conceived as an elaborate Silly Symphony short cartoon, partly to explore Walt Disney’s love of classical music and partly to reignite public interest in the waining Mickey Mouse. The blend of high-quality animation and Paul Dukas’s memorable classical symphony proved this was a cut above the usual fare, though it came in at a budget of $125,000, which would never be earned back were it to be released as a standalone short. 
Using the Mickey comeback as the starting point, production was vastly expanded. Thousands of artists and twelve directors were tasked with creating eight additional segments to accompany the first short.  Seven made the final cut (including the intermission segment) and were included in the original theatrical release of Fantasia, Disney’s third animated feature film. It was released to much fanfare in 1940, garnering immediate and sustained critical success. It has gone down in the history books as a masterpiece.
The original plan to re-release Fantasia every few years with a new short segment replacing one of the original shorts never came to fruition, although work was started on some newer segments.  One completed short, titled ‘Blue Bayou’ and based on Debussy’s Clare De Lune, found its way into the 1946 package film ‘Make Mine Music’ (though with different music as backing). Indeed, both ‘Make Mine Music’ and the subsequent ‘Melody Time’ are spiritual successors of ‘Fantasia’, using the basic concept – a series of unrelated short films set to music – as their starting point. Had Disney released these films with a Fantasia prefix, they would surely be more likely to be better understood by the modern public.
Alas, it wasn’t until 1999 that the sequel proper was released, in the form of Fantasia 2000. This time, seven new segments were included alongside the inclusion of the now-iconic short The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Critically it fared well, though it wasn’t hailed as a masterpiece. At the box office, it recouped its money and made a small profit.
There were some real triumphs here, although my favourite segment has to be The Firebird, which provides an emotional closing for the feature.
A third Fantasia film?
A further follow up was started in 2002, with a working title of Fantasia 2006. However, by 2004 the film was shelved. The reasons for cancelling the project were never confirmed, but looking at the facts the reasons aren’t hard to deduce.
From Fantasia 2000 onwards to the cancellation of its sequel, Walt Disney Feature Animation released seven films: Dinosaur, The Emperor’s New Groove, Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Lilo & Stitch, Treasure Planet, Brother Bear and Home On The Range. In that same time-span, Pixar released Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo and The Incredibles. That doesn’t include Toy Story 2, a film that dwarfed Fantasia 2000 at the box office and was released just three weeks earlier.
This was a troubling lack of success in what is considered as a transition phase for Walt Disney Feature Animation. Financially, they were going through a string of failures akin to the 1980s, just before the renaissance in the late 80s and through the 90s. As such, the third Fantasia film was cancelled. Now was not the time to take risks with passion projects.
Does any footage survive?
More than just fragments of shorts, Fantasia 2006 was far beyond the planning stage and well into production when it was called off. Not wishing to waste their efforts, the various production teams were tasked with finishing their segments, with the proposal that each would be released independently as short films.
Perhaps the most celebrated of the shorts is Destino. This was first conceived as a collaboration between Walt Disney and surrealist painter Salvador Dali. Dali and studio artist John Hench had made just 17 seconds before production was shelved in 1945, though this was enough time to have a basic concept scoped out in the form of storyboards. 58 years later, production was finally finished by a team of animators under the direction of Dominique Monféry. It’s visually stunning and an conceptually mind-blowing piece of art history as well as a work of art in its own right. It has been criminally underappreciated, partly due to the fact it is so hard to track down. If you want to find it now, you will need to purchase the Fantasia 2000 Blu-ray and navigate to the bonus features menu. It is seven minutes well spent.
Five-minute short Lorenzo was released in 2003 with the live-action Kate Hudson feature Raising Helen. It’s a bizarre short about a cat with a cursed tail, which develops a life of its own. The tango track “Bordoneo y 900”, performed by Juan José Mosalini and his Big Tango Orchestra, was used as the soundtrack, moving it further away from the original concept of classical music for Fantasia 2000. It hasn’t gone down as a must-see short, and it is arguably more charming than breathtaking. To find it now and enjoy it in the best quality, USA readers need to hunt down a copy of Walt Disney Animation Studios Short Films Collection on Blu-ray.
Pixote Hunt had already contributed the Symphony No. 5 segment to Fantasia 2000 (along with directing the interstitial segments), and was also the man behind One by One. The eventually-released version ended up using a song that was intended for original The Lion King film but was cut late in the production. It did end up being used in the stage musical before being used again in One by One. It’s a lovely little work of art that centres around a child feeling inspired to make and fly kites in his local village in an unidentified African country. The music isn’t integral to the film and it feels like it was a pairing made to suit its inclusion on the Lion King 2: Simba’s Pride home media release. Had it been included in the Fantasia 2006 release it would undoubtedly have been paired with some equally-fitting classical music, but the fact the animation was finished is still a blessing.
The Little Match Girl is the most memorable of the finished shorts. An eight minute story told without any dialogue that still maintains your interest is usually the mark of something very special. It is set to the third movement of Nocturne from String Quartet No. 2 in D Major by Alexander Borodin, meaning what you can see is very much exactly as it was imagined for Fantasia 2006. It’s a achingly beautiful animation, and marked the last use of CAPS (Computer Animated Production System) by Disney following its extensive use throughout the 1990s in their renaissance period. USA readers can find The Little Match Girl as a bonus feature on the Blu-ray of The Little Mermaid or as part of the Walt Disney Animation Studios Short Films Collection from 2015.
Other than these four finished shorts, we are left to speculate what else would have been included in a final feature release. I’d guess that Disney wouldn’t break mould with the format of live-action inter-segment introductions to break up the short films, so there would be some of that in there. It wouldn’t be a Fantasia film without the inclusion of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Siberia-set short film Glago’s Guest was completed around the same and could have been included, although it has been seldom seen by viewing public (including myself) so this is mere speculation.
Probably most exciting to Disney aficionados would be remastering and recutting the short Clair De Lune, which, as previously mentioned, was an unused short from the original Fantasia film. It was later edited with a different soundtrack and retitled Blue Bayou, which was included in the Disney feature Make Mine Music. Putting the original classical score together with the existing footage would top off something of a celebration of the past for the studio.
So there you have it. A missed opportunity? Perhaps. Its hard to argue that their eventual switch in concentration has helped ensure they got back into the hearts of a generation of children. With Moana, Zootropolis, Big Hero 6, Frozen and Wreck-It Ralph, we’ve had so much enjoyment out of the studio in recently years. This wouldn’t have been possible if the studio had folded with one too many passion projects in a period in which they were struggling. 2006 wasn’t the time for looking to the past when everyone around was looking to the future.
 LA Times article – ‘Fantastic ‘Fantasia’: Disney Channel Take a Look at Walt’s Great Experiment in Animation’ – http://articles.latimes.com/1990-08-26/news/tv-552_1_walt-disney
 Grand Rapids Symphony article -‘A Look Inside Disney’s Fantasia and Fantasia 2000’ – https://www.grsymphony.org/blog/posts/a-look-inside
Stan and Ollie is a brilliant example of comedians using their aptitude for mimicry to bring a dramatic story to life. In Steve Coogan and John C Reilly, a lesser-known period of the careers of one of the world’s greatest ever comedy duos has been immortalised in film forever more.
The only problem I have with it is that almost all of it is fabrication.
Admittedly, writer Jeff Pope wasn’t there personally to verify the specifics of the script. This is forgivable.
But the plot is not.
Thanks to a wealth of online resources, not least the website Letters From Stan (which provides a record of every available letter Stan Laurel sent in his lifetime), there is enough factual evidence to piece together a fairly accurate timeline of events during their final tour of the UK and Ireland to know how much of this is real.
For a start, the tour started in September 1953 in Ireland (see letter to Dorothi and Jac dated 12th September 1953) and ended in England, allowing the duo to start their tour earlier due to a visa issue. In Stan and Ollie, the change in the plot allowed them to end on a triumphant emotional high with Oliver Hardy fully fit and able to perform. This is arguably a small change that makes sense from a story-telling point of view.
You will also note from the letters that Stan’s wife Eda joined him on the ferry crossing: “Had a nice crossing – calm sea all the way. Eda caught a cold so is now in the Pill & nose drops dept.” This is another small but critical plot point that was changed for arguably a good reason – it gives the viewer some time with Stan and Ollie without their wives, allowing the plot to explore their relationship thoroughly before the introduction of more characters on the tour.
Indeed, Stan Laurel himself was also ill for around a month in the lead up to Christmas, meaning they cancelled several shows. It makes sense to not include this in the film for timing and pacing reasons. Even if it was just a 20 second montage of him being ill for a month, it doesn’t really add anything.
The fabrications start to impact more when you think about their planned triumphant return to cinema, in this case an adaptation of Robin Hood. This is the plot device used as the driving reason Oliver Hardy agrees to do the tour. Robin Hood is a film that was mentioned once in an interview in 1947 during a previous tour of the UK, but never existed even as a concept. This factual change impacts hugely on the portrayal of the pair’s relationship.
If Oliver Hardy was only doing the tour to return to cinema, the suggestion is that his relationship with Stan is purely professional and the tour is only being completed to allow his film career to get back on track. Several times in the biopic he makes it clear he is only doing the tour to facilitate doing the film. On the contrary, in reality the pair had toured the UK four times between 1937 (when Way Out West was released) and 1953. They also released a film in 1951 (the unpopular and critically-panned Atoll K). This wasn’t a comeback for them and wasn’t something that brought them back together, and there was no film in pre-production. All three are fabrications.
The dramatic plot developments and emotional journeys of the main characters are built on a timeline so chopped and rearranged that the end result is a dishonest representation of the events. The crux of the film is a falsity.
The same can be said of the Oscar-nominated Bohemian Rhapsody, which also played around significantly with the timeline to make sure there was a triumphant ending for Freddie Mercury and Queen. The details are explored thoroughly in the article ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ Fact Check: Did Freddie Mercury Really Tell Queen He Had AIDS Just Before Live Aid?.
In this film, the Live Aid performance was used as a way to reunite the band in the wake of Freddie finding out about his diagnosis. Roger Taylor, Brian May and John Deacon had been angry after Freddie Mercury had released several solo albums in the early 1980s. As the film shows it, the band agree to reunite after a long hiatus and Freddie tells the band about his AIDS diagnosis late on in the rehearsal period.
In reality, the band had released an album together in 1983, Roger Taylor released two solo albums in 1981 and 1984 and Brian May released an EP in 1983. Queen had played a series of shows two months before Live Aid in 1985, so they had never really been apart. It is also thought that Mercury didn’t find out about his diagnosis until April 1987 (according to his partner Jim Hutton).
These are critical changes to the timeline that completely alter the impact of the story. I agree it is completely appropriate to finish on the high of the Live Aid show. Similarly, it is impossible to tell the story of Queen without mentioning Mercury’s AIDS diagnosis. So, what were the filmmakers to do?
It’s a fine balance between telling a truthful story and telling an entertaining and dramatic story.
With Stan and Ollie, the result is a whimsically funny film that achieves its main goal of bringing one of the greatest comedy duos back to the attention of the public. It’s not a bad film at all. It’s just important to know where the fact stops and the fiction starts. This is a decision that ultimately lies with director Jon S Baird, writer Jeff Pope and producer Faye Ward, all of whom will presumably be happy with the critical response and the box office takings. Similarly for Bohemian Rhapsody, director Bryan Singer, screenwriter Anthony McCarten and producers Graham King and Jim Beach will not care a jot about the changes made, especially if they pick up an Academy Award for their efforts.
History will forget whether or not the facts are correct. Inevitably what is on screen will take priority over the truth, hidden away in books and on websites for only the most ardently-interested fans to find. How the films themselves are remembered will only become clear years down the line.
Here’s a list of all the Oscar nominees in full, with no videos, adverts or links hidden to throw you off the detail.
A Star Is Born
Spike Lee, BlacKkKlansman
Pawel Pawlikowski, Cold War
Yorgos Lanthimos, The Favourite
Alfonso Cuarón, Roma
Adam McKay, Vice
Yalitza Aparicio, Roma
Glenn Close, The Wife
Olivia Colman, The Favourite
Lady Gaga, A Star Is Born
Melissa McCarthy, Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Christian Bale, Vice
Bradley Cooper, A Star Is Born
Willem Dafoe, At Eternity’s Gate
Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody
Viggo Mortensen, Green Book
Amy Adams, Vice
Marina de Tavira, Roma
Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk
Emma Stone, The Favourite
Rachel Weisz, The Favourite
Mahershala Ali, Green Book
Adam Driver, BlacKkKlansman
Sam Elliott, A Star Is Born
Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Sam Rockwell, Vice
Incredibles 2, Brad Bird
Isle of Dogs, Wes Anderson
Mirai, Mamoru Hosoda
Ralph Breaks the Internet, Rich Moore, Phil Johnston
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman
Animal Behaviour, Alison Snowden, David Fine
Bao, Domee Shi
Late Afternoon, Louise Bagnall
One Small Step, Andrew Chesworth, Bobby Pontillas
Weekends, Trevor Jimenez
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Joel Coen , Ethan Coen
BlacKkKlansman, Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott, Spike Lee
Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty
If Beale Street Could Talk, Barry Jenkins
A Star Is Born, Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper, Will Fetters
The Favourite, Deborah Davis, Tony McNamara
First Reformed, Paul Schrader
Green Book, Nick Vallelonga, Brian Currie, Peter Farrelly
Roma, Alfonso Cuarón
Vice, Adam McKay
Cold War, Lukasz Zal
The Favourite, Robbie Ryan
Never Look Away, Caleb Deschanel
Roma, Alfonso Cuarón
A Star Is Born, Matthew Libatique
Best Documentary Feature
Free Solo, Jimmy Chin, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi
Hale County This Morning, This Evening, RaMell Ross
Minding the Gap, Bing Liu
Of Fathers and Sons, Talal Derki
RBG, Betsy West, Julie Cohen
Best Documentary Short Subject
Black Sheep, Ed Perkins
End Game, Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman
Lifeboat, Skye Fitzgerald
A Night at the Garden, Marshall Curry
Period. End of Sentence., Rayka Zehtabchi
Best Live Action Short Film
Detainment, Vincent Lambe
Fauve, Jeremy Comte
Marguerite, Marianne Farley
Mother, Rodrigo Sorogoyen
Skin, Guy Nattiv
Best Foreign Language Film
Cold War (Poland)
Never Look Away (Germany)
BlacKkKlansman, Barry Alexander Brown
Bohemian Rhapsody, John Ottman
Green Book, Patrick J. Don Vito
The Favourite, Yorgos Mavropsaridis
Vice, Hank Corwin
Black Panther, Benjamin A. Burtt, Steve Boeddeker
Bohemian Rhapsody, John Warhurst
First Man, Ai-Ling Lee, Mildred Iatrou Morgan
A Quiet Place, Ethan Van der Ryn, Erik Aadahl
Roma, Sergio Diaz, Skip Lievsay
A Star Is Born
Black Panther, Hannah Beachler
First Man, Nathan Crowley, Kathy Lucas
The Favourite, Fiona Crombie, Alice Felton
Mary Poppins Returns, John Myhre, Gordon Sim
Roma, Eugenio Caballero, Bárbara Enrı́quez
BlacKkKlansman, Terence Blanchard
Black Panther, Ludwig Goransson
If Beale Street Could Talk, Nicholas Britell
Isle of Dogs, Alexandre Desplat
Mary Poppins Returns, Marc Shaiman, Scott Wittman
‘All the Stars’ from Black Panther by Kendrick Lamar, SZA
‘I’ll Fight’ from RBG by Diane Warren, Jennifer Hudson
‘The Place Where Lost Things Go’ from Mary Poppins Returns by Marc Shaiman, Scott Wittman
‘Shallow’ from A Star Is Born by Lady Gaga, Mark Ronson, Anthony Rossomando, Andrew Wyatt and Benjamin Rice
‘When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings’ from The Ballad of Buster Scruggs by Willie Watson, Tim Blake Nelson
Makeup and Hair
Mary Queen of Scots
Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Black Panther, Ruth E. Carter
The Favourite, Sandy Powell
Mary Poppins Returns, Sandy Powell
Mary Queen of Scots, Alexandra Byrne
Avengers: Infinity War
Ready Player One
Solo: A Star Wars Story
The plot of The Favourite doesn’t sound like a laugh-a-minute comedy. Just look at it:
In 18th century England, the close relationship between Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) and Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz) is threatened by the arrival of Sarah’s cousin, Abigail Hill (Emma Stone). The resulting bitter rivalry between the two cousins impacts their lives and their relationship to the Queen, who is manipulated by both in the midst of a turbulent time in England’s political landscape.
It may not sound promising, but it doesn’t take long to realise that this isn’t your standard period drama. It’s a sharp script and a twisting plot, delivered to perfection by the three lead women. That this is Deborah Davis’s first ever script makes it even more remarkable.
Davis gave some insight into the writing process when she spoke to Awards Daily in November 2018. “I wrote the first draft in 1998 and I had no experience in scriptwriting. I took myself to night school to learn. I was accepted into the University of East Anglia to do a scriptwriting course and I was helped and influenced by my tutor who was really interested in The Balance of Power as it was then called. [Ceci Dempsey (of Scarlett Films) has] never ever wavered in her support and passion for this project.”
The phenomenal journey should be an inspiration to all aspiring writers around the world. Sure, it’s a twenty year process in this case, but Davis believed in her own capabilities and surrounded herself with others who were equally supportive of her work.
The success of the film is unquestionable. It continues to bring in audiences across the globe, building momentum through word of mouth and positive press responses. Now a Golden Globe winner (Olivia Colman for Best Actress), it has also been nominated for Best Original Screenplay at the BAFTAs. The team will undoubtedly be hoping for yet more success at the Academy Awards when the nominations are announced next week.
Of course, it isn’t all Davis’s work. Yorgos Lanthimos is well known for quirky comedy dramas that find hard to stay away from the surreal, which certainly shines through in a bizarre dance sequence that couldn’t possibly have been scripted. Equally, Colman’s hysterics when a young doorman may or may not have looked at her is played to perfection by both actors. That it’s all set in a traditional English country house (Hatfield House in Hertfordshire) with the expected pompous outfits just adds to the unnerving effect.
But it’s all hung on this brilliant script that mixes the most bizarre of comedies with a power struggle akin to a game of chess. Indeed, the women’s costumes, created especially for the film by Sandy Powell, were designed exclusively in blacks and whites to emanate the pieces of a chess board.
One of the most effective results of the writing is the subtle way the audience is drawn in to care for Abigail (Stone). We go on an emotional journey with her, seeing her at rock bottom as she rises through the ranks within the palace. The moment she gains power by marrying Samuel Masham (Joe Alwyn), her character completely changes and we realise that she’s as horrible as we feared. It’s a tough pill to swallow for an audience who think they’ve found a character to root for, but the best film-makers know just when to pull the rug from under the feet of its viewers. Emma Stone said of the script: “It feels amazing when the script is right and the director is right and you are like, ‘Now I can go and have fun and trust the process.'” And it shows. All the actors on screen look like they’re completely at ease with what they’re doing and saying.
It’s just a great piece of cinema.
For anyone out there sat on the next homemade cinematic masterpiece script, The Favourite is the perfect catalyst for you to get it finished and get it out there.
I’ve been listening to a lot of new music this year. Here’s some recommendations.
Albums of the Year 2018
- Courtney Barnett – Tell Me How You Really Feel
- Gaz Coombes – World’s Strongest Man
- Elvis Costello – Look Now
- First Aid Kit – Ruins
- The Go! Team – Semicircle
- Jonny Greenwood – Phantom Thread OST
- Manic Street Preachers – Resistance Is Futile
- Paul McCartney – Egypt Station
- Villagers – The Art Of Pretending To Swim
- Paul Weller – True Meanings
Songs of the Year 2018
- Courtney Barnett – Nameless, Faceless
- Keegan DeWitt and Kiersey Clemons – Hearts Beat Loud Pt 1
- Flight of the Conchords – Father and Son
- The Go! Team – Mayday
- Jonny Greenwood – The House Of Woodcock
- Paul McCartney – I Don’t Know
- Miguel ft Natalia Lafourcade – Remember Me
- Manic Street Preachers – International Blue
- Villagers – Trick of the Light
- Thom Yorke – Suspirium