The 88th annual Academy Awards will be broadcast this weekend, so it got Mister Boomer wondering what was going on with the Oscars 50 years ago. As it turns out, 1966 was a momentous movie year for boomers. It was the first year the Academy Awards was broadcast in color; at the time many boomer households were acquiring color TVs.
The Sound of Music picked up five Oscars, including Best Picture. Many boomers have memories of seeing the picture with their families, at a drive-in or local theater. To win the Best Picture award, the film bested the now-classic films Doctor Zhivago, Ship of Fools, A Thousand Clowns and Darling.
The Best Actor category was a race among screen greats: Richard Burton (The Spy Who Came In From the Cold), Laurence Olivier (Othello), Rod Steiger and Oskar Werner (Ship of Fools), but it was Lee Marvin who took home the statue for his work in Cat Ballou.
Of particular note to Mister B was the award for Best Short Subject. A cartoon by Chuck Jones and Les Goldman, The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics, won the Oscar for Best Short Subject. Every boomer knows the work of Chuck Jones. His Warner Bros. and MGM cartoons were favorites when we were young, and classics now. Boomers loved his work on Tom and Jerry, Looney Tunes, Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and for Mister B, especially, Road Runner cartoons, to name a few.
The Dot and the Line was inspired by Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions, an 1884 novella by Edwin Abbott. It was an exploration into different dimensions as well as a comment on Victorian society and culture. Jones’ The Dot and the Line is a whimsical love story about a line pining for the love of his life, a dot. The dot isn’t interested in the line, though, because “she” perceives “him” to be too rigid and stiff. Instead, she hangs out with the more impulsive squiggle. The line learns to bend itself, first into basic shapes, then mastering parabolic curves and complex mathematical forms to ultimately win over the dot when she realizes the squiggle is too impulsive and chaotic compared to the expert control of the line.
Mister B is a creative type, so he was always fascinated by the sheer beauty of every frame — each a modern painting in its own right. The cartoon pares down characters and scenery to a seemingly impossible bare minimum. Simple shapes and limited colors tell a very believable story as lines and dots acquire human characteristics.
Through the years there has been some talk that The Dot and the Line, like its Flatlands inspiration, was making a comment on culture and society. The argument goes, the rigidity of post-War America is represented by the line, the optimism for the future by the dot, and the restless aura of change by the squiggle. There is a brief musical introduction when the squiggle first appears, and it is definitely rock ‘n roll in its genre. Some say the chaotic squiggle represents the upheaval the rigid society perceived at the dawning of rock ‘n roll. In such an argument, reason, logic and trust in innovation win out over chaos.
For Mister B, an art history aficionado, the cartoon reflects what was happening in the art of the day. Abstract Expressionism had its start in pre-War Europe, but it was post-War American painters who brought it front and center to the world. Accenting gesture, emotion, freedom, individuality and expression, it embodied the elation of a new era. By the 1960s, change was in the air as a growing population, and especially boomers, began to be disillusioned with the idealized world that immediately followed the world’s second War to End All Wars. Civil Rights, women’s rights, poverty and individual freedom became rallying cries, and music reflected this movement. Art, on the other hand, went toward Minimalism, which concentrated on geometry, the depersonalization of industrial fabrication and purposeful lack of imbued emotion. The Dot and the Line bears aspects of both of those art movements in its execution, as both art movements residing side by side in the mid-60s.
Putting all the pseudo-intellectual explorations aside, The Dot and the Line should be enjoyed for what it is: a love story set in a particular space and time. For the imaginative manner in which this story was told, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded it the Oscar. Another great boomer moment.
Do you recall seeing The Dot and the Line in theaters, boomers?