A funny thing happened on television Sunday night. There were these couple of "swamp rats" from Louisiana on the high-def screen . . . and nobody was yelling "Choot 'em!"
They were dressed in tuxedos, not overalls.
No boats or guns were involved.
And so was an Academy Award -- the swamp rats won one for one of the most endearing animated shorts you will ever watch, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. It is a treasure. And even a Louisiana native like me has to admit that "treasure" and "Shreveport" are not terms that often fraternize.
That just changed, thanks to director and writer William Joyce, co-director Brandon Oldenburg and their Shreveport studio, in business less than two years.
As Joyce and Oldenburg, the film's directors, walked the red carpet and mingled with stars in Hollywood, Moonbot employees held their own Oscar watch party, red carpet included, at Marilynn's Place in Shreveport. Emotions were high at the restaurant where around 70 people anxiously watched and waited for the envelope to be opened. A loud thunder of cheers and shrill screams followed the announcement.IN OTHER WORDS, what the story is really about is the power of beauty . . . and of love. Isn't that what all the best stories are about?
"Look, we're just these two swamp rats from Louisiana," Joyce said in his acceptance speech. " We love the movies more than anything. It's been a part of our lives since we were both kids."
"It's been a part of our DNA since we were children, and it's made us storytellers," Oldenburg added.
Lead animator Jamil Lahham was in disbelief after Moonbot's victory. He said the Oscar win is just the beginning for Louisiana's film industry.
"These guys in the city and government started something and I think now it's paying off," Lahham said.
"Mr. Morris Lessmore" is Moonbot's first released animation project. Founded in 2010, the studios has also developed and produced the iPad application, "The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore."
The 14-minute long film follows Mr. Morris Lessmore during the aftermath of a storm in New Orleans. Through the power of stories and books, he finds happiness. It beat four other short films in the category including Pixar's "La Luna."
To tell you the God's honest truth, I meant to write this post hours and hours ago. I would have, too, had I been able to figure out why watching this little gem of a film left me with tears streaming down my face. Every time.
The best I can come up with is that it's . . . the power of beauty. And love.
It's similar to how you might get choked up and teary eyed upon witnessing an act of extraordinary kindness or sacrificial love. It's akin to how you might be wholly undone by becoming the recipient of extraordinary -- and unmerited -- grace.
We live as a defeated people, though willfully unaware of that tragedy, amid the ruins of a devastated culture. I think the way you recognize a devastated culture and a defeated people is by how cynical and ugly it -- they -- have become. Switch on the flat screen and the cable box and tell me what you see.
Turn on the radio and tell me what you hear.
That's all right. I don't notice the ugliness that much anymore, either. It helps that I try not to watch that much television, but even so, you get inured to it or you slowly go mad. This leads to the obvious question of whether madness by today's standards oftentimes would be considered sanity by some more objective gauge, but that's the subject of another post entirely.
Still, when you live in the sewer, you get to where you don't notice the sewage anymore. Or the smell.
When you live in a cynical, debased and dying culture, you don't notice the necrosis. Death and decay is the new normal.
WHAT YOU do notice amid death is life. What you do see amid the darkness is the light. What leaves you gobsmacked amid ugly is beauty. What undoes you amid the indifference of cynicism is the appearance of love.
About a century and a half ago, an English poet (and Catholic priest) had something to say about this:
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.THIS POEM, God's Grandeur by Gerard Manley Hopkins, found its way into books -- books that fed countless souls, words of man destined to become yet another manifestation of the power and the glory of what the Almighty hath wrought.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
As random kindness or unexpected grace have the power to undo us in the face of our casual cruelty, so does any light amid this present darkness -- or any beauty arising to rebuke the grotesque we take for granted.
That's why I think The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore hit me the way it did. Like the prophets of old, one cannot stand in the presence of God and not be shattered -- especially when caught so unawares -- and that presence illuminates the intersection of truth, beauty and love.
As far as I'm concerned, and by that standard, every frame of Morris Lessmore is charged with the grandeur of God.
Better yet, the grandeur of God is a bargain. In a country where we spend thousands a year for the privilege of being slimed, this little bit of "the Holy Ghost over the bent world" costs but $1.99 on iTunes.
And just $2.99 for HD.