5 Awesome Anthology Films
What’s an anthology film you ask? It’s one of those feature films that’s really a bunch of short films or disparate narratives stitched together somehow. Sometimes they’re called omnibus films, or (my personal fav) portmanteau films. But, dear readers, I wrote this piece merely to present Grand Hotel to a broader audience. That’s me, fighting the good fight!
Hey, it’s short film month here at Toronto Film Scene! We all love short films, those bite-sized bits of cinema that tell a complete story in 20 minutes or less. But too often, short films get short shrift because there aren’t too many venues for them. Sure there are short film festivals and shorts programs at film festivals, but where do get a steady supply? Not very many places, that’s where. I like to think that it’s this state of affairs that gave birth to the anthology film. Also known as an omnibus film or a portmanteau film, an anthology film is a feature film consisting of several short films, tied together by a theme, a premise, or an interlocking event.
The TFS list: 5 awesome anthology films
Sometimes anthology films are managed by a single director, or sometimes several different directors contribute. Either way, anthology films satisfy our taste for short films and maybe provide a little comfort. Afterall, what is life but a series of seemingly unrelated, chaotic events that ultimately (hopefully?) resolves into a one coherent narrative? So let’s raise a glass to narrative fluidity and celebrate 5 amazing anthology films.
1. Grand Hotel (1932) dir. Edmund Goulding
Grand Hotel is a plush and luxurious hotel in Berlin where “People come, people go. Nothing ever happens.” But of course, lots of stuff does happen amongst the hotels diverse group of weekend guests. Released by MGM in 1932, the movie boasts a star studded cast in Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Lionel Barrymore, John Barrymore, and Wallace Beery – just to name a few. It’s the hotel that these characters have in common, though their stories interweave as they meet, scheme, and woo their way to check out time. Though Grand Hotel is one of the earliest examples of an anthology film, it has become a kind of narrative standard for the genre. The phrase “Grand Hotel theme” is often used to describe any drama that follows various characters in a large busy setting.
2. Quartet (1948) dirs. Ken Annakin, Arthur Crabtree, Harold French, Ralph Smart
Short fiction makes great fodder for short films, and Quartet is an anthology film that capitalizes on that phenomena. Based on four separate short stories of W. Somerset Maugham with each story directed by a different director, it’s style and tone that binds theses narratives together. The author himself provided an introduction to each segment and the film was so successful it prompted two sequels, Trio (1950) and Encore (1951).
3. The Illustrated Man (1969) dir. Jack Smight
This film adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man is an example of the “frame narrative” form of an anthology film. Each tattoo on the body a man who’s body is almost completely covered in ink tells a story when a viewer stares into it. At the same time, the man is searching for the woman who drew the designs. At the time of its release, The Illustrated Man was a commercial and critical failure. Nevertheless, the framed anthology film was quite popular in the sci-fi and horror genres of the 1960s and 1970s.
4. The Red Violin (1998) dir. Francois Girard
Anyone who has ever picked up an cool object in a thrift store and wondered where it has been and who has owned will love this anthology film. The story follows one perfect red violin across various owners and three centuries until is ends up at auction looking for a new owner. Set is a dazzling array of locations - Cremona, Vienna, Oxford, Shanghai, and Montreal - each segment features dialouge in the native language of the location, it’s the movie’s signature violin solo by composer John Corigliano the disparate stories together.
5. Paris, je t’aime (2006) dirs. Joel and Ethan Coen, Gérard Depardieu, Wes Craven, Gus Van Sant, among others
Paris, je t’aime might just be the non plus ultra of anthology films, at least in terms of volume. The two-hour film features 18 short films set in the different arrondissements of Paris. In total 22 different directors worked on this movie, including two directors whose shorts didn’t make the final cut and the directors of the transitions sequences that appear between each story. It spawned something of a cottage industry, with the release of New York, I Love You in 2008 with plans for Rio, Eu Te Amo, Shanghai, 我爱你 and Jerusalem, I Love You.
This piece was originally published at thetfs.ca.