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There’s been a lot of buzz online this past week about a newly discovered Mickey Mouse short, but it’s not anyhting made by the Disney studio. It’s the resurfacing of the rare 1968 short Mickey Mouse in Vietnam produced by painter W. Lee Savage and graphic designer Milton Glaser.
The one-minute short isn’t technically accomplished, but manages to make a powerful and subversive statement through the manipulation of the famed graphic icon. Within seconds of arriving in Vietnam, Mickey Mouse—that all-American symbol of goodness and positivity—is destroyed, and along with it, the myth of American moral superiority.
The clip above is an animation-related outtake from the new Mel Brooks documentary Make a Noise which debuted earlier this week on PBS. In the clip, Brooks talks about the genesis of Ernie Pintoff’s Oscar-winning short The Critic:
This wasn’t the first time Pintoff had collaborated with a Jewish comedian. An earlier film he’d made, The Violinist (1959), featured the voice of Carl Reiner:
Neither of the shorts, however, can live up to Pintoff’s greatest collaboration with a Jewish actor—Flebus—the 1957 Terrytoons short that featured the vocal stylings of the inimitable Allen Swift.
(Thanks, Rogelio Enrique Toledo, via Cartoon Brew’s Facebook page)
On Thursday, May 30, the Filmpodium Zurich in Switzerland will present a screening of nine Warner Bros. shorts directed by the legendary Bob Clampett. The show is being presented in honor of his centennial, which was earlier this month. Clampett’s work isn’t well known in Switzerland and the film lineup is a solid primer to his work:
I am a big fan of subversive books, say the ”recommended inappropriate books for kids” featured in Lane Smith’s Curious Pages. That said, I also have observed that kids respond better to some of these more than others, an issue I explored years ago in a Horn Book article “Pets and Other Fishy Books.” And so, when I ran into Jon Scieszka a few months ago and he excitedly told me about the forthcoming Battle Bunny, I was intrigued but also wary — was this a book kids would get or would it be something more amusing for adults? So when an advanced copy of the book showed up in the mail recently I took it to school to see what my students thought.
First of all, let me try to explain just what it is (and how tricky it was to read aloud). If you look at the cover above you can perhaps see that it appears to be a sweet book of the Golden Book sort, originally titled Birthday Bunny, that has been erased, scribbled on, and reworked by…someone. I began by showing the cover to the kids and we discussed what that original book was; some of them knew Golden Books, but all of them appreciated that it was meant to be one of those sweet little journey books they’d all read when very small. Next we explored the scribbles — evidently someone named Alex had received the book from his grandmother for his birthday (there is an inscription on the inside front cover), wasn’t too happy, and decided to make it into a completely new story. And so he thoroughly erased the original title and put his own in instead. As for the interior, he crossed-out text, added new words and art, and turns the story into something completely different.
The first day I tried reading the book aloud on my own— alternating between the original text and Alex’s. The next day I invited one child to join me, reading Alex’s story and then had the kids take over completely — one reading Birthday Bunny and the other reading Battle Bunny. They had a great time! It may well be that the best way to take in the book is solo or with one other child, but I still think it was a blast to read this way. The group reacted, pointed out small things to one another, and just had a lot of fun. Jon tells me they are planning on providing a copy of The Birthday Bunny online for kids to print out and rework just as Alex did. Great idea!
So for those like me who go for this sort of thing (and not everyone does, I know), The Battle Bunny is an excellent addition to the world of subversive books for children.
In 2005, Don Bluth and producing partner Gary Goldman donated their animation archives to Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). The substantial collection includes all the artwork they had saved beginning with Banjo the Woodpile Cat in 1979, as well as administrative and legal documents, scripts, unproduced concepts and publicity materials.
SCAD is currently on a years-long mission to process and catalog the material so that it will be accessible to researchers and students. They’ve posted a generous sampling of the materials on the Don Bluth Collection website including pencil tests from Space Ace, storyboards from The Secret of NIMH, and character designs from Thumbelina. Even if you’re like me, and find Bluth’s work to be mechanical and generic, it’s hard to deny the immense value of preserving an archive of this scale and making it available to future generations.
Chuck Jones is one of the marquee names of American animation history. He created characters such as Pepe le Pew, Marvin Martian, Gossamer, Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote, and directed classic shorts like Rabbit Seasoning, Duck Amuck, Feed the Kitty, The Dover Boys, One Froggy Evening, Duck Dodgers in the 24½th Century and What’s Opera, Doc?, to name just a few. A lesser known fact about Jones is that during the 1950s he and his wife Dorothy (nickname: Dottie) were avid participants of the Southern California Western square dancing craze, a style of dance explained in this video:
Jones never spoke of his love for square dancing in either of his biographies: Chuck Amuck or Chuck Reducks. His appreciation for the dance never manifested itself in the films he made either. In fact, the quintessential Warner Bros. square dance cartoon, Hillbilly Hare, was directed by Jones’ colleague, Robert McKimson. Jones’ enthusiasm for square dancing was well known around the studio, however. He organized lunchtime dances, and claimed that the other directors, like McKimson and Friz Freleng, as well as producer Eddie Selzer, became fascinated with the dance as well.
Throughout the 1950s, Chuck contributed magazine covers and a regular column to a Southern California magazine called Sets in Order. Within the past year, the University of Denver Digital Archive has added a PDF archive of Sets in Order. (Go HERE for a more clearly indexed list of back issues). In the gallery below, I’ve compiled all of Chuck’s covers, a couple illustrated articles he did, and one of his columns which was especially animation related. Should you wish to dig through the archives, there are dozens of other “Chuck’s Notebook” columns within the 1950s and early-’60s issues. They’re esoteric and often obtuse, but are decorated with Chuck’s spot illustrations and provide some unique insights into his personality.
There are lots of hidden goodies in the columns that Jones wrote, and now that they are so readily accessible, they will hopefully be scrutinized more closely by historians. Animator and historian Greg Duffell introduced me to these drawings when he did an article about them in my ‘zine Animation Blast. In that piece, Greg pointed out astutely how some of Chuck’s drawings in the magazine foreshadowed the designs of characters who later appeared in films like The Phantom Tollbooth, Deduce You Say, Rocket-bye Baby and I was a Teenage Thumb. Whether you recognize the references or not, the drawings that Jones created for Sets in Order stand on their own and can be appreciated today as exquisite examples of mid-century cartooning.
All the material in here was drawn by Chuck Jones for Sets in Order which is copyright Bob Osgood.
ROSS ANDERSON is currently writing the definitive book about the making of Roger Rabbit, beginning with Gary K. Wolf’s novel and Disney’s early Roger Rabbit development unit, continuing with the production of “Who framed Roger Rabbit”, and through the follow-up shorts, merchandising and theme park presence, and development work on sequels. He wrote this piece exclusively for Cartoon Brew about the 25th anniversary screening of “Roger Rabbit” that took place last week in Los Angeles.
On Thursday evening, April 4th, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences hosted the first public screening of the new digital print of Who framed Roger Rabbit. The preparation of the digital print coincides with the release of the 25th anniversary Blu-ray edition of the film, and the Academy hosted a terrific show.
When the tickets were made available on-line they sold out within a day or two. The film was enormously popular when it was released and it has been a touchstone for film and animation enthusiasts ever since. I can’t take credit for the touchstone/Touchstone remark—that came from Rich Moore, director of Wreck-It Ralph, who was the moderator of the panel discussion that followed the film screening.
The event attendees were polite and mature in their behavior, although many of them hadn’t been born when the film was released. The enthusiasm for the film has some of the earmarks of coltishness, but it is not as though the adoration is a personal ‘find’ and a delight against all reason. There are ample reasons to delight in the film, and everybody has their own joys that they find in it. Mine – is that I had been a life-long animation enthusiast who found it difficult to share my enthusiasm with friends. I was in university when Robin Hood was released. I would have been harassed unmercifully if my interest in Disney animation had become known to my dorm-mates. Who framed Roger Rabbit made animation ‘cool’ again…and it made money, which increased the enthusiasm of the studios. Many people in the animation industry credit the film with ushering in a silver age of feature animation.
Academy member and veteran animation director Bill Kroyer introduced the screening. Bill was a young animator at the Disney studio prior to the first onslaught of CalArts grads, who included John Lasseter, Tim Burton, Brad Bird, Henry Selick, John Musker, Jerry Rees, and Darrell Van Citters. They were all frustrated with how Disney animation was functioning in the early-1980s.
Tom Wilhite, the young Disney Live-Action Studio Head, saw their frustration and did what he could to enable projects that would satisfy their creative juices and keep them at the studio. Aside from John Musker, they were all eventually fired or left the studio of their own accord, but out of that early grouping came Tim Burton’s Vincent and Frankenweenie and John Lasseter’s The Brave Little Toaster, which Wilhite eventually produced, with Jerry Rees directing, as ‘Hyperion Pictures’, after he, too, left Disney. Wilhite also brought Tron to the Disney studio and was responsible for setting up the Roger Rabbit development unit at Disney in 1981, helmed by Darrell Van Citters.
Bill Kroyer was one of the first ‘animators’ to do computer animation. He and Jerry Rees were assigned to the Tron production to work with the early CGI providers. The computer software at that time was not intuitive at all, so there was more hand-drawn ‘logistical guidance’ for the programmers than most people realize. That was Bill and Jerry. Their involvement also fired up John Lasseter’s interest in computer animation. The Brave Little Toaster was intended to be the first full length CGI animated feature.
Tom Wilhite sent memos to scoop up Bill Kroyer, Jerry Rees, John Lasseter, Ron Clements, Mike Gabriel, Randy Cartwright, and Glen Keane for the Roger Rabbit unit… Wouldn’t that have been something?
Tron was released in 1982, at a time that the Darrell Van Citters’ Roger Rabbit development unit was getting into full swing. Screenwriters Peter Seaman and Jeffrey Price had just come off of Trenchcoat, a Disney mystery/comedy, and Wilhite assigned them to prepare a screenplay for Roger Rabbit. At that time Wilhite also sent memos to Darrell and Marc Stirdivant, the Disney house producer assigned to the development unit, to scoop up Bill Kroyer, Jerry Rees, John Lasseter, Ron Clements, Randy Cartwright, Mike Gabriel, and Glen Keane for the Roger Rabbit unit. Other things were happening at the studio, and soon most of those people were gone… but wouldn’t that have been something?
Back to the screening – Bill Kroyer called out many of the attendees who had been instrumental in making the film. This list isn’t exhaustive, but those who did stand up included voice actors Charles Fleischer (Roger Rabbit, Benny the Cab and others), June Foray (Lena Hyena), and Tony Anselmo (Donald Duck), animators Andreas Dejas and Nik Ranieri, screenwriters Seaman and Price, editor Artie Schmidt, London studio manager Max Howard, producers Steve Starkey and Don Hahn, and, of course, director Bob Zemeckis.
The film screening was wonderful. The digital print was clear and fresh and the colors popped out at you. Not having seen the film on the big screen for twenty-five years, I found it difficult to discern whether the viewing pleasure was due to anything particular associated with the digital print or simply that I was sharing the big screen experience with a room full of similarly enthusiastic viewers. The quality aspects of the digital restoration were being hotly debated within knots of people after the screening was over.
A panel discussion followed the screening. It was hosted by Rich Moore and included Peter Seaman, Jeffrey Price, Andreas Deja, Charles Fleischer, Joanna Cassidy, Steve Starkey, Bob Zemeckis, and Don Hahn. There were many reminiscences from the production. Most of them were well known to the real Roger Rabbit enthusiasts, but the ones who resonated the most for me were those that put the ‘25-years’ into perspective. We have heard about Who framed Roger Rabbit having way more special effects than Star Wars, but it was also one of the last of the great ‘optical’ effects films. It was a different era.
Zemeckis reminisced that, “we had FedEx and ¾” tape – we had technology by the tail.” He spoke about the first finished animation that came over from the London studio unit. It was the portion of the introductory Something Cookin’ cartoon in which the chili sauce falls off the shelf in Roger’s kettle-head. The British animators spelled ‘chili’ in the British manner, with two l’s (‘chilli’). The scene had to be completely re-animated.
In the scene which the camera trucks over the newspaper headlines showing the Toon cases solved by Valiant & Valiant on Eddie’s desk, the London studio had used the banners of LA newspapers of the time (1947), without having asked permission of the newspapers. One newspaper ended up refusing permission to use their banner – and this complicated scene had to be completely re-shot. Another anecdote was that Paul Newman had been considered for the role of Eddie Valiant. Charles Fleischer immediately shot back that Judge Doom would then have had to use ‘dressing’ instead of ‘dip’.
The greatest benefit of the digital presentation was the close-ups on the actors’ faces…there was sublime acting and emotion that contributed enormously to the ‘reality’ of their interaction with the ’toons.
Don Hahn made a call out for Richard Williams, who recently celebrated his 80th birthday. Richard had hoped to attend but was unable to make it. Also, during the panel discussion, it became clear that the presence of Bob Hoskins was greatly missed. He was universally acclaimed for his work on the film. I must say that the greatest benefit that I saw with the digital presentation was in the close-ups on the actors’ faces. There was sublime acting and emotion that contributed enormously to the ‘reality’ of their interaction with the ’toons. We ‘felt’ it and it was an integral aspect of the great ‘conceit’ of the live-action/toon combination, but the subliminal effects were often lost in the chaos of the action. In this viewing, they popped out at me.
It was a great night. Following the conclusion of the panel discussionm, the many Roger Rabbit production participants reunited on stage to catch up on 25 years. The ‘celebrities’ amongst them were cornered for autographs, and the ‘no photography’ policy of the Academy theater was completely thrown out the window as the hundreds of cameras that were spirited into the theater finally came out.
A group shot was hastily organized and there were many more Roger Rabbit alumni present than had been called out during the evening’s introduction. I counted at least twenty-five alumni. I had the pleasure of speaking to many of them and seeing several of them the next day. It was a special night for Roger Rabbit fans and a special night for those who were involved in making it.
Of course, there is a lot more here then what ended up in the final short. Because of his poor health, he had to leave out a great deal of material. Sadly, it makes the final piece feel unfinished. Albert’s hallucination sequence especially would have been marvelous to see fleshed out in animation. Fortunately, not all of his hard work went to waste. His storyboard for this special laid the foundation for his final Pogo book, Pogo: We Have Met the Enemy and He Is Us.
As much as I love seeing Kelly’s animation, watching and listening to the storyboard is a much more enjoyable experience. His storyboard panels have as much time and care put into them as his comics, with full color, fleshed-out poses and backgrounds. Each panel is expertly laid out, making every action clear and easy to read.
But I think the most enjoyable aspect is Kelly’s mostly ad-libbed narration. You can tell what kind of person he was just by his vocal delivery. At times he’s full of bravado, belting out lines in a bombastic tone. Other times he can be soft-spoken, sincere and passionately poetic. And sometimes he makes absolutely no sense at all, talking in almost complete gibberish, fumbling over words and mumbling nonsensical sounds. Most of all, what stands out is his unparalleled wit, which is on display throughout the entire 25-minute presentation. I especially love his impromptu descriptions of scene transitions and camera movements.
With this storyboard, Walt Kelly has come full circle. Starting at Disney in the mid-30s, working for five years refining and strengthening his drawing abilities, leaving animation to pursue a lengthy career in comics, and finally returning to animation once again, this time with the added benefit of decades of experience.
I think all twelve programs compromising the latest Platform International Animation Festival are terrific – not a bad show in the batch. Otomo, Pes, Disney’s Paperman crew, The Cartoon Network creators, the festival screenings and animators panels. One program in particular has me very jazzed – a tribute pioneering stop-motion animator Ladislas Starewitch.
Platform will present a rare screening of four 35mm archival silent short films (accompanied by live music) by this influential surrealistic filmmaker. Starewitch, who lived most of his life in Paris, made films using unique, bizarre puppets and on occasion, manipulated real (dead) insects. The program will include: 1921′s L’Epouvantail (The Scarecrow), 1923′s Amour Noir et Blanc (Love in Black and White), 1927′s La Reine des Papillons (Queen of the Butterflies), and 1925′s Les Yeux du Dragon (Eyes of The Dragon).
This program is actually the opening night event for Platform. It’s on Friday night, Oct. 26th, at 7:30pm in the Redcat Theatre (at the Disney Music Hall, Downtown L.A.). For more information and tickets, click here.
This Friday, November 9th, New Yorkers can see the East Coast premiere of Kevin Schreck’s new documentary Persistence of Vision, about Richard William’s never-completed-as-envisioned The Thief and the Cobbler. Williams worked on the film from the mid-1960s through the early-1990s before it was taken away from him and finished by producer Fred Calvert.
I’m really looking forward to seeing Schreck’s film, which includes interviews with many people who worked on the film, though not Williams who declined to participate. If the film is playing at a festival near you, see it! The documentary likely won’t be released on home video anytime soon because Schreck didn’t obtain permission from the copyright holders whose animation appears in the film. Sadly, this is just about the only way nowadays to do honest projects of a historical nature since the handful of conglomerates that own vast film libraries don’t understand the value of cooperating with historians and researchers to present an accurate portrait of animation history.
The film screens on Friday at 9:15pm at the SVA Theater (333 W. 23rd Street, NY, NY). The director will do a Q&A after the film. Tickets cannot be purchased at the theater. They must be purchased in advance, either at the IFC Center or online HERE. There’s also a Facebook page for the film where you can bug the filmmakers to bring a screening to your city.
I don’t believe I’d ever seen the Oscar-nominated Further Adventures of Uncle Sam (1970) until today. It’s a fascinating time-capsule of the era – post Yellow Submarine, pre-Fritz The Cat and very much of the underground comix zeitgeist of the time. Directed by Dale Case and Robert Mitchell, and produced by The Haboush Company of Hollywood, during a time of general malaise in the animation industry – when some of the young guns (Murakami-Wolf) and old timers (Stephen Bosustow) decided to self-produce personal films of social commentary.
Note: This film is listed everywhere as The Further Adventures of Uncle Sam Part 2, though “Part 2″ does not appear on-screen as part of the title. If anyone knows why this is – or if there is a “Part 1″ somewhere – let us know.
Cat Writers' Association Muse Medallion Winner
World's Best Litter-ary Award Winner
Nebraska Golden Sower Award list 2012-13
Illinois Monarch K-3 Readers' Choice Award list 2012-13
NY State Charlotte Award list 2011-12
Delaware Diamond Award list 2011-12
Storytelling World Award Honor Title 2011
Bank Street Best Books for Children 2011
Wanda Gág Best Read Aloud Book Award 2011 Honor Book
Society of School Librarians International Honor Book 2010
Smithsonian Notable Books for Children 2010
NSW Premier Reading Challenge Book (Australia)
1st grade Read-Aloud Choice, 25th Annual Read-Aloud Day, Bridgeport, CT
Apparently, someone on ebay is selling brand new cylinder records – I assume for those who still have working Edison Amberola phonograph machines. But the big news is that this particular cylinder features a 1931 recording of Bill Murray with Al Dollar & His Ten Cent Band performing a song called Popeye the Sailor Man. This is not the cartoon theme song, but its a fun little ditty performed by Murray, an occasional voice in classic Max Fleischer cartoons (often as Bimbo). So to heck with CDs and mp3 downloads, enjoy this recording as it was never meant to be heard – on cylinder:
I love today’s Nerdy Book Club post, Melissa Williamson’s “Tales of Adoration $ Appreciation.” In it, Melissa describes her passion for Edgar Allen Poe and how she successfully communicated that passion to her students. While as teachers we want to encourage our students to find their own passions as readers I feel there is a place to also model and share ours with them just as Melissa did with her students. She used her own enthusiasm, comics, visuals, public speaking, and more to excite her own students with the work of this classical writer.
I do something similar with Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. That is, through my excitement and the activities I do, my students become as infatuated with that book as I am. I read aloud the book, stopping along the way for my class to try out a quadrille, play a bit of indoor croquet, and explore various logic and mathematical tricks along the way. And we always end with a project. For years it was a new kid-illustrated and annotated version, then we did toy theater puppet shows, and last year we did book trailers.
I encourage other teachers to do this as well. What may appear old and tired can come alive with the personal passion of a creative and talented teacher!
I was very dubious. I’m such a fan of Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows with Ratty, Mole, and Toad and their adventures. The book has always seemed a sort of old boy’s adventure, “old boy” in the sense of those of a particular class and who went to British boarding schools and messed around in the countryside just as those delightful characters do on the riverside. So when I heard that Jacqueline Kelly was working on a sequel my immediate reaction was why? Those original characters are perfectly fine as they mess with their boats, so don’t mess with their book, I thought. Leave ‘em alone.
And so I open Kelly’s Return to the Willows, intending to just take a quick look, but I kept reading intrigued and before long I’d read the whole thing. And guess what, reader? I liked it.
First of all Kelly clearly knows and loves the original and manages, as few have before her, to pay homage while creating something new at the same time. She perfectly captures the nature of the three original heroes: Ratty, Mole, and Toad and even manages to bring out gruff old Badger a bit. And then she successfully adds in two new characters: Toad’s nephew Humphrey and a female baker rat, Matilda. Both work within the well-recreated world of Grahame’s as well as open it up for today’s young readers. I think, in fact, their additions are very sly and smart. Humphrey offers someone for young readers to latch on to as they might not our original three heroes. And Matilda — I admit I was very skeptical and a bit hostile to her at first as the original book feels so much about a bunch of school boys, but I was won over completely. She makes such good sense within that world, is lightly introduced, and then plays an important part near the end. Very nicely done indeed.
Kelly delightfully maintains that particular world of comfort, pleasant days, and slight adventure. It has been a while since I read the original, but it felt like Kelly was somewhat channelling its structure. There are smaller events to start, then a removal for Toad and another trip back (even involving a revisit to his former place of trial), a hearty battle yet again with those weasels and stoats, and finally a satisfyingly hearty ending.
One of the reason it works so well is that Kelly has done a very fine job with the language, somehow lightly maintaining Grahame’s style in a way that will be accessible for readers today. (One way is through her footnotes — I do wonder though if kids will bother to read them. Though I guess they did with Snicket and those are just the sort of readers who will gravitate to this book.)
Ultimately it is Kelly’s clear love and appreciation of the original that makes this shine. Lovely little touches such as the Chief Weasel and Under-Stoat seeing that Toad’s nephew Humphrey gets a lavish picnic lunch even as they are about to kidnap him (and seeing he continues to be well-fed throughout his ordeal). Toad’s stint at Cambridge, his unfortunate taste for vehicles of every sort, and so forth.
Three cheers for Ms. Kelly for doing so well by Ratty, Mole, Toad, Badger, and the whole world of them.
For years one of my favorite books to read aloud to my 4th graders was The Hobbit. Tolkien’s narrative voice, the adventures, Bilbo, Smaug, the riddles, the wit, everything about it was just great fun. The last time I did so was when Jackson’s Lord of the Ring movies were starting to come out so it has been a while and I’d been debating to do so again.
Regarding that movie, having not seen it yet (though I will later today) I’ve been trying very, very, very hard not to be harsh about what Jackson is doing with the story — adding in stuff from elsewhere, stretching out the one novel into three movies, changing what is a lovely singular adventure story into a massive epic…and so on. But still…there is no way it is going to be the charming story I remember. I do get that it is what Tolkien later wanted — to rework what was originally a plain children’s story into a prequel for the LOTR, but to mind something is lost by doing so.
And so what a pleasure to come across (via Mr. Schu) Mark Guarino’s article, “‘The Hobbit’ is a tale that begs to be read aloud.” Guarino and those he interviewed capture beautifully what indeed made the book such fun to read aloud, notably that slightly intrusive omniscient third person narrator.
The Flintstones have been duly celebrated throughout the years, but one part of the Hanna-Barbera series that hasn’t received much attention is its iconic architectural setting: those brilliantly appealing and organic circular ranch houses topped with pancaked granite slabs.
The designer of the prehistoric Flintstones universe was a man named Ed Benedict (1912-2006), the same man who designed the show’s characters.
Benedict dreamt up the Flintstones homes almost entirely from imagination. He was once asked if he used any reference to design them. He replied, “No, with the exception of on the interior of one of the samples I made, I did look up some prehistoric stuff—cave paintings. I just looked up in there and got the old typical buffalo looking thing running across a wall, just to get the flavor of it.”
Benedict had had a bit of practice with this kind of work. He had designed cavemen and cavehomes once before for the 1955 Tex Avery short The First Bad Man:
The cave homes in The First Bad Man, built into the sides of rock formations, look uncomfortable compared to the domesticated setting of the Flintstones, replete with garages, front yards with flower beds, swimming pools and living rooms with couches. Benedict probably didn’t come up with the original idea of allowing the Flintstones all the creature comforts of suburbia, but the credit for making the idea work visually belongs to him.
The Flintstones designs in the image gallery below were created by Benedict for the original network presentation. These pieces established the general look and feel of the Flintstones universe and served as a guide for the layout artists who were charged with building out the world in each episode. A rare photographic print set of these drawings is currently being auctioned on HowardLowery.com.
One definition of a classic book is a work which inspires repeated metamorphoses. Romeo and Juliet, Gulliver’s Travels, Frankenstein, Dracula, The Great Gatsby don’t just wait in their original forms to be watched or read, but continually migrate from one medium to another: painting, opera, melodrama, dramatization, film, comic-strip. New technologies inspire further reincarnations. Sometimes it’s a matter of transferring a version from one medium to another — audio recordings to digital files, say. More often, different technologies and different markets encourage new realisations: Hitchcock’s Psycho re-shot in colour; French or German films remade for American audiences; widescreen or 3D remakes of classic movies or stories.
Cinema is notoriously hungry for adaptations of literary works. The adaptation that’s been preoccupying me lately is the BBC/HBO version of Parade’s End, the series of four novels about the Edwardian era and the First World War, written by Ford Madox Ford. Ford was British, but an unusually cosmopolitan and bohemian kind of Brit. His father was a German émigré, a musicologist who ended up as music critic for the London Times. His mother was an artist, the daughter of the Pre-Raphaelite painter Ford Madox Brown. Ford was educated trilingually, in French and German as well as English. When he was introduced to Joseph Conrad at the turn of the century, they decided to collaborate on a novel, and went on over a decade to produce three collaborative books. He also got to know Henry James and Stephen Crane at this time — the two Americans were also living nearby, on the Southeast coast of England. Americans were to prove increasingly important in Ford’s life. He moved to London in 1907, and soon set up the literary magazine that helped define pre-war modernism: the English Review. He had a gift for discovering new talent, and was soon publishing D. H. Lawrence and Wyndham Lewis alongside James and Conrad. But it was Ezra Pound, who he also met and published at this time, who was to become his most important literary friend after Conrad.
Ford served in the First World War, getting injured and suffering from shell shock in the Battle of the Somme. He moved to France after the war, where he soon joined forces with Pound again, to form another influential modernist magazine, the transatlantic review, which published Joyce, Gertrude Stein, and Jean Rhys. Ford took on another young American, Ernest Hemingway, as his sub-editor. Ford held regular soirees, either in a working class dance-hall with a bar that he’d commandeered, or in the studio he lived in with his partner, the Australian painter Stella Bowen. He found himself at the centre of the (largely American) expatriate artist community in the Paris of the 20s. And it was there, and in Provence in the winters, and partly in New York, that he wrote the four novels of Parade’s End, that made him a celebrity in the US. He spent an increasing amount of time in the US through the 20s and 30s, based on Fifth Avenue in New York, becoming a writer in residence in the small liberal arts Olivet College in Michigan, spending time with writer-friends like Theodore Dreiser and William Carlos Williams, and among the younger generation, Robert Lowell and e. e. cummings.
Parade’s End (1924-28) has been dramatized for TV by Sir Tom Stoppard. It has to be one of the most challenging books to film; but Stoppard has the theatrical ingenuity, and experience, to bring it off. It’s a classic work of Modernism: with a non-linear time-scheme that can jump around in disconcerting ways; dense experimental writing that plays with styles and techniques. Though it includes some of the most brilliant conversations in the British novel, and its characters have a strong dramatic presence, much of it is inherently un-dramatic and, you might have thought, unfilmable: long interior monologues, descriptions of what characters see and feel; and — perhaps hardest of all to convey in drama — moments when they don’t say what they feel, or do what we might expect of them. Imagine T. S. Eliot’s ‘The Waste Land’, populated by Chekhovian characters, but set on the Western Front.
I’ve worked on Ford for some years, yet still find him engaging, tantalising, often incomprehensibly rewarding, so I was watching Parade’s End with fascination. [Warning: Spoilers ahead.]
Stoppard and the director, Susanna White, have done an extraordinary job in transforming this rich and complex text into a dramatic line that is at once lucid and moving. Sometimes where Ford just mentions an event in passing, the adaptation dramatizes the scene for us. The protagonist is Christopher Tietjens, a man of high-Tory principle — a paradoxical mix of extreme formality and unconventional intelligence – is played outstandingly by Benedict Cumberbatch, with a rare gift to convey thought behind Tietjens’ taciturn exterior. In the novel’s backstory, Christopher has been seduced in a railway carriage by Sylvia, who thinks she’s pregnant by another man. The TV version adds a conversation as they meet in the train; then cuts rapidly to a sex scene. It’s more than just a hook for viewers unconcerned about textual fidelity, though. What it establishes is what Ford only hints at through the novel, and what would be missed without Tietjen’s brooding thoughts about Sylvia: that her outrageousness turns him on as much as it torments him. In another example, where the novelist can describe the gossip circulating like wildfire in this select upper-class social world, the dramatist needs to give it a location; so Stoppard invents a scene at an Eton cricket match for several of the characters to meet, and insult Valentine Wannop, while she and Tietjens are trying not to have the affair that everyone assumes they are already having. Valentine is an ardent suffragette. In the novel, she and Tietjens argue about women and politics and education. Stoppard introduces a real historical event from the period — a Suffragette slashing Velasquez’s ‘Rokeby Venus’ in the National Gallery — as a way of saying it visually; and then complicating it beautifully with another intensely visual interpolated moment. In the book Ford has Valentine unconcsciously rearranging the cushions on her sofa as she waits to see Tietjens the evening before he’s posted back to the war. When she becomes aware that she’s fiddling with the cushions because she’s anticipating a love-scene with him, the adaptation disconcertingly places Valentine nude on her sofa in the same position as the ‘Rokeby Venus’ — in a flash both sexualizing her politics and politicizing her sexuality.
Such changes cause a double-take in viewers who know the novels. But they’re never gratuitous, and always respond to something genuine in the writing.
Perhaps the most striking transformation comes during one of the most amazing moments in the second volume, No More Parades. Tietjens is back in France, stationed at a Base Camp in Rouen, struggling against the military bureaucracy to get drafts of troops ready to be sent to the Front Line. Sylvia, who can’t help loving Tietjens though he drives her mad, has somehow managed to get across the Channel and pursue him to his Regiment. She has been unfaithful, and he is determined not to sleep with her; but because his principles won’t let a man divorce a woman, he feels obliged to share her hotel room so as not to humiliate her publicly. She is determined to seduce him once more; but has been flirting with other officers in the hotel, two of whom also end up in their bedroom in a drunken brawl. It’s an extraordinary moment of frustration, hysteria, terror (there has been a bombardment that evening), confusion, and farce. In the book we sense Sylvia’s seductive power, and that Tietjens isn’t immune to it, even though by then in love with Valentine. He resists. But in the film version, they kiss passionately before being interrupted.
Valentine and Christopher. Adelaide Clemens and Benedict Cumberbatch in Parade’s End. (c) BBC/HBO.
The scene may have been changed to emphasize the power she still has over Tietjens: as if, paradoxically, he needs to be seen to succumb for a moment to make his resistance to her the more heroic. The change that’s going to exercise enthusiasts of the novels, though, is the way three of the five episodes were devoted to the first novel, Some Do Not…; and roughly one each to the second and third; with very little of the fourth volume, Last Post, being included at all. The third volume, A Man Could Stand Up — ends where the adaptation does, with Christopher and Valentine finally being united on Armistice night, a suitably dramatic and symbolic as well as romantic climax. Last Post is set in the 1920s and deals with post-war reconstruction. One can see why it would have been the hardest to film: much of it is interior monologue, and though Tietjens is often the subject of it he is absent for most of the book. Some crucial scenes from the action of the earlier books is only supplied as characters remember them in Last Post, such as when Syliva turns up after the Armistice night party lying to Christopher and Valentine that she has cancer in an attempt to frustrate their union. Stoppard incorporates this into the last episode, but he writes new dialogue for it to give it a kind of closure the novels studiedly resist. Valentine challenges her as a liar, and from Tietjens’ reaction, Sylvia appears to recognize the reality of his love for her and gives her their blessing.
Rebecca Hall, playing Sylvia, has been so brilliantly and scathingly sarcastic all the way through that this change of heart — moving though it is — might seem out of character: even the character the film gives her, which is arguably more sympathetic than the one most readers find in the novel. Yet her reversal is in Last Post. But what triggers it there, much later on, is when she confronts Valentine but finds her pregnant. Even the genius of Tom Stoppard couldn’t make that happen before Valentine and Christopher have been able to make love. But there are two other factors, which he was able to shift from the post-war time of Last Post into the war’s endgame of the last episode. One is that Sylvia has focused her plotting on a new object. Refusing the role of the abandoned wife of Tietjens, she has now set her sights on General Campion, and begun scheming to get him made Viceroy of India. The other is that she feels she has already dealt Tietjens a devastating blow, in getting the ‘Great Tree’ at his ancestral stately home of Groby cut down. In the book she does this after the war by encouraging the American who’s leasing it to get it felled. In the film she’s done it before the Armistice; she’s at Groby; Tietjens visits there; has a Stoppard scene with Sylvia arranged in her bed like a Pre-Raphaelite vision in a last attempt to re-seduce him, which fails partly because of his anger over the tree. In the books the Great Tree represents the Tietjens family, continuity, even history itself. Ford writes a sentence about how the villagers “would ask permission to hang rags and things from the boughs,” but Stoppard and White make that image of the tree, all decorated with trinkets and charms, a much more prominent motif, returning to it throughout the series, and turning it into a symbol of superstition and magic. But then Stoppard characteristically plays on the motif, and has Christopher take a couple of blocks of wood from the felled tree back to London. One he gives to his brother, in a wonderfully tangible and taciturn gesture of renouncing the whole estate and the history it stands for. The other he uses in his flat, throwing whisky over it in the fireplace to light a fire to keep himself and Valentine warm. That gesture shows how it isn’t just Sylvia who is saying ‘Goodbye to All That’, but all the major characters are anticipating the life that, though the series doesn’t show it, Ford presents in the beautifully elegiac Last Post.
Max Saunders is author of Ford Madox Ford: A Dual Life (OUP, 1996/2012), and editor of Some Do Not . . ., the first volume of Ford’s Parade’s End (Manchester: Carcanet, 2010) and Ford’s The Good Soldier (Oxford: OUP, 2012). He was interviewed by Alan Yentob for the Culture Show’s ‘Who on Earth was Ford Madox Ford’ (BBC 2; 1 September 2012), and his blog on Ford’s life and work can be read on the OUPblog and New Statesman.
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After drawing a crowd of 15,000 attendees to Cowboys Stadium for a live simulcast of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, the Dallas Opera aims for repeated success this April with Turnadot. This year’s curtain-raiser, however, will be the world’s largest screening of What’s Opera, Doc?, displayed on the Stadium’s record-breaking 160-foot wide, 72-foot tall HD screens.
Surprisingly, Cowboys Stadium was planned from the outset to bring high art into the lives of sports fans—Gene Jones, the wife of Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, is almost solely responsible for the Stadium’s museum-quality collection of contemporary art. This arena-turned-cultural center will provide the setting for the latest chapter in the love-hate relationship between animation and classical music.
With Fantasia, Walt Disney quite literally tried to align animation with the high arts, with ostriches unironically performing ballet pas de deuxs set to the “Dance of the Hours” from the opera La Gioconda. Eventually, animation and classical music became a tongue-in-cheek pairing; during the early 1950s it was commonplace to see Wile E. Coyote assemble a spring-loaded rocket launcher to the sounds of a lilting oboe. By the time Chuck Jones produced What’s Opera, Doc? in 1957, it was a way of saying “Screw ‘em,” to the established arts. “I never made a cartoon that didn’t contain some flick-of-the-wrist at the establishment of the day,” said Jones in Chuck Jones: Conversations.
This April, in a very public arena, Jones and his work will be embraced by the very establishment he parodied. Only now, as opera faces its biggest identity crisis, does it wholeheartedly embrace the exaggerated cultural conventions we’ve established over the years: busty valkyries, lovesick brutes and overdone pageantry. Keith Cerny, the CEO of Dallas Opera acknowledges thatWhat’s Opera Doc? is “still creative, interesting, fresh, plays off the same stereotypes about opera that we’re addressing today.” Proponents of opera have realized that the best chance of fruitful survival is to laugh with us—if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.
June Walker Patterson worked as a cel painter on Disney classics like Pinocchio, Fantasia and Bambi. Today, she is 93-years-old and lives in the Los Angeles area. Animation artists Larry Whitaker, Chance Raspberry and Luis Escobar had the brilliant idea of visiting her to record a video interview. It’s part of their new animator interviews website called TheCornerBooth.net.
If you’re looking for more details about what it was like for women who worked as ink-and-paint artists at Disney, I recommend this Vanity Fair article from a few years back.
In the video interview with June, she mentions her husband Ray Patterson, who also worked at Disney and later became a core member of the Tom & Jerry crew at MGM. I had the good fortune of interviewing Ray in 2000 and published an interview with him in Animation Blast #5. This was the title page of the piece:
Starting with its title—Dziwne dziwy, czyli… Baśń o Korsarzu Palemonie—this Polish film is nearly impossible to explain. As soon as the title of the film appears onscreen, the letters of the title morph into question marks and exclamation points, which then melt into a flag adorned with a skull that is smoking a pipe. The skull emits pipe smoke out of its eye, which quickly engulfs the screen. Then, the sun breaks through and shines. And that’s just the first 10 seconds! Add another 30 minutes of uninterrupted surrealist insanity and you begin to get an idea of this incredible piece of film.
Krzysztof Dębowski (pictured left), a veteran of the Polish animation scene, was in the twilight of his career when he made this film in 1986. It’s a difficult film to classify because it doesn’t fit into any conventional timeline of animation history. Some of the character designs are a throwback to the blocky ‘cartoon modern’ style of Sixties and Seventies Eastern European animation, but the facial expressions resemble the crude graphic exaggeration of manga and the cartoonish painted stills foreshadow the Spumco style of the early-1990s. Such efforts to compare the film’s individual elements to other visual work are inadequate though. It is the totality of Dębowski’s vision that is so striking and utterly original.
Dębowski gleefully disregards the Western animator’s narrow-minded obsession with achieving the “illusion of life.” He breaks every rule that is sacred to the character animator and moves things however he damn pleases. His universe functions on the level of pure graphic cinema and exists exclusively on its own terms. Characters distort in grotesque ways, and they move in fits and starts that suggest human locomotion in only the most abstract sense. Dębowski has no use for things like perspective and instead suggests space through design and movement. Effects like waves, clouds and cannon fire are conveyed through gorgeous patterns of shapes and lines that move to their own unique rhythms.
The film is visually lush, but its heavy narration makes it difficult to decipher. I called upon Pawel Wieszczecinski, a film studies major at the New School in Manhattan as well as the founder of the Kinoscope film series, to explain what I was looking at. Here’s what he told me:
The title is “A Fairytale about Palemon the Pirate.” This particular film is based on a fairytale by a famous fable writer named Jan Brzechwa. His stories are generally aimed at young audiences. I even remember his fairytales from when I was a kid. He is definitely the most famous fairytale writer in Poland. This particular piece was written in 1956. It’s about a King who dies, but before he does so, he announces to his four daughters that the one who will overcome the Palemon the Pirate will get the crown. Palemon owns all the seas and his empire is enormous. Eventually one of King’s daughters, the ugliest one, conquers Palemon’s empire and she becomes the new Queen. But besides that, she also hooks up with Palemon and they get married.
Dębowski should be an animation legend on the basis of this film alone. Yet, I’d never heard of him until I randomly stumbled across this film during a late-night cartoon binge. Further searching yields absolutely nothing written about him in the English language. His lack of recognition in the West is a shame considering his prolific body of work. He started directing in 1960 at Studio Miniatur Filmowych and made dozens of films over the next thirty years. The only other example of his work that I can find online is this early piece called Wzeszło słoneczko.
The half-hour pilot, titled "Sally in Hollywoodland," was recorded June 3, 1947, but apparently never went beyond this single test episode. Highlights include a creepy-sounding Woody at noraml recording speed, as well as performances by Billy Bletcher and a young June Foray. Had the show gone into production, it would have been the first time the Lantz characters appeared on air.
The show features Norma Jean Nilsson voicing the human protagonist Sally, Theodore Von Eltz as Woody Woodpecker, Billy Bletcher as Wilbur the Wolf, June Foray as Oswald the Rabbit, Sarah Brenner as Andy Panda, and Herb Lytton as Wally Walrus.