"What's New" Archives: July 2015
July 31, 2015:
Interviews: Wilfred Jackson (1973)
July 26, 2015:
Back from Comic-Con 2015
July 31, 2015:
|Wilfred Jackson (center) confers with the animator Bill Tytla (left) and the musician Frank Churchill on the timing of animation for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, in this 1937 photo. Courtesy of Wilfred Jackson.
Interviews: Wilfred Jackson (1973)
I interviewed Wilfred Jackson, one of Walt Disney's most important directors, at length on two occasions, in 1973 and 1976. The first of those two interviews is at this link. The second interview will follow after I've recuperated from this one. Transcribing interviews—I transcribed both of these decades ago—is no fun, but scanning the typescripts and preparing them for publication is even less fun, if possible. The interviews themselves are the saving grace, especially in this case. Jackson was a wonderful interview subject (and a wonderful correspondent, to boot), as I think you'll agree after reading this interview.
Late in the interview you'll find five photos of Jackson in poses used by Bill Tytla in his animation of the demon in "Night on Bald Mountain." Ideally, I'd have matched those poses with frame grabs from Fantasia, but I didn't, for reasons suggested in the previous paragraph. If anyone else wants to take a stab at it, please be my guest.
From Mark Mayerson: I've taken you up on your request to try to match the photos of Wilfred Jackson with shots from Night on Bald Mountain. Some are good matches, some not so much. I had to lighten up a few of the Fantasia frames in order to make the poses more visible. As the layouts were consistently low angle shots and with the dark colors and effects often covering up parts of Tytla's animation, this is the best I could come up with after watching the segment twice. It does show that Tytla used the photos. Jackson's posing, in spite of the ribbing he took from the crew, did contribute to the power of Tytla's animation.
[Posted August 1, 2015]
From V. Martin: It was a very nice surprise to see the first interview you did with Jaxon on your website. I've been doing research on the Disney directors for a while (Jaxon at the top of my list), so I'm very grateful that you posted this.
From Chase Pritchard: I was surprised that Clampett seems so genuinely interested in what Jackson has to say about the Disney cartoons. I had no idea he wanted to know more about the people who worked on them; you'd think he'd only pay attention to Walt. It's great that he knew better.
These interviews are easily some of the best primary sources on animation history, and it's always Christmas time in my mind when one suddenly comes up on your website. Know full well, Mike, that the transcribing was not in vain!
[Posted August 2, 2015]
From Don Peri: I just finished reading your interview with Wilfred Jackson. All of your interviews that I have read have been superb and this is certainly among the best. Knowing how hard it was for Wilfred to revisit his time at the studio that he loved dearly, I am happy that he was able to share so much of his story with you, and now with us. Thanks so much for posting it and I look forward to the second interview.
From Pete Docter: For me, this is an especially fascinating interview. I've long heard Jaxon was a detail oriented and exacting guy, and how lucky we are that he was—nowhere else have I read such detail into the nuts and bolts of making these films. It's truly invaluable information. It really presents a much clearer picture of what went into making the Disney cartoons, as well as the triumphs and troubles of working there.
Hearing he was reluctant to be interviewed makes me all the more thankful for your persistence in getting his words down. Thank you for taking the time to prep and post this.
[Posted August 3, 2015]
From Randy Watts: I just wanted to thank you for posting the Wilfred Jackson interview. I understand that a great deal of time and effort are required to transcribe these and get them up on the web, and I wanted you to know that it is appreciated.
When you were conducting these interviews, did you find them easier with someone like Mr. Jackson, who hadn't been interviewed much? The reason I ask is that I've seen and read animation-related interviews with people who were interviewed a lot, such as Chuck Jones, Walter Lantz, and Mel Blanc, and often you get the sense that they were doing the interviews on auto-pilot. Was getting a good interview out of some of these guys just a matter of asking the right questions? Or at least asking questions they hadn't already been asked dozens of times?
MB replies: Walter Lantz (a very likable man) was definitely on auto-pilot when I interviewed him in 1971, Mel Blanc and Chuck Jones less so when I interviewed them in 1969. These were all some of my first interviews, and I was a better interviewer by the time I interviewed Wilfred Jackson for the first time in 1973. But, in any case, I think Jackson was too serious a man to ever be on auto-pilot when he was talking about a subject he cared about as deeply as he cared about Walt Disney and the Disney studio. He was the kind of interview subject who makes up for the interviewer's shortcomings. I interviewed other people like that, but Jackson was perhaps the single most outstanding example.
From Kevin Hogan: Love the interview and the "Night" poses. Well worth the lengthy work break to read. Thanks!
[Posted August 6, 2015]
July 26, 2015:
Back from Comic-Con 2015
|James Stanley, son of the masterful writer of the Little Lulu comic book, accepted on the late John Stanley's behalf the Bill Finger award, given each year at Comic-Con to two outstanding comic-book writers, one living and one deceased. To Jim Stanley's right is Mark Evanier, himself a prolific writer for comics and animation, who presented the awards.
Phyllis and I returned a few days ago from a driving trip of more than two weeks on the West Coast, from north of Seattle to San Diego. Our original motive for the trip had no comics/animation
content. We wanted to see an old friend who was seriously ill, at his home near Seattle, although, sadly,
as things worked out we visited his widow instead of him. But as we headed south, bypassing both San Francisco and Los Angeles, reminders of my twin obsessions kept popping up.
That first happened at Seattle Center, where we visited the EMP Museum, founded by Paul Allen, Bill Gates' original partner in Microsoft. EMP—the initials originally stood for Experience Music Project—is a rock-and-roll museum in a Frank Gehry-designed building that evokes a guitar; it's a bit ho-hum, perhaps, if you've seen the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. The real attraction for me was a traveling Smithsonian Institution exhibit, "What's Up, Doc? The Animation Art of Chuck Jones."
It's a classy, well-organized exhibit, with dozens of pieces of original art and twenty-three full-length cartoons screening, some of them as wall projections in a dark room where you can actually watch them in reasonable comfort.
The cartoons are mostly wonderful, of course, and if there's any reason to hedge on a full-blown endorsement, it's because the exhibit is so emphatically a Chuck Jones exhibit, a one-man show with barely perceptible nods to his colleagues and collaborators. Only Maurice Noble gets more than minimal attention, and some important people, like Carl Stalling, get little or none. Most astonishing, unless I read right over it, there is no mention of Mel Blanc at all.
That the exhibit should be skewed so much toward Chuck himself was inevitable, probably; the credits for the exhibition are heavy with Jones-related people and organizations, in addition to the inevitable Warner Bros. contingent. (I'm on the list, too, because I provided a couple of photos.)
At Ashland, Oregon, we saw two excellent performances (of Guys and Dolls and Much Ado About Nothing) by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and then headed to Sacramento,
where the highlight was the wonderful California State Railroad Museum. Disney associations were easy to find there, of course—I particularly enjoyed coming across a locomotive that Walt and Ward Kimball undoubtedly saw at the 1948 railroad fair in Chicago—but I thought of Carl Barks, too, when I saw a refrigerator car of the kind he repaired at Roseville, California, in the 1920s, when he was a manual laborer trying to establish himself as a cartoonist.
After making our way south on the superlatively scenic coastal highway, Route 1, we spent several days in Santa Barbara. It was there that we saw our only movie of the trip, Pixar's Inside Out. I was struck by how flat the film seemed for the first twenty minutes or so, with no audible response from the audience to anything on the screen. Pixar knows how to take up the slack in its stories with expert tugs on the heartstrings, though, and such was the case here. I can't remember now exactly at which points the film pushed my buttons and undoubtedly those of almost everyone else in the audience, but I'm sure appeals to family feeling were involved (I do remember the shameless plea on the end titles that the filmmakers' children not grow up).
Still, I couldn't get past the film's governing conceit, that the personified emotions inside eleven-year-old Riley's head were somehow distinct from Riley herself. Who, or what, is Riley, if the emotions governing her life are not central to her being? To descend to a lower metaphysical plane, or maybe just call the story's craftsmanship into question, it seems to me that Inside Out's personified emotions, to be credible as such, would have to be one-dimensional—that is, nothing but fearful or angry or whatever—whereas most of them are not. Joy is so much more than joyful, especially as voiced by Amy Poehler, that she's really the story's protagonist, with a much broader emotional range than Riley herself. The girl is little more than a puppet, a sort of latterday Pinocchio, perhaps, if I might invoke another problematic Disney feature.
We drove from Santa Barbara to La Jolla by way of Claremont, where I made a brief visit to the Scripps College Library to skim the papers of Phil Dike, the artist who acted as a screener of talent, among other things, at the Disney studio in the 1930s. From our base in La Jolla (the closest lodgings we could find to the San Diego Convention Center), we drove into San Diego on two days to visit the 2015 edition of Comic-Con International. I can think of no better way to describe my response to it than to quote from A. O. Scott's excellent piece about the con in the New York Times:
A critic at Comic-Con International feels less like a fish out of water than like an excluded middleman. The local currency is not skepticism but enthusiasm, and though there is plenty of room in the cavernous halls of the convention center for disappointment and disagreement, irony is thoroughly banished. “Thank you all for being so amazing,” a woman said to a panel of television actors during a Q. and A. session, and the questions usually rise to about that level of toughness. The crowds gather under the signs of sincerity and celebration. Who needs critics to spoil the fun? Why would you walk through the Southern California summer sun in armor and body paint, or roast slowly on the grass while waiting to see a movie trailer, unless you really meant it?
Comic-Con is an event where tens of thousands of people spend millions of dollars to stand in line for hours or even days, not to see a performance, but to be exhorted to spend yet more money to enrich the manufacturers of shallow, high-gloss entertainments. Anyone who asks himself, "Why am I doing this?" has come to the wrong place.
If when you read the previous paragraph the word "Disney" popped into your mind, that would be an entirely reasonable response. Disney was, however, not as visible at Comic-Con as I might have expected, and perhaps that was because it has since 2009 been staging what I take to be its own version of the con, called D23 Expo, every other year at the Anaheim Convention Center. (D23, also launched in 2009, is the official Disney fan club.) This year's Expo will take place August 14-16.
The pattern is the same as at San Diego: Disney fans, all certifiably irony-free, will pay $74 a day, or $216 for all three days, to get juiced up about forthcoming Disney films, most of them live-action remakes of animated features or new installments in Robert Iger's beloved franchises. Of the scheduled presentations, my favorite is this one: "Pixar Secrets Revealed! Hear the Stories They Didn't Want You to Know!" Reading that, I immediately pictured John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, and Pete Docter fighting their way past a phalanx of Disney flacks to get to the microphone. "I will not be silenced!" Lasseter cries, as the deceptively slender Docter fells a burly Disney operative with a karate chop. And then...sorry, I forgot I'm in an irony-free zone. Actually, none of Pixar's big guns will be on that particular panel.
It will be interesting to see if in a few years Disney has grown its Expo to the point that it becomes a true rival to the Comic-Con. I can easily imagine that happening, especially since the Anaheim venue probably makes more sense for a large-scale fan gathering.
I almost forgot to mention the principal reason I attended this year's Comic-Con, which was, of course, the Eisner Award nomination, for best scholarly/academic book, for my Funnybooks: The Improbable Glories of the Best American Comic Books. Comic books seemed almost beside the point at Comic-Con, dominated as it is by big-budget movies and TV shows, but a section of the convention floor was set aside for dealers in old comic books (seriously overpriced old comic books, to my mind), and comic books were the whole point of the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards.
The day before the awards ceremony on July 10, Phyllis read the list of six nominees and said, "This one will win." She was not talking about my book, and she was right. The winner was Graphic Details: Jewish Women's Confessional Comics in Essays and Interviews, edited by Sarah Lightman. The twin juggernauts of gender and ethnicity will flatten the funny animals every time. I suppose that's why I never bothered to draft an acceptance speech.
Regardless, I enjoyed my visit to Comic-Con. It was a fascinating experience that reminded me of my first visit to Las Vegas. As in that case, I can't imagine that a return visit would be a good idea, but that doesn't mean I won't be back..
|Creative costumes are a tradition at Comic-Con, and here are five con attendees costumed as well-known figures in the comics world: Jerry Beck (proprietor of the Cartoon Research website among many other things), Maggie Thompson (editor for many years with her late husband, Don, of Comics Buyer's Guide), Bill Schelly (author of the outstanding new biography of Harvey Kurtzman), and, oh, yes, Michael Barrier and wife Phyllis. You ask, are these are not the real people? The Michael Barrier look-alike's unruly hair is the giveaway; no way I'd let my hair get that long! Unless maybe I'd been traveling for two weeks with no barber in sight...
From Brent Swanson: This past weekend I was visiting Helena, MT, and found myself lodging amid attendees for something called "Nagu Con," devoted to Manga. Although the attendance was scant by Comic Con standards--200 compared to 100,000 +, everybody seemed to be having a good time, enjoying the fellowship of other enthusiasts. I find that sort of "focused con-going" more difficult to achieve at Comic Con International. The first year I attended, 1987, only 7,000 others were milling around and attending panels at the old downtown convention center. When I last attended, in 2013, there were bits and pieces of that old con, but I had to spend the four days pushing, jostling, and searching to find them amid all the entertainment industry hype. Comics are now a lower echelon of that hype.
Happily, I was able to find "my convention," with a bit of energy remaining to enjoy it. I'm wondering if I would have that same experience at D23, or the newer "Comic Cons" that are trying to follow San Diego's model while protesting their originality. I'm thinking specifically of a con that has recently started up in my general vicinity. [Brent is referring to the Salt Lake Comic Con, which will be held this year September 24-26.] In 2014, it received the blessing from Stan Lee as "The world's greatest comic con!" and is already posting attendance numbers around 100,000. But when I look at the rosters of attendees and special events, the majority of it is dedicated to mega-budget movies and high-end cable TV series.
This convention and Comic Con International are currently embroiled in a legal battle over the very name "Comic Con." In the long run, will it make any difference? It seems to me this upstart convention is already outside the realm of a comic book event, retail venues notwithstanding. Comic Con International continues to celebrate comics and their creators, but in the ever growing shadow of the rest of the convention. (A few years ago, a dealer tried to urge me into buying a Platinum-era book by telling me that Johnny Depp had been considering it earlier in the day.) In another decade or so, will there be enough comics and readers around to continue justifying the "Comic Con" designation, or will the San Diego event be all Hollywood, while the comics fans retreat to conventions in Helena, MT, and beyond?
[Posted July 27, 2015]
From Donald Benson: I'm as unironic as the next Disney fan, to the extent of watching In Search of the Castaways" and Emil and the Detectives in the past month. Still, if I had the time and discretionary income I'd brave the crowds at Disneyland rather than D23. Why listen to spoilers for films I may or may not see and get worked up over rides I can't go on (at Shanghai, Tokyo or Hong Kong Disneyland)? Let me at least stand in line for the real Mr. Toad.
I will own up to enjoying a local toy and comics show, which is a marketplace featuring celebrities selling autographs (Dawn Wells of Gilligan's Island still looks good) and a handful of local comic artists. It's like a museum where you're allowed to touch and even buy most of the artifacts, many of which predate the collectibles era, and you're out in a couple of hours. A few years back I found a bootleg of Song of the South—beat that, D23. Also completed my set of Pogo TV Special figures on the cheap.
Cons have significance for people who are in those industries, or serious buffs eager to hobnob with like-minded crowds (I hope someday to be in a room where everybody knows who James Finlayson is). For this boomer, they evoke an age when we couldn't own or readily access favorite films and scrambled for substitutes: Soundtrack albums, comic adaptations, merchandise, etc. And while everybody had a few boxes of random comics in the garage, nobody seemed to have a complete multi-issue arc, or was likely to find the missing issues. At least among the older attendees, I think excitement about cons is partly rooted in "This is EXACTLY what I dreamed of as a kid"!
MB replies: I can certainly concur in the latter sentiment. When I began collecting Dell comics, at the age of eleven, I first began quizzing my friends and classmates about what they had, and asking if I could buy comics I wanted. I still have some of the fruits of those early quests, like early issues of Tarzan. But pretty soon such wells went dry, and I was stuck with buying the increasingly dull (Barks aside) current Dells. The wartime paper drives must have been extremely effective in my home town, since it was not until years later that I turned up any comics published earlier than 1946.
[Posted July 31, 2015]
From Andrew Osmond: I saw your comments about Inside Out, and the metaphysical problems it throws up about the relationship between Riley and her emotions. I wrote a piece about the film here: http://blog.alltheanime.com/inside-out/ It was written for a commercial blog about Japanese animation, hence the Japanese/anime angle. However, I also bring up the metaphysical angle, and suggest the emotions are really metaphorical parents, and that Pixar, as usual, is "privileging the parental perspective," even in a film ostensibly about the mind of a child.
MB replies: I like Andrew's piece very much—and whatever my reservations about Inside Out, I'm grateful to have a cartoon in theaters that can stimulate such interesting discussion. Since Miyazaki's Spirited Away is distributed by Disney, why not a double bill of that film and Inside Out? The comparisons and constrasts would be illuminating. And I certainly wish I knew more about "Cranium Command," the Walt Disney World attractions that Andrew cites, and that Pete Docter worked on. Another Inside Out-connected piece that's well worth reading, by consultants who helped Docter give the film a scientific foundation, appeared a month ago in the New York Times.
[Posted August 1, 2015]
From Donald Benson: A video in case nobody else has sent it already:
Note that the videographer is completely alone, although we hear a Disney employee talking to him about taping just before the theater portion begins. The Wonders of Life pavilion, basically a collection of mostly nifty exhibits plugging healthy lifestyles, was at this time sponsorless (Met Life didn't renew its contract) and was only occasionally open to deal with heavy parkwide crowds. I saw it when it was crowded and the gags got big laughs.
The pavilion's main attraction was Body Wars, a Star Tours clone that involved a mission inside the human body. Despite—or actually, because of—realistic visuals and wild motion to simulate, say, being pumped through the heart, it was not a popular ride. Much of the rest consisted of interactive exhibits (walk-in optical illusions; exercycles with big screens letting you peddle through famous streets; a multiscreen show of Goofy breaking bad habits, via vintage clips) and a Sensitive Film About Pregnancy And Birth, starring Martin Short as a guy recounting his own arrival (a big sign outside warned of live birth footage).
The physical setup of Cranium Command is that the audience stands in the preshow room and watches the cartoon. Then they enter the theater that approximates the inside of a head with a robotic version of Buzzy (not always easy to see here) in a moving pilot's seat, interacting with various body parts (mainly Charles Grodin as left brain and Jon Lovitz as right brain) as the two "eye" screens provide the boy's point of view.
It was a cute show, and the main body parts were familiar TV faces doing their schtick: Norm from Cheers as the stomach; Hans und Frans as the heart; and Bobcat Goldthwait as a screaming adrenal gland. There was a lot of clever detail in the smaller screens that barely registers here. I especial remember the terrified bladder guy with his dipstick.
Buzzy is clearly the boy's mind (and soul, if you wish), learning to exert his will over his body and Reduce Stress.
It does recall Reason and Emotion, Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex..., and an old Bell Science special (I recall a Chuck Jones-style little professor at the controls). There was also a radio play, "Inside a Kid's Head" (third on this page):
There was also a alternative weekly comic strip, a bit less literal:
[Posted August 2, 2015]