December 31, 2008:
December 25, 2008:
December 23, 2008:
December 20, 2008:
December 18, 2008:
December 16, 2008:
December 10, 2008:
December 1, 2008:
December 31, 2008:
I'm constantly amazed and chastened by those Web sites whose proprietors, like Michael Sporn, somehow manage to post fresh and interesting material almost every day. I've noticed, though (to my relief), that Michael sometimes recycles good stuff he posted months before. With Frank Miller's live-action movie version of Will Eisner's Spirit comic books now in theaters, I'm following Michael's example by calling your attention to the essay on Eisner's work that I wrote in 1988 and posted here in 2003, soon after my site went live. It holds up very well, I think.
As for Miller's movie, I haven't seen it yet, and I'm dragging my feet. I've never thought Miller was a good choice to adapt Eisner's characters and stories—even though they collaborated on a book-length conversation a few years ago—and nothing I've seen or read about the new movie suggests to me that it will be a pleasant surprise. Miller's comic-book stories are grim and brutal as Eisner's never were. Now that prices have dropped and I've sprung for an HDTV, a Blu-ray player, and a new AV receiver, waiting for the DVD release of question-mark movies has become an even more attractive option.
And speaking of those new machines: I've realized, especially when I'm watching movies on my new 40-inch set, that the days when almost any movie as seen on television had to be regarded as automatically inferior to the theatrical version may finally be behind us. Certainly, there's still a significant difference between watching a movie in Imax, especially one in Imax 3-D, and watching a movie on Blu-ray, but the difference between the typical movie-theater experience and the home-theater experience has narrowed appreciably. Where some movie theaters are concerned (like my lamentable local art house), the balance has tipped decisively toward the home version, or at least toward my home version.
December 25, 2008:
From Tom and Jerry, and from me, too.
December 23, 2008:
...and Friz Freleng.
December 20, 2008:
If you were on Dave Fleischer's Christmas card list seventy-nine years ago, as Paul Terry was, this is what would have come in the mail:
I have to wonder, did Dave actually make this drawing? Perhaps someone familiar with the Fleischer animators' drawing styles can make a definite identification. At least I'm sure this drawing isn't Dick Huemer's work.
If I had to take a guess, and it’s just a guess, I would say the unidentified person was in Joe Grant’s model department, based on the sketches on his board. Also, that is a Kem Weber desk but it’s a layout/background desk, not an animator’s desk. I have one just like it, and the upper right hand corner of the photo shows the holes for the adjustable shelf the desk had. The control at the lower left is exactly like the control all the Kem Weber desks had for adjusting the drawing board.
I don't recognize this guy in photos from the model department, but surely he's in some group photo someplace.
December 18, 2008:
David Nethery and Andrew Leal have both questioned my December 16 identification of a Disney artist as Woolie Reitherman, circa 1941, and I think they're right. Andrew points to Woolie's appearance in the 1941 release The Reluctant Dragon and sends along the accompanying framegrab. The filming of The Reluctant Dragon took place in 1940, so the man in the photo and the Woolie in the movie should look pretty much identical, and they don't. David points, too, to the animation desk, which doesn't look like the Kem Weber-designed Art Deco animation desks that were standard fixtures in the Burbank studio, starting in 1940.
So, who is this guy? Who are the kids in the photos on the board? Why does he have one drawing for The Wind in the Willows on his desk, and what appears to be an early Joe Grant sketch of Lady above it? What's with the Donald Duck maquette? I find that I have a photocopy of that Wind drawing —but, maddeningly, it's one of the few such copies in my files that doesn't bear a notation as to its source! Is the mystery man an animator at all, or is he, as seems more likely, an artist of another kind? I haven't spotted him yet, in paging through books like John Canemaker's Paper Dreams, but surely he's in there somewhere.
December 16, 2008:
This photo turned up on eBay recently, identified as a picture of Fred Moore. I knew it wasn't him, but I bought it anyway, certain that it was another well-known Disney animator. I haven't seen any other photos of him taken nearly this early, but unless I'm badly mistaken, this is the very young Woolie Reitherman, photographed probably in the first months of 1941, with a drawing for The Wind in the Willows on his board.
December 13, 2008:
A new gas furnace is warming my house, my insurance company has finally decided to pay for an uninsured driver's damage to my car, and I've found time to gather my thoughts about the two computer-animated features that opened in November. You can go to my review by clicking here. I'm late in writing about these movies, obviously; both seem to be fading slowly from view, although adding a new 3-D short to the program may give Bolt a fresh burst of box-office energy.
December 10, 2008:
I'm crawling out from under several time-consuming and unpleasant tasks, among them replacing a defunct gas furnace and trying to get some answers about who is going to pay for the extensive damage that a careless young driver inflicted on our new car. If I were a truly dedicated blogger, I would have kept you abreast of developments, day by day, but I'm bored by such things in my own life, and I can't imagine inflicting them on people who've come here to read about Walt Disney or Bob Clampett or Carl Barks. So, as a start on catching up, a few short items:
Stocking Stuffer No. 1: Andrew Osmond's name will be familiar to you if you've visited my Feedback pages on Japanese animation and two of its leading artists, Hayao Miyazaki and Satoshi Kon, where he has contributed some of the most stimulating comments on some of the most intriguing animated features of the last few decades. Now Andrew has written an entire book, an entry in the British Film Institute's Film Classics series, on Miyazaki's Spirited Away (2001), certainly the greatest Japanese animated feature I've ever seen and, in the opinion of many people who know Japanese animation better than I do, the greatest, period.
Andrew's 121-page book is packed with information about Miyazaki and his films, but I found it most enjoyable, and most valuable, as a sort of guided tour of Spirited Away. He explains a great deal about the film, raising (and answering) questions about many aspects of it, but he never diminishes it; this frog is the more alive for being dissected. Andrew's Spirited Away is like a highly knowledgeable audio commentary that you can read instead of listen to, but it's vastly better than most audio commentaries I've heard. I've been waiting to watch Spirited Away on DVD again until I had a wide-screen TV, and now that I do, I'm looking forward to watching it with Andrew's book at my elbow.
Stocking Stuffer No. 2: Well, it's too big to fit into most stockings, but the third volume of Fantagraphic Books' reprinting of E.C. Segar's Popeye is the perfect gift for anyone who loves classic comic strips. I bought and devoured the first two volumes as they came out, and the third volume is one of those exceptional books, among the many that I buy or borrow, that I can hardly wait to read. What a grand and mysterious cartoonist Segar was! And how much better was his "Thimble Theatre," Popeye's starring vehicle, than any of the animated cartoons based on it, not excluding even the best of the Fleischer cartoons. Popeye is in the strip a seemingly simple but actually endlessly complex character; he is simultaneously bully and gentleman, roughneck and cavalier. His supporting cast grows more fabulous every year. It's wonderful, to take one example, to see how Wimpy blossoms into his unique self.
If you haven't already bought the first two volumes, you should do so immediately, along with the third volume. This is a fabulous series, from a publisher specializing in fabulous things, and it deserves your wholehearted support (and, especially, your money). An improved revival of Fantagraphics' Pogo series is evidently in the works, and I can't think of a better companion to the Segar books than a Pogo set that finally does Walt Kelly's great comic strip full justice. We'll no doubt see those Pogo books sooner if the Segar books sell as well as they should. The Popeye books have been appearing annually, and there should be at least three more volumes.
Reel Life: As hard as it is to comprehend now, there used to be no way to see very many of the cartoons made in Hollywood's "golden age" unless you had a friend with a 16mm projector and a large collection of films. In my case, that meant cramming in lots of cartoon-watching on my lamentably infrequent trips to California. I acquired a projector of my own along the way, and dozens of cartoons in 16mm, but thanks to videotape, laserdiscs, DVDs, and now Blu-Ray, they've been sitting untouched in a cabinet for years. Other people, bless them, are still collecting 16mm, and if you're among them, let me strongly recommend that you get in touch with Reg Hartt, who is dispersing a collection that has been one of Toronto's ornaments for many years. To get in touch with Reg, visit this site or write to him at this address. [A 12/11 update: Word is that Reg's collection has now been sold or otherwise accounted for. A 12/17 update: Reg says the sale fell through, so his collection is still looking for a new home.]
December 1, 2008:
I noted on September 22 that the Walt Disney Company's legal department had ordered the company's theme parks and stores to stop selling my biography of Walt Disney, for reasons I could only guess at. Three days later, a "paralegal specialist" at Disney Publishing wrote to my publisher, the University of California Press, as follows:
"I was unable to locate a letter in my files approving the use of our copyrighted images and images depicting our copyrighted characters and other valuable DISNEY properties which appear in your book entitled The Animated Man: A Life of Walt Disney. Please send me a copy of the letter you received from us approving their use in your book."
Neither UC Press nor I ever asked for such a letter. We took extraordinary pains to make sure that we used only photographs that did not originate with Disney and were not vulnerable to complaint on other grounds. Presumably that is why no one from Disney has ever specified which of the book's illustrations infringe on the company's copyrights; I'm sure that none do. Disney is claiming that the Press and I should have sought its permission to publish photos that Disney does not own.
You can see the problem. If UC Press and I were now to seek Disney's blanket permission to publish all the photographs in the book—which Disney would only grant, if at all, for what would undoubtedly be a large license fee—we would be confessing to an offense we have not committed. That would be a very high price to pay for the slim hope of having The Animated Man once again on sale in the Disney parks.
My editor tells me that the book is selling well through other outlets, and I've concurred in UC Press' judgment that we really have no choice but to abandon the Disney venues. That's a great pity. People who might never see the book otherwise are finding it in the parks. Now they'll be thrown back on Neal Gabler's biography, a dreadful book that has the Walt Disney Company's endorsement (and is on sale at the parks) despite Gabler's grotesque and inaccurate portrayal of the company's founder.
To underline the obvious, what has happened to my book has nothing to do with the necessary and important work of protecting valuable Disney copyrights. Instead, it's all about control, and about punishing anyone who refuses to knuckle under. Michael Eisner may have left the Team Disney building, but his spirit still stalks the halls.
Dave Hilberman was an important figure in Hollywood animation's history, a leader of the 1941 Disney strike (the photo of Hilberman above was taken during the strike) and a co-founder of the UPA studio. He was also an admitted member of the Communist Party for at least nine years, from 1935 to 1944, when the party dissolved itself and briefly became a "political association." A few days after Hilberman died on July 5, 2007, at the age of 95, I wrote to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and asked for a copy of its file on him. It arrived late in October, just before I left the country for a few weeks, and I've only now had the chance to review it.
In summary: no revelations. Like other such files I've seen, this one is scrappy, with lots of pages devoted to trivial (and sometimes inaccurate) stuff and nothing, or almost nothing, about the most significant episodes in Hilberman's career, the strike and the birth of UPA. As always, the names of "confidential informants" have been deleted, even when a report says that an informant later testified in public before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and so is readily identifiable. There's not so much as a hint that Hilberman ever engaged in anything that we would consider subversive today. Some of what the FBI then considered far-left political activity—like Hilberman's opposition to racial discrimination in housing—now seems mainstream. The file does confirm that Hilberman remained a member of the "Communist Political Association" after the party officially went out of existence, but there's nothing to show that he continued his membership in the party after it reconstituted itself in 1945.
Hilberman was such a bore, by the FBI's standards, that it closed its file on him in 1949; he had by then lived in New York several years, and the FBI had found no evidence of "Communist Party activity" since his move from Los Angeles. The FBI reopened its file a few years later, though, at the height of the Red scare, when even the hint of a communist connection could get someone in show business blacklisted for years. Hilberman had been identified as a communist by Walt Disney at HUAC hearings in 1947, but his profile in New York animation was then so low that Walt's attack had no repercussions. Things were different in the early '50s.
In 1953, the rabidly anticommunist publication Counter-Attack denounced Hilberman as a Red. His commercial-animation studio, called Tempo, closed soon afterwards. Hilberman had by then been subpoenaed by HUAC, but for reasons that are not clear, he was never called to testify. The FBI kept track of his travels overseas, where he found work, but you can almost hear the agents who wrote the reports suppressing a yawn. The FBI closed Hilberman's file again in 1961.
There is in the Hilberman file one whiff of real espionage. In September 1950, the FBI interviewed Hilberman and his wife, Libby, about their friendship with Morton Sobell. The Hilbermans said, in the words of a 1953 FBI summary, "they became friendly with the SOBELLS through the associations [sic] of their son with SOBELL'S step-daughter and both denied any knowledge of SOBELL'S Communist activities." Those activities were significant. Sobell was convicted of espionage in 1951 and sentenced to thirty years in prison (he served more than eighteen). His friends Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were also convicted, and put to death in 1953. Sobell maintained his innocence for more than fifty years, but he finally admitted, in a September 2008 interview with the New York Times—he was 91 years old—that both he and Julius Rosenberg had in fact been spies for the Soviet Union.
Walt's English Productions: Michael L. Jones reminds me that although Disney has not released many of Walt Disney's British-made live-action films on generally available DVDs (as I noted on November 25), it has released some of them through the direct-mail "Disney Movie Club." Copies turn up on amazon.com, and you can probably find them listed on eBay, too. Here are the links to the amazon pages for The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men and Rob Roy the Highland Rogue. A later British-made film, The Fighting Prince of Donegal, has also been released on a club DVD and is likewise available through amazon.
Walt's third film with his friend Richard Todd, The Sword and the Rose, has been released only on VHS and laserdisc to date, and apparently the club DVDs of the other films use the inadequate transfers made years ago for VHS. That's a shame; but I don't expect their release on DVD in restored versions any time soon.
If you want to buy through the Disney Movie Club, you can find it at this link. I recommend you go straight to the page called "Exclusives," where you'll find what it is to me easily the most interesting stuff, which is to say films made during Walt's lifetime. That list now includes So Dear to My Heart, a combination feature inexplicably absent from Disney's regular DVD release schedule.
Yma Súmac: You may recall that I posted a couple of photos of Yma Súmac with Walt Disney last March; you can find them at this link. Sumac died on November 1, and her Los Angeles Times obituary is at this link. (Thanks, Dana Gabbard.)
Mickey's 80th Birthday: If, like me, you forgot to mark the date (November 18) with suitable celebrations, you still have a chance to whoop it up—at Buffalo, New York. The Buffalo International Film Festival, with the cooperation of the Walt Disney Company, will devote eleven hours on Saturday, December 13, to films starring the Mouse or otherwise connected with him. You can find the details at this link.