Archive for May, 2014

A page from the Lost Notebook showing work on Fantasia

A page from the Lost Notebook showing work on Fantasia

Two newly released books qualify as treasures: The Lost Notebook: Herman Schultheis & the Secrets of Walt Disney’s Movie Magic by John Canemaker and Genius, Animated: The Cartoon Art of Alex Toth by Dean Mullaney and Bruce Canwell.  The arrival of Canemaker’s new book is the cinephile’s equivalent of a newly unearthed Tutankhamen’s tomb.  Many of the details of the techniques developed by the Disney studios in crafting their groundbreaking first animated features have remained shrouded in mystery until now, and the discovery of the meticulously compiled notebooks of cinematic craftsman Herman Schultheis is an major event in the history of animation.   Suddenly we are offered this looking glass view into the unparalleled work of the Disney teams of creators during a period in which they were forging breathtaking new visions in media communications.  It’s truly astonishing.  Another inspiring and instructive new work is the final installment of biographies devoted to the œuvre of Alex Toth: Genius, Animated.  In an earlier post, I wrote about this pioneer in animation and comics, and this ultimate volume in a trilogy devoted to his work reveals new aspects to his achievements.  In particular, his storyboards are a revelation.  I have to say that authors Canwell and Mullaney understate the case when they say, “While fine in and of themselves,” when introducing storyboards for the Saturday morning cartoon “Superfriends.”  In particular, the boards to the episode “Battle of the Earth’s Core” highlight the depth of thoughtfulness, visual storytelling skills, design acumen, and complete mastery of motion picture language that Toth brought to work that many others would have just phoned in.  I bring these books up as suggestions for some inspiring summer reading and for great examples of pre-production tales from which young filmmakers can learn many lessons.

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This is where it started: the original story by Chris Claremont with art by John Byrne – the graphic novel can be used in a lesson comparing media and critiquing adaptations

Let’s take a visit to the world of writers today!  For those of you either teaching or learning about the meaning of the word “exposition,” please go and see X-Men: Days of Future Past.  There’s lots on display there.

Speaking of writing, there are two wonderful examples of the craft of fine writing to be found this weekend at the New York Times: A.O. Scott’s reviews of the X-Men movie and Blended are absolutely brilliant.  I particularly recommend his review of Blended; there you will find the best summary of the “Adam Sandler” movie experience that I have seen to date, such as “There are comedians who mine their own insecurities for material. Mr. Sandler, in his recent films, compensates for his by building monuments to his own ego. In Blended, he once again proclaims himself both über-doofus and ultimate mensch, disguising his tireless bullying in childish voices and the ironclad alibis of fatherhood and grief.”  A.O. Scott concludes the piece on Blended with the rating description: “Rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). It will make your children stupid.”  

Every once in a while, some students will select Adam Sandler movies as a topic of study (for example, those directed by Dennis Dugan, or “Double D” as the last presenters called him), and I have to watch snippets from a variety of Mr. Sandler’s films.  I think I am going to have A.O. Scott’s review of Blended made into a poster and put on my classroom wall.  Media literacy includes examples of brilliant critical writing too, after all.

Barry Scheck of The Innocence Project and screenwriter Pamela Gray, seated

Barry Scheck of Innocence Project and Pamela Gray

I saw X-Men: Days of Future Past with my eldest son this weekend, and before the movie we were barraged with the onslaught of previews for brain-frying movies that are about to arrive: Let’s Be Cops, 22 Jump Street, The Expendables 3, Kingsman, and…oh, here’s a “woman’s movie” — Lucy (starring the consistently superb Scarlett Johansson).  Ah, Luc Besson is back with the latest incarnation of his adolescent “perfect woman” fantasies that he can’t move on from (La Femme Nikita, Fifth Element, Angel-A, etc.), along with his usual vicious Asian stereotypes and more.  I’ll pass.  So, a propos of all this, I would like to bring up this article about a recent talk with screenwriter Pamela Gray (Conviction, A Walk on the Moon), who is featured in our From Page to Screen Close-Up interview.  Watching those trailers, I couldn’t help but think about these lines from the Golden Gate Xpress article, “Gray also said that what she really writes are character-driven screenplays, and that most of hers just happen to involve female leads. She said the challenge is not writing for these women, but instead lies in the sexism of the industry: ‘What’s more difficult is getting those movies made (and) finding assignments with good females roles,’ Gray said. ‘There are fewer and fewer of those assignments now.'”  So, perhaps that is your assignment right now for your media literacy and production class!

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GodzillaVsMegalon4Ah, what did it take to bring Bryan Cranston and Juliette Binoche together?… GODZILLA!

Whatever the case, what an opportunity to look at issues of what moviegoers accept as “entertaining blockbusters” and “terrible movies” and everything in between (or outside of the boxes Hollywood dutifully assembles).  Particularly in terms of how what viewers – particularly kids – will accept evolves with time, technology, and taste.  As many cinephiles will explain to you, the original “Godzilla” is quite worth watching, and the various issues raised throughout this creature’s storied career also merit close analysis — but we’ll see if time will judge kindly the newest incarnation of the post-World War II quintessential Japanese-sourced menace of the silver screen who is reborn in the wake of Fukushima.  Well, for however long humanity has got, now that Godzilla is on the loose again… and never mind all of those enormous insect-creatures that are always the true bad guys: See, we’ve always loved those manly anti-heroes, well before Breaking Bad – just look back to Godzilla and his old pal King Kong

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