Friday, March 09, 2007

Talking Animals and Other People

from the diary: “Friday 8/22/86

“Been reading a good book, Talking Animals and Other People, autobiography of animator Shamus Culhane.”

I was a big fan of animation. It seemed to me the place where you could realize things that could never be in real life. If the Oz books were made into movies I thought they should be animated movies. A gangly pumpkin-headed man built from sticks? You wouldn’t have to plump him up to make him a costume for a meat person. A sawhorse brought to life by a sprinkling of powder? No need to built a puppet to dangle in front of a blue screen. And animals talking? It looks natural.

Since the images depicted are limited only by what the artist can draw an animated world seemed the perfect place for exploring unknown regions of the mind. Such is rarely the case, of course. Typical animated films are no more interesting than your typical live action films. How much this has to do with the inelastic imaginations of the creators, how much to do with the expectations of the money men and their wish to sell the product to an audience – too weird and nobody wants to buy, right? – how much it has to do with something else I haven’t thought of, who knows?

The review in the NYT praises Culhane’s look back at his career (only a glance at his personal life, it says), “Much of what [the book] reveals is disagreeable, and one of its great merits is that it offers such an unsparing view of a world that was all too often subject to strain, squalor, brutal internal politics, harsh labor relations.” Not unlike the sweaty shops where comic books were cranked out, I suppose. I understand there’s long been an overlap between comics artists and animators. Culhane “has the knack of explaining technical matters clearly … [and] is equally concerned with esthetic issues, from the use of backgrounds inspired by Victorian illustrators to the lessons to be learned from the movie-making innovations of an Eisenstein or a Pudovkin.”

Culhane worked for Disney and claims credit for the “Heigh ho, Heigh ho” marching dwarves sequence in Snow White. “He had good reason to resent Disney's authoritarianism, and to know how unfair he could sometimes be, but he admires his dedication and his abilities too much to let fly against him.” And who knew that “toward the end of the making of Snow White … [the animators were so keyed up for a week they poured out an] avalanche of pornographic drawings in which Snow White, the dwarfs and even the old witch performed feats ‘that Krafft-Ebing would never have dreamed of.’” What private collection has those drawings?


David Lee Ingersoll said...

Disney was one of those amazing, fascinating horrible wonderful people. He seems to have been both as great and as awful as he is portrayed as being. For a while he was working on an Oz movie. I'm glad he lost interest. Bad enough that The Movie is what most people think of when Oz comes to mind.

Glenn Ingersoll said...

Curious that Disney wasn't thinking about an animated Oz.