Saturday, January 21, 2006

Beauty and the Geek 3?

I was just talking to Becca about this, so I find it pretty funny that the WB is going to develop a gender-reversed version of Ashton Kutcher's "daring" "social experiment" Beauty and the Geek. I watched the first one, mostly enjoyed it, and I've been skipping the second one (it's on during shows I like, plus who gives a fuck?), but I guess the next one is supposed to have dumb hunks and nerdy chicks competing to see who can improve whom. It's a hilarious idea to me, actually. Dumb jocks are a lot less prone to human emotions than hot chicks are; I can see the terrible outcome now: the televisual eguivalent of 12 librarians fucked within an inch of their life by a bunch of troglodytic quarterbacks and left out by the side of the road on prom night. Because guys, especially guys who are told again and again how hot they are, don't feel the need to take a whole lot of responsibility for things. Especially not for the feelings of a wallflower. This is going to be some hilarious reality TV. Posted by Picasa

Poor Heather

Not only has ABC surreptitiously removed Emily's Reasons Why Not from their schedule until sometime in February (some reports say it may be for longer), they've shut down production on the series after shooting a mere six episodes and airing only one. Putting a show on hiatus already? I saw potential in this one despite all the cliches, but I guess ABC has decided it isn't worth giving it time to improve. I think this is a case where network competitive drive has killed a show that could have gotten better; one chance only, I guess. The sad thing about this is that a shows a real trend away from comedies, not only on ABC, but also on Fox (and every network has suddenly announced a bunch of new reality shows, including the return of real shit like Last Comic Standing and Rock Star). I'm a little disappointed here. Better luck next time, Heather. We still love you. Posted by Picasa

Friday, January 20, 2006

My favorite quote this week

Jessica Simpson in Heat: "I have amazing boobs. They're just perfect. At school, my boobs were bigger than all my friends' and I was afraid to show them. Now, I feel like they make my outfits look better. They're like an accessory." I just love that I now have two posts where the Sisters Simpson talk about how great their tits are. And they are, they really are. Posted by Picasa

My second favorite quote this week

Professional slut Adrianne Curry talking about her weight loss in this month's Playboy: "My body's still bangin'." Ugh, where do I start? The legs that are somehow too stubby for her body? The lanky upper half? The way she's worked out so much that her breasts are disgustingly shriveled onto her bony chest? Gross, man; she looks like Elizabeth Hurley's mother. I'll be generous and say that Adrianne Curry looks very sexy for a 56 year-old woman. Unfortunately, she's only 23. Posted by Picasa

Throwdown 1/20

15 random thoughts, questions, and observations for the week.

1. Can the media stop reporting every single fucking year that the Golden Globe Awards are "ratings gold"? Ooh, people watch awards shows, big fucking story. You know some guy just wrote that headline for the umpteenth time, sat back, looked at his computer and smiled, another hard day’s work finished. Asshole.

2. Looks like there definitely won’t be a sequel to The Hulk after a couple of years of dithering about it. Or at least not a good one. Ang Lee seems to have lost interest, and Eric Bana finally pulled out when it was revealed that the project will now go straight-to-video. David Duchovny, who apparently find time in his busy schedule of being completely useless, will now star.

3. Harrison Ford has given Steven Spielberg and George Lucas a two-year deadline for Indiana Jones IV. I’ve always hoped they would all just give up this pipe dream. Seriously, Ford is now an elderly man, the emotional arc of the character really closed at the end of the third movie, and Steven Spielberg doesn’t know how to make one anymore. Why ruin the other three by making a bad fourth one?

4. My favorite actor, Christopher Lee, has this to say about Hollywood’s obsession with casting young actors in everything: "The problem today, and I think it’s a very dangerous one for the people concerned, is that there are quite large numbers of very young men and women from 18 to 30, and they are playing very large parts in huge films and they simply, through no fault of their own, don’t have the background and the experience and the knowledge to pull it off. And it’s dangerous for them because if they are in one failure after another, sooner or later people are going to say, ‘Well, he may have a pretty face but he’s not bringing the public in.’ So many of these good-looking, sometimes even pretty, boys and girls are getting these good roles and it’s not fair on them. At some point it’s going to catch up." True, for every Scarlett Johansson or Anne Hathaway there’s, like, ten Orlando Blooms. So, Keira Knightley, James Franco, Hayden Christensen: you’re on notice.

5. Pop singer Willa Ford is going to appear nude in the next issue of Playboy. It’s nice to see one of these pop girls put their money where there marketing-myself-on-my-sexuality is and take their clothes off for some publicity. It took Tiffany and Debbie Gibson twenty years. True, Willa Ford is no Jessica, Christina, or Britney, but I appreciate the incredibly nude gesture.

6. Sadly, Wilson Pickett died this week at the age of 64. I’ll be listening to "In the Midnight Hour" this evening.

7. What was with Isaac Mizrahi groping Scarlett Johansson at the Golden Globes? I know this isn’t a PC attitude, but I’m starting to really hate gay celebrities, especially those like Isaac Mizrahi and Mario Cantone, who are basically famous because they’re gay. Man, if I went around grabbing Scarlett Johansson’s boobs I’d get arrested; Isaac Mizrahi gets away with this rude, disgusting behavior because he’s gay, and therefore it’s "cute." One standard will do fine, thank you.

8. The idiots at Fox have not only removed Arrested Development from its schedule, but are airing the last four episodes as a two-hour "finale" on February 10. Not only is this a Friday, but it’s also airing opposite the opening ceremonies of the 2006 Winter Olympics. Oh, sure, Fox, you really love the show and hate to cancel it. You pricks; if you had ever once tried to put the show in a position where people would actually watch it, I’d believe that. Pricks.

9. Paul Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations, feels the box office slump (should we be capitalizing that now?) is a wake-up call that gives studios ample warning to fix things. But how to fix things? Well, he doesn’t really have an answer for that one; he does, however, point out that Bob Iger and Disney’s argument about releasing films into theaters and on DVD at the same time "would be devastating not only to the theater industry but the movie industry in general." I disagree there; sure, it would hurt theater chains (who cares?), but the movie industry might see an upswing if they sold movies on DVD for, say, five bucks. No fancy packaging, either, just sell the damn things and make a good marketing campaign, and more people would buy them out of convenience than go through the hassle of the theater experience. Dergarabedian feels this would "diminish the product," but I think the incredible pretension surrounding films right now is one of the many things alienating people from going to the movies. There’s a lot of self-importance these days, and it bleeds through the product. Hollywood’s already diminished it, so why not be honest. Wouldn’t most people rather stay at home? I know I would.

10. Talking of Disney, the company is doing such brisk sales of episodes of ABC and Disney Channel series on iTunes at $1.99 a pop right now that they expect to make a billion dollars off it this year. At least Disney knows how to make money off of the new technological opportunities; yet another example of how people stuck in conventional modes are going to fail in the long run. This is not an eight-track style fad; digital technology is here to stay, and people are going to have to switch over to it before too long. Theaters, your days are numbered.

11. Another interesting technological marriage: one Detroit suburban theater is allowing people to buy tickets online with their cell phones, requiring them to only show the bar code on their phone to the ticket-taker to scan as they walk in. Pretty revolutionary considering that movie theaters still think that stadium seating is cutting edge technology.

12. Disney, part the third. Looks like Iger is getting closer and closer to buying Pixar for a reported $7 billion. That’s a lot of money for something I’m terrified Disney is just going to run into the ground. From a business standpoint, it’s fairly exciting, but as a fan of animation, I think it’s just going to make things more mediocre and homogenous.

13. Children, when will you realize that South Park is a satire? Predictably, super-hetero and world class idiot Tom Cruise has his panties in a bunch after the "Trapped in the Closet" episode implied that he was gay (something much of the world has been implying since the mid-eighties, but whatever). Paramount, who bows to his will because those Mission: Impossible movies are just so damn good, has agreed to stop airing the episode because, you know, Cruise is impossibly litigious. So, you have to conclude one of two things about Tom Cruise. Either he’s really gay and he’s so afraid to be outed that he has to sue or threaten to sue anyone who says he is (which, if he’s not gay, is incredibly childish behavior), or he’s incredibly homophobic. Which is it, "Cruiser"? (What an ironic nickname the media has given him...) In either case, he’s a fucking asshole. I mean, what does it hurt him if someone thinks or even says that he’s gay? It’s like that guy who sprayed him in the face with water suing Cruise because Cruise called him a jerk. What a childish waste of life.

14. Speaking of a waste of life, Chris Matthews compared Osama bin Laden to Michael Moore on Hardball yesterday. Good one, loser; it’s really the liberals who are causing the problems, right? I don’t consider myself liberal so much as not conservative, but I have to join the liberals in pointing out that if George W. Bush hadn’t ignored al-Qaeda just because Clinton didn’t, 9/11 never would have happened. And then if he had actually gone after bin Laden immediately, we wouldn’t be hearing his voice on tape right now.

15. Here’s another heart-warming story involving the government. Remember the online pornography law from a couple of months ago? Well, the Supreme Court overturned it; unconstitutional, they said. So now the government is attempting to subpoena Google, Inc. for information on what Google users are looking at. Google, to their credit, has refused to comply. The government wants a million different web addresses (at random) and records of all searches from any one-week period. Doesn’t it bother anyone at all that, since Bush took office, the government has been trying in various unconstitutional ways to gather your information? Granted, there were problems with this under Clinton, too, but it’s been ramped up over the last couple of years and it’s pretty chilling. You people don’t get mad enough.

Remember, This Girl Is Not a Drunk

You've gotta love how Tara Reid keeps trying to convince us that she's a low-key type girl and not some alcoholic party girl. Futile, but at least she's trying... Posted by Picasa

You Can't Even Pretend She's Hot Anymore

Lindsay Lohan on the cover of Vanity Fair. Ouch. I'm glad to see she's embracing the freckles these days, but she looks so tired and icky. And how is it her boobs have gotten bigger while her body has stayed thin? Posted by Picasa

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Boots Just Keep on Walkin'

Jessica Simpson a week or so ago at the People's Choice Awards. She looked amazing, but she didn't really look happy (she looked thrilled and grateful to win her award for Favorite Song from a Movie, but the behind-the-scenes pictures show a woman trying hard to keep it together). Of course, I don't expect a woman whose marriage is breaking up to be happy, but it makes me sad to see it. And what was that George Lopez crap all about? Dude, don't make fun of people getting divorced (unless they've been married for, like, a few days); it's just mean. Especially when it's George Lopez, who is just amazingly unfunny anyway. Either way, I'm sure Jessica will be fine; she's working on her new album and growing up. And just look at that body... Posted by Picasa

A Few Things Which Are Pissing Me Off This Morning

1. Commercials for heartburn candy like Tums and Maalox. Yeah, that's right, I said candy. I'm so sick of hearing people complain on commercials for these ineffective bloat relievers about how Prilosec OTC takes one to four days to work. "One to four days? But I need relief now!" Look, I have a hiatal hernia, which is when the upper part of your stomach tears through part of your diaphragm and into your thorax. Eating can actually be painful for me. Plus, I'm heavily overweight and as a result of these two factors I have pretty bad acid reflux and terrible heartburn. I was on a prescription for Prilosec for years before it went over-the-counter. Prilosec is for people like me, with serious digestive problems. Untreated, I could get cancer. Have you ever had severe ulcers in your throat because you throw up everything you eat (even the water you drink)? Before I was diagnosed, I had that problem. Prilosec is not a quick soother for some fat dude whose tummy hurts because he ate that extra chili dog. That little whiny bitch needs a piece of candy and a good belch.

2. People who hate Citizen Kane. Citizen Kane is one of the greatest movies you will ever see. The problem is, since it has made the top in the Sight & Sound list as the greatest movie ever made for the last 20 or so years, it's built up this reputation as something beyond the confining bounds of fantastic. Therefore, I think too many people sit down in front of it and try too hard; they expect too much, nearly daring the movie to not blow their closed little minds. And then, when it isn't the experience they think it's going to be, when it doesn't reveal deep truths about the meaning of life or uncover the true name of their god, they walk around all smug, saying stupid things like "It wasn't that good," or "Citizen Kane is supposed to be the best movie ever made, but it's so boring!" I'd be able to shrug it off if so many of you people didn't think that The Da Vinci Code was great literature...

3. Television in general. Not only did I get snared in the American Idol net again, but now I see that Malcolm in the Middle has been cancelled. At least I know Lost, My Name Is Earl, and The Office are too popular to cancel right now. But it sucks knowing that my interests just don't seem to connect with anyone--Futurama, Farscape, Invader ZIM, Phil of the Future, Lizzie McGuire, What I Like About You, Malcolm in the Middle, Arrested Development, Carnivale, and now possibly Rome. It's like TV is constantly telling me that there won't be anything there for me if I don't accept the same kind of mediocrity everyone else seems to eat by the shovelful. And yeah, I know it isn't a great show, but would the WB mind bringing back What I Like About You, please? They ended on a cliffhanger on the Thanksgiving episode, and I'd at least like to see how it comes out.

Cynical About Sentiment Porn

No matter how often I complain, my mother keeps forwarding me little bits of sentiment porn. She's one of those tragic people who really finds this crap inspiring. Today I got one in my inbox that I decided was too stupid for me to even see the point of.

As though all of nature and the cosmos only exists to provide object lessons for mankind. I can't remember if I'm ripping off Asimov, Sagan, or both by saying that.

1. It's important to have roots.
This sounds like a cry for traditionalism to me. People are so hung up on "roots" and "family." Why can't one's roots be in the mind? Are people never supposed to put their faith in themselves? I don't need my family to validate my path.

2. In today's complex world, it pays to branch out.
Does this qualify as a lesson from a tree? I mean, when it comes to branching, a tree has no real choice. This one sounds a little too financially motivated for me to take seriously.

3. If you really believe in something, don't be afraid to go out on a limb.
Again, what does this have to do with trees? Trees aren't sentient, they don't "go out" on limbs, they have limbs. Hey, I do, too.

4. Be flexible so you don't break when a harsh wind blows.
Trees have no choice in this matter. This calls to mind the image of some smuggo walking down the street, looking at a tree that's cracked during a storm, and giggling to himself: "Heh, stupid tree." This is assigning the wrong kind of importance to trees. Hell, without trees to slow down the winds, they'd be worse. Ever been to a desert? Now there's some wind, boys.

5. Sometimes you have to shed your old bark in order to grow.
A rare call for change from sentiment porn. So, a tree can shed it's bark but a leopard can't change its spots (or a zebra can't change its stripes, whichever one you like). So, which idiotically simplistic nature phrase am I supposed to hold with?

6. If you want to maintain accurate records, keep a log.
This one gauges the humor inherent in such a sentence to an insanely wrong degree. Misfire, gentlemen. I mean, it's not even remotely accurate. Trees don't keep logs, not in the way the "joke" implies. A tree becomes a log after someone kills it. Is that an image you want to bring up when talking about how great trees are? I think this person was just hellbent on getting to ten.

7. It's okay to be a late bloomer.
Unless someone cuts you down for it.

8. Avoid people who would like to cut you down.
Tell that to a tree, you insensitive clod. They don't have a choice.

9. As you approach the autumn of your life, you will show your true colors.
I've never felt this to be true of anybody. Many old people cling to their old hatreds as they age. Besides, the brilliant yellows and oranges of the leaves are actually rot and decay, not "true colors." Green leaves are alive; in the autumn they're withering and dying. Are you saying that the true state of humanity is old and prune-like? How is that a pleasant image?

10. You could be Brilliant! in other words "bloom where you are planted."
Sounds like a callous justification of the Indian caste system to me. "Bloom where you are planted" sounds a lot like "know your place and don't question it."

Fucking sentiment porn; you're just trying to make people feel better for not trying to change their shitty lives.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Film Week

A review of the movies I've seen this past week.

Ew, creepy. Seriously, what the fuck is with this movie? Are there actually people out there who let the heavy-handed pretentiousness of this film browbeat them into believing that this is some kind of new Christmas classic? There was some decent stuff in here, but not enough to call it a good movie. First, let's look at the medium: computer animation. Well, I should say special effects. Robert Zemeckis believes he's now an animation director, when in fact he's made a movie full of special effects. Much has been made of motion capture, and I have to say I'm still on the fence about it. Peter Jackson uses it so wonderfully in King Kong and The Lord of the Rings, but in The Polar Express it looks awful and stiff. Motion capture is the process of using computers and sensors to "capture" the performance of an actor and replicate it in the computer, manipulating it so that it comes out as Kong, Gollum, or every single character in The Polar Express. The problem with that approach in a fully "animated" film, though, is that cartoon characters are caricatured, while rotoscoped (let's call it what it is, high-tech rotoscoping) characters move too fluidly. Watching a cartoon move exactly the way a human does is creepy and unsettling. The animation is fine when it's the train, or some truly lovely images set against the stillness of the snow and the night sky in winter. But when it comes to the replication (or approximation) of realistic human emotions, the process's limitations are innumerable. The characters all look like creepy zombies for one simple reason: their eyes are dead. Their pupils don't dilate, the eyes don't move often enough. They look like Lindsay Lohan: reasonable facsimiles of humanity, but ultimately something strange and inhuman. It spoils the illusion of the more lyrical scenes that don't involve human interaction (and there are some truly lovely images, as I said before). That's the major problem. Of more insidious ickiness is the story itself; at some point, one's belief in Santa Claus becomes a miniature proving ground for belief in Jesus. Somehow, the equation became Faith (Santa Claus) = Faith (Jesus Christ). It's like Santa is now an early version of Jesus for children to get used to. The way this movie tries to hit you over the head with the wooden chair of faith and belief is kind of disgusting, frankly. The story could have been nice enough on its own, but instead, it's like the Christmas Manifesto: believe, or you're nothing. Do I recommend this movie? Not really, because I don't like the message on two levels: first, the whole faith-Nazi thing (Becca called this movie The Triumph of Santa's Will), and second, because of the obviousness of it all. "The true spirit of Christmas lies in your heart." Either people forget that every few months, or they just love being told that over and over again. I also don't recommend it because the motion-capture animation is largely a failure. There are fits and starts of genius, but ultimately, Robert Zemeckis isn't capable of genius anymore (I question whether he ever really was--his whole career has been more about technical achievement at the sacrifice of story: look at Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Forrest Gump). I do still like Tom Hanks, but having him act as more than one character is ultimately not very interesting; he's not really up to it. Therefore, I have to go with a frustrated ** stars.

I saw most of this in high school but didn't have an accurate picture of it, so I've taken another look at it. It's everything it's reputation deserves; like The Steel Helmet and The Devil's Rejects, it's one of the great exploitation movies that revels in being exactly what it is. No pretension, no false sentimentalism, just some babes out to kill and rob their way across the desert. And what babes they are! There have never been any women in cinema to compare with Tura Satana (truly a force of nature), Haji (an amazing whirlwind), and Lori Williams (so playful and smug). You have not lived unless you have seen this Russ Meyer movie. **** stars.

Another Russ Meyer movie, a precursor to Straw Dogs. Alex Rocco plays a man who vows to get revenge on three motorcycle hoods who raped his wife. The problem is, their leader, Brahman, is a psychotic vet who still thinks he's fighting in Asia. Along the way, Rocco meets up with Haji, who spends the movie looking sexy and dangerous. The image of Alex Rocco pushing Haji's face into his leg after he's been bitten by a rattlesnake and shouting "Suck out the poison! SUCK IT OUT! SUCK IT!" will stay with me for the rest of my life. This one isn't quite as self-assured as Meyer's movies usually are, but it's impossible for me not to love them. And Jesus do I love Haji. *** stars.

Stephen King Is a Fucking Idiot

I've complained about it before, but I just can't stop hating Stephen King's monthly column in Entertain Me Weakly. What was once a fun, kinda neat column has managed, since this past summer, to change into Stephen King's Monthly Ingratiate Myself with the Lowest Common Denominator. This man has a pathological need to be loved. When he's not throwing his awards in our faces to remind us that someone must think he's a good writer, he's on the defensive, lashing out at the so-called Literary Establishment, who refuse to take his pop works seriously. The fact is this: Stephen King used to be a good writer. He still has occasional flashes of interest. I think he's the Charles Dickens of our time. That said, I think there's no denying that King is a pretty lowbrow author. There's nothing wrong with that; so was Dickens. Both are relatively heavy-handed sentimentalists, too. But at least I've never had to read anything by Dickens that was so desperate and angry: all at once, King is begging the Establishment to accept him while telling his readers that he doesn't care what "they" think. He distrusts intellectuals, but at the same time he wants them to like him. So, in lieu of that (and, I'll bet you anything, until it happens), King spends his time in the pages of EW sucking up to his lowbrow readers, puffing them up, playing one of his oldest tunes, "The Romanticism of the Common Person." How noble it is to be an Average Joe or Plain Jane. How magical the poor are, shuck and jive, shuck and jive.

This month, we're treated to King's non-column of what I guess he thinks are zen questions. He claims they have no answer, though some are pretty obvious. "How come budget seems to have so little to do with the relative merit of TV shows?" Because story and skill transcend limitations. "If televangelists are more worried about getting into heaven than they are about life here on earth, why are they always asking viewers for money?" Long answer: they need money to support their organization so they can continue to spread the message. Short answer: they're crooks. He attempts to be cool dissecting Sudoku as a post-arithmetic game, as if to say, "See, this fake intellectual shit is nothing special." And we get the umpteenth reference to "Rob Reiner's Stand By Me," a film he talks endlessly of without once adding, "Oh, by the way, that gem of a film is based on one of my stories." Because that might look self-aggrandizing.

All of this because the critics didn't like his pulp homage The Colorado Kid. He says this, right in the beginning; basically the entire column is his attempt to point out how lame critics are for not liking another of his "classic" works. "Hey, I like mystery novels that have no solution, because not every question has answers, I don't understand zen," or something to that effect. Of course, this isn't surprising from a man who wrote an entire column defending Kingdom Hospital and, in a barely-veiled way, venting his hostility towards the audience for not liking it (as if we withhold approval purposely). No, apparently for Stephen King, the money and audience isn't enough. We have to acknowledge his genius, too. As if that were possible.

Golden Globes

Of all the Golden Globes on Monday night, I loved Scarlett Johansson's the best. This is as perfect as a woman's body gets; not thin, not icky, not tanned, and somehow she makes it look completely effortless. She's perfect. Ladies, this is how it's done. Wouldn't you rather look, y'know, healthy and pretty? Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Disney's Folly: Notes on Snow White

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs has been referred to as "The One That Started It All" so many times, Disney registered that phrase! But it is hard to over-emphasize the film's importance to film history, animation history, and art history. Disney first pitched the idea to his animators in 1934 as though it would be a series of Silly Symphonies strung together (and, in some aspects, the episodic structure of the film still carries this out). Walt also predicted (rather optimistically) that he could bring the whole thing in after a few months for a mere $250,000. It would take $1.5 million, and the film was in production for nearly three years. But those three years were well spent; Disney and his animators innovated, engineered, and studied, and at the end of that time came back with a true masterpiece. The papers decried it as "Disney's Folly," but the film proved to be massively popular and extremely well-reviewed; it would gross $8 million at a time when the average kid could get into a movie for 20 cents. The film also changed the way movies were marketed; this was the first time that film merchandise was available the day the film came out. The film was released in 20 languages, and the scenes of the dwarfs' beds were changed to make them appropriate to each language.

Early designs show that the animators instinctively went in the same cartoonish direction they would normally use for a Silly Symphony (drawings show a Shirley Temple-esque little girl Snow White and a Margaret Dumont caricature as the Queen). But Walt wanted more realism in the characters, and had his animators work at her design for some time (the dwarfs--or "little men," as they are referred to in the movie at the suggestion of Disney’s wife--are caricatured for comic effect). Disney plundered the look of European storybooks, even going as far as to hire the great Gustaf Tenggren to work on the movie's design (it shows in the intricate details on the woodworking). The color scheme is purposely more muted than in the shorts--it was thought that the human eye would reject bright, glaring colors for 90 minutes--and the girls in the paint department solved the problem of Snow White's makeup by placing real makeup on the cel itself. It was also taken for granted that gags would be necessary to sustain the audience’s interest; that the film could not be serious for too long without becoming dull. Therefore, Walt would add comic aspects that didn’t detract from the story, but in fact intertwined with the romantic plot.

When the decision was made not to caricature the human characters in the film, Walt Disney hired Grim Natwick away from the Ub Iwerks Studios (this was in 1934, early in the planning stages). Natwick, who had created and animated the character Betty Boop for the Fleischers before working for Iwerks, was hired specifically to help solve the problem of realistic femininity. Walt immediately put him to work animating the female in The Cookie Carnival; the end result was leaps and bounds over the limp half-caricature of The Goddess of Spring. With Marc Davis as assistant, Natwick was immediately put to work animating the character of Snow White.

Initially, Natwick refused Snow White’s realistic design, preferring to caricature her the same way he had turned Betty Boop into a collection of feminine exaggerations. In fact, the designs for Snow White were a little too refined; she was sexually prepossessing and excruciatingly aware of her own beauty and feminine grace. Some sketches show her looking halfway over her shoulder, knowing just what effect her beauty has on the characters watching her; she looks like Myrna Loy. She has a real presence and a physical vitality, but Disney resisted making Snow White a very sexually aware character. She was voiced by Adriana Caselotti, who was 19 years old and had a high, gentle voice; the live action model, Marjorie Belcher, was a 16 year-old dancer (she was also the future wife of animator Art Babbitt). These aspects required that Natwick animate Snow White as more of a child than he wanted to. There was danger in sexual awareness; Disney required innocence in his story (though the Queen’s jealousy of Snow White is pretty obviously sexually motivated).

As an aside, this leads to an interesting dichotomy that exists in our society towards very young girls. John Grant comments on it like so in his excellent book Masters of Animation: "Animation has always had great difficulty with the characterization of young women. On the one hand it realizes that sexually attractive females are good for the box office; on the other it wants to ensure that the heroine is of an age that the supposedly juvenile audience can identify with [. . .] the Disney approach has been to produce the heroine who has many of the attributes of a beddable young woman, and has a stated age accordingly, but who is, in most regards, a 14 year-old girl [. . .] This may not be confusing for the kids in the audience, but it most certainly is for their dads. The movimakers are quite consciously using two different channels through which to cast their heroines’ spell over the audience, and the two do not mesh well. (In lower grade anime, the dichotomy is even more severe, as sexually attractive characters run around in schoolgirl attire.)"... Snow White: not a girl, not yet a woman.

In the end, the animation problems inherent in making Snow White, the Prince, the Queen, the Huntsman, and the Crone look realistically human were solved by rotoscoping. This process was kept a secret from the public; many animators saw it as a crutch. Disney himself had used rotoscoping when he directed The Golden Touch, with Billy Bletcher (who voiced Midas, as well as voicing Pegleg Pete in many a Mickey Mouse) acting the role for a live action camera. Ostensibly for study and guide work, the device of animating over a live action sequence was pioneered in 1916 by Max and Dave Fleischer for Out of the Inkwell, and though Disney was not enamored of it, he was not afraid to use it, despite some initial misgivings. Rotoscoping would become necessary in the end because of the production’s scale; it was one of the few ways to gain some consistency on characters which, rather than being assigned to a single animator, were spread out among many animators by sequence. Disney was at least glad that the live action film could allow his animators to create realistic human movements, something previously thought impossible.

Disney demanded that the rotoscoping be animated heavily to conceal its origins. Some animators rebelled; Grim Natwick used it willingly, but refused to allow it to become a shortcut. There are problems with the process, of course; witness the Fleischer’s Gulliver’s Travels, which did less to hide the very human origins of Lemuel Gulliver, or the many frames of bad animation in Ralph Bakshi’s 1978 The Lord of the Rings. In his indispensable book Hollywood Cartoons, Michael Barrier says that "no taming of live-action film could do what good animation could do: distinguish the important from the unimportant." Because of the lack of caricaturization in the animation of Snow White, her every movement becomes slightly static and less distinguished: every move she makes is pitched at the same level.

Marjorie Belcher (later she would become the famous dancer Marge Champion) was filmed performing the actions of the character in 1936. The advantage of this is that there would be less of a need to reveal Snow White’s personality through animation. Belcher was directed by Hamilton Luske, who along with Natwick would direct the animation of the character. This was a secret for years, as though it would cheapen the magic, and even today in retrospectives the official word is that Disney shot scenes of actresses and actors for "movement study films." But it's pretty obviously rotoscoping; it's just done incredibly well (much better than has been done since).

On the other hand, the Dwarfs are mostly caricatured. The Dwarfs were developed by Fred Moore (ably assisted by Ollie Johnston) and Vladimir "Bill" Tytla. There were, of course, problems of finding seven distinct designs and personalities. Moore, who also designed the characters in Three Little Pigs, made the Dwarfs younger, rounder, and more visually appealing; it was his idea to turn Dopey into basically a child. Tytla was most interested in Grumpy, who hard-edged qualities suited his animation style. A struggle soon began in what direction to take the characters–to animate their personalities through acting, or to rely on stock gags and mannerisms. To solve this problem, Dave Hand was given the role of supervising director in 1936 (Disney had intended to direct himself, but after the embarrassment of The Golden Touch, he decided he was too busy to devote himself to direction on the feature–-Hamilton Luske and Perce Pearce served as sequence directors). Hand pushed for shorthand mannerisms, but made them unique to each Dwarf so the audience could better tell the characters apart. Hand also pushed for rotoscoping; Bill Tytla was already using it for Grumpy as a guide for his animation (Pinto Colvig provided the action once it was discovered that real little people wouldn’t work out). Art Babbitt was resistant to its use; he didn’t want to just copy. Dick Lundy was also using live action as a guide.

It is generally agreed that the process would have been sped up if Disney had assigned each Dwarf his own animator rather than assigning sequences. There was also the constant problem of consistency (Art Babbitt, in particular, had a hard time; his animation on Dopey was seen as too cartoonish, so he was moved and given the opening sequences of the Queen to animate–-I think he outdid himself there). Ollie Johnston ended up being assigned to oversee the animation of the Dwarfs to bring a uniform look to the characters, changing any animation to make sure the characters were consistent.

Grumpy is, thanks to Tytla, the only Dwarf with a fully developed personality. He is gruff with Snow White, but begrudgingly accepts her. Though he tries to hide it, he is charmed by her, becoming fatherly and protective. When she appears to die, he is the most affected, breaking down in a touching moment of animation (credit for this moment goes to Frank Thomas). He is the only Dwarf who is genuinely moving. As Michael Barrier poetically says in Hollywood Cartoons: "The Dwarf who so strongly resisted Snow White’s appeal now finds himself, to his profound shock, the most deeply wounded by her apparent death."

The characterization of the Dwarfs also came out of the voice actors. Vaudeville comic Roy Atwell was hired to voice Doc because of his talent for spoonerisms; that trait went right into the character. Comedian Billy Gilbert did an excellent funny sneeze routine which fit right in with Sneezy. And former clown Pinto Colvig, already doing the voice of Goofy, was assigned the roles of crochety old Grumpy as well as Sleepy.

The story continued to be refined as production went on; to his credit, Disney was willing to cut out any sequences he felt to be superfluous–-the "Soup Song" sequence, a dialogue-heavy scene referred to as "The Lodge Meeting" (during which the Dwarfs discuss whether or not Snow White should stay with them), a bed-building sequence. Entire characters were changed or altered: the Prince was to have had a larger role in the story; there are sketches of a whole sequence where he and his horse were to have been a sort of double-act, akin to Errol Flynn and Alan Hale in The Adventures of Robin Hood (though that film could not have been an influence). The Queen was to be jealous of the Prince’s love for Snow White, and she would have captured him, forcing him to escape from her dungeon and fight her mystical minions to attempt to save Snow White; all of this, including the personality of the horse, would eventually end up in Sleeping Beauty (1959). Another sequence that didn’t make it was a dream sequence that would have played out while Snow White sang "Some Day My Prince Will Come." The sketches show babies flying around dressed as stars and a tree with a heart; most agree that this would have sunk the picture with its lugubriously twee qualities.

Much of the gruesomeness of the Grimm story was reduced or done away with, though the Queen did remain dependably evil. But Walt had a tendency toward crude comedy and sentimentalism, owing to his distrust of high art, something he also envied--Disney sought to imitate the feel of high art, but never quite understood it because he found safety in lowbrow "barnyard" humor. Ultimately, Disney feared the disapproval of his audience. In the end, he came out on the side of simplicity, cutting anything that did not move the story along; conversely, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is a film that allows for many moments of experimental animation. So much that happens has nothing to do with the story, but is simply the greatest animators in the medium showing off their skills and freely flexing their muscles. There is a genuine emotional complexity to the work, too; Snow White is both mother figure and daughter figure to the Dwarfs; they are alternately her protectors and her children (motherly to Dopey, daughterly to Grumpy, for example). This emotional complexity, rare in animation, is perhaps the reason the film continues to survive; in making the story timeless, it is always contemporary, vital, and easy to connect with.

Disney also erred on the side of music. Using, once again, the Silly Symphonies as a model, the film was planned out to follow a musical rhythm. Character movements followed; sometimes the dialogue, especially that of Snow White herself, is in a cadence. Though only eight of the 25 songs written for the film ended up in the final version, music was extremely important to the planning of the film itself. (Historical side-note: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is the first film for which a soundtrack album was released.)

In the end, of course, the film was an enormous success, both artistically and with audiences. It is a real piece of art, perhaps Disney’s only purely artistic success. Howard Barnes of the New York Herald Tribune called it not a film or a story, but “a memorable and deeply enriching experience.” Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is the rare film that lives up to such an assessment.

Animation Credits:
Supervising Director: David Hand
Sequence Directors: Perce Pearce, Larry Morey, William Cottrell, Wilfred Jackson, Ben Sharpsteen
Supervising Animators: Hamilton Luske, Bill Tytla, Fred Moore, Norm Ferguson
Animators: Frank Thomas, Dick Lundy, Art Babbitt, Eric Larson, Milt Kahl, Robert Stokes, James Algar, Al Eugster, Cy Young, Joshua Meador, Ugo D’Orsi, George Rowley, Les Clark, Fred Spencer, Bill Roberts, Bernard Garbutt, Grim Natwick, Jack Campbell, Marvin Woodward, James Culhane, Stan Quackenbush, Ward Kimball, Wolfgang Reitherman, Robert Martsch

Monday, January 16, 2006

Thanks for Nothing, Disney Channel

Why must every TV show I enjoy be cancelled? This morning I became the last person who cares to find out that the Disney Channel has cancelled Phil of the Future, a show I enjoy the hell out of. Yes, it's silly and all, but I enjoyed the humor and as everyone who reads this blog knows, I am a slave to Disney. But, with the loss of Phil (which means the loss of the great J.P. Manoux as both Curtis and Mr. Hackett, as well as the loss of two young actresses I was really enjoying, Alyson Michalka and the extremely funny Amy Bruckner, whose Pim Diffy is one of my favorite characters on television), my tether to Disney is partially severed yet again. First they stop showing Lizzie McGuire every day, and now they cancel Phil of the Future; I don't know that I'm sticking around for The Suite Life of Zack & Cody (a lame show, but I find Brenda Song extremely cute) and the way That's So Raven keeps getting worse and worse (though I love Anneliese Van Der Pol...I think there's a pattern here).

So, add this to the long list of shows I love that got cancelled; pencil in-between Farscape and Arrested Development. Thanks for freeing up even more of my time, Disney. Posted by Picasa

Random Thoughts on the Modes and Purposes of Adaptation

I’ve been drawn into many, many debates on whether or not a film is a good adaptation. Too often, this question seems meant to decide whether or not a film is any good at all, but I think this is confusing the issue. First and foremost, to my way of thinking, a film must be good as art and/or entertainment. The question of a decent adaptation is secondary; even if a film is a great or faithful adaptation of its source material, it might not be a good film. And I, for one, would rather see a good film than a good adaptation.

Content reinforces form. Form reinforces content. In the debate about modes of adaptation from book/comic book/play to film, the question becomes: does an adaptation have to be faithful to the author’s intention? Can it be? Why should it? An adaptation cannot be, in any artistic sense, an exact transposition of the page. It will always be another artist’s interpretation of a different piece of work. But isn’t that in itself more exciting than a transposition could be? Like actors who portray Hamlet, or the three excellent film versions of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, or any painter’s vision of mythological beings, aren’t the differences what make adaptation interesting? Without variation, homogeneity is reached. And nothing homogeneous can be interesting, original, or unique. Why should everyone think alike?

Isn’t creating an entertaining film more important than being faithful to the intent of a work that can never be exactly reproduced? Is it fair to criticize a novel like The Last Temptation of Christ for not portraying the life of Jesus in the exact same way as the Bible? Without the freedom to interpret a story through other viewpoints, there is no value in any story. One may not agree with a given interpretation, but one must understand that the interpreter has tried to challenge, to be different, to put something in different terms in an attempt to find the universality of it and make it resonate in some way. We have no window into the head of a creator, therefore an adaptation cannot, must not be perfect. It must not be exact, because the only possible version of "exactness" will be an empty, hollow, thoughtless, meaningless copy. And there is no reason for that to exist. There cannot be two originals of one thing.

There is no such thing as the sanctity of an idea--an idea’s only value lies in how it is interpreted, how it is acted upon, and what it inspires people to do. Repetition is not thought; saying what someone else has said is not saying something. The original work has said all that can be said (if it is successful), and all that is left is to comment upon it through artistic interpretation. What one sees is not what another sees. All an adaptation can do in the end is to show us in what manner one person sees the work of another. This is all that is necessary for an adaptation.

When one considers that all of history is not concrete, but merely interpreted by observers and analysts, one must take authorial intent into account. And yet, if one considers film (in the case of adaptation) as the creation of a singular work of art created through commentary upon another work of art, authorial intent seems less important. The commentary itself is important, the ways in which one interprets the intent, interprets the meaning of a story’s twists and turns based on one’s own experiences. What else is the point of art? Without this understanding, there is no point to adaptation.

The question is asked: is film adaptation necessary? Is ANY art necessary? This is redundant unto itself. Of course adaptation is unnecessary. But it is shortsighted not to admit that even a bad adaptation can strengthen one’s understanding of the literary source. Apocalypse Now is not true to Heart of Darkness, but comments on Conrad’s work in a way that strengthens both. Consider that very often stories are merely old stories seen from a new viewpoint. Without this, there would be no need for art. Greek sculpture humanized the divine while deifying the mundane, but informed the understanding of both for artists and observers. Imagine if one sculptor had created Aphrodite, and everyone else had called it a day--this is done, it cannot be commented upon. Every Aphrodite statue speaks to the way a society views, understands, and appreciates women. Variation in art, as in life, is incredibly important.

Two different people cannot, and should not, produce the same work of art in the same way. If they can, that is mere craftsmanship, not art. Let us consider the techniques of adaptation as a window into that which can be said, but has not been. This is not to say that an original work is incomplete, but it is to say that an original work is not unassailable. An adaptation is not meant to "complete" a work. The value in a film like Memento is in the way it interprets a story through a unique viewpoint. Without the freedom of that interpretation, Jonathan Nolan's short story Memento Mori would be more meaningless than it already is. Now, one may not agree with Christopher Nolan’s interpretation of Jonathan Nolan’s story, but in Christopher’s attempts to challenge, to put the same story in different terms to find the universality of it, Jonathan’s ideas have more value. The value of an idea is only in the way it interpreted, the way it inspires, and how it is acted upon. A transposition would be a repetition; saying what someone else has said is not saying something at all. Memento Mori said all that could be said; Memento is an allegory of the idea interpreted through a visual medium. What one sees is not what another sees; Christopher simply shows us the manner by which he sees his brother’s work.

Any work of artistic expression that requires knowledge of or reliance on another artistic expression is devoid of life or creativity and therefore has no value. This can even be said of film or novel sequels, unless it is serialized in some form, like television (often separated from its filmic or novelistic origins). Even a comment on another piece of art must also be worthy of its own existence.

Literature is a solitary experience for the reader; film is communal, shared. Due to the nature of their creation--a novel is usually the work of one, while a film is the work of many--the experience of each and the methods of their creation are different. So are their aims. No film can create an emotional experience or mode of reflection. This is brought to the film by the individual viewer. All art is an avatar for the feelings of the artist, but it is also a participatory form that asks, demands, that the observer project his/her own feelings and thoughts upon it. Otherwise, it does not fulfill itself. Film cannot create reality any more than it can substitute for experience. But it can comment on reality. If a film is not involving, then it is merely a series of images, perhaps pleasant, that wastes time. That is not art.

Any person who qualifies a novel or film by the term "escape" is not worth hearing. "Escape" is not a value that makes something good or bad. It is a meaningless description, peculiarly hostile somehow. A term used by someone who has not thought about the work, even steadfastly refuses to think about it. Age and experience change one’s perceptions of emotional truth.

Why are novelists constantly seen as victims of the adaptation process? If they do not want to be pillaged creatively, they are free not to sell the film rights to their works.

The image is more powerful than the word. Do words make Chaplin’s Little Tramp funnier, more likeable, easier to understand? Imagine yourself as a resident of the 80% of the world that does not speak English before you answer. Ballet does not need narration, nor does classical music need to be informed with words. Is language more able to transmit consciousness than imagery? A child seeing an airplane take off for the first time is more awestruck by the sight than by the explanation of how it is done. Language exists only to create terms for what we see. Words cheapen images. Words make it easier to subvert images and force someone to interpret them in the same way.

Film is primarily a visual medium. Words are second place here. This is the hurdle of adaptation that people do not take into consideration, and this fundamental difference is too often held against a film. The idea of poking holes in the illusions of Hollywood’s beauty is an idiocy. Film is a medium of illusions and nothing else. Words are no less an illusion; they make it easier to lie, to turn the truth into something that is perhaps easier to countenance than truth.

Film and literature cannot be criticized with the same tools, because the same criteria cannot be applied to two separate mediums. We cannot penalize a movie for not being a book, or a word for not being an image. How can a word be an image? Can a word adequately encompass an image? Is an image eloquent enough to say what a word can? Isn’t a picture worth a thousand words? One is not the other; film is different. It is not a valid criticism to say that a movie is bad BECAUSE it is not like the book it is based on. This is not a critique, and should be rejected as a valid statement. It is akin to criticizing a book for its typeface, or calling a painting inadequate because it does not portray reality in the same way as a photograph. A cat is not inadequate BECAUSE it is not a dog, an apple does not taste bad BECAUSE it is not a banana. The two cannot be approached in the same way, despite their surface similarities.

The important question is one of quality, of value: Is a story any good? It is unfair, unthoughtful, to state that a film is bad because the adaptation is bad. An adaptation is not a story, nor even the means of telling a story, but simply a method of creation. No single story is the same as another single story. The two must be considered separate entities, two complete (if successful) thoughts that may relate, but are not the same. Comparison only weakens both.