Saturday, December 09, 2006

The Bible Summarized by a Smartass, Part Eleven: 1 Samuel 1-16

Well, with the brief interlude of Ruth out of the way, it's back to the history of hacking and killing--and that's just God. We've had a long time of judges, but now Israel's going to start asserting itself as a kingdom. This is the first of two books named for the man who saw it all, Samuel the Prophet.

Chapter One
The Bible, 248 pages in, is getting highly repetitive. We have yet another case of a couple (Elkanah and Hannah) who want a son so badly that they promise they’ll consecrate him if they can just have one already. A son is born and surrendered to the priest Eli.

Chapter Two
There’s a prayer for the boy, who is named Samuel. Eli, meanwhile, is disappointed by his own sons, and pleads with them to change their ways, but God decides they should be murdered instead.

Chapter Three
Samuel becomes a minister as a boy, but when God calls to him, he doesn’t recognize the voice. God basically tells Sam he’s going to murder Eli’s sons. Why does God always seem to need to confess his demented psychoses before he commits the actual murders? I’m sure Batman could analyze it better than I can. Sam actually tells Eli, but Eli just accepts that his kids deserve to die. The news starts to spread that Sam is a prophet.

Chapter Four
Israel and the Philistines are at war. Despite the presence of the Ark of the Covenant, the Israelites lose a major battle at Ebenezer. The Philistines kill 30,000 of them, including the sons of Eli, and steal the Ark. Eli is so overwhelmed by the loss of the Ark (not his sons) that he faints and hits his head on a rock, breaking his neck and killing himself.

Chapter Five
The Philistines put the Ark next to the idol of Dagon, but the next morning Dagon has fallen into pieces. Then God sends a plague of tumors and death to whichever Philistine city the Ark is taken to (five in all).

Chapter Six
After seven months of death and suffering, the Philistines make a guilt offering to the Lord (seriously, five golden mice and five golden tumors; I really want to know what a gold tumor idol looks like). The Philistines, fed up with God’s shiz, return the Ark.

Chapter Seven
The Ark rests at Kiraith-jearim for twenty years. Samuel, now grown, shames Israel into giving up their foreign gods and embracing the Lord. In return for all that lovely shame, the Israelites make him their new judge. The Philistines attack, but Sam makes a lamb offering, and much like a genie summoned by the magic words “cei-u,” God is awakened by his favorite aroma: the reek of burning flesh. God quickly mobilizes, defeating the Philistines himself with one of his storms, then retaking all of the Israelite towns that had been taken by the Philistines.

Chapter Eight
Sam gets old and makes his sons Joel and Abijah judges, but they accept bribes and are too lazy to carry out justice. The Israelites do what they always do best in times of adversity: whine. They bitch to Sam about it and ask for a king, which would give them less responsibility for their own futures than ever before. God and Sam try to talk them out of it, but they will only have absolute rulerships, so God relents.

Chapter Nine
Sam meets Saul, a Benjaminite who will become the first king of Israel.

Chapter Ten
Sam anoints Saul, making him the first king of Israel. Oh, and on a side note, Nahash, king of the Ammonites, has been oppressing the Gadites and the Reubenites on the other side of the Jordan by gouging out all of their right eyes.

Chapter Eleven
Nahash besieges Jabesh-gilead, but Saul rides in and lifts the siege. Not everyone is ready to accept a king of Israel, but they’re warming up to Saul. Probably because he keeps saving their asses.

Chapter Twelve
Sam once again proclaims Saul king, but warns the Israelites not to turn away from God again, or else God is going to kill every last motherfucking one of them.

Chapter Thirteen
Saul’s reign is an indeterminate number of years; the Bible and its sources just have a big hole missing there. 1 Samuel has a pretty big shift in it halfway through, as though another author added the second half, so they probably crossed off the number of years of Saul’s reign just to fix their bullshit origin-of-David story that’s coming up. Anyway, Saul leads an army that includes his son, Jonathan, to the face the Philistines.

Chapter Fourteen
Jonathan jumps the gun and heads out with just one man to start a battle with the Philistines. Saul leads the rest of the army in slaughters the enemy. Saul has apparently laid a curse on the Israelites not to eat before sundown, but Jonathan hasn’t heard the curse eats some honey that renews his energy. To make matters worse, some of the soldiers start eating sheep and oxen and calves with blood, which God has an honestly insane amount of laws against. Saul tries to talk to God and calm him down, but God is just so pissed over Jonathan’s sin that he won’t even respond to Saul. Jonathan should be executed, but the Israelites protest this. This probably pisses off God even more, especially since Saul relents and just goes back to fighting. Can you imagine that? God’s pissed at you because you won’t kill your own son? What kind of a responsible deity is this?

Chapter Fifteen
Saul utterly destroys the Amalekites, except for their king, Agag, and all of their livestock. God, however, has expressly ordered that everyone and everything be killed, so Samuel tells Saul that God doesn’t consider Saul the king of Israel anymore. As an apology, Samuel cuts Agag into a number of pieces, but God is just sorry that he ever made Saul king in the first place.

Chapter Sixteen
Apparently Israel still continues to be ruled by Saul, just without the backing of God. God decides to punish Saul by making him insane and pick a new leader; he sends Samuel out to anoint David, the son of a Bethlehem farmer named Jesse. Saul makes David his aide, and whenever Saul has a fit of God-delivered mental instability, David plays the lyre to calm him down.

Next week, it's the second half of the First Book of Samuel, pretty clearly written by another author (who probably should have cut out Chapter 16, because Chapter 17 gives a different account of the first meeting of Saul and David. And then there's two more books about David. But at least this way you don't have to watch Richard Gere play the role! Anyone remember that?

Friday, December 08, 2006

Throwdown 12/8

15 random thoughts, questions, and observations for the week. Actually, I could only come up with 10, because I'm quite bored of Paris/Britney/Lindsay, and the whole Tom Cruise-Katie Holmes performance piece is so pointless that I can't even muster the energy to point out how dumb it is. Does anyone still care?

1. My 11-year-old sister Audrie on Justin Timberlake: “He didn’t really bring sexy back. He’s still lame.”

2. J.J. Abrams is directing Star Trek, and for some reason, people care. This sounds like a car wreck to me, but I’m sure I’ll be as drawn to it as I am to other stuff that looks horrible, like the new Superman and Rocky movies…

3. Americans are pissed at Gwyneth Paltrow for saying “the British are much more civilized and intelligent than Americans…I’m not as capitalistic as America.” I can see why they’re pissed off. I mean, in a country where more people wait in line for Playstation 3 than march for war, where 9/11 is all but forgotten, and where more people vote for a karaoke contest than for their own leaders, there’s obviously so much to be proud of. Americans, uncivilized? Gays can’t marry, preserving the barest idea of human life is more important than saving people who are already alive, and a significant proportion of the people here believe that the universe is governed by an invisible fairy tale. What’s so uncivilized about that? Let's see any other civilization that argues over whether ketchup is a vegetable.

4. So, Lance Bass broke up with Reichen Lehmkul? Man, that’s like me breaking up with Liv Tyler. I can’t imagine breaking up with the hottest woman I could ever be with. Uh, that’s not me in the picture, but it’s a good approximation of the difference between me and Liv Tyler.

5. More self-deprecation: hey, look, David Bowie made up a song about me. Alright, now I’m just being mean, but seriously, I need to lose weight. Man, I can’t wait for the new season of Extras to hit HBO. And, seriously, if David Bowie made up a song about me, I’d die happy. You are my god, David.

6. Dude…why? I mean, Sylvester Stallone looked good for his age. Botox? Fuck you, man.

7. AGH! Holy fucking God! Did the Creature from the Black Lagoon have a baby? I mean, besides Fergie? That’s the most hideous thing I’ve seen since Sly Stallone got too much Botox!

8. Oh, Jessica. It’s been a bad time lately, hasn’t it? Your new album, the one I referred to as a compromise, tanked, selling less than half the number of copies your more-assured debut, Sweet Kisses, sold. People are already trashing Blonde Ambition, and you just started shooting it. Your dad made you look cheap once again by trying to sell advertising to tabloids. And you had an incident at the Big in ’06 Awards that people are just jumping all over. Well, everyone gets nervous, or whatever happened. I’m still with you, baby. But I think we’re going to take a break, okay? This insistence you have on keeping your dad as your manager is just…well, it’s asinine, frankly. I thought you wanted to be a star, but that means hiring professionals. No, this isn’t goodbye forever. I really don’t want it to be. But for now…I think we just need space.

9. Wow, this is hilarious. Finally, a real old-fashioned diva feud! So, Beyonce is acting like a jealous bitch and has been making no secret of the fact that she’s pissed at how Jennifer Hudson just steals the movie Dreamgirls right out from under her. Well, she gave an interview recently in which she said “I knew that the character that I played wasn’t the star…I’m already a star. I already have nine Grammys. Everyone knows I can sing. I wish I could have gained 20 pounds and played [Jennifer Hudson’s role].” That is just the Art of the Back-Handed Compliment, y’all. And now, all of a sudden, evidence comes out that seems to prove that Beyonce, who’s been claiming to be 25 for something like the last several years anyway, might actually be 32 years old! Hilarious!!!! Oh, it’s like having Joan Crawford and Bette Davis back! And you know, if you take a look at her, it’s totally believable. She should embrace it; for a 32 year-old, her ass is absolutely amazing. Now if only someone could get Gwen Stefani to realize that she’s not 18 anymore…

10. Oh, right, the Iraq Commission. Well, at least they admitted there’s a problem. Now if they could come up with a solution, that would be something.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

RAIDERS' DAWN by Alun Lewis

Softly the civilized
Centuries fall,
Paper on paper,
Peter on Paul.

And lovers walking
From the night -
Eternity’s masters,
Slaves of Time -
Recognize only
The drifting white
Fall of small faces
In pits of lime.

Blue necklace left
On a charred chair
Tells that Beauty
Was startled there.

The Links of Bilbo Baggins

I was planning to write a TV Report about Big Day, but that show might actually be too stupid to bother pointing out how stupid it is. Here's a link post for today.

Postmodern Barney has a link to a Vanity Fair piece in which Christopher Hitchens says women are incapable of being funny. I could've just linked to the piece itself, but I wanted to second all of the Hitchens observations said here. Although I do agree with Hitchens's anti-Mother Theresa campaign, but that's something else.

Cracked has a funny post by David Campbell illustrating the seven worst moments in James Bond films.

No Smoking in the Skull Cave has the hilarious trailer for Hot Fuzz, the new police comedy from Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright.

Slowly Going Bald has list of things he'd do if he were on The Real World that cracked me up.

The Houston Chronicle has TVLand's pointless and predictable list of the 100 Greatest TV Catchphrases. Luckily, Cracked has their own list of the greatest TV catchphrases viewers didn't get to hear.

Fametracker scientifically examines the Britny/K-Fed relationship.

Watch Tony Snow lose all of his credibility on this video at The Huffington Post.

Patrick Walsh has a few words to say about the Blockbuster Online Service and their latest trick to get Netflix subscribers.

The Rude Pundit also has some word to say about the Iraq study group report.

Getting ready for Oscar season. ModernFabulosity looks at the National Board of Review Awards.

Josh Becker has a neat post about Hollywood movie studios and their forgotten history.

Angela has a story that I found moving.

And finally, The Absorbascon has the funniest goddamn comic book reference I may have ever seen.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The History of the Middle East

Part 4 in a series.

The Third Assyrian Empire

After a thousand years of Shamshi-Adad’s dynasty, the Assyrians could no longer stand incompetent rule. In 745 BC a military uprising occurred and a new king, the first outside the dynasty, emerged. Usurpers usually give themselves a name associated with the throne to assure continuity and force legitimacy. This king called himself Tiglath-Pileser III.

This king was strong, and would not bend to Urartu. Rather than rely on peasant levies to hastily build an untrained army, Tiglath-Pileser created an army of professional mercenaries and turned his attention to Assyria’s enemies. First, he turned Media into a tribute kingdom. Israel, without a strong leader (Jeroboam had since died), quickly followed. Then he went north to Urartu and smashed the southern half of the country. The northern strongholds could not be taken, but it didn’t matter; Urartu began to decline almost immediately, never to regain its strength. Israel tried to fight back by joining with Syria, so Tiglath-Pileser simply destroyed Syria.

The policy of terror was done away with, and a new policy of exile was instituted. Gods were thought to be tied to the land, and by moving a king somewhere else, his sense of identity was shattered. This also had the affect of spreading the Aramean language, which had been the main language of the western Semitic kingdoms, even Israel, for 1500 years. It was already the language of trade; with only two dozen letters, it was much easier to learn than the thousands of separate Akkadian symbols. Aramean began to take hold, soon becoming Assyria’s second official language and eventually replacing Akkadian.

Tiglath-Pileser turned his eye towards the Chaldeans in 729 BC. When their ruler died, he marched into Babylon and declared himself king, once again uniting all of Assyria.

The Sargonid Dynasty

And so the cycle goes; Tiglath-Pileser III died and his successor, his son Shalmaneser V, was weak. In 722 BC after three years of a pointless siege of Israel, he was usurped by a general who called himself Sargon II (interestingly, he named himself after a different Sargon than Sargon of Agade). This Sargon sent the leaders of the ten “lost tribes” of Israel into exile, where they assimilated into Mesopotamia. Israel as a kingdom was ended. He then turned Judah, the kingdoms of Asia Minor, and even Cyprus into tribute kingdoms. The Assyrian Empire once again dominated all of Mesopotamia.

Meanwhile, new Indo-European tribes were on the move. North of the Black Sea, on the Russian steppes, the Cimmerians were being driven out by the Scythians, who were coming out of central Asia. The Cimmerians were pushed into the Caucasus and straight towards Urartu. At the same time, Sargon was pressing his advantage and attacking Urartu from the south. Trapped between two invaders, Urartu surrendered to Assyria. Sargon destroyed the land and canals, but in 714 BC completed his conquest of Urartu and stood against the Cimmerians.

For the decade since Sargon had taken the throne, the Chaldeans had reclaimed control of Babylon. They had wrongly assumed he was weak; when Sargon turned his attention to Babylon, he retook it easily. Then he began to build a new city, Dur-Sharrukin, to be his new capital. He never got to live there; indeed, his palace was never completed. Sargon went to Asia Minor to fight the Cimmerians there, and died in battle in 705 BC.

Sargon was succeeded by his son, Sin-akhe-eriba, called Sennacherib in the Bible. He chose Nineveh for his capital and rebuilt it, including the canals and a stone aqueduct, and perhaps the most glorious and ornate palace yet seen in Mesopotamia. Sennacherib faced a number of intrigues. Egypt was conspiring with Judah and other kingdoms against Assyria, which led to a brief (and failed) siege of Jerusalem in 701 BC. Elam sheltered and supported Chaldean refugees, encouraging them to take Babylonia back from Assyria. When Sennacherib realized what the Elamites were doing, he launched an attack on them from the sea. He built a small navy of ships, commandeered by Phoenicians and Greeks since Assyrians had no experience at sea. But the Elamites countered by sending an army to Babylonia that nearly cut Sennacherib off from Nineveh.

Babylon had been safe for over a thousand years because it was still the cultural center of the Fertile Crescent (the Athens of Assyria, if you will). No one wanted to go up against it and reduce to ruins the history of the Assyrian people and the ancient Sumerian religion. Sennacherib, angry and frustrated, could hold back no longer, and in 689 BC he destroyed the city. He even diverted the Euphrates to flood the land, then sacked the temples and carried off the statue of Marduk.

In 681 BC Sennacherib was assassinated. The conspiracy was engineered by his two oldest sons; they were killed by their brother Ashur-akh-iddina, whom Assyria rallied behind. The Bible calls him Esarhaddon. This king would try to avoid war, preferring to glorify Assyria in other ways. He made peace with Elam and Judah (which continued to pay tribute), rebuilt Babylon (including the temples), and tried to reign peacefully. When he had to fight, however, he could. The Scythians were now in control of Urartu, and Esarhaddon defeated them in 679 BC. Not forgetting Egypt’s role in drumming up dissent, Esarhaddon marched into Egypt and sacked Memphis in 671 BC, putting an end to a vast metropolis over 2500 years old.

Knowing the course of history, Esarhaddon settled the succession during his lifetime so that the transition would be smooth. He chose his younger son, Ashurbanipal, as his heir, naming his older son Shamash-shum-ukin, the viceroy of Babylon. But even with plans made, rebellion is a constant possibility, and Egypt fought back. Esarhaddon was marching to put down the rebellion when he died in 669 BC. Ashurbanipal took the throne as smoothly as his father had hoped.

Ashurbanipal was a scholar; he built an enormous library (with a catalog system) at Nineveh, collecting 2500 years of recorded history. Many assumed he was too interested in learning and would be a weak military leader, but he knew how to lead in every way. He put down the Egyptian rebellion by sacking Thebes, the farthest point any Assyrian army would ever march to. The Egyptian conquest would not last; in 655 BC when Egypt revolted under Psamtik I, Ashurbanipal was busy ending the Cimmerian threat in Asia Minor. He was helped by a general named Gyges, who had founded the kingdom of Lydia. Gyges died in the process.

In 652 BC, Elam made its move. Shamash-shum-ukin was convinced to revolt against his brother, and a civil war began. Ashurbanipal showed no remorse in dealing with Babylon, and Shamash-shum-ukin killed himself at the top of a pyre of all his belongings. Ashurbanipal resolved to put an end to Elamite interference, and spent a decade doing so. He destroyed Susa in 639 BC, carried the Elamite kings into exile, and laid waste to the land. Elam, as old as Sumer and a powerful Mesopotamian kingdom, vanished from history.

Ashurbanipal reigned another 14 years, during which time we aren’t really sure what he did. He probably wished to live out the rest of his reign in peace after three decades of war. Except for the loss of Egypt, the Assyrian Empire was intact. The Scythians, Cimmerians, and Elamites were no longer a threat. But this prosperity could only last so long. Constant warring had worn out the Assyrians, and their trade routes (which reached as far as India) were in decline. The Assyrian army was crumbling with disuse, and the subject peoples were only growing braver. The peace of the Assyrian Empire would not last; it was the silent period before the approach of death.

To be continued.

Film Week

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

I know, I’ve got no one to blame but myself. I can’t even blame Tori Spelling, since it’s my own burden to always want to watch her in her crappy movies. But I can’t help it, I just adore her. Even when she’s in crappy contemporary versions of A Christmas Carol with Gary Coleman and William Shatner, no matter how cute it sometimes manages to be. I love you, Tori. ** stars.

UGETSU (1953)
Kenji Mizoguchi, the third in the triumvirate of great Japanese directors (with Kurosawa and Ozu), directed this film about two brothers who go separate ways when their village is destroyed. Genjuro wants to be a great potter, while Tobei wants to become a samurai. Both stories comment on one another without getting bogged down in meditations on morality; both men’s wives experience pain and tragedy in varying shades of humiliation. There is also a ghost, Lady Wakasa, who wants to experience love. There sounds like a lot going on here, but it’s all pretty seamless and brilliantly brought together by an unforgettable twist. A masterpiece. **** stars.

The first of Ray Harryhausen’s three Sinbad movies, and one of the greatest adventure movies ever made. Sinbad and Princess Parisa are going to cement the peace between two caliphates with their marriage, but the wicked sorcerer Sokurah shrinks her in a bid to get Sinbad to take him to his island of monsters to help him take a magic lamp from a Cyclops. How could you not love a movie like that? Harryhausen’s effects in this movie are among his best, seamlessly blending in and providing some memorable moments (the best of which is Sinbad’s duel with a skeleton swordsman). Adventure movies are the best in the world. **** stars. Excellent Bernard Herrmann score, too.

FLESH (1932)
A fairly weak John Ford effort about a German wrestler who comes to America. Predictable, but good performance from Wallace Beery. ** stars.

So, how about this for a cast? Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Susan Sarandon, Vincent Gardenia, Allen Garfield, Austin Pendleton, Charles Durning, Harold Gould, and Carol Burnett. Not bad, right? Too bad the movie sucks. Seriously, with the (tenuous) exception of His Girl Friday, I hate every version of The Front Page I’ve ever seen. And sadly, this is another Billy Wilder disappointment from the seventies. What happened to him? * star.

Wow, what a film. This one blew me away. It’s basically a retelling of the Orpheus myth, but played out against the backdrop of Carnival in Rio de Janeiro. Orfeo is a streetcar conductor who plays the guitar, and is in love with the simple country girl Eurydice. He’s also engaged to Mira, played by the amazingly sexy Lourdes de Oliveira. But there is so much more than just the love triangle, and director Marcel Camus brings a high tragedy to the passion of his story. Death is stalking the lovers, and Orfeo has to walk through a sort of hell to find his true love. Meanwhile, this is all set to a luscious samba beat (by Antonio Carlos Jobim) and shot in a way that convinces you Rio must be the most beautiful landscape on the planet. The beautiful cinematography by Jean Bourgoin highlights a color palette that is beyond exquisite. Somebody needs to tie Baz Luhrmann down and show him that this is how you make a colorful, passionate movie. **** stars. One of the greatest films I’ve ever seen.

LA STRADA (1954)
I tend to hate Fellini movies, but I enjoyed this one. It’s about a carnival strongman who mistreats his assistant, so she falls in love with the tightrope walker. Fellini’s style infuses these characters with life, but what really helps are the strong performances by Giulietta Masina, Richard Basehart, and especially Anthony Quinn as the strongman. Nino Rota’s score is excellent and integral to the film. I would say this is Fellini’s best, but coming from me that’s probably not much. ***1/2 stars.

Lame garbage about a girl who is confronted by her inner child so she can get her shit together. It’s stupid, but ten year-old Hayden Panettiere is unbearably cute. I want a girl like that for my daughter. * star.

Terence Rattigan’s play about the residents of an English boarding house is a fascinating study of loneliness and the methods people will employ to enforce it, to thrust it on others, and to use it as a cushion against the world. Burt Lancaster stars in the movie, and he and Rita Hayworth both do an excellent job (though I found the line about Hayworth looking not a day over 30 hard to swallow), but the real core of the movie is the relationship between David Niven as an old, retired soldier, and Deborah Kerr as the young lady, dominated by her mother, who idolizes him. I don’t want to reveal too much about it, but this movie is endlessly rewarding. **** stars. There’s a nice early role for Rod Taylor, too.

Lame-but-fun remake of the seventies movie gets the first thing right about witch movies: there have to be hot chicks. Here, hot chick Mika Boorem and her hot sister Summer Glau are being courted by a sorority of hot chicks because their leader, hot hot hot Joanna Garcia, is a sorceress who thinks Mika Boorem is the foretold power of something something. Anyway, there’s a rival group led by extremely fucking hot Jennifer Tilly, who is training hot witches like hot Amber Wallace to use their powers to fight this other coven/sorority. Hot Morgan Fairchild also appears. It’s pretty lame, but the hot chick factor is high. It would work as a silly, Charmed type of TV series. **1/2 stars.

This film tells the story of two children in wartime France. The girl, Brigitte, loses both of her parents to a bombing run, and then her puppy accidentally drowns. She meets a boy, Michel, and the two form a fast, close friendship that takes shape when he helps her bury her dead puppy. They turn to religion in their own odd way, burying animals and stealing crosses from the local church to mark the graves. The point is that Brigitte deals with the loss of her parents by tying it with the death of her dog, and the burials become a way for her to understand their death by caring for the graves of the animals. By making a game of religion, director Rene Clement not only gently satirizes the church, but shows how rituals can bring closure and healing to children. As always, when the adult world interferes into what they don’t understand, disaster happens. **** stars.

Silent epic about whalers with too little emphasis on whaling. That would have been fascinating, but sadly this is a melodrama about forbidden romance and all that. It does, at least, star Clara Bow in the role that first brought her attention. ** stars.

I know, I’ve got no one to blame but myself. I can’t even blame Dina Meyer, since it’s my own burden to always want to watch her in her crappy movies. But I can’t help it, I just adore her. Even when she’s in crappy rip-offs of The Exorcist and The Omen with perhaps the worst child actor I’ve ever seen. I love you, Dina. * star.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Walt Disney Is 105 Today

Once a man has tasted freedom he will never be content to be a slave. That is why I believe that this frightfulness we see everywhere today is only temporary. Tomorrow will be better for as long as America keeps alive the ideals of freedom and a better life. All men will want to be free and share our way of life. There must be so much that I should have said, but haven't. What I will say now is just what most of us are probably thinking every day. I thank God and America for the right to live and raise my family under the flag of tolerance, democracy and freedom.

I don’t believe in playing down to children, either in life or in motion pictures. I didn’t treat my own youngsters like fragile flowers, and I think no parent should.

Children are people, and they should have to reach to learn about things, to understand things, just as adults have to reach if they want to grow in mental stature. Life is composed of lights and shadows, and we would be untruthful, insincere, and saccharine if we tried to pretend there were no shadows. Most things are good, and they are the strongest things; but there are evil things too, and you are not doing a child a favor by trying to shield him from reality. The important thing is to teach a child that good can always triumph over evil, and that is what our pictures attempt to do.

The American child is a highly intelligent human being — characteristically sensitive, humorous, open-minded, eager to learn, and has a strong sense of excitement, energy, and healthy curiosity about the world in which he lives. Lucky indeed is the grown-up who manages to carry these same characteristics into adult life. It usually makes for a happy and successful individual.

I have long felt that the way to keep children out of trouble is to keep them interested in things. Lecturing to children is no answer to delinquency. Preaching won’t keep youngsters out of trouble, but keeping their minds occupied will.

A person should set his goals as early as he can and devote all his energy and talent to getting there. With enough effort, he may achieve it. Or he may find something that is even more rewarding. But in the end, no matter what the outcome, he will know he has been alive.

All you've got to do is own up to your ignorance honestly, and you'll find people who are eager to fill your head with information.

Animation can explain whatever the mind of man can conceive.

Do a good job. You don't have to worry about the money; it will take care of itself. Just do your best work — then try to trump it.

Every child is born blessed with a vivid imagination. But just as a muscle grows flabby with disuse, so the bright imagination of a child pales in later years if he ceases to exercise it.

Fantasy, if it's really convincing, can't become dated, for the simple reason that it represents a flight into a dimension that lies beyond the reach of time. In this new dimension, whatever it is, nothing corrodes or gets run down at the heel, or gets to look ridiculous like, say, the celluloid collar or the bustle. And nobody gets any older.

Happiness is a state of mind. It's just according to the way you look at things. So I think happiness is contentment but it doesn't mean you have to have wealth. All individuals are different and some of us just wouldn't be satisfied with just carrying out a routine job.

I don't make films for children. I make films that children aren't embarrassed to take their parents to.

I go right straight out for the adult. As I say, for the honest adult. Not the sophisticates. Not these characters that think they know everything and you can't thrill them anymore. I go for those people that retain that something, you know, no matter how old they are; that little spirit of adventure, that appreciation of the world of fantasy and things like that. I go for them. I play to them. There's a lot of them. You know?

I have no use for people who throw their weight around as celebrities, or for those who fawn over you just because you are famous.

I've never believed in doing sequels. I didn't want to waste the time I have doing a sequel; I'd rather be using that time doing something new and different.

Ideas come from curiosity.

If certain events continue, much of America's natural beauty will become nothing more than a memory. The natural beauty of America is a treasure found nowhere else in the world. Our forests, waters, grasslands and wildlife must be wisely protected and used. I urge all citizens to join the effort to save America's natural beauty... it's our America — do something to preserve its beauty, strength and natural wealth.

If I were a fatalist, or a mystic, which I decidedly am not, it might be appropriate to say I believe in my lucky star. But I reject "luck" — I feel every person creates his own "determinism" by discovering his best aptitudes and following them undeviatingly.

If we are to have a true and honest culture, we must be aware of the self-appointed tyrant who puts a fence around painting or art or music or literature and shouts "This is my preserve. Think as I do or keep out."

In order to make good in your chosen task, it's important to have someone you want to do it for. The greatest moments in life are not concerned with selfish achievements but rather with the things we do for people we love and esteem, and whose respect we need.

Inside every sophisticated grownup adult is a little kid just dying to get out.

It is good to have a failure while you're young because it teaches you so much. For one thing it makes you aware that such a thing can happen to anybody, and once you've lived through the worst, you're never quite as vulnerable afterward.

It's kind of fun to do the impossible.

It’s a mistake not to give people a chance to learn to depend on themselves while they are young.

Of all our inventions for mass communication, pictures still speak the most universally understood language.

Our heritage and ideals, our code and standards — the things we live by and teach our children — are preserved or diminished by how freely we exchange ideas and feelings.

The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.

There are fashions in reading, even in thinking. You don't have to follow them unless you want to. On the other hand, watch out! Don't stick too closely to your favorite subject. That would keep you from adventuring into other fields. It's silly to build a wall around your interests.

Think beyond your lifetime, if you want to do something truly great. Make a fifty-year master plan. A fifty-year master plan will change how you look at the opportunities in the present.

To the youngsters of today, I say "Believe in the future, the world is getting better; there still is plenty of opportunity." Why, would you believe it, when I was a kid I thought it was already too late for me to make good at anything.

Too many people grow up. That's the real trouble with the world, too many people grow up. They forget. They don't remember what it's like to be 12 years old. They patronize, they treat children as inferiors. Well, I won't do that. I won’t do that. I’ll temper a story, yes. But I won’t play down, and I won’t patronize.

To all that come to this happy place: Welcome. Disneyland is your land. Here age relives fond memories of the past, and here youth may savor the challenge and promise the future. Disneyland is dedicated to the ideals, the dreams, and the hard facts that have created America; with the hope that it will be a source of joy and inspiration to all the world. Posted by Picasa

Evaluating Disney: 1941

The failures of Pinocchio and Fantasia (an outright flop) were taking their toll on Walt Disney and his studio. Flush with the success of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Walt had spent all of the profits putting a number of films into production (Pinocchio, Fantasia, and Bambi were incredibly expensive) and building the brand new studio. Now that reality had set in, the banks were starting to put limits on what Walt could spend.

The new studio also took its toll on the camaraderie of the people who worked for Disney. Whereas once people could wander around in a search for ideas, collaboration, or even a friendly chat while working out a problem, the departments were now all isolated from one another. The atmosphere was less like a collective of artists and more like a factory; each department even had a secretary whose job was to make sure that people didn’t wander off. Walt, for his part, had become much more remote from the staff, which gave the place a whiff of formality that had never been there before. The animators bristled; what had once been a group effort now seemed more and more like a job.

If it was going to be a job, than they damn well wanted to get paid like it was. But Walt was dealing with his staff rather high-handedly, forgoing salary increases and, in some cases, even overtime pay. The salary structure had always been vague at Disney, with bonuses handed out based on merit, but with the formal atmosphere in place and a new division between labor and management making itself felt, Walt’s employees (especially those in the lower ranks) wanted their money.

As a result, Disney’s workers formed their own union: the Federation of Screen Cartoonists. They elected Art Babbitt their president, and the National Labor Relations Board certified it in 1939. They formed their own union to head off pressure from the Screen Cartoonists Guild, who had been trying to organize other animation studios and who, it was felt, might not be as sympathetic to Disney as the people who knew him. It must be stated that conditions were far better at Walt Disney Studios than at any other animation house. But since Disney was the largest producer in the field, that made him a perfect target for the Guild; if Disney could be unionized, others would certainly follow.

Walt was amenable to the Federation at first; he rather callously saw it as useful in blocking the efforts of other unions. But even though his company was traded publicly, Walt still ran his studio like a small businessman and had nothing but contempt for unions. His brother Roy felt the same way, as did the studio attorney, Gunther Lessing, an older man and former frontier lawyer who had dealt with Pancho Villa in Mexico. The Federation had no real bargaining power.

The Screen Cartoonists Guild stepped into a tense situation in 1941, claiming that they represented the majority of Disney employees (many employees had joined both unions, just in case). Walt refused to recognize the Guild. Art Babbitt, wittingly or unwittingly, brought the situation to a head. He had already had a falling out with Walt over pay issues and was, as Walt saw it, becoming difficult to work with. Babbitt left the powerless Federation to join the Guild; they immediately made him head of the Disney unit in March. Because of the money-losing enterprises of the previous year, Walt was going to have to lay off two dozen employees to stay solvent; he chose mostly Guild members.

The Guild reacted immediately. On 26 March, they voted to strike unless Disney recognized them as the bargaining agent for employees. Walt responded by firing Babbitt and, rather stupidly, admitting that one of the reasons he was being let go was his union activities. On 28 March, 300 employees (including Babbitt and Bill Tytla) formed a picket line outside the studio. Things quickly grew contentious, with bitterness and hurt feelings affecting everyone. Walt felt (and said, many times) that the strike was being led by Communists, and an economic battle quickly turned ideological. His employees were angered and hurt by the accusation; on 5 June, they burned Gunther Lessing in effigy. Walt felt betrayed; so did his employees.

Many of the people involved have said that they would have reacted more sympathetically had Walt just been honest with them. All they knew was that they had been promised more money and better pay, and were now being greeted with layoffs. But because Walt was so remote, no one at the time seemed to know the pressure he was under. There was no cash on hand, no new credit, and Walt still had several features in various stages of development. Bambi had been in production since 1937, and was finally nearing completion. Disney was still trying to find a way to work out Tales of Hans Christian Andersen with Samuel Goldwyn. Dumbo was in animation, as were The Legend of Happy Valley and The Wind in the Willows, while Alice in Wonderland was still being worked out in script (and possibly Lady and the Tramp was starting to take shape). Other rights had been purchased or were in story (Inspector Bones, The Hound of Florence, Chanticleer and Reynard, and Walt’s prized Don Quixote), and Walt still hoped very much to being production on Peter Pan after Bambi was completed. But for all the pressure he was feeling, Walt tried to hang on. His pride would not allow him to tell the employees who were loyal to him that they were in trouble. Gunther Lessing, often painted as the villain of the piece, advised Walt to take a hard line against the strikers and the union and wait them out.

Walt demanded an election; his employees would vote on whether to stick with the Federation or whether they wanted him to recognize the Guild. He was certain he could win. The Guild had already alienated some of the employees by refusing to allow non-members to take part in the strike. The studio was forced to close down while the matter was being settled. On 28 July, the strike ended as both sides agreed to federal arbitration. It was agreed that things would go more smoothly without Walt around. The Guild was elected and Walt Disney Studios was unionized.

This coincided perfectly with some government work. Nelson Rockefeller was coordinating Latin American Affairs for the State Department, and he was pushing the Good Neighbor Policy. He thought Walt Disney would be an excellent cultural ambassador, and asked him to make a goodwill tour of South America in part of the US effort to combat growing Nazi influence there. Walt resisted at first, not wishing to take a vacation in the midst of labor problems. But the State Department offered him a deal: $70,000 in traveling expenses for him and anyone he wished to take with him (among them some of his animators), plus a series of animated shorts which they would underwrite up to $50,000 apiece. They also agreed to put pressure on federal mediators to settle the strike situation. Disney agreed and left on 11 August for a tour of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Peru. Walt saw it as a working trip, even meeting with local animators.

The day he left, Roy proposed more layoffs. He planned, rather nakedly, to lay off 207 strikers and only 49 non-strikers. The Guild balked, of course, and the studio closed down for four weeks while the matter was put before federal arbitration. It was decided the layoffs must be in equal numbers.

Through all of this, the shorts continued.

1/10: Timber
Donald Duck. Donald steals food from Pete and is forced to work for it. Pete is, hilariously, a Canadian lumber boss with a silly French Canadian accent; he’s also referred to as Pierre. There are some really good gags (of course, this being yet another classic from Jack King, Carl Barks, and Jack Hannah), and one of Disney’s best chase sequences, with Pierre chasing Donald down some railroad tracks. It’s fun because of Donald’s basic nature; he’ll do anything to get out of work, even when just working would be easier. At one point he grumbles, “Might as well be in a concentration camp.”

1/24: Pluto’s Playmate
Pluto. Poor Pluto; his life would be so much easier if he just gave little animals a chance. Have you ever noticed how many of his adventures always stem from him getting pissed off at a smaller animal? This time, Pluto’s on the beach and wants to play with his ball, but a seal wants to play too. Rather than share, Pluto tries to kill the little guy (at one point even burying him alive). Pluto is even nearly drowned (in a suspenseful scene) by an angry octopus. Directed by Norm Ferguson, this short still has some of the painted background touches of earlier shorts; this is going to change as less money becomes available.

2/14: The Little Whirlwind
Mickey Mouse. Case in point. This short looks very cheap (though I must admit the backgrounds, though sparse, are creative), and Mickey appears to be off model through the whole thing. He’s being animated differently now; Fred Moore’s redesign survives, but Mickey seems lanky now, taller and thinner. His ears are three-dimensional, which just looks bizarre (note the dark blue interior of the ear). The whole point is that Mickey is trying to clean up Minnie’s yard (when was the last time we saw her?), but a “baby” tornado keeps messing with him. There is some cute business with marching leaves, but it just seems like a pale imitation of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice; when the big tornado hits, the music is the same as in The Band Concert. That’s two superior cartoons this one rather foolishly compares itself to. Not one of my favorites.

3/7: Golden Eggs
Donald Duck. This underrated cartoon is absolutely hilarious. Donald sees that eggs are 85 cents a dozen, so he rushes out to the yard to get his hens to lay eggs. Problem is the mean rooster won’t allow Donald near the eggs. So he dresses up as a hen to fool the rooster, like you do, and the rooster falls in love with him, leading to some terrific scenes. The character animation on the rooster is wonderful, and the gags are fast and full of energy; the scene where they dance the rumba is one of the duck’s best. Wilfred Jackson was still putting out some of the best of the Disney shorts; Carl Barks did story and Berny Wolf did some excellent animation.

3/28: A Gentleman’s Gentleman
Mickey Mouse. In all but name, this is a Pluto cartoon. Mickey, once again exhibiting a thoughtless cruel streak, is using Pluto as a servant. He wants Pluto to go get the Sunday paper, which leads to all manner of trouble. There’s a nice little fourth wall moment when Pluto reads about his own adventures in the comics section. For a Pluto cartoon, it’s actually not bad.

4/18: Baggage Buster
Goofy. I loved this charming cartoon; here Goofy is a baggage handler at a train depot trying to get a magician’s trunk ready for boarding. Of course, Goofy can’t resist looking inside and messing with things, which leads to all manner of apparitions and animals tormenting him (including one incredibly cute bunny). The short takes its time to get there, but because of the wonderful character animation I didn’t mind at all. Jack Kinney directed this short, one of the few he made with the earnest, clumsy Goofy of the thirties and not the sportsman he turned Goofy into. A great, clever cartoon.

5/9: A Good Time for a Dime
Donald Duck. This cartoon reflects my own belief that arcade machines are designed to frustrate you and in fact take pleasure in it. Donald has some troubles at a penny arcade with a mechanical claw, a time-limited airplane simulator, and a nickelodeon machine showing “The Dance of the Seven Veils.” It’s breezy, but lots of fun. Donald’s always at his best when he can’t get machines to work.

5/30: Canine Caddy
Mickey Mouse. Mickey is much more consistent here than he was in The Little Whirlwind (maybe the huge golf pants help). He’s out playing golf with Pluto as a caddy (yes, this is another de facto Pluto short), but Pluto gets pissed off at a gopher and chases him, ruining the green. It’s pretty cute overall, but a little slow going.

6/20: The Nifty Nineties
Mickey Mouse
. And those model problems return (and I should probably point out that the two cartoons where his appearance is most problematic to me, this and The Little Whirlwind, were directed by Riley Thompson). This is a pretty slow, boring cartoon anyway, with Mickey and Minnie in the 1890s, taking in a vaudeville show. One of the things they see, a slideshow called “Father, Dear Father,” is very good, animated like a series of unfinished storyboards. It’s the only highlight of a very dull cartoon. Also worth noting is the strange comedy duo Fred and Ward, who are, I believe, the first human characters in a Mickey Mouse cartoon. They look like practice for Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum (though actually they are caricatures of Fred Moore and Ward Kimball).

On the list of Disney’s features, The Reluctant Dragon stands out as a sort of forgotten oddity. Walt needed to make something quick and cheap to get some money flowing into the studio, and since many people had asked him to show the process by which cartoons were made, Walt decided he would make this movie and show them. Well, sort of. The film follows humorist/actor Robert Benchley on a trip to the Disney Studios to pitch an idea for a film based on Kenneth Grahame’s lovely story “The Reluctant Dragon.” Throughout the film, however, Benchley keeps wandering off and taking a look at the process of animation. However, Disney being a showman first and foremost, the film is rather inaccurate, omitting many details for the sake of a funny and charming story. This was the first time Disney had worked in live action, and he hired a director, Alfred L. Werker, on loan from Darryl F. Zanuck at 20th Century Fox. Only one other piece of live action footage had been filmed at the studio before; Deems Taylor, Leopold Stokowski, and the orchestra for Fantasia. Since that facility was soundproofed, Werker converted it into a soundstage. Disney was heavily involved in shaping the story (it was his idea to begin the film in black and white, then switch to color when Benchley enters the color lab), but Werker remembers having a free hand to direct the film however he wanted. Werker may also have been the first director to work from a storyboard, which had already been made for him when he took the job; storyboards are now common practice in Hollywood, but such a thing was new to directors at the time.

Also, most of the animators and artists and staff seen on screen are actors (among them, Alan Ladd and Frances Gifford). The only genuine animator we see working is Ward Kimball; otherwise, we do get a brief scene with Norm Ferguson and with Walt Disney himself. We also get to see Clarence Nash and Florence Gill recording a musical number as their respective characters, Donald Duck and Clara Cluck. And the model for Baby Weems is Hamilton Luske’s infant son Jimmy.

The story is interwoven with three shorts. The first (and best) in the film is Baby Weems, used to illustrate the purpose of storyboards and told in a series of charming still frames. It probably works better this way than it would as a fully animated short; something about the experimental design gives it a very modern flair that helps the rather savage satire build. If it were fully animated, it would probably have lost the charm of the drawings and looked like every other Disney cartoon. The story itself deals with a baby who is superintelligent, and how is exploited and then forgotten by society. It is the high point of the film. The second animated segment, How to Ride a Horse, is itself great fun, and only the second of the classic Goofy sportsmanship shorts. The third segment, The Reluctant Dragon, is a charming story about a dragon who would rather recite poetry and have dainty picnics than fight, and the knight sent to deal with him and who, it turns out, is also a lover of rhyme. It’s a wonderful short, and retains many of Kenneth Grahame’s satires on English character.

The problem with the movie itself is that it really only works in context. If you want to see how cartoons are made, this isn’t accurate, and it really serves best as a PR piece for Disney Studios. Still, for hardcore fans like myself there’s a lot to love; for example, the scene of the maquette workshop, where the character models are made, shows clearly that maquettes have already been made for the characters from Peter Pan, a movie which would not see theaters for another 12 years (there are also characters that appear to be for Lady and the Tramp, which would take 14 years). It also gives us previews for the short Old MacDonald Duck, for Dumbo, and the first bits of animation the public would see for Bambi. But audiences at the time didn’t want this, and felt cheated at not getting another movie like Snow White. They didn’t want to pay for what many saw as an advertisement for the Walt Disney Company. Besides which, the strike was in full bloom, and it was hard to reconcile the image of a cheery workplace with the headline-making reality of the strike. When the movie premiered in LA, some striking employees picketed the theater with a large cut-out of a dragon complete with the scowling face of Walt Disney himself; the words “the Reluctant Disney” and “UNFAIR!” were scrawled on the side.

Whether this picketing affected the film is uncertain; something like this was probably never going to be successful, anyway, just by the nature of what it is. Walt certainly enjoyed showing off his new studio (the one his father had failed to be impressed by), but the interest wasn’t as great as he had hoped. Even with a budget of $600,000, the film failed to make its money back (falling about $60,000 short). It was the first blow to Walt’s plan of making two cartoon features a year, one artistic and the other low budget.

7/11: Early to Bed
Donald Duck. In this King-Barks-Hannah cartoon, the sound of a ticking clock and the antics of a hide-a-bed that refuses to sit still drive Donald mad as he tries to sleep. The story is no more complicated than that, but the creators manage to spin a number of gags out of it that make this cartoon fun (and frustrating) to watch.

8/1: Truant Officer Donald
Donald Duck. King-Barks-Hannah again, only this time with Huey, Dewey, and Louie thrown in. Donald is a truant officer trying to collect his nephews, but they keep eluding him. They’re as sadistic as ever, by the way; their worst offense comes when Donald tries to use a fire to smoke them out of their hideout. They put their caps on some cooked turkeys and let him think he’s roasted them alive. Bastards. Funny, but a trio of bastards nonetheless.

8/22: Orphan’s Benefit
Mickey Mouse. Okay, this is bizarre. In 1931, Disney made The Ugly Duckling as a Silly Symphony; when they remade it in 1939, it was a completely different (and vastly superior) cartoon. This is also a remake of a cartoon, the 1934 Orphan’s Benefit, only done in color. Except this remake was actually traced from the 1934 version, only with updated character models added on; even the soundtrack is exactly the same. Which explains some of the weirdness, including the sudden reappearances of the unjustly dismissed Horace Horsecollar, Clarabelle Cow, and Clara Cluck. And while it’s nice to see them for a change, one can’t help seeing this for what it is: a hasty attempt to fulfill a contract by reassembling old pieces. Since the strike was in full swing while this short was being worked on, it’s a short leap to realizing that this is just filler. And again, it’s directed by Riley Thompson!

9/12: Old MacDonald Duck
Donald Duck. King, Barks, and Hannah strike again with this wonderful short featuring Donald as a farmer. He tries to milk his cow, but a fly gets in the way, and we all know how Donald feels about little, cute animals. So he spends most of the short trying to kill it, but of course it gets its revenge. Another thin plot saved by the great story talents of Jack Hannah and Carl Barks, and the wonderful character animation of Ed Love.

10/3: Lend a Paw
Mickey Mouse. Another remake, this time of Mickey’s Pal Pluto. Pluto saves a kitten from drowning in the icy river, and then gets jealous and tries to get Mickey to throw the kitty out. The film has a message of how people should help animals (and one another), and is dedicated to the Tailwagger Foundation (and it won an Oscar). At heart, the film is fun and enjoyable, and though slight, it’s very pretty.

10/23: DUMBO
The gestation of Dumbo is almost unclear these days. Walt himself was resistant to the making of the film, but storymen Dick Huemer and Joe Grant pushed for it. They had found the book by Helen Aberson and Harold Pearl as part of a cereal giveaway (or something, every source says something different), and presented it as a daily comic strip to Walt. He was sufficiently hooked to allow them to work out the details; he had wanted to go ahead with his two-tier plan for animated features, releasing one piece of high art (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Fantasia, Bambi) and one low-budget cartoon feature every year. Dumbo would be first because The Legend of Happy Valley and The Wind in the Willows were running into problems. However, Walt himself was never excited about Dumbo, and never got involved in its development.

However, many of the people who worked on the film felt that Walt’s lack of close involvement is precisely why the film was finished so quickly. The story is simplicity itself, and without Walt wrestling over every gag and story point, the film took shape in almost no time at all. Relieved of the burden of Walt’s pressure to be artistic (which many people took as pretentious), the animators rediscovered the early exuberance and innocence of the earlier Disney cartoons. Dumbo is light and quick, and even though it was made on a shorter budget and shorter schedule than Max Fleischer’s movies were, it never lacks in quality.

This feature marks a revolution in the Disney method. The features had always been cast by sequence, which carried with it the threat of characters going off model (remember that Ollie Johnston had eventually been assigned on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to make sure that each dwarf retained his design). Plus, casting by sequence could consume a lot of time on the animators. It was feared that casting by character, in which an animator is responsible for the character itself instead of whole sequences, would dilute the animator’s role. But when Ben Sharpsteen, acting as supervising director, employed it here, it actually enhanced the role of the individual animator, because he was free to worry about character animation and performance instead of everything else going on in a scene.

Bill Tytla animated Dumbo and the rest of the elephants, and achieved perhaps his greatest animation in any film. Dumbo is an outlandish idea (a flying elephant!), but because the character’s emotions are so believable, so recognizably those of a child, he is accepted as a real character. And the personality comes out of the character, not out of the gimmicks or gags. It is subtle and full; Tytla is not showing off at all, and in not doing so transcends his medium. The character Timothy is less accomplished because he was split by two animators: Wolfgang Reitherman, who does well with the character, and Fred Moore, who does not. Moore had been one of the top men at Disney, designing the characters in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Pinocchio and redesigning Mickey Mouse for Fantasia; but now Walt considered him a caricaturist and not an artist, and refused to allow him to work on Bambi. Moore was losing his stature and his work suffered as a result. Ward Kimball’s work on the crows is full of character, however, and successfully resists black stereotypes.

Because the story was set so early on, there were no shelved sequences, as there were in Pinocchio, and nothing that ever needed to be significantly reworked. And because of this, the animators were able to get in a lot of character touches that enhanced the story; they were even able to experiment, as they did in the surreal-but-wonderful “Pink Elephants on Parade” sequence. It remains one of the best sequences in any Disney film.

Dumbo cost just $700,000 to make, less than a third of Pinocchio. And because of its depth of feeling, it’s simple heart and unpretentious storytelling, and its likeable characters and emotionally honest animation, the film managed to go out into an America just coming off the Depression and moving inevitably toward war (and remember, the European market was still cut off) and make $1.3 million. Many critics felt it was Disney’s best film yet, because by not trying to be something other than it was, by being so comfortable with its cartoon origins, it was genuine and appealing. A slight 64 minutes long, the film is undeniably one of Disney’s best features.

But Walt Disney himself felt otherwise. He felt it lacked quality, and since he hadn’t had a close hand in making it, Dumbo never really felt like his. He just wasn’t interested in it, and the fact that it had been a success made him dislike the film that much more.

Animation Credits:
Supervising Director: Ben Sharpsteen
Sequence Directors: Norm Ferguson, Wilfred Jackson, Bill Roberts, Jack Kinney, Samuel Armstrong
Animation Directors: Bill Tytla, Fred Moore, Ward Kimball, John Lounsberry, Art Babbitt, Wolfgang Reitherman
Animators: Hugh Fraser, Howard Swift, Harvey Toombs, Don Towsley, Milt Neil, Les Clark, Hicks Lokey, Claude Smith, Berny Wolf, Ray Patterson, Jack Campbell, Grant Simmons, Walt Kelly, Joshua Meador, Don Patterson, Bill Shull, Cy Young, Art Palmer

10/24: Donald’s Camera
Donald Duck. Donald tries to “shoot nature with a camera instead of a gun.” The animals in the film still look like the animals in Snow White, which adds something nice to the designs; the forest and backgrounds feel fuller than they have all year, actually. Donald gets into it with a woodpecker who doesn’t want his picture taken (and looks like the woodpecker in 1938’s Self Control), and you get the idea. This is one of the best Donald Duck shorts this year, directed by Dick Lundy.

11/14: The Art of Skiing
Goofy. These Goofy sports cartoons are endlessly hilarious. Jack Kinney really knew what he was doing putting these shorts together and making them the focus of Goofy’s existence. They are really parodies of the rather pompous live action shorts of the day, many of which had grandiose, overdramatic narration for sporting events. Here, the pretensions are deflated by the way Goofy keeps screwing everything up. This also seems to be the first time Goofy does his famous yell.

11/19: The Thrifty Pig
National Film Board of Canada. Historically entertaining, animation from Three Little Pigs is re-used to make a commercial for Canadian war bonds. The wolf is wearing a Nazi helmet and armband, and the pigs live in a house made from bonds. Zero entertainment value, but fascinating.

12/5: Chef Donald
Donald Duck. Messrs King, Barks, and Hannah weave another simple premise—Donald tries to bake waffles but accidentally uses rubber cement instead of baking soda—into a superior, gag-filled eight minutes of hilarity. A great short.

12/12: Seven Wise Dwarfs
National Film Board of Canada. Same as The Thrifty Pig, only with liberally re-used animation from Snow White and the Severn Dwarfs.

12/26: The Art of Self-Defense
Goofy. This is the first time Jack Kinney used multiple Goofy characters in one short, here to highlight the “manly arts” of fighting throughout the centuries. It’s aggressively violent, perhaps, and I think the boxing humor (and all boxing humor) is a little thin, but it’s still a fun cartoon.

When Walt Disney returned to his studio on 27 October, just four days after the successful release of Dumbo, he took a look at everything he had. Work had stopped on Bambi while the strike was being settled, but the film would be finished by December and ready for release the next year. He shelved all of the animation that had been done on The Legend of Happy Valley, saying that RKO doubted its prospects; he also halted animation on The Wind in the Willows because he felt there was a lack of quality. After the failure of The Reluctant Dragon and his own discomfort over Dumbo, Walt abandoned his plans to produce low budget supplementary features. His bank would only allow him to spend $1000 a week to develop another feature anyway, and he wanted that feature to be Peter Pan. And he still had hope for the cartoons inspired by his trip to South America. Perhaps he could scrape by and things would get better.

In November, Walt was forced to announce 200 more layoffs. This time they were pulled evenly from the strikers and non-strikers. All in all, the strikers would be gone soon enough. Some would be drafted when American entered World War II. Some would simply find Walt Disney Studios too unfriendly an environment to work in post-strike. A few would eventually form another animation studio, UPA. But Art Babbitt sued to get his job back; he went to war, then came back and stayed at Disney for two years. He was never assigned any important work again. The gap between Walter Elias Disney and his animators had widened significantly due to the strike; it would never close again. Walt’s enthusiasm for animation, so battered by the failures of Pinocchio and Fantasia, continued to decline.

Rather disingenuously, Walt would later characterize the strike as beneficial to the running of his studio. In Richard Schickel’s The Disney Version he is quoted as saying: “It was probably the best thing that ever happened to me, for it eventually cleaned house at our studio a lot more thoroughly than I could have done. I didn’t have to fire anybody to get rid of the chip-on-the-shoulder boys and the world-owes-me-a-living lads. An elimination process took place I couldn’t have forced if I wanted to. Our organization sifted down to the steady, dependable people. The others have gone.” Walt could be cold and tended to justify it, especially when his feelings were hurt. Perhaps that statement is merely callous. Perhaps he was still stinging from the rebellion of his friends.

For now, Walt would have to put such thoughts on hold. On 8 December 1941, his studio manager called him at home with some important news: the US Army had commandeered part of the studio as headquarters for a 700-man anti-aircraft unit with a mission to guard Los Angeles factories against Japanese bombing runs. His only sound stage had been taken over to run the whole operation from; the stage was sealed and could function during blackouts. War had come to Disney’s studio.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Memes, What a Beautiful Way to Say I've Run Out of Ideas

Copped this one from Yasamin.

1. Is your second toe bigger than your first? Slightly.

2. Do you have a favorite type of pen? I prefer the Precise V5 Rolling Ball Extra Fine Point (black ink). Not that I've given it that much thought.

3. Look at your planner for November 9, what were you doing? Too late now, but I'm sure it involved spending time on the computer being unemployed.

4. What color are your toenails usually? Black with a little blood red. No, not really.

5. What is the last thing you highlighted? Jeez, I can't remember.

6. What color are your bedroom curtains? I have blinds.

7. What color are the seats in your car? Gray.

8. Have you ever had a black and white cat? Yes. His named was Sam.

9. What is the last thing you put a stamp on? I can't remember. I'm much too self-absorbed to send cards, Netflix is pre-paid, and the bills are usually paid online or over the phone.

10. Do you know anyone who lives in Wyoming? No. I can't imagine most people do.

11. Why did you withdraw cash from the ATM the last time? I don't really do that. I usually use my bank card instead.

12. Who is the last baby that you held? I don't think I've held a baby since my sister Audrie was one, so, eleven years.

13. Do you know of any twins with rhyming names? When I was in elementary school I knew a pair of twins named Rohit and Mohit who were total assholes. All the other twins I've known came close, but didn't really rhyme--Kerri and Kirsty, Mindy and Marnie, stuff like that.

14. Do you like Cinnamon toothpaste? That's just asinine.

15. What kind of car were you driving 2 years ago? I've had Flynn, my 1996 Ford Escort, for ten years.

16. Pick one: Florida State Seminoles, Miami Hurricanes or Florida Gators? Who gives a fuck?

17. Last time you went to Six Flags? I was still in high school. Six Flags is boring as shit.

18. Do you have any wallpaper in your house? No. We wouldn't be allowed to put any up, anyway.

19. Closest thing to you that is yellow? My teeth. No, just kidding, those are green. My desk calendar has a girl in a yellow bikini for today.

20. Last person to give you a business card? I don't have/need a business card.

21. Who is the last person you wrote a check to? I can't even remember.

22. Closest framed picture to you? One of Becca's drawings, this one of a sexy Indian maid.

23. Last time you did homework? Back in August I wrote a paper on a David Leavitt story for my English final.

24. Have you ever applied for welfare? No. But...

25. How many emails do you have? Two, but I only give people the one.

26. Last time you received flowers? Never.

27. Who is the governor of your state? Rod "Boy Disappointment" Blagojevich.

28. Do you think the sanctity of marriage is meant for only a man & woman? I think that's an idiotic question, because there's not a whole lot of sanctity in any of the marriages I've seen. I think it's disgusting that there are people who think the marriage of Hollywood dumbfucks is more important than a person who wants to marry someone of the same sex. And by the way, there is at least one woman out there who married her house, so where's the sanctity in that. Fuck sanctity, quit using that as a shield for being a homophobe.

30. What is the smallest key on your key ring for? Mail box.

31. Do you have any Willow Tree figurines? Henh?

32. What was your high school's rival mascot? I'm not sure who our rival was exactly, but I went to Downers Grove South (the Mustangs) and the North mascot was the Trojan. The funny thing is, our symbol was a horse and theirs was an ancient warrior, but the dumbass DuPage County rich asshole kids who voted for the names in the sixties meant for the Mustang to be the car and the Trojan to be the condom. Ooh, the height of clever wordplay! Assholes.

33. Last person you spoke to from high school? I haven't spoken to anyone from my high school since Cara Wilson around 1996.

34. Last time you used hand sanitizer? Last time I was at the petting zoo, whenever that was.

35. Have you ever worn camouflage? Probably when I was a kid.

36. What color are the blinds in your living room? White.

37. What is in your inbox at work? Work?

38. Last thing you read in the newspaper? The op-ed page.

39. When was the last time you attended a pageant? Never.

40. What is the last place you bought pizza from? Pizza Pro's, with pizza so greasy it pools in the middle. Nice. I'll take mine with extra cheese, please!

41. Have you ever worn a crown? Only at the Medieval times.

42. What is the last thing you stapled? Um, paper.

43. Did you ever drink Crystal Pepsi? No.

44. Ever had an ingrown toenail? No.

45. Last time you saw fireworks? A few weeks ago; I live across the street from a stadium, and they do the fireworks thing.

46. Last time you had a Krispy Kreme doughnut? It's been a long time, but I prefer them to any other kind, especially those rancid, air-filled, gut-busting Dunkin' Donuts for fat, undiscerning Americans. Why torture yourself? Then again, you people drink their disgusting coffee, too... Can't you have just one thing without uncooked sugar in it?

47. Who is the last person that left you a message & you actually returned their call? My mom, maybe.

48. Last time you parked under a carport? Never once in my life.

49. Do you have a black dog? I have no kind of dog.

50. Do you have any gourds? My mom used to have a couple of painted gourds, but either she just took them down or she got rid of them. I think they were from Japan or Guam or the Philippines or something. Hm, I kind of miss them now that I think about it. She totally swapped all of the exotic Oriental stuff for boring Americana. Fuck, I live in the Midwest, if I want boring Americana I can look outside at all the fat idiots.

51. Are you an Aunt or Uncle? Neither.

52. Who has the prettiest eyes that you know of? Me. No, I guess I can't say that. Or can I?

53. Last time you saw a semi truck? I see them constantly.

54. Do you remember Ugly Kid Joe? Yes, but I don't know why I care.

55. Do you have a little black dress? Only five. And they still fit, dammit.

Song of the Quiz Day

You Are Cookie Monster

Misunderstood as a primal monster, you're a true hedonist with a huge sweet tooth.

You are usually feeling: Hungry. Cookies are preferred, but you'll eat anything if cookies aren't around.

You are famous for: Your slightly crazy eyes and usual way of speaking

How you life your life: In the moment. "Me want COOKIE!"

You Are the Very Gay Peppermint Patty!

Softball is the huge tipoff here...
As well as a "best friend" who loves to call her "sir"

You Are Pop Art

When it comes to art, you're definitely not a snob.
You can appreciate the mainstream aspects of culture, even if you need to twist them a bit to make them your own.
Whether you're into comics, retro pinups, or bold colors, you embrace what's eye catching and simple.
As far as most other art goes, you consider it a little too elitist and high brow for your tastes!

Your Movie Buff Quotient: 98%

You are a movie buff of the most obsessive variety. If a movie exists, chances are that you've seen it.
You're an expert on movie facts and trivia. It's hard to stump you with a question about film.

You Are 82% Evil

You're the most evil person you know.
The devil is even a little scared of you!

Monday Funny Posted by Picasa

Sunday, December 03, 2006

A Soldier's Christmas

I know a lot of us don't support the war (and a some of us never did), but I also know we support the men and women who are in grave danger in Iraq. They are fighting for our freedom, a freedom that many people in Washington would prefer we didn't use, especially to voice dissent. I know no one reading this needs to take a moment to remember our soldiers this Christmas. I know we all want them to come home and be with their loved ones.

But Chance mentioned this in the comments, and I think it should be mentioned again. Anyone who can, please go to Any Soldier and find out how to send an American soldier something for Christmas, Hannukah, Ramadan, Kwanzaa, Festivus, etc. It's a nice way to show your support and bring them a small piece of home this holiday season. It's a nice way to say thank you for laying your life on the line.

Song of the Week: "Castles Made of Sand"

Jimi Hendrix would've had his birthday this past week, so I thought I'd put this up. Somebody made this tribute video and put it on YouTube, and since it is my favorite Hendrix song, here you go.