« via negativa | Main | David Smith at the Guggenheim »

February 02, 2006


"while pretty much despising most comic books and animation (the brilliant Blaugustine excepted)"

Aw, really? That's tragic. But then, you live in America where animation and cartoons are treated as the domain of sugar-crazed children, very rarely taken seriously, and seemingly dominated by the saccharine mindset of Disney.

Have you seen the work of Hayao Miyazaki, like "The Princess Mononoke" or "Spirited Away"? Absolutely brilliant and hauntingly beautiful. And something only animation can do. I have seen everything he has ever made, from the television shows like "Heidi" and "Conan" of the 70's, to my favorite of his movies, like "Totoro", "Kiki's Delivery Service", "Laputa", and the devastating "The Firefly's Grave", a story about two orphaned children after Japan was defeated in the Second World War. The American movie reviewer Ebert said it was one of the most powerful depictions ever made of what war does to people. I couldn't speak for hours after the end of the movie.

I even considered applying to work as an animator for Miyazaki's animation studio Ghibli, but I was already too old then.

Last year there was the French animation "Belleville Rendezvous", which, with almost no narrative whatsoever, managed to make a side-splittingly hilarious satire of American political policy and cultural traits that had me laughing so hard in the theatre I had to continuously clap my hand over my mouth to keep from annoying the silent Japanese audience around me. The movie was banned in America by the American authorities, though I can't exactly see why.

Then there are all these beautiful and magical animations: "Father and Daughter", by Michael Dudok de Wit, "The Cathedral" by Tomek Baginski, "Atamayama" by Koji Yamamura, "The Old Man and the Sea" by Alexander Petrov (he hand-painted each image on glass panes, sometimes up to seven layers thick, an unbelievable achievement that perhaps only a Russian would have the determination and patience for), "The Man Who Planted Trees" by Frederic Back, or the astonishing "Street of Crocodiles" by Atelier Koninck (Brothers Quay). After you see any of these animations I think your whole view of animation will change. Think of good animation as "moving paintings".

My whole website is slowly moving towards an online presence with my illustration and hopefully animation (learning the software takes quite some time!). I would hate to think that you might despise what goes up! (^J^)

Whew, what a relief to be among your exceptions, Beth! There's nothing I like better than being an exception.
I share your dislike of most comics and animation, though I have to agree with butuki that there are striking exceptions and "Belleville Rendezvous" certainly was one. I also like some of the more art-house ones, often by Eastern European animators, as well as some of the new wholly independent artists working from home with simple equipment. The big expensive fancy-tech effects animated films are not my cup of chai at all (apart from Belleville). I'm astonished that it was banned in the US!! Well, not *that* astonished.

You are both right,and I was too hasty (and too deliberately provocative). I've seen some amazing animation and enjoyed it a lot; what I really like are the more arty forms which look like animated drawings or paintings - I wrote about the work of William Kentridge not long ago, for instance - but I'm not THAT judgemental, don't worry, Butuki, I will like your work! My objection is always to things that are "cool" just because they fall within a certain form/style that somebody has decided is "hip". And I'll probably always have a bias for strong words and content over images and special effects, no matter how amazing they are.

I think the best printed stories, animations, plays, movies, musicals, radio plays, oral stories, and operas will always depend on great words and content to really move people and have a lasting presence. What I love about animation is that it can be a combination of storytelling with words, the immediacy of drawing and painting, and the sonorous effect of sound and music. It all depends on how you use all these in combination. Although computer animation has developed into something that animators could only dream about twenty years ago, I still much prefer the touch of the human hand and the imperfections inherent in doing it so. All the animators I listed above, with the exception of Tomek Baginsky, do their work mainly by hand. The one concession I make to computers is the ability to simplify the mind-boggling monotony and complexity of thousands of transitional movements in the images in order to depict movement; in that way the computer has revolutionalized animation and brought about the Golden Age of animation possibilities. I'm not interested in photo-realistic animation personally (though it is amazing to see the characters in Lord of the Rings); what I want to do is make my drawings move, to instill a moving spirit into them.

I'm curious though, why it is that you love going to museums to see art work like paintings, drawings, and sculpture, and seem to love that, but animation and illustration (including some cartoons) are set apart? I don't think it would be an exaggeration to say that you wouldn't put a van Gogh painting in the same category as a Dickens' novel, pointing out that they are not the same medium and therefore express themselves differently. Should not animation and illustration be judged the same way, as inhabiting a different aesthetic realm? I don't think an animation should be judged in the same way as a novel... they both have their place and their strengths and weaknesses. And just like there are good novels and bad, so are there good animations and bad. Unfortunately good animation is very hard to come across so most people are unaware of how much good stuff exists out there.

It is just like music... a well-played piece by Chopin can never be supplanted by a well-written novel by Tolstoi. They are just different.

Butuki (and Natalie): "American authorities" do not ban films. Not yet, anyway. (Jeez, how do these goofy rumors get started?)

Not only was "The Triplets of Belleville" widely distributed in the U.S., it was nominated for two Academy Awards; an American Choreograhy Award (won); three Annie Awards; a Boston Society of Film Critics Award (won); a Broadcast Film Critics Association Award; a Chlotrudis Award; two Golden Trailer Awards; a Grammy Award (won one); an Independent Spirit Award; a Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award (won); a Motion Picture Sound Editors Award (won); a New York Film Critics Circle Award (won); two Online Film Crictics Society Awards; a San Diego Film Critics Society Award (won); a Golden Satellite Award (won); a Seattle Film Critics Award (won); and a Young Artist Award. See http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0286244/awards

"Whoa!" is right, Whoa. I'm not sure how I got to "banning" after all the reviews and interviews I read about the film. Sorry about being the harbinger of bad rumours! Especially because I'm usually very careful about such stuff. I guess I got the notion from reading an interview with Sylvain Chomet (the animator) ( http://mag.awn.com/index.php?ltype=pageone&article_no=1923&page=3 ... this is the third page of the interview) in which he voices worries about the film being censored by the Americans. But there certainly wasn't anything to suggest that the movie would be banned. Sorry about the misinformation.

But to say that America does not ban films, well, that is simply not true. While something like Bellevue Rendezvue ("The Triplets of Belleville" in the U.S.) would probably not get banned, there have quite a few officially banned films in the States, and quite a lot more denied distribution by the film companies. Please take a look here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banned_films#United_States

Some of these films are truly in bad taste or offensive, but the fact remains they were banned.

Sorry, "Belleville Rendezvous".

Sorry that I too quickly accepted the rumor (about Belleville)as fact. I blame my very late night commenting. Unfortunately rumors do spread by such casual means but at least we've managed to nip that one in the bud right here. Thanks Whoa and Butuki. I agree about the early (pre-techno), warts-'n-all animators being most interesting and that it certainly does help to have some of the processes streamlined by digital means. I took a course in digital animation and am still toying (only toying) with the tempting thought of (maybe,one day) some sort of avant-garde, absolutely non-Disneyfied version of the God Interviews as an animated film.

Thanks for these comments, which I certainly didn't expect to elicit by talking about my "weird things"! Why don't you two write more about this subject on your own blogs, where people are more likely to see and respond to this fascinating topic?

There is something very endearing about oddities, and these are so in spades. (Even if the grasshoppers horrify me; I've never become sophisticated about strange meats.)

I just recently, at age 47, stopped throwing a pinch of salt over my left shoulder in response to a spill. The odd thing is that, though I've done that all my life (that I remember), I have no idea where I picked it up: I'm certain no one in my family ever did it. I also don't know why I stopped.

I love virtually all cartoons that are either clever or beautiful; one of my joys is reading the comics in the daily paper (I think the Oregonian has an unusually good array of them, tho.) The comic strip -- the witty single or four panel sort -- is one of the few creative forms that I think Americans have excelled in. That and jazz and light musical comedies...

Glad someone else hopped in about the banning... American information-control has usually proceded by the far more effective method of simply saturating all media channels with distracting glop.

Uh oh, I think I'm just rambling because I've been disconnected so long...

I love thinking of you drawing a bow (I suppose the image of a Grecian tunic helps there) and I will be interviewing j shortly to see what circumstances conduce to your imitations. :-)

Patry Francis tagged me with the "five weird habits" meme, though I pretty much asked for it when I posted an essay on the word weird. So far, I've posted two weird habits. The rest will follow.

Yeah, I have a bad zit habit too. But I figure everyone has to have a vice, and since I don't drink much, don't gamble, wear my seatbelt, don't smoke or do drugs, I gotta have at least one socially offensive habit.

Tirplets of Belleville was wonderful, and warm and funny and unsentimental. I completely forgot, and sort of missed the commentary on Americans. I just remember the utter warmth of the characters for each other. And loved the chase scene with the Citroens.

The problem with animation in the US is that it is so closely tied with Disney, and people with kids that go to all the Disneyesque cartoons assume anything animated is for kids. So if an animation can't rate an R rating with risque content, it is doomed to be dumped in with the kiddie flix. Or be resigned to Art House showings, and animation festivals, which never make that much money, comparatively. That DIsney has distribution rights to the Miazaki films is heartbreaking, since the dubbing is awful, and they are labeled cartoons, ie kiddie movie stuff.

I like Mustard Sandwiches and I used to have this wart between my index and middle finger that festered for about two years while i was in high school . I would stay up into the wee hours of the morning picking the collieflower formation, but I never quite wanted to destroy the wart because I enjoyed the battle.

When people speak of eating sausage, they mean GROUND HOGMEAT, not GROUNDHOG MEAT. Where do you get those tiny steaks?

Very funny, Ed! Thanks for the comment!

And thanks to everyone for chiming on on this thread.

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Photo

Who was Cassandra?

  • In the Iliad, she is described as the loveliest of the daughters of Priam (King of Troy), and gifted with prophecy. The god Apollo loved her, but she spurned him. As a punishment, he decreed that no one would ever believe her. So when she told her fellow Trojans that the Greeks were hiding inside the wooden horse...well, you know what happened.