Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Disney Secret

When Walt Disney answered to the question whether he was an optimist, that he was an optimal behaviorist,  he explained that he always acted to his optimal capacity. In other words, his optimism was conquered, it was the result of discipline. Disney's unyielding faith might as well be the result of discipline. The Disney secret to be always upbeat in the face of lack of money and of people's lack of  faith in his projects, certainly has  to do with dignity.

When Oscar Wilde said that in matters of importance it is style that counts he knew, as the aesthete that he was, that only style requires the necessary discipline to avoid unbecoming or undignified behavior. To loose faith, to be a pessimist, is, before anything else, unbecoming. It turns one into a whiner and a defeatist. There is nothing more undignified than to go on living and, yet, to see in life nothing more than predictions for defeat. One has to keep faith in order to be coherent with one's wish to continue living. In order to not be unbecoming. If this is a matter of coherence, it is also a matter of style: to keep one's dignity is beautiful.
Walt Disney was a lover of beauty; he was a perfectionist. Disney's unyielding faith corresponds to his demand of perfection from himself.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Richard Sherman: Walt Disney World and Soul

After meeting and hearing Richard Sherman at D23, I thought that as much as the world of Walt Disney is touchable and visible fantasy, it is equally the untouchable and invisible intensity of soul. People like Dick Sherman transmit this intensity in creating and when talking about Walt. Watching the movie "The Boys", I learned of The Sherman Brother's influence on American musicals, and the Brother's creative process, the way they came to the union of words and musical notes seemed as natural as if it had been first rehearsed in heaven. Coming to think of musicals, it occurred to me, that aside from Disney's mixing animation with live action in Mary Poppins, animation, in its essence, has all to do with musicals. Both liberate movement and sound from transiency and transform it in pure meaning. While in animation, action, synchronized with sound, overcomes the laws of physics in order to oblige the pure expressiveness of story and unfolding of personality, musicals transform dialogue into the expressiveness of melody and movement into dance. Both cases equally make passages of sound and movement value in themselves, beyond being just transitions to what will follow. Both cases liberate sound and movement from the utilitarian character of causality. Both cases make something that happens in a time sequence be, somehow, freed from time passing. Walt Disney inaugurated a visible and sensory dimension to fantasy, by transmitting the invisibility of soul. He tied the unreality of magic to our vision and touch, by setting free the reality of spirit.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

From Mars to Marceline



Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Disney Story

Since I bought the biography Neal Gabler wrote of Disney, I've been mystified by Walt's picture on its cover. I'd had never seen it before, and many times wondered how undefinable Walt's expression is in this young photo of his. It transmits sweetness, but goes much beyond. In fact, I think it is as enigmatic and involving as that of the Mona Lisa. I've already compared Disney to Socrates (in the power both had of bringing the best, talent wise, out of people) and the parallel with the Mona Lisa is not one of features' similarity, but of inner life's intensity. I also used to wonder how guarded the original picture of Gabler's book cover should be, since one doesn't see it published anywhere else.
When I was coming back from Brazil this last February, after visiting my mother, who was very sick, I had the book with me and, before closing my eyes for a nap, exhausted in that last leg of flying, I inadvertently looked at its cover on the front seat's pocket. For the first time, Walt's expression transmitted to me the same kind of healing I felt when seeing Sleeping Beauty for the first time I went to the movies. As a five year old child then, I'd been constantly suffering in the nightmarish nun school I was sent to, having my parents away for two years in Europe. Life wasn't easy, but on that multicolored, more convincing than reality movie screen, the prince had battled the dragon and put an end to evil. Love prevailed, after all.
Back to last February, as I closed my eyes, feeling somehow elevated by Walt Disney's expression, I had a vision of my mother's face, with her eyes closed, in nirvana-like peace. I was sure she had passed for the better then, and looked at my watch to check the time. As I arrived, a phone call from my brother confirmed our mother had passed at that exact time. The photo of Walt Disney became charged with a positive, transcendent meaning to me. One can imagine my surprise when, strolling down the collectors' forum at D23, I stumbled upon it! It had on the bottom a dedication to Kay Kamen, and it was for sale! Now it is on my wall.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Disney Essence

Continuing my reflection about "The Evolution of Mickey", one could see, in all the stages of the Mouse, he was always Mickey. That made me remember what I said in "From Mars to Marceline", about making progress and preserving essence. If with progress, essence is destroyed, the whole edifice will collapse. In this case, there is something that was always kept throughout Mickey's transformations, something that made him remain Mickey.
Among other qualities, Disney, in the same way he was said to have one foot in the past and the other in the future, had the power to preserve identity in constant mutability. There is something, other than quality, that makes "Sleeping Beauty" and "Snow White", in their totally different styles, be, yet, Disney. Some would probably say it is the "Disney Touch", but that is the same as to say it is pixel fairy dust: Is there anything more undefinable than the "Disney Touch"?
It may be more revealing to say it has to do with Walt's integrity: at the same time Walt Disney was constant self-reinvention, he was always himself.
Integrity is some sort of faithfulness to that which is always there, incorruptible by the constant distortion, deterioration and de-characterization that results from the chain of mutability.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Andreas Deja and Disney Freedom

The presentation of "The Evolution of Mickey" at D23 was truly Disney: it had intensity, fun and seriousness. Andreas Deja was artistically acrobatic in drawing several stages of Mickey, as David Pacheco posed to him, with grace and flexibility and humor, in Mickey's attire (no Mouse's head, and shades in the place of Mickey's eyes). It was great how they fully explained Mickey's evolution paralleling the current trends in art, design, architecture and decoration throughout the decades. True to form, Deja gave us a glimpse of the Disney freedom, that inventiveness that makes its own rules even if it has to break with established ones: he revealed that the face of Mickey, when seen frontally, had to "cheat" the laws of perspective, so that the Mouse could still retain its witty expression. First, Deja drew Mickey obliging those laws and pointed to the audience the fact that the Mouse's snout would cover his eyes and make him look dummy. Everybody agreed. Then, to the relief of all, the animator drew the perspective-cheating Mickey and there was everybody's beloved, "cheating" for honesty, or for the sake of being fully himself, Mickey! Only Disney can inaugurate its own laws, and only a talent like Deja can beautifully play with them, showing that expertise does not need to rely on academic tradition!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Individualist Walt Disney

Not that I ever believed that Walt was a racist, or a mysogenist, or anything of the kind. But it is still beautiful to confirm that against and above any such classifications; beyond gender, age, color, race and class, Walt Disney was an individualist.
Besides telling the amazing story of the Sherman Brother's partnership, the movie "The Boys", that I just watched at the D23 Big Expo- an excellent, passionate movie, by the way- made me conclude that Walt's individualism was his incredible perception and appreciation of talent. Talent is the strongest seal of an individual, for, even if more than one person have talent for the same thing, it is still totally different the way it will be expressed by each. Talent is the quintessence of individuality, it is not just what will make someone so special, but what will make that person so much him/herself. It is the highest form of individuation. The movie "The Boys" shows how Dick and Bob Sherman could not get on as persons, but were in total communion when it came to their creative partnership. It also tells how Walt fostered that partnership and how the brothers, being so different from each other and, in so many things at odds, loved Walt personally. It shows the amazing power of Disney to make people overcome all the contingent labels of individuality (temperament, personal tendencies and tastes, way of reacting) to reach the real, genuine, most profound expression of it: creativity. It showed the power of Disney to make people overcome themselves.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Expressionist Walt Disney

The French Exhibition "Il Etait Une Fois Walt Disney" showed how Disney was supposedly influenced by the German Expressionist movies, like Dr. Faust and the like. It was mainly remarked the use of character's shadows, elongated and creepy, suggesting the action, without the character being visible, like, for instance, in "The Sorcerer Apprentice". Watching again "Plane Crazy", I realized that Disney was expressionist much before that time; much before he had the opportunity to be influenced by the German cinematic expressionism. The part that Minnie's mouth, screaming in fear, occupies the whole screen is not just expressionist- bringing to mind "The Scream", by E Munch, in its vibrating environment emphasizing the screaming open whole on the figure's face- but utterly modern in the way the close-up, like in contemporary films, aims at putting the viewer practically inside the action, in this case, almost inside Minnie's body, or fear. Becoming bigger and bigger, her screaming mouth gets closer and closer until nothing but the darkness of its whole is seen, putting the viewer before a shapeless depiction of Minnie's inner body as if he, figuratively, has become a part of it. Expressionism concerns a certain use of caricature for dramatic and tragic, rather than comic ends. Always a man of extremes, always putting opposites together, Disney managed to use expressionism in humorist contexts, and to mix it with cuteness as well. In Plane Crazy, Minnie's scream of horror happens in between cute and funny scenes, turning, because of that, cute in itself, whereas in Snow White, another good example, the sentencing shadow of the murderous hunter is projected by the round, endearing little bird the princess is helping, followed by the close-up of the trembling sacrificial knife, that is succeeded, on its turn, by the round, doll like face of Snow White in fear.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Disney Miracle

When I first saw Mary Poppins, I felt blessed with the most reassuring, magic and dazzling revelation: the total entering of real people into the animated world. But no matter how fantastic, this revelation felt, yet, like something already expected. It even felt like something I could take for granted, despite knowing it would not happen in the real world.
That flesh and blood people, becoming part of a story, could also become part of the animated world was Disney coming full circle from Alice in Cartoonland. It expressed the Disney essence in its core. An essence that is akin to miracle in its power to be viscerally familiar- like an otherworldly reminiscence- and, yet, endless awe. For, what is miracle if not the revelation of the most secretly taken for granted reality? A glimpse of the promised paradise?
A Disney miracle reconciles the reassurance of visceral familiarity with the wonder of awe-striking novelty. Walt Disney touched the universal heart because he, angel like, gave us what we didn't know we'd been so fully expecting.