Perhaps historical would be a better word. I’m not talking about the winners in the competitive voting for ASIFA-Hollywood‘s Annie Awards proper (listed here), but rather for the juried awards, including the June Foray and Winsor McCay Awards. What was startling was the fact that three of these honors went to animation historians: Jerry Beck (Foray), John Canemaker (McCay) and John Kricfalusi(McCay). (The other McCay Award went to Glen Keane.) I don’t know of any other time so many animation historians have been honored at the same time outside of the Society for Animation Studies.
The Foray Award, given for “significant and benevolent or charitable impact on the art and industry of animation,” has been given to important animation historians before, including Leonard Maltin and the late Bill Moritz; so the selection of Beck, who also was a pioneer in the distribution of Japanese theatrical animation in the United States, was really no surprise. What is unusual is the fact that two of the McCay recipients, who are honored for “career contributions to the art of animation,” are also important historians: John Canemaker and John Kricfalusi. (My reaction might be compared to Robert Sherwood’s delight, when he was a film critic for Life in 1926, on discovering that the hero of D.W. Griffith’s The Sorrows of Satan was a critic.)
While Beck’s and Canemaker’s bona fides as historians are rather obvious (one only has to look up their names on Amazon or WorldCat), but one does not usually think of John K. as other than an innovative and opinionated filmmaker. But behind those opinions is a well-thought out approach to animation and animation history. While I don’t always agree with his views, I do think he has provided a salutatory challenge to much conventional wisdom, including that surrounding of Walt Disney. In a way, his thinking on animation and animation history (which can seen on his blog or in his online exchange with Michael Barrier) harkens back to the development of the auteur theory at Cahiers du cinéma in the 1950s by the likes of François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard, who later abandoned criticism to help create the French New Wave.
So, congratulations to Beck, Canemaker and Kricfalusi for all their work, including their contributions to animation history and criticism.
Images: Top: Jerry Beck, John Canemaker and Amid Amidi at the 2005 Ottawa International Animation Festival picnic. Left above: John Kricfalusi photo found on his MySpace.com page.
Adam Abraham’s new book, which has just been published by Wesleyan University Press, is an easy book to recommend to anyone interested in film or animation history. I was one of the anonymous readers Wesleyan engaged to evaluate it. A brief excerpt from my confidential evaluation is used on the back cover as an endorsement; but I would like to say a few more words on why the book is so important. (I did have some reservations, but they did not hesitate me from urging its publications.)
Until now, one of the many glaring gaps in animation, film and TV history has been the lack of an authoritative (or even a superficial) history of UPA, which was the most important American animation studio in the post-World War II period. (I do recall a self-published work issued on ditto whose circulation was obviously limited and lacked the scholarship of Abraham’s book.) The studio’s films, ranging from John Hubley’s Rooty Toot Toot and Ragtime Bear (which introduced Mr. Magoo) to Bobe Cannon’s Gerald McBoing Boing and Ted Parmelee’s The Tell-Tale Heart, were seen in their day as revolutionary and had a profound influence. Their films changed the way animation was designed and set the tone for not only for much of what followed (especially TV programs), but also helped define the field of motion graphics, including the development of the modern title sequence (predating the better known work of Saul Bass).
The studio has been largely neglected, in part, due to the lack of books such as this, as well as the lack of corporate support by the various rights holders (e.g., until recently, the best collection of UPA films on DVD was found as extras on the Hellboy special edition DVDs/Blu-Rays owing to Guillermo del Toro being a UPA fan ). As I noted earlier here, two new DVDs containing the bulk of UPA’s theatrical work are also now available.
Over the years, there has been talk of someone doing a serious study of the studio, a project pushed by the family of UPA-cofounder Steve Bosustow (I recall Charles Solomon once being bandied about as a possible candidate).
My biggest complaint is that the author’s knowledge of animation history pre-UPA seems limited. It’s almost as if he’s channeling the views of Disney animation artists in the 1930s and early 1940s who went on to found UPA, who thought of themselves as the center of the animation universe. This leads to a somewhat parochial view of the film and animation world at the time of UPA’s birth. In his research, Abraham’s also misses some important articles, including Michael Frierson’s "The Carry Over Dissolve in UPA Animation"in the 2001 issue of Animation Journal. But these are not game changers and this is certainly a book I can easily recommend.
Jerry Beck at Cartoon Brew breaks the news that two DVD sets devoted to UPA’s theatrical cartoons are coming out soon: UPA Jolly Frolics due out on March 5th from Turner Classic Movies and The Mr. Magoo Theatrical Collection 1949-1959 which s due out June 19th from Shout! Factory (both are available for preorder). Until now, the best DVD source for them was the Special Edition set of Guillermo Del Toro’s HellBoy. which includes three Gerald McBoing shorts plus The Tell-Tale Heart as extras. (Del Toro is a long-time animation fan and has been working lately with DreamWorks Animation, where he’s slated to direct a forthcoming movie.)
These films have been shown intermittently on American cable channels, but such major titles as John Hubley’s Ragtime Bear (which introduced Mr. Magoo) and Rooty Toot Toot will now be available in restored versions (they were previously available on out-of-print VHS versions). Because of their lack of availability, the importance of UPA to post-World War II American and international animation has largely been overlooked.
If this isn’t enough, Wesleyan University Press will be publishing Adam Abraham’s When Magoo Flew: The Rise and Fall of Animation Studio UPA which is scheduled to be published March 9th. (It is also available for preorder at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.)
By the way, I reviewed the book for the publisher, but will hold off my comments until after it comes out; but I should note I recommended Wesleyan publish it.