Last month, ace animation historian Jerry Beck left the popular Cartoon Brew blog he created and co-edited with Amid Amidi. However, he didn’t stop blogging, but rather revived his semi-dormant Cartoon Research blog with a vengeance. Right now, it seems devoted to (mainly) American animation history, and also includes some occasional guest postings (e.g., Keith Scott on “The Origin of Foghorn Leghorn”). So far, it’s a delightful blend of animation history and news, which I find a must read. (For instance, check out his piece on “What Dave Fleischer did after “Mr. Bug,” where there is strong hint that Fleischer may have had something to do with the classic Let’s All Go to the Lobby trailer.)
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.