by John Canemaker
In "Two Guys Named Joe", his tenth book, animation scholar John Canemaker has produced an exceptional dual biography of two men who made their mark on the world of animation. They were a generation apart, yet they managed to briefly cross paths. Joe Grant was an integral part of the Walt Disney studio during its greatest period of creativity in the 1930s and ′40s, then returned in the 1980s and remained active until his death at the age of 99 in 2005. Joe Ranft studied at Cal Arts, along with John Lasseter and Brad Bird, and ultimately became a key figure at Pixar as it—
book review: THE LION AND THE GIRAFFE by Jack Couffer
The author of this colorful memoir may not be a household name, but he’s been involved in everything from Walt Disney’s The Living Desert to Out of Africa, from Disney animal movies like The Incredible Journey to Never Cry Wolf…and he has great stories to tell.
Couffer was a naturalist and a seaman before he ever thought of looking through a viewfinder. It was only by chance, when he attended USC on the G.I. bill after World War Two, that he became friendly with a fellow student named Conrad Hall, who persuaded him to try a cinema class. He fell under the spell of the celebrated montage-maker and teacher Slavko Vorkapich, and before long, he, Hall, and another newcomer were filmmaking partners. Couffer’s tales of trying to break into the business—and how the three hungry newcomers bent and broke rules to do so in the 1950s—are evocative and still instructive today. How the trio made its first dramatic feature (Running Target) on location, with—
At the recent San Francisco Silent Film Festival I acquired several recently-published books I hadn’t seen before. Now that I’ve spent time with them I feel duty-bound to spread the word.
Rudolph Valentino, The Silent Idol: His Life in Photographs by Donna L. Hill is a beautiful paperbound book, all the more impressive because it was self-published. Hill, who runs the website rudolph-valentino.com, has spent the past thirty years researching her subject and gathering rare and revealing pictures. As Emily W. Leider, author of Dark Lover: The Life and Death of Rudolph Valentino, points out in her foreword, “The pictures tell us that long before he appeared in films, Valentino displayed a love of finery, a propensity for posing before the camera, and a preoccupation with his own image. An actor in life before he became one professionally, as an underemployed immigrant he would don a tuxedo and—
This book may seem tangential on a site devoted to film, but music is one of my passions, and Artie Shaw was part of a show-business era that fascinates me; he remains one of my all-time favorite musicians. A brilliant clarinetist, he became a major star of the big band era with a string of hit records, including “Stardust,” “Begin the Beguine,” and “Frenesi.” If you insist on a Hollywood connection, he cut a wide swath through movieland and was married to four beautiful actresses: Lana Turner, Ava Gardner, Doris Dowling, and Evelyn Keyes. (Connoisseurs of female pulchritude will want to note that he thought Betty Grable had
The term “film noir” didn’t exist in the 1940s and early 1950s. The late Larry Gelbart, who wrote the noir-inspired stage musical City of Angels, once told me that back then “film” was something you got if you didn’t brush your teeth. People went to “the movies.” But ever since the term was taken up by American film buffs and scholars in the 1970s it has created a special allure for those dark, hard-boiled melodramas that studios ground out so effortlessly in the post-War era. What’s more, since today’s audiences have no trouble digesting cynicism, these films seem positively modern as opposed to the apple-pie wholesomeness of other Hollywood product from the period.
The ongoing popularity of noir has impelled studios and distributors to dig deep into their vaults and inspired some exceptional writing and scholarship. Editors Alain Silver, Elizabeth Ward, James Ursini and Robert Porfirio have expanded and updated their landmark 1979 volume The Film Noir Encyclopedia (Overlook Press). There are many new entries, overview essays, and a section on—
Sometimes I think I was born at exactly the right time, as a child of the first television generation. When local TV stations purchased libraries of old cartoons and made them part of their daily programming, I had the opportunity to digest and memorize seemingly every Warner Bros. cartoon from the 1930s and 40s. And that’s exactly what I did. I wish I’d had a book like the newly-published The 100 Greatest Looney Tunes Cartoons to guide my path back then.
Versatile voice man Mel Blanc quickly became one of my heroes. (I wrote him a fan letter and got a lovely response, along with an autographed picture.) A whole new world opened up in 1960 when the ABC Television Network debuted The Bugs Bunny Show in prime time, drawing from the post-1949 Warners library, which included the best work of Chuck Jones and his writing cohort Michael Maltese. In the years to follow they shared that booty with CBS, which broadcast—
As Toy Story 3 racks up some of the best reviews of the year, I’m pleased that so many critics have taken time to make note of the innovative short-subject that accompanies it. Day & Night—which is so clever it’s almost impossible to describe—is the work of an up-and-coming talent named Teddy Newton whom the folks at Pixar have earmarked for big things.
John Lasseter and his Pixar colleagues know that while there is no real monetary return to be derived from the production of shorts, they serve as a fertile training ground for animation directors, artists, and storytellers. What’s more, audiences enjoy them. Lasseter and Cartoon Brew’s Amid Amidi even collaborated on a hardcover volume called The Art of Pixar Short Films, which Chronicle Books published last year. (Lasseter also green-lit a hilarious short made at Disney called How to Hook Up Your Home Theater, which was designed to look and—
By Rudy Behlmer (Scarecrow Press)
From the moment he published his unforgettable tome Memo from David O. Selznick to the present day, Rudy Behlmer has earned the gratitude of film buffs everywhere through his writing, meticulous research, knowledgeable interviews for various documentaries and commentaries on a number of vintage Hollywood DVDs. Now we have reason to thank Rudy again, for publishing a series of conversations he conducted with longtime assistant director Reggie Callow in the 1970s. Callow’s career spanned six decades, from Hell’s Angels to The Sound of Music. He provides a candid insider’s view of Hollywood at work, and he seems to have had a near-photographic memory, recalling (for instance) the names of stunt pilots who worked for Howard Hughes on his aviation epic in the late 1920s!
An assistant director has a unique view of the filmmaking process. He makes up the daily call sheets and assigns the actors their call times. (On Plymouth Adventure, none of his three stars wanted to—
by Sam Wasson (HarperStudio)
This splendid new book is more than a mere “making-of” chronicle. It examines Breakfast at Tiffany’s in a variety of contexts, including the careers of its principals (Truman Capote, Audrey Hepburn, Blake Edwards, Henry Mancini, Edith Head, et al), the state of American mores in the early 1960s, society’s view of single women at that time, and the exigencies of the still-potent Production Code in Hollywood.
To accomplish all this, Sam Wasson decided to tell his story from the inside out, attempting to get inside the heads of his central characters. This approach involves considerable presumption on the author’s part, but—
This is a momentous week for me: we’ve just finished the new edition of my annual paperback Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide—the 2011 Edition, to be specific. In this era of instant communication the process of writing, editing, and preparing a book seems quaint at best, and cumbersome at worst, but our book is still alive and well, and (I’m happy to say) has a healthy audience around the world. (I use the editorial “we” advisedly, since this has always been a team effort. Some of my collaborators have been working on this book for thirty years or more. If I didn’t have their input I’d be lost.)
Every spring becomes a high-stress period for me and my colleagues as we become mired in fact-checking details (the spelling of a Czech actor’s name, the running time of an unrated DVD version of a popular hit, etc.) and making sure someone on our team has seen every major new release. Then there are additions, corrections, and changes to the existing entries, which never end.
But when I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, sometime in early May, I start to breathe. I’ve actually—
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