Category Archives: Film

on film and animation

What we can learn from Pixar

It is easy today to get lost in everything that is offered up to us. From social media to a high budget Hollywood films to episodic literary fiction there is so much to distract us, to placate us that I believe we have forgotten what we are capable of. I grew up with the internet, and love its potential… but I hate its reality. The internet and all its crowd sourcing power has changed the way we view the world ever so slightly, but in that slight change it has had a significant impact. We don’t trust the expert anymore. In the past news came from those who, through countless years of discipline, had earned the right to deliver it to us. Music was achieved through hard work and rigorous study…not song editing on youtube. And art… art was painful nuanced process that through careful analysis and inspired emotional revolution developed a modern sense. But it stopped there, it stopped because the world didn’t understand that modern sense and never tried to. Today we live without it, lost in a continuous recreation of the modern art world, not realizing that has already happened… multiple times.

Here is where PIxar comes into place. There is an underlying message in their films, and underlying push to challenge what is expected, what is believed to be wanted, and instead pushes for the new. Most literally this comes from Ratatouille where Anton Ego gives his review of the delicious meal he enjoyed. Additionally you could say that it came from an earlier scene where Remy confronts his dad about the ideas of change and nature. The message is clear that conformity and preservation are inadequate for a successful society. We must change and we must fight for that new change. Pixar may not have been directly attacking museums and our arts institutions with this film but I am. If we preserve art as something to be preserved we will lose it forever.

Let’s continue this. I have no link to explain where Wall-E fits except the credits. The credits tie the film to exactly what I have always seen it represent. The culmination of Disney’s dream, emotion through animation. For a large portion of the film dialog isn’t used to convey the plot, rather we visually follow the developing romance of two robots. Disney believed in the power of animation as a tool to convey emotion and he gave himself to his characters. In times past Disney has honored this tradition, the eyes in Pocahontas for example, but recently they lost sight of it. Wall-E set them back on the path by taking inorganic objects (robots) and giving them the emotion enough to convey an entire love story to us.

At the end of Pixar’s short Day and Night we find a radio broadcast defending just how beautiful the new is how scared we are of it. This example might be my favorite as the animation behind it is rather ingenious. Seemingly two dimensional characters are interacting for the first time and at first fighting but by the end are friendly. What makes it near breathtaking is the three dimensional environment that makes up their bodies, one filled by a daytime scene while the other a nighttime scene. As the two move throughout the film we see the environment their bodies are windows on change between day and night. Again Pixar uses no dialog save the radio announcement at the end of the film but is still very capable of telling a story.

Pixar is screaming at us to embrace the new, to fight for it and honor it. I imagine part of their interest is in their own image as the new, which isn’t far from the truth. They allowed for Disney’s second renaissance which is still going strong and pushed the boundaries of computer animation to such an extent that it now makes up the mainstream. But at the same time when in control of Disney’s animation studios, revived and expanded them to re-imagine the cartoon short.

Though this very well may be obvious to many I still wanted to gather my thoughts in one place and encourage further discussion on them. Pixar to me is a beacon of newness that is both pushing the boundary and making it popular at the same time. We need this level of creativity and risk to infiltrate more of the arts and move away from the idea that the arts is something to preserve. The arts is something that should challenge us and push our abilities both to create and to contemplate.

This is what I believe we can learn from Pixar.





3D animation… a new style of film?

Since its inception I have experienced 3D animation as I would a roller coaster in an amusement park; something that entertains and excites for only the time you are experiencing it. I never walked out of a 3D film movie thinking it was anything above possibly entertaining for the time in the theater. It was always presented as one of those “look at the spectacle we can make” or “watch how we bedazzle the screen and almost startle you a little.” That was true of EVERY 3D movie I saw up until this past weekend.

Enter Coraline.

I am not a movie reviewer and I won’t even pretend to have opinions about movies that should be listened to by any great number of people, I mean I convinced my friends to see The Weather Man on my birthday (and I actually liked it). But for this film I will forcibly put on the reviewer and critic hat and say this is the first work of art to be done in the medium of three dimensional animation. There are no gimmicks, no cliche tricks here, just pure artistic beauty coupled with an intriguing and thoughtful plot that had me analyzing it while walking home.

So here is to a new style that will hopefully develop from Coraline‘s success. But more importantly here is to the unlocking of a new theatrical experience that has been up to this point trapped behind the glass walls of consumer art.

Sent from my iPhone

It is time for the return of the CBF. I know our discussions and posts have been… well… nonexistent since last summer and that has all to do with the basic and near dominating transition from college to the real world. But now as real people making real earnings and going to real jobs we at the CBF are ready to return. This here will be the first post (if that isn’t obvious already).

From now on I am afraid I will be changing the way I post. Since posting to my blog has always greatly reflected the work I was involved in at college it should be of no surprise that my posting style as well as content will change. For example now that I am a New York City public school teacher I am sure education will take a more prominent role on this blog.

So now on to the subject of this post… the iPhone, or rather the effect of the iPhone world in which we live. I just saw Fan Boys yesterday and its opening credit role, in the style of Star Wars, ends by declaring the previous message was sent via an iPhone. This got me thinking about how our world, already changed by the internet, seems to be changing again (in the most obvious of ways) to one where we are not limited by our “office.” The writing space has always been transportable and the act of writing applicable to any location, but the act of publishing was once extremely limited. First it was limited to the funnel of editors and periodicals, then (and I know this is already a large jump) to the limits of a 56k or later high speed connection established for the communication of a clunky to now sleek device that could connect to that World Wide Web capable of instantaneously publishing your work. But now we live in a world where that device has become completely portable as well, you don’t even need the Starbucks wifi to get a post out. This brings a whole new level to those cell phone novels already taking form in Japan.

But then again I only started this post on my iPhone, I finished it at my computer in my room.

Don’t Worry, Adulthood Still Alive

NY Times with a “culture is going downhill”-type article by A. O. Scott. It’s an enjoyable-enough read, but as a piece of cultural criticism it’s awfully naive. Scott extends the eternal adolescence of comedy actors like Adam Sandler to the U.S.’s male population as a whole, pining for some vaguely-defined adulthood that seems to have slipped away from us.

It’s currently fashionable to reject outright anything that, like this article, suggests a longing for the past. I’m skeptical of this. Certainly there’s a tendency to idealize the past and ignore the serious problems that we only began to overcome in the past grueling century. Certainly, for instance, the fifties were not as neat and tidy as the TV shows and movies that serve as some of the decade’s main emissaries to people of my generation. But it’s easy to overcorrect in attempting to avoid this glamorization of the past. It’s easy to wind up denying not just that the past might be better that the present, but that it could be different from the present at all. Of course the past is different, and it would be foolish not to consider the possibility that the present might, in some ways, be worse.

But we do have to be careful to avoid giving in to nostalgia – we have to carefully examine the terms on which we’re talking, and even more carefully consider just where our judgments about what is better than what come from – we don’t want to apply the standards from some time in the past to the present.

The NY Times article could easily be accused of that. It never makes it quite clear what it means by maturity and why we should aspire to it – no doubt we should aspire to maturity, but a concept like “maturity” is not the sort that does well outside of its natural habitat. There is a core meaning involving doing the right thing even when it involves giving up on pleasure or comfort, and that’s certainly a virtue, but “maturity” and “adulthood” carry massive loads of cultural baggage, and though we don’t have to reject this baggage, we do have to acknowledge it as cultural if we’re going to apply the terms to culture. A. O. Scott seems to treat adulthood as an eternal unchanging truth, which it is not.

But that’s not Scott’s most overt critical sin. I would just like to point out that, though Sandler’s characters are typically meant to be likable, the audience is supposed to be laughing at their childlike behavior. Laughter is basically incompatible with approval. I don’t think, like Umberto Eco, that comedy is necessarily conservative, but Adam Sandler’s characters make no sense unless we keep in mind the particular ideal of masculine adulthood that they so flagrantly fail to realize.


We’re Back… Defending the New

The conflicts of our own Wash U graduation are now behind us and following our commission on the front lines of the political battle for the past few weeks the Foundation will now resume business as usual. The Right Hand of Nixon has many posts in the work and though I have to begin preparing for Teach For America I too have much more time to devote back to this site.

So with that short introduction said and done I will also leave this short post on one of the new and pretty incredible animated films, Ratatouille. First I have found that this particular Pixar film has the potential to fill numerous posts. There is the visual representation of gustation, more generally there is the animation itself (which has moved well beyond trying to imitate reality and has entered into its own abstract version of representation). But for this short post I want to focus on the speech given by the films sinister looking yet ultimately agreeable food critic, Anton Ego. Ego delivers a speech following his proustian moment eating ratatouille.

His speech touched me the first time I saw it and again this past week when watching it. He defends the New. Here is his review in full:

In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations, the new needs friends. Last night, I experienced something new, an extraordinary meal from a singularly unexpected source. To say that both the meal and its maker have challenged my preconceptions about fine cooking is a gross understatement. They have rocked me to my core. In the past, I have made no secret of my disdain for Chef Gusteau’s famous motto: Anyone can cook. But I realize, only now do I truly understand what he meant. Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere. It is difficult to imagine more humble origins than those of the genius now cooking at Gusteau’s, who is, in this critic’s opinion, nothing less than the finest chef in France. I will be returning to Gusteau’s soon, hungry for more.

IMDB: Ratatouille

Though when stepping outside of the world of the story we realize that the new being defended here is a cooking rat, the idea of the challenge in its defense is not outside of our world. The new at times, especially in art, can appear and actually be that outlandish (as a rat cooking better than most humans). But the reality is that though at times the new can fail it truly does need support, it needs friends.

I have nothing to say except Ratatouille and Pixar are heading in the right direction to view art in such a way as to defend the new. I hope that spirit persists in Wall*E this summer.