Jan 8, 2007

Barrier again; some more essential reading

I had missed any updates from Mike Barrier's site these last few months, but he's back at updating again, and his latest is a must-read--a review and musings on the recent Disney exhibition in Paris I noted a couple of posts ago:

"Once Upon a Time/Walt Disney".

I'm aware that there are those who find Barrier too pedantic, or his opinions just wrong here or there. Well, when it's artists and people who love and research animation and opine about it as we all do that's bound to be the case. Personally, even if and when I strongly disagree with a statement of his I never feel annoyance towards the author because he clearly arrives at his take through careful analysis and, most importantly, a genuine love of the art form--and he knows what he's taking about. Also, if he makes an error, he corrects it--and will even change his mind if presented with an angle he hadn't considered before. That's a rare thing.

Barrier's unique among the many as most of his research was done first hand--he interviewed Disney artists and Warner Bros. directors before virtually anyone else did, in many cases decades before. He published a magazine, Funnyworld(with not only his own articles but priceless pieces by the likes of Dick Huemer) and that magazine's focus on mainstream animation was a mind-boggling surprise in an era when almost all the writing one could find on animation dealt strictly with the "serious" stuff: from Fischinger to McLaren. If you could dredge up a brief piece on, say, such a pandering populist as John Hubley you'd almost faint from relief.

Now, I respect and have enjoyed many very abstract and non-cartoony pieces of animation, but I hate to see any art form described in such a way that it's dull to read about--and that was the slant most of the film studies crowd took towards Hollywood studio animation. Everything was semiotics: symbolism, Freudian, Jungian, Bettelheim stuff. Little or nothing about individual artists, what they contributed, an understanding of actual studio feature or short filmmaking--everything had to be psychoanaylzed to be worthy of discussion.

Barrier never thought this way. Neither did Leonard Maltin, another early adopter of a more pertinent understanding of Golden Age animation achievement. The third in this triumvirate was John Canemaker; an Oscar-winning instructor today, he was the first to publish a book that covers so much of the real animation experience it's still a must-read: "The Animated Raggedy Ann and Andy". His later works too are all essentials. Taking up where Maltin seemed to leave off is the youngest of the animation scholar/authors, Charles Solomon, who's also contributed titles that should be on everyone's shelf, most notably "Disney That Never Was".

So, I've wandered far from my original intent--to suggest you read Barrier's review of the Paris exhibition--but I'm currently reading yet another animation-related title, Neal Gabler's "authorized" biography of Walt Disney. So far I've been underwhelmed, but it's a big tome, and I'll wait until the finish. I will say this; I don't think that Michael Barrier's upcoming bio of Walt been trumped in any way by the existence of this title. Whatever else it turns out to be, it'll be a product of someone who knows and cares about the brilliance of the Disney's studio's achievements.

And I'll probably find much to debate in it as well, I'm sure.


Floyd Norman said...

I'm with you on Neal Gabler's biography of Walt Disney. "Underwhelmed" is the best way to put it.
I'm looking forward to Michael Barrier's take on the Old Maestro.

Jenny Lerew said...

Floyd: yes, I've been underwhelmed, too, unfortunately. No offense to the author, but despite some of the "juicier" quotes it comes off as a very detached, bloodless excercise for me. I just don't get a fix on Walt at all, really--not as I'd expect from such a lengthy book. I definitely think a large part of the problem for me is the unfamiliarity with animation that Gabler has to begin with.

Narthax: I did read Barrier's list--thanks. Gabler's casual mention of Ward Kimball being Fred Moore's assistant certainly does leap off the page screaming "WHAAA?!" at you. ; )
Sigh...of course, the deal is--if a detail I know for a fact is wrong is in the book, what about the rest that I can't vet myself? This happens too often in biographies where I have some verifiable knowlege of the subject, and it's irritating.