Three Animation Must-Sees at the Children’s Film Festival: Prince Achmed and Will Vinton (Twice)

The Northwest Film Forum’s third annual Children’s Film Festival is now underway (running through Feb. 3) and, as always, is chock full of great stuff from all over the world for everyone to enjoy, regardless of birth date. But I thought I should call a couple things in particular to your attention.

Note that you can buy advance tickets online for any screening at the Children’s Film Festival via the Brown Paper Tickets site.

The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926)

A collage of tinted stills from 'The Adventures of Price Achmed' (1926)

As I write this, you have only two more chances to catch this: Thursday, Jan. 31 at 8 PM and Sunday, Feb. 1 and 1 PM. And you absolutely must catch it for so many reasons. One, it’s an absolute masterpiece. Released in 1926, The Adventures of Prince Achmed is probably the first feature-length animated film ever made. But it’s very, very far from being mere film school castor oil — as you might can tell from the images above, it’s also easily among the most beautiful animated films ever made, especially in its original tinted presentation as is being shown at the festival. Working in stop-motion-animation, filmmaker Lotte Reiniger’s incredibly detailed, layered, cut-out silhouettes have to be seen to be believed. It is absolutely magical (as befitting its story source), evoking a parallel universe every bit as enveloping, sensuous and psychedelic as those crafted by Terry Gilliam or Jean-Pierre Jeunet decades later.

Two, they’re showing a pristine 35mm tinted print! This is an incredibly rare opportunity to see this remarkable film in its fully-restored glory that no DVD or HD-TV will ever do justice to.

Third, it is being presented with a specially-commissioned score performed live by its composers, Miles and Karina. There is little better in this world than seeing a masterpiece of silent cinema shown with live accompaniment. Well okay, yeah, sex is (usually) better…but don’t tell the kids (yet).

Please, please, please do yourself a favor and make a point of seeing this film during this engagement.

Will Vinton on the History of Claymation and 3-D Animation

Once only: Saturday, Feb. 2 at 1 PM
Tickets at the door: $10 NWFF members / $12 General Public

A still from Will Vinton's 'The Legacy' (1979)

These days Will Vinton is, alas, probably best known for commercials featuring singing raisins and talking candy. But when he’s not making rent (actually, even when he is), Will is one of the great animation talents of film history — and a program of his earlier work is mentioned below. But this event is a rare chance to hear the tale from the master’s own lips…and you’d be a fool to miss it.

With clips from different stages of development that led to the creation of Will Vinton Studios and to the popularity of computer animation, Will Vinton will share his personal odyssey of film projects as it relates to the growth of all forms of 3D animation. Key developments include: 1) experimentation and clay, 2) perfecting Claymation, 3) characterization and digital tools, 4) getting back to 3D animation’s roots.

Animated Genius: Films of Will Vinton

Only one chance left to see this, but Mr. Vinton will be in attendance: Saturday, Feb. 2 at 3 PM.

A still from Will Vinton's 'The Creation' (1981)

A program of Vinton’s earlier short Claymation films, many of them rarely screened:

Legacy (1979, 7 min)
The Creation (1981, 9 min)
Mountain Music (1976, 9 min)
A Christmas Gift (1980, 8 min)
Rip Van Winkle (1978, 27 min)

Not many filmmakers kick off their careers by winning an Academy Award (for Closed Mondays). Even fewer go on to breathe life into characters that become icons of animation. Fewer still achieve stunning commercial success with inventions like the California Raisins and M&M’s “Red & Yellow.” Will Vinton has done all that, in addition to founding and managing one of the most respected animation studios in history, Will Vinton Studios. Join us for this retrospective of early films by Will Vinton, and you’ll see why this boundlessly energetic and creative animator from Portland went on to win virtually every film and television award given to filmmakers. Northwest Film Forum is proud to salute Will Vinton — a world renowned Claymation pioneer who has created some of the most innovative animation in history, and who continues to break new ground under the banner of his new company, Freewill Entertainment.

Farewell, Walter Bowart

Walter Bowart (photo by Sophia Bowart)

It was only recently announced that underground press pioneer and author Walter Bowart died from colon cancer on December 18, 2006 in Inchelium, Washington. He was 68.

Bowart is best remembered for co-founding, in 1965, The East Village Other — a seminal underground newspaper which he also edited for four years — and for his remarkable 1978 book, Operation Mind Control: Our Secret Government’s War Against Its Own People. He also co-founded the Underground Press Syndicate, an incredibly important if now little-known alternative “wire service” (actually, they mailed mimeographed copies of articles) that was a crucial nexus for underground publications of every size and description across the country during the pre-Internet ferment of the Vietnam War era.

If you’ve never heard of any one of these, then you really are not paying attention.

Mr. Bowart’s work has been a great inspiration to me for many, many years. My heartfelt condolences go out to his tribe, family, friends, and loved ones.

To borrow from the Columbia Journalism Review, a Dart goes to the New York Times, which chose to simultaneously impugn Bowart’s integrity and dismiss irrefutably established history when it published in their Jan. 14, 2008 obituary that in Operation Mind Control Bowart “argued that the United States government conducted covert psychological experiments on unwitting people.” [Emphasis added.] Screw you, NY Times and obit author Margalit Fox (or maybe just your dipshit editor). Walter didn’t “argue” the point, he quoted directly from the CIA’s own documents, which had been revealed thanks to a Congressional investigation…one assisted, it must be pointed out, by Mr. Bowart himself…and revelations only borne out in greater, more horrifying detail via lawsuits and subsequent publicly published interviews with agents directly involved in the crimes.

Related links:

Climax Golden Twins, Alvarius B, and David Daniell this Thursday

Alvarius B, Climax Golden Twins, and David Daniell - Jan. 17, 2008, 10 PM - at the Rendezvous (Seattle)

Not to dis any of the other performers (all of them outstanding and well worth your lousy half-a-sawbuck all on their lonesome), but I think they would agree it goes without saying that The act to catch is Alvarius B (aka Alan Bishop from Sun City Girls), who will be playing only his third solo show ever.  If you haven’t heard his albums (or perhaps his collaborative releases with Cerberus Shoal and Dylan  Nyoukis) you’re missing out.  (Although:  the SCG site offers the recent CD re-issue of his first album.)  If you’re in town for this show Thursday night, you shouldn’t miss out even more.  So what if it’s a school night?  Everyone else at work will prolly have a hangover, too — only yours will be cooler.

There’s more about the line-up (including links to their various web sites) at The Rendezvous’ own web site.

Bruce Bickford’s Prometheus’ Garden Set for 2008 DVD Release

Some typically detailed clay animation models by Bruce Bickford.

My old pal Hell’s Donut House just directed me to this excellent news from Brett Ingram, recently posted at Idiot Bastard Son, a Frank Zappa fan site:

In the next few months, Bright Eye Pictures will release Bruce Bickford’s Prometheus’ Garden, the first film over which Bickford maintained 100% artistic control.

Prometheus’ Garden is a 28-minute stop-motion film utilizing clay puppets and sets, cutouts, replacement series, aluminum foil, “strato-cut” slices, molten wax, and other techniques. The film is (very) loosely based on the Greek myth of Prometheus — an immortal who (in some versions of the story) created the first mortals out of clay. Bickford’s incorporation of this myth into his animated film includes appearances by Vikings, cowboys, Vietnam War era mercenaries, imps, elves, fairies, and countless other historical and mythological creatures.

Prometheus’ Garden, like most of Bickford’s later films, is an unscripted stream of consciousness animated over the course of years. Bickford began work on Prometheus immediately after the release of Frank Zappa’s film Baby Snakes in 1980. Prometheus’ Garden was completed by Bickford in 1988.

I recently recorded Bickford’s (characteristically dry-witted) commentary tracks for the upcoming DVD and began production on “extra” elements — including the documentary featurette, Luck Of A Foghorn. This new half hour documentary will take viewers behind the scenes and into the mind of Bickford. I shot miles of film while making Monster Road (the documentary feature I made about Bickford) and most of this footage has never seen the light of day. Luck Of A Foghorn will unearth these images along with footage from the making of Prometheus. Laird Dixon (from Shark Quest) has created an original score for Luck Of A Foghorn and it is hauntingly beautiful. The title of the featurette originates from a surreal day dream Bickford had while hovering near death with pneumonia in hospital.

I hope to have the DVD ready for sale on the Bright Eye Pictures site (along with Monster Road) no later than February 1, 2008. [See update, below.] Bickford has several films that have hovered near completion for years. Hopefully, the release of Prometheus’ Garden will spark a chain reaction so that Bickford’s recent work can find the audience it deserves.

As readers of Mugu Brainpan may recall, I’m huge fan of Bickford’s truly amazing animation (to wit and thus). It is my considered opinion that he is one of the greatest animators ever, as well as among the greats of visionary film more generally.

The reclusive filmmaker, who lives in the Seattle area, garnered some well-deserved attention thanks to the excellent aforementioned documentary, Monster Road (2005), after many years of grossly undeserved obscurity (not helped, I’m sad to say, by copyright snarls involving the Zappa estate). Following that release, Bruce surfaced in 2006 with an all-too-small spate of rare screenings and public appearances in Baltimore and Seattle, including a May 2006 screening at the Fantagraphics Bookstore and Gallery that included a recently completed new work of line animation.

The American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore included clay sculptures and projections by Bickford in Home & Beast, an exhibition that opened in October 2006 and ran for a year. His work was featured alongside paintings by William Kurelek in a gallery of the exhibit titled “Home Sweet Home,” described by the Museum as exploring “memories of home life and what, in fact, constitutes a home.”

Since precious few of Bickford’s astonishing film works are in circulation (and not even Canyon Cinema includes him in their legendary catalog of avant garde works), news of this DVD release is very good indeed. Keep an eye out, and kindly ask for it at your neighborhood video outlet.

Update: Brett Ingram recently announced on his blog that release of this DVD has been delayed (again), as he works to complete editing on Luck of a Foghorn: The Making of Prometheus’ Garden. Once completed, the whole shebang will still need to be mastered and duplicated, so it will be some weeks (at best) before the disc sees the light of day. Brett also announced he is launching a new web site, (still very much under construction, so don’t order yet), that will offer direct-sale copies of the Prometheus’ Garden DVD, as well as the collectors’ edition of Monster Road, his aforementioned (and excellent) documentary about Bruce Bickford. Watch this space for further info.

Bruce Bickford Films on Home Video

Baby Snakes (1979 – released on DVD in 2003) — A Frank Zappa concert film that includes several segments of Bickford’s animation. The most widely-seen examples of Bruce’s work.

The Amazing Mr. Bickford (1987, VHS – out of print) — A superlative anthology inexcusably unavailable on DVD. In Seattle, Scarecrow Video has a copy for rent (with deposit). Used copies also occasionally surface on eBay.

The Dub Room Special (1982 – released on DVD in 2005) — A sadly ill-fated TV special by Frank Zappa that, along with some great concert footage, includes various snippets of animation by Bickford.

Monster Road (2005 – released on DVD in 2006) — An excellent and endearing documentary that takes us into Bickford’s very private world. The DVD includes a number of his short films as extras, including spectacular examples of his line animation.

New 3D Film History Book

Cover of 'Stereoscopic Cinema and the Origins of 3-D Film, 1838-1952' by Ray ZoneAs I “warned” back in April, Ray Zone’s new book Stereoscopic Cinema and the Origins of 3-D Film, 1838-1952 has just been released in illustrated hard cover by the University of Kentucky Press. (It’s also available from various other online book sellers.)

As I said before, this is a significant new work documenting a facet of film history — let alone 3D film history — that to date has been almost completely ignored except for an exceptionally tiny number of academic works and few fragmentary (and often erroneous) passing references.

The publisher’s blurb puts it nicely:

Though it may come as a surprise to both cinema lovers and industry professionals who believe that 3-D film was born in the early 1950s, stereoscopic cinema actually began in 1838, more than 100 years before the 3-D boom in Hollywood….

Stereoscopic Cinema and the Origins of 3-D Film, 1838-1952, is a comprehensive prehistory of the stereoscopic motion picture. …Writing a new chapter in the history of early cinema, Ray Zone not only discusses technological innovation and its cultural context but also examines the aesthetic aspects of stereoscopic cinema in its first century of production.

Run, don’t walk.

The Sun Sets on 2007

Bay Area sunset, Dec. 31, 2007

Genuine, un-Photoshop-ed photograph of the Dec. 31, 2007 sunset as taken somewhere in the Bay Area by my olde friende, Jen.  May 2008 prove the old adage true:  “Red sky at night, a sailor’s delight.”  Blessings, peace, and smoothest sailings to all.