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Sunday, October 7, 2012

Kathryn Bigelow and Women in Film

I wrote this for a class in school and thought it would fit well into this blog.  
World media outlets erupted on the night of May 2nd, 2011 as President Obama announced to the world the death of infamous international terrorist Osama Bin Laden.  News that a special operation, designed to take out the guerilla ringleader, had leaked before the official press junket.  Social media spread word of the alleged assassination like a firestorm.  Crowds gathered outside the white house proclaiming American superiority as the man whose image had haunted them since the attacks on September 11, 2001 was screened on household flat screens nationwide.  It was a moment of serendipity. 
            Meanwhile, somewhere in the country of Kazakhstan, an American film crew was shooting an account of the near assassination of Bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan in 2002.  Directing the project was Kathryn Bigelow, the first female ever to win Best Director at the Oscars for her film “The Hurt Locker” back in 2009. Production stopped abruptly as word of the Bin Laden assassination made international headlines.  Screenwriter Mark Boal, Academy Award winning writer for the same film in 2009, went immediately into research and rewriting as the story they were telling all of a sudden had a new ending.
            The film is “Zero Dark Thirty.”  It will be released this holiday season, a mere 18 months after the assassination.  Early reviews are proclaiming it a masterpiece.  The film has already won major awards from the Boston Society of Critics and the New York Film Critics Circle Awards, and Bigelow has become the front-runner for Best Director at next year’s Academy Awards.  This would make her the only female to win two Best Director Oscars, and the only women still, to ever win an Oscar for directing.  It is an incredible individual feat, but reflects a larger issue that most people in the business would rather stay quiet about.  It is the issue of women’s roles in Hollywood.  This film indicates a fast coming trend.  That is, the major forces controlling the content are no longer the men, but the women.  And in my opinion, Hollywood would be better off accepting it.   Women deserve a more prominent role in making creative decisions on content for entertainment.
Zero Dark Thirty is significant in that the producer, the director, and the lead actor are all women.  Megan Ellison, daughter of multi-billionaire software creator Larry Ellison is producing the film with her newly founded Annapurna Pictures.  Her production company has recently been responsible for such films as “True Grit,” “Lawless,” “The Master,” and “Killing Them Softly.”  The director is Kathryn Bigelow, and newcomer Jessica Chastain plays the film’s title role.  In fact, in recent years a few films have been made that reflect this same trend.  The film “We Need to Talk about Kevin,” was written and directed by Lynne Ramsey, and starred Academy Award winning actress Tilda Swinton.  In 2010, the winner of Sundance Film Festival’s coveted Grand Jury Prize was “Winter’s Bone.”  The film was written and directed by Debra Granik, and the film’s star was Jennifer Lawrence, playing a strong, independent young woman, raising her two siblings. In each of these films, the director made key choices involving the casting process, the writing process, and the overall production and tone of the film.  These films have strong and intimate themes connected to being a woman in strenuous circumstances, but are not engrossingly feministic.   The final result, excluding “Zero Dark Thirty,” are strong portraits of womanhood, told with more power and conviction than most films made by men.
But even with these women establishing their importance in the creative community of filmmakers, reaction has still been overwhelmingly sexist.  After her Oscar win in 2009, a New York Times article made this point by saying, “The Hurt Locker didn’t just punch through the American movie industry’s seemingly shatterproof glass ceiling; it has also help dismantle stereotypes about what types of films women can and should direct.”   In fact, before she even won the award, various journalists, critics, and bloggers were saying that if she did win, it would be because she is a woman, not because her film is good.  When Barbra Streisand won the Golden Globe for best director in 1991 for her film “The Prince of Tides,” she was considered a front-runner for Best Director at the Academy Awards a few months later.  But this did not happen.  In an LA Times article earlier this year, it was found that Oscar voters are ¾ male and median age of 62.  Project those stats in 2012 back in time to 1991, and it would be a safe assumption to make that the Academy voters were mostly old, white males then too.  What is even more unfortunate is that the entire academy is only composed of 2% black voters, and 2% Latino voters. Most minority groups do not receive fair representation.  In fact, in the same year Bigelow’s film was up for awards, Lee Daniels’ film “Precious,” was also considered a frontrunner to win best director and best film.  That would have made Lee Daniels the first African American ever to win an Oscar for Directing.  The only other black director to even be nominated for a directing Oscar was John Singleton back in 1993 for his film “Boyz in the Hood.”  But that issue is an entire discussion in its own right.
But even with men dominating the industry, few strong willed women have found a voice.  Silent film actress Mary Pickford, founded United Artists studio back in 1919 with Charles Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, and DW Griffith.  This made her the first woman to have a prominent role in Hollywood film production.  Her time was short, however, as the implementation of sound in film made her irrelevant.  Martin Scorsese’s long time editor is Thelma Schoonmaker.  She has edited almost all of Scorsese’s films, and has won three Oscars doing so.  Nora Ephron, director of films such as “Sleepless in Seattle” and “You’ve Got Mail,” was able to have a long, productive career as a filmmaker.  Steven Spielberg’s longtime producing partner Kathleen Kennedy has produced films since E.T.  Recently in animation, women have found more prominent roles in their profession.  Brenda Chapman and Jennifer Yuh Nelson have recently directed feature films at Pixar and DreamWorks animation studios; Chapman directed “Prince of Egypt” at DreamWorks back in 1998.   The upcoming Disney film “Frozen” will be co-directed by Jennifer Lee, and a recent article from The Hollywood Reporter stated that 85% of DreamWorks Animation producers are women. 
In my opinion, with the tides changing, and the influx of women coming into the industry year after year going up, we should see more films directed by women, and specifically made about women.  Point of view is crucial in film, and we have already heard enough about the struggles of being a man in the 21st century.  Some of my favorite filmmakers, Spielberg, Scorsese, and Fincher, make deeply personal films, and always from the male’s point of view.  With Granik and Ramsey making uniquely feminine films, I think people are being exposed to content that makes them better.  Watching a story from a female’s perspective should add a level of insight into the experience of others.  That’s what makes film so brilliant, the chance to live someone else’s life for an hour or two. 
Hollywood is trending toward women having the same prominence in filmmaking as the men.  As long as women are becoming increasingly relevant in creative decision-making, it is a good thing.  The goal is not necessarily dominance, but balance.  A few women are guiding the way today.  Kathryn Bigelow will continue to do great things with the films she makes.  The stereotype that women can only direct a certain kind of film will continue to be upended.  For now, Hollywood must deal with its own prejudices.  Opportunity has only been given to the few lucky ones.  It is important that filmmakers of a different sex, race, and cultural understanding have their work distributed to a wide audience.  There are infinite stories that can and should be told.  It is mandatory that we hear them.  

Tuesday, September 25, 2012



Becuase I've been obssessively waiting for this film to come out, I wanted to write a post about the film (something I haven't done in a while).  I saw the film at its wide release premeire last Thursday, and have to say it was quite an experience.  

My immediate impression of the film is that it is PTA's most 'impressionistic' film to date, but I mean that in the sense that the conceptual themes that drive the film forward are so well engrained in the plot that you don't get the feeling that's what the film is about.  All of PTA's films are told through the disposition of some dressed up character, or a performer.  In 'Boogie Nights' it was the porn actors.  In 'Magnolia' it was the police officer, the quiz show cast, and Tom Cruise's testoserone boosting male sex therapist.  In 'Punch Drunk Love,' it was a man who dressed in a blue suit each day, and in 'There Will Be Blood,' it was about a traveling salesman; an oil venture capitalist and a preacher.

'The Master' is no different, but I think it is an even more significant film in the scope of PTA's career than people are talking about.  

Never before has PTA dealt with a character so undefined as Freddie Quell.  He is 'Kilroy,' (  He is the undefined soldier post World War II, and he meets a man who is about as eccentric as any of PTA's characters.  This man gives Freddie Quell a purpose.  This man is Freddie's surrogate father in a way, but in my opinion more of a brother.  Freddie gives himself up to this man, because he is noble.  The Cause is the religion this man, Lancaster Dodd has created, and this militant philosophy by which Dodd has promoted in his religious writings is precisely the type of occupation Freddie needs.

Ideas of time travel and past lives are promoted in the film, and it is my opinion that these ideas could only mean that the film is about forgetting.  It is dealing with those terrible things you were told not to do as a child, but did anyways.  It is about forgetting your horrible animalistic personality and compulsions; your horrible compulsions to 'fuck,' to 'kill,' to 'drink,' and to curse the heavens.  This film is about God.  Lancaster Dodd shouts at the top of his lungs as he's being arrested, 'By what galactic authority do you posess?!!!"  

It is my opinion that these two characters are the most beautiful characters ever put on screen.  They are completely insane, and tremendously flawed.  But what do they want?  Isn't that what we want to figure out?  How can we know what the film is about if we don't know who these men are?  

There's a great piece I found on Vulture asking exactly this question.  It's a good starting point to figure out what exactly this film is about.  

I should add that I will see this film again in the next few days.  Hopefully, my thoughts will change.  I should say though that my immediate impressions the first time around was that this film was not at all about HUGE things, such as man and God, man as an animal, a servant and his Master, but about good friends, unlikely friends.  Isn't that what humanity is about?  Is it not about those subjective dividing lines between us all?  Are these lines not divised over thousands of years, through generations, through past lives?  I can only say that I felt this way, and I can only say that the one theme PTA has been obsessed with throughout his career is LOVE.

What is The Master Really About?


A little more than a week into its wide release, Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master has already established itself as that rare beast, a popular film with a lot on its mind — one that bears and maybe even demands repeated viewings. (Critics Stephanie Zacharek and Dana Stevens each have thoughts on whether or not a movie should need to be seen more than once.) And each of these viewings can yield new and varying interpretations. So, what is The Master about? Here are five potential avenues of thought. (Naturally, there are spoilers ahead. You are forewarned.)
The search for a family and stability.
Several times, we see a shot of Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) lying down next to a sand sculpture of a woman. Admittedly, it's a sand sculpture that he humps in the film's opening minutes, but the tender way that he later cuddles up to it suggests that what he’s after isn’t really sex but warmth, contact, family, comfort. When the V.A. doctor asks him about a “vision” that he had, Freddie describes it thusly: “I had a dream. My mother, my father, and me. Sitting around a table. Drinking … ” Then he mumbles something that sounds like either “laughing” or “loving.” At any rate, that’s his vision — a happy family. Anderson dissolves from this scene to Freddie’s new job as a photographer — shooting pictures of happy housewives, happy children, happy husbands. He longs to be a part of this world, but, not unlike a filmmaker, he can only photograph it: Before he fights with the man he’s photographing at the department store, Freddie asks him, “Is this for your wife?” (Meanwhile, somewhere in the background, we hear a baby screaming.) Then, he pushes the lights in on the man, trying to crowd him out, and starts to beat him.
Freddie’s search for a family leads him to Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and his wife Peggy (Amy Adams). In the remarkable shot where he discovers Dodd’s yacht, the camera constantly racks focus between a cold Freddie staggering on the dock in the foreground and the happy, warm party on the yacht, with Lancaster and Peggy dancing in the distance: It’s as if the camera (and by extension Freddie) is constantly trying to place them all in the same shot, and failing. Indeed, Anderson keeps these characters separated visually throughout the film. We almost never see them alone together in the same shot. Almost.
In the bizarre, final, cryptic scene in London, when the three are briefly reunited, Peggy first expresses a kind of maternal interest in Freddie (“You look sick. Freddie, you don’t look healthy”) before rejecting him altogether (“What did you hope would happen by coming here today?” To which he responds, tellingly, “I had a dream.”). In fact, this final scene might actually be the only time when we finally see all three of these characters — Peggy, Lancaster, and Freddie — alone together in the same shot. At the end of the scene, Lancaster sings “(I’d Like to Get You On) A Slow Boat to China” to Freddie. And yes, it’s eerie and perhaps more than a little homoerotic, but it also feels like a twisted version of a lullaby — the most domestic and familial of actions turned into something terrifying and strange — making it clear once and for all that Freddie’s dream of becoming a family with Lancaster and Peggy Dodd is an impossibility. And freeing him, ironically, to try and form a new family — perhaps with Winn, the girl he’s met in the final scenes of the film, right before we see him lying next to the female sand sculpture, suggesting that his search goes on.

I felt like this idea was a given.  Freddie certainly does want a family.  He wants a wife, he wants chidren.  In an ending scene we see him speaking to the mother of the girl that he once loved.  Her name is Doris and she was sixteen when Freddie was in love with her.  Freddie discovered that while he was devoting his life to The Cause and Lancaster that this girl had married and had two chidren. 

I think the answer as to why Freddie was working all those jobs in the first place was he was trying to establish himself in the world.  That is what he was told to do by his commanders. Ideally, Freddie was going to come back to Doris and ask her to marry him, while he had some money, hopefully a job, and some sense of self-importance.

So why did he need Lancaster?  Lancaster gave him a job, Lancaster was helping Freddie with his helplessness, his problems.  Freddie was going to be reformed.  Doris was going to love Freddie.  As any relationship goes, Freddie saw that Lancaster was man of his own cause.  He was respected, he had a wife who was pregnant, and a son.  "You know Val you should listen, your father is speaking."  Is this not what Freddie believes.  I don't think Freddie ever wanted Dodd to be his father, because that was not the end goal.  The end goal was that Freddie would be a new person.  Freddie would get rid of those bad things that makes him drink, and have sex with every woman he sees.  Freddie is a noble character, and although he is flawed, he is not hopeless.

The ironic thing is that because Freddie needed Dodd, Doris got away.  Hence, Freddie's inescapability, his return to the beach at the end of the movie, with that pile of sand that is in the form of a girl, his girl.
The politics of cults, and the cults of politics.
Although Harvey Weinstein introduced the New York premiere of The Masterwith a swipe at Mitt Romney, Paul Thomas Anderson has never been a particularly political filmmaker. Except when he has been: There Will Be Bloodmight be a timeless meditation on will, power, ambition, and duplicity, but it’s also a startling depiction of the collusion and conflict between capitalism and spirituality in early twentieth century America, with particular resonances for the time in which it was made, when the U.S. was waging two wars in distant lands — one for oil, and another against a group of religious extremists it had collaborated with decades earlier. Not unlike Stanley Kubrick before him, Anderson seems to have an amazing ability to build in contemporary echoes into his films without making them feel overtly topical.
Thus, The Master, even though it’s only tangentially about L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology, depicts the humiliating yet symbiotic relationship between causes and followers in the modern era, when belief systems are no longer governing frameworks but just software to be renewed and replaced. You can see it in the Master’s irritated response to Helen Sullivan (Laura Dern) who, upon reading his new book, inquires about a major difference she’s noticed: “I did note that on page 13, there’s a change. You’ve changed the processing platform question from ‘Can you recall?’ to ‘Can you imagine?’” Meanwhile, Freddie, who never really understands the Master’s methods and has just had to listen to another B.S. sermon from Dodd, beats up a longtime believer who dares to question the Master's rambling text. Maybe this is the way Freddie deals with his doubts, by doubling down on his obedience to the Master.  
True, this is a kind of willful mutability that’s characteristic of cults, but it’s also one of the dynamics of modern politics, where belonging to the team (and defending it) is a lot more important than what the team actually stands for. (Just read any of this year’s election headlines to see political team players defend policies and beliefs they don’t really subscribe to — be they on the Left or the Right.) Freddie is, ultimately, symbolic of the common man who joins a cause not because he believes in it, but because it will have him.

This is the weakest of the theories, but there are some ideas that are important to note.  Specifically the change from 'Can you recall?' to 'Can you imagine?'  Why would this be significant?  Is this a bit of self doubt in Dodd?  Is Dodd seeing the inherent flaws in his own ideas?  Does he believe his own ideas?  Has Freddie changed his Dodd's thoughts? 
It has probably not escaped the notice of many viewers that, although Lancaster Dodd and Freddie Quell seem like psychological and physical opposites (one is garrulous, confident, and rotund, the other terse, nervous, and alarmingly thin), the film also often presents them in symmetrical shots and situations: Witness the way Anderson films them when they’re in jail, yelling at each other as if each is inside the other’s mind. And let’s also not forget that both men are alchemists of a kind — one has the ability to turn things like torpedo fuel into a delicious beverage, the other has the ability to turn anything around him into a nonsensical spiritual aphorism. These men may somehow be conjoined — Dodd is, after all, the only one who seems to be able to regularly drink Freddie’s moonshine concoctions and survive. (It also helps, of course, that the women around them look the same — Doris, the girl Freddie loved back home before the war, bears an uncanny resemblance to Peggy Dodd.)
If the processing/auditing that the Master encourages is designed to shed oneself of the negative emotions and troubles of our past lives, consider the possibility that Freddie might actually be, at least on a metaphoric level, one of Lancaster Dodd’s past lives. (Which makes the oft-stated question in the film of where they might have met a more haunting one.) If Dodd constantly leaves his troubles behind, Freddie appears to be made up entirely of troubles — the family that abandoned him, the girl back home who didn’t wait for him, the war that broke him. (In an earlier version of the script, Freddie’s alcohol problem was matched by an obsessive need to get more and more tattoos, and his initial hospitalization at the V.A. was due to a rather symbolically loaded ailment — a burst appendix.) Like the negative energy of New Yorkers that collects in the sewers of the city inGhostbusters II, Freddie is, in many ways, the return of the repressed for Lancaster Dodd — a Frankenstein’s Monster of troubled memories, rejections, and unspoken spiritual longings.

I think what this theory is trying to explain, and what people are picking up on when they think of this is that both characters desperately need each other.
Post-war ennui. This is, of course, right there in the second shot of the film: Freddie Quell, Navy man, lifting his head above the edge of a boat, looking quizzically out at the world. We hear a lot about the Greatest Generation in the media, but it’s also a fact that many of the men who fought in WWII came home to a world that was rapidly changing and that no longer held the certainties (if they ever even existed) of the war. (“Understandably, there will be people on the outside who do not understand your condition.”) While we do see, over the course of the film, a brief glimpse of Freddie’s life before the war, it’s telling that we never see the war itself, marking it as a kind of defining absence.
What did the war do to Freddie, and what about it connects him to Dodd? Is it worth noting that the cult of personality Dodd has created is, in miniature, a reflection of the political cults of personality — those of Hitler, Mussolini, and Hirohito — that the Allies defeated in WWII? Such things are never stated outright in the film, and we certainly never see “the enemy” in the brief scenes that show Freddie’s Navy stint. But we do see an enemy around us later in the film — the skeptics, the authorities, the doubters who question and challenge Dodd’s power. This is, after all, the age of McCarthyism, of paranoia and fear. Maybe Anderson is suggesting that people like Freddie came out of the war needing both the solace of family life and an enemy to combat?

I think this is a very strong theory.  One of Freddie's strongest moments in the film is when he tells another man that his ship won the war and received some highly decorative honors. He says this without hestitation or sheepishness.

When you see evil, you know it's out there.  Paranoia and fear drive you afterwards, because you can see it in people.  Perhaps what Dodd offered Freddie, and the way that Freddie understood Dodd's ideas was because Dodd was acknowledging this evil.  But Dodd's response was, how do we get rid of it?  How do we compartmentalize it?  How do we put it away?

Freddie needs a purpose in life.  He devotes his life to Dodd.  He then protects Dodd, because Dodd has the answers.  Anyone who tries to delegitamize Dodd is an enemy.  Dodd's wife says in a moment, "The only way to respond is to attack."  It's interesting that she would say this, but I can only think that it needed to be said.  
In interviews, Anderson has suggested that The Master followed an even looser development process than his previous scripts, with him instinctually putting a variety of elements together just to see how they would work out. (Versions of the script that were leaked during the film’s shooting were quite different from the finished product.) So, consider the possibility then that, on some basic level,The Master may actually be less about its ostensible story and more about its surfaces. It’s about putting the needy, nervous angularity of Joaquin Phoenix’s performance next to the avuncular, comfy generosity of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s, and seeing what develops, what ecosystems of character are formed in the back-and-forth between these figures.
In his excellent analysis of the film for The New Yorker’s website, Richard Brody correctly notes that many of the cult’s therapy sessions look like method acting exercises. Similarly, it’s perhaps notable that Phoenix’s performance seems to represent the tormented, physical acting styles of the latter half of the twentieth century (the Brandos, the Deans, the Clifts) whereas Hoffman’s acting seems to hearken back to the controlled, elusive manner of the previous half (many have described his turn as “Wellesian”). In these acting styles, we see a miniature version of the journey of American society during this period — and, specifically, American maleness. And before you suggest that this is a stretch, remember that this is a director who in Boogie Nights used different porn acting styles to tell the story of late-seventies-early-eighties American social upheaval.

This theory definitely has some weight to it.  There are so many ideas floating around in this movie that I think the only way that you can truly understand them is if you understand it's simply a film.  But as I said, PTA uses characters functionally. 

Looking back on the film, there is a moment when Freddie chokes a man he is photographing.  I'm not sure if this is a legitimate idea, but he looks a lot like Dodd.  It makes me think that Dodd, without any knowledge of who he is, would be repulsory to Freddie.  Dodd is somebody Freddie woud beat up, because he's certainly well put together, articulate, and respected.  But Dodd impresses Freddie in the manner that only men like Dodd coud do.  

Of course, Dodd becomes friends with Freddie in the first place because he gives him a job.  He tells Freddie to make him a drink, then Freddie eventually takes Dodd's photograph.  It's something inherent in these men that begin a religion that makes them so appealling, even appealling to Freddie. 

And because Dodd is orchestrating a movement, a movement which is growing in size, and only intends to grow much more, Dodd, by the urging of his wife, has to leave Freddie behind.  

Dodd asks Freddie something like, "What do you want, Freddie?"  And then, "What did you hope to accomplish by coming here today?"

Freddie is looking for stability, but cannot for some reason accept the offer.  I think Freddie was never supposed to find that stablity.  If every man's story was a happy one after the war, then this film wouldn't have a subject matter.  But we should understand that these men went on to build a nation post World War II.  What will Freddie do?  Where will he end up?

Freddie responds to Dodd's question, "What do you want?" with an, "I don't know," and some mumbling.  Dodd releases him into the world, because Dodd knows he does not belong in The Cause.  The song Dodd sings Freddie at the end says something like, 'I wish we could still be friends, but I can't."  

The Master ends where it begins, with Freddie on a beach with that woman made of sand.  I think Freddie's story ends ambiguosly, because these men were eventually forgotten.  They were passed over, because that's just what happened.  The men that fought for this country, were eventually forgotten by the country they served so valiantly.  

The Master is in essence, a tall tale.  It is about the formless, hopeful sailor post world war II.  It is purely mythology, but with an incredible amount of weight to it.  Perhaps that is why it is PTA's most unconventional film to date.  It's a marking point in his career, and in my opinion fim in general.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Glen Keane Interview

Really good stuff from famous Disney animator Glen Keane.!

Brad Bird On Walt Disney's Take on Classic Stories

Here is a summary of director Brad Bird's (The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, MI:4) talk at the Walt Disney family museum.  
On Saturday, May 19, two-time Academy Award®-winning director Brad Bird (The IncrediblesRatatouille) sat before a packed house at The Walt Disney Family Museum and discussed many of the stories Walt Disney adapted for the big screen. Author and Disney Historian Jeff Kurtti was on hand to moderate, and together the two speakers gave the audience fascinating insight into some of the movies many of us grew up watching. And as Brad so succinctly stated, “Looking back on the legacy of Walt Disney is the gift that keeps on giving.”
The program opened with an opening; the beginning of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Brad pointed out that while Snow White had a very simple opening, it showed what a good storyteller Walt was. When the book of the Snow White fairy tale opens, it has a bit of a “silent movie” approach, with text that audiences have to read. When the Queen’s castle is revealed, Brad noted, “Instead of happy music it begins with mysterious music, which immediately puts you in a different state of mind. The coolest thing is he (Walt) instinctively begins with not only the Queen, but also the mirror. He shows right away she is a slave to her own image.”
The dwarfs also received a Disney makeover, as most of the early adaptations of the Grimm fairy tale portrayed them as thieves, not jewel miners. And the number of dwarfs varied as well. Walt decided that they should be sympathetic characters, all with their own distinct personalities. Brad then marveled over the scene in which the Queen conducts her self-transformation. “To me this is ‘Exhibit A’ that this movie can match any live-action film,” he said. “It has a little bit of that silent movie feel—she’s telling you an awful lot for a woman who’s alone in the room, but I’ll put this up against anything else that was going on at the time.”
Moving from a well-known fairy tale to a relatively obscure children’s book, Brad and Jeff spoke to us about a puppet. “The appeal ofPinocchio was that he was mischievous, always getting into trouble,” Brad revealed. “The arc of the story is for him to not be like that. In the book, Pinocchio squashes the cricket.” In the original story, the cricket wasn’t appointed to watch over Pinocchio. And upon providing the little wooden boy with a single piece of advice, Pinocchio hurled a hammer at it, killing it. 
Brad continued, “Suddenly they hit upon the fact that since Pinocchio was trying to be good, they could create this character to help him. To act as his conscience. What’s cool is that Jiminy Cricket is kind of a vagabond. He has spats, but they’re worn out. And Jiminy didn’t think of himself as a vagabond.” (That is another variation on the cricket. In the original story, it lived in the house for over 100 years.) “You can see very quickly once they had that idea, it became the thing. They put him in the opening. And he’s not perfect either, he makes mistakes.”
Brad then showed us Pinocchio’s incredible opening scene. Like Snow White, the storybook opens, only this time with a little help from Jiminy. The camera zooms in on a picture of the night sky over an Italian village, and zooms out to reveal we are located in said village. The score is synchronized with the action onscreen, as we hop along from Jiminy’s point of view towards Geppetto’s quaint little shop. Many people to this day (myself included) consider Pinocchio to be the greatest animated film in history.
Other books of varying fame and popularity, including Bambi and Winnie the Pooh were adapted by Walt, but Jeff observed that, “One of Walt’s most skillful literary adaptations was Mary Poppins.”
“In the books she’s different,” Brad added. “Less humor, more strict. It’s wonderful, it’s very British. But in terms of making it a movie, a lot didn’t work.” 
“It’s interesting to see what Walt saw in it,” Jeff replied.
“Well, his daughters liked it,” Brad chuckled. “They were always amused by it.”
In 1960, Walt Disney gave a copy of author P.L. Travers’ tale of a British nanny to the Sherman brothers with the intention of making, “The greatest musical fantasy of all time." So Richard and Robert Sherman went through their copy, and underlined the chapters that they felt were particularly musical. When they handed their notes to Walt, he pulled out his copy of the book, and he had underlined the exact same chapters. 
“The heart of the story is about absentee parents,” Brad said. “Children are an obligation, a bother. The parents are absent for different reasons. The father works tirelessly at the bank, and the mother is a suffragette.” Brad then set up a clip for us. “Mary Poppins sees the problem very clearly.” Brad went on to explain how after Mr. Banks was tricked into taking his children to work with him, subsequently causing a run on the bank, he was later called back to work to be properly discharged. And when Mr. Banks opened the door to the bank’s bleak, scantly lighted boardroom, Brad observed, “This is Disney’s take on banks.”
Bank scene from Mary Poppins. © Disney.“Walt’s relationship with his father and his feeling towards banks was shown a lot in Mary Poppins, Brad stated. “Walt’s father Elias was a workaholic. So was Walt, but of course Walt was more successful. That’s something Walt struggled with also. Working all the time, but still making time for his children.”
Brad and Jeff moved on to films derived from older-skewing adventure literature such as KidnappedSwiss Family Robinson,In Search of the Castaways, and Walt’s first live-action literary adaptation, Treasure Island. “No one remembers the other versions of Long John Silver,” Brad remarked. “The way people imitate pirates these days is…show the clip please.” The audience then witnessed the one-legged Long John Silver talking to young Jim Hawkins, donning his deep red restoration greatcoat and tri-corner hat, his dialogue peppered with “Matey” and “Arrrrr.” Brad followed with his own, “Arrrrr,” to everyone’s enjoyment, and went on to say, “That’s the guy we’re imitating.”
The pinnacle of Walt’s live-action adventure adaptations was 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and although the pair acknowledged the unforgettable production design and stellar Hollywood cast, they agreed that it was the remarkably adult screenplay and intelligent direction that have made the film timeless. (The film was directed by Richard Fleischer, who happened to be the son of one of Disney’s biggest competitors, Max Fleischer. Also, Richard had yet to direct a big Hollywood feature. Walt relieved Richard’s concerns, advising him that he was hired because he was the best man for the job.) Leagues was quite an amazing film to have come from Walt’s “cartoon studio.” And Brad set up a bleak, emotional scene from the film for us, revealing the villainous Captain Nemo’s humane core. 
“This is not a spectacular clip visually,” Brad said. “But it does show Disney wasn’t afraid to get dark and pay full attention to the story.” The scene depicted Nemo talking about a ship he just sank by ramming it with the Nautilus. “He’s not afraid to go for that moment.”
All too soon, Brad and Jeff brought us to the final film of the presentation. “In terms of the most bulletproof adaptation,” Brad said, “It’sCinderella. But they didn’t make her a sad character talking to herself. They gave her pals,” referring to the mice, birds, and farmyard animals that make up her friends, and serve as “familiars” for the audience’s emotional understanding of Cinderella. 
He went on to detail the scene in which the Duke has to confess to the King that he has let Cinderella get away, and how the King wanted to kill the Duke for it. But after hearing that the prince would readily marry this girl, he declared that they would find her (the King reallywanted some grandchildren!).
“In the original story,” Brad pointed out, “They find Cinderella, the stepsisters mock her, the shoe fits, and that’s it. But look at what Disney does!” After the animals free Cinderella from her locked room, she barely catches the Duke before he leaves. The evil stepmother then trips the Royal servant, who was carrying the slipper, and we all watch helplessly as it falls to the floor and shatters. But our heartbreak doesn’t last long. “The audience forgets that she has the other slipper.” Brad said. “For me that’s the perfect way to end the show." 
While that did in fact end the presentation, Brad wasn’t through entertaining us. During Q&A an audience member asked if he wouldn’t mind showing us one of his alter egos. “You want Edna, dah-ling,” Brad said in his delightful Edna Mode voice. About to take the next question, the woman in the audience quickly asked, “Is that it?” “What do you want me to do dah-ling,” Edna responded. “I don’t perform like a monkey for you!”  
Brad Bird’s sense of humor during the afternoon was surpassed only by his knowledge of Disney adaptations, as well as cinema in general.
Jeff’s erudite moderation was the perfect complement, allowing for the two to engage with one another, as well as engage the audience with their intriguing perspectives on the wonderful world of Disney film. Jeff closed by stating how Walt Disney is still influencing filmmakers to this day, while gesturing toward Brad. And based and the quality of Mr. Bird’s work, I think it’s safe to say Walt would be proud.