adventure and absurdity in making an animated short

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Lethal Innocence

Buy this book. ON FILM-MAKING
If you are interested in making films, whether it's animation or some other form, this collection of Alexander Mackendrick's class notes is indispensable.

Sandy, "The Old Man" was a teacher of mine and one of the reasons I pursued storyboarding instead of animating as a career. And who knows probably, in a round about way led me here, to making my own film.

If you don't know Mackendrick's work then you have some movies to watch.




we'll talk after.


Blogger Michael said...

ditto your comments on the MacKerndrick book. My copy has more hi-lited text in it than it has non-hi-lited text (as a film editing student with an aspiration to teach one day, I tend to really annotate the books I read). And in the margins are as lot of notes like this: "Yes! Yes! Yes, goddammit, yes!!" Along with Hitchock by Truffaut, my desert island movie book pick.

Enjoy the blog. Will follow it with interest.
Michael in LA

7:59 AM  
Blogger warren said...

Wow! I've got to get that book. I just saw 'The Man in The White suit' for the first time last week - it's so nice! I blabbed about it on my blog, then a regular visitor sent me over here to yours. Now I'm about to see 'The Ladykillers'...by chance entirely. Just following through on my own. Come on over and chat!

Your film looks good so far! Good luck - it's so daunting I've never tried it myself. Day gigs are daunting enough at times. I'll be living vicariously over here, if you don't mind.

10:40 AM  
Blogger JmC said...

what i like about the man in the white suit and the lady killers is that the they are like live action animated films. in the sense that they caricature the situations and the settings. the introduction to professor marcus (alec guiness) in ladykillers is wonderful and i believe the shot of his silhouette at the door was either ripped off by bill peet and the disney folk for Cuella DeVil's intro in 101 dalmations or they subliminally remembered it. thanks for coming by

7:53 PM  
Blogger warren said...

I just saw 'Ladykillers' last week. What I really dug was that is was a farce from head to toe. The whole thing is caricatured - the performances, the roles, the archetypes, the visual cue of the little old lady's house - you just know there's an odd little bird in there. Sometimes I wish modern animated films leaned more to this style of filmmaking (old-school farce), it's so fun to watch!

Other than the whole thing about people's basic assumptions of others being horribly faulty, do you know if there was another framework/metaphor this film was built on? Or did Mackendrick see this film as stright-forward as it appears on the surface? (Which would be his main point, I guess - that things are never as straightforward as they seem...)

Did he ever address his process on this particular story in his class? (Amazon's my buddy - his textbook is coming Tuesday. Forgive me if it's in there.)

3:07 PM  
Blogger JmC said...

i am jazzed you are delving head-long into sandy's work. not too many people know about him or appretiate his films. i completely agree with you. i too wish animation would move into this direction. it used to be there. today the easiest, crudest joke wins out. except for the most part at pixar. but we are not quite doing the farce. The Curse of the Warerabbit is very much in the vain of an old Eailing Comedy. I would recommend highly Kind Hearts and Coronets and The Lavender Hill Mob (Alec Guiness is in them all but they are not Mackendrick films). Kind Hearts is an amazing film. very smart.

the major metaphor for the film, that i believe sandy was aware of but would never admit, is that the film is a reflection of the british empire at that time. The post war decline that is. Unless your british, although you are canadian - correct?, you might not clue into it. each character is an aspect of british society. He doesn't go into it in the book but i believe he talks about it's genisis. which supposedly came to the screenwriter, William Rose, fully formed in a dream. He also talks about shooting the house. He rarely referenced his films in the class (more in his handouts - which is what the book is a collection of) he would prefer to reference shakespeare - hamlet, sophocles - oedipus rex, kazan- on the waterfront, etc. There is a biography of Sandy called Lethal Innocence by Philip Kemp. it is a pretty good read and very infomative about the films. check it out and move on to Sweet Smell, totally different.

11:05 PM  
Blogger warren said...

Cool! You posted your reply here, and I thought it was only in email form. Silly me. I've been emailing you unnecessarily. My apologies.

For anyone else's interest, here was my abridged email reply to the above:

It's obvious to me that Mackendrick was in top form on these two films. My friends in Britain, of course, knew of him right away - me the rube, being in 'the colonies' (Canada, correct you are) was slow to catch on. I guess on a certain level I can understand the critiques on Brit post-war society, as I've got friends and some family in the UK who still laugh at the 'poshies'. It does feel somewhat familiar in that sense...but I'm not so intimate with Brit culture that every inside joke hits me. Btw, why wouldn't Alexander Mackendrick admit to critiqueing the decline of British Imperialism in that film? Was he too British to admit in public there was a decline?

I whole-heartedly agree that 'Curse of the Were-Rabbit' hit the tone of a good Brit comedy really spot on (I'd say 'Ealing comedy' too, but I'm no authority on that studio, so I wouldn't know. I'll take your word for it.) Sounds obvious to say, but simply living there doesn't mean one has the predestined ability to pull it off. Anyways, I'll be moving on to 'Sweet Smell of Success' shortly. Can't wait to see just how it's completely different!

I was also wondering if you can remember what it was specifically he liked about the works he brought up in class...? Any specifics come to mind? I'll be looking into 'Lethal Innocence', to get a better overview of the man and his work...although I'll have to admit I'll be going into his own book first - I like to hear a person's own words before going to a second-hand source. Just a habit I have.

8:10 PM  
Blogger warren said...

Just to see if anyone else has something to add, here was another email I sent to Jim on the subject, shortly after getting the book this week:

Just want to thank you for putting me onto the book! I'm only 8 pages in and it's reinforcing a lot of my hunches so far. Learning tons more about boarding too. Of particular interest to me so far was this little bit from the "pre-verbal language of cinema" section:

One of the tasks of the director as he transfers a screenplay to the medium (of film) is almost to forget what his characters are saying and reimagine their behaviour as being mute, so that all thoughts, feelings and impulses are conveyed to the audience through sound and vision, without speech.

Aside from the obvious application to animation - That notion ties in directly with a story that Ronnie Del Carmen told us at the Banff Workshop he was lecturing at a year ago: about how he was to informally pitch a sequence he started from scratch (no script) without dialogue, (because he hadn't gotten that far yet), and just flipped through the panels mimicking the tone of voice, while the director peeked over his shoulder. It worked fine - sold the idea even before the dialogue was written.

I tried that a year earlier, a couple of times, on 'Asterix & The Vikings'. Some of it worked, and some other parts the guys in the room were like "what's he say there?". I realize now, that if my drawings had been more specific/better staged, they wouldn't even ask. At the time I thought just tossing in a line was what all that was needed - but now I see I was just visually lazy. Rinse - and repeat.

I love this book! Good luck on your film,


(PS I hope you don't mind my putting this here, jim. Just delete if you do).

8:18 PM  
Blogger ric carrasquillo said...

I just took some friends of mine to see Sweet Smell of Success here in SF as the first film
of the SF Jazz Fest. I was a little apprehensive cuz I built it way up, not sure if they were gonna
dig it or if I was just a film nerd, but they loved it.
Thanks Jim for recommending these great films, and thanks Warren for getting me psyched on film theories

11:32 PM  
Blogger Philip Pignotti said...

Just got the book today! I will start tonight in bed after the family falls to sleep.
We have meet, it was quite a few years now. I think you had just started this short. I am a friend of Bert and Jens from LA and you gave me a tour of the old Pixar studio. Congrats with all your great work here and at Pixar. keep it up you are an inspiration to us all!!

7:25 PM  

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