Saturday, April 24, 2010

Edward Gorey

For those of you who don't know Edward St. John Gorey by name you will surely recognize him through his drawings. His highly stylized, black and white pen illustrations and eerie poems and stories have been featured everywhere from children's books, notebooks, calendars, and cards, to the opening title sequence of PBS's Mystery! (was any child growing up in the 80's not disturbed by the wailing woman on the wall?).

This definitely brings back memories; watching my parents curl up on the couch on a rainy evening to watch Rumpole of the Bailey, or The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. In fact, according to my mother I was born at 3 pm on a Thursday in 1984 and my parents did everything they could to leave the hospital with enough time to catch Rumpole by 8 o'clock. Anyway, I really wish Edward Gorey had made more animations like this. They're quite hypnotic.

Born in Chicago (an American!) in 1925, he spent one semester at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1943, then spent 2 years in the Army stationed at Dugway Proving Ground, Utah (hello!), then attended Harvard University where he studied French (a language I WILL learn one day--hey, I already know Spanish), and then basically became a professional Illustrator once he moved to New York from 1953 to 1960 and worked for Doubleday Publishing.

Mr. Gorey was quite fond of cats...

and tennis shoes...

and fur coats...

...and ballet. I knew I felt akin to him for some reason! He didn't miss a single performance of the New York City Ballet for years, attending each one dressed in a full-length fur coat and tennis shoes. Ah, only the eccentricities of an established artist can be construed as genius.

Mr. Gorey also had an extensive knowledge of literature and devoured pop-culture by watching soap operas, comedies, and dark TV series such as Batman: the Animated Series, and the X-Files (could this man be any cuter?). He never married (was purportedly asexual), and in later years resided in Yarmouth Port, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod (how quintessentially Edward Hopper-esque, no?), until his death in 2000.

His style has influenced film and animation for decades and continues to do so today, as with the directors Tim Burton and Henry Selick, who drew heavily from his delicate etchings as inspiration for the sets on The Nightmare Before Christmas and Coraline.

Uneasy, macabre, and with a slightly twisted sense of humor, Gorey's stories, which nearly always take place in Victorian and Edwardian settings, have developed a cult following and continue to captivate audiences of all sorts, especially those of the Goth subculture.

"Each night Father fills me with dread
When he sits at the foot of my bed;
I'd not mind that he speaks
In gibbers and squeaks,
But for seventeen years he's been dead".

-The Listing Attic, by E.G.

Mr. Gorey was my "first" favorite illustrator before I knew of many others, and he will always hold a special place in my heart. Please enjoy some pieces from the great and gory Edward. May he rest in peace (although he's probably having more fun in death than in life).


Saturday, April 17, 2010

Suzie Templeton & Women in Animation

The film industry--well, the production side of the film industry anyway (especially the animation film industry), is notorious for having been a male-dominated industry since it's inception in the early 20th century.

The majority of women who did work for Disney in the 40's and 50's were not allowed to do any of the creative work in connection with preparing the cartoons for the screen; that work was done by young men. Instead, women were consigned to the "nunnery" (as the Ink and Paint Department was known) to trace the characters on celluloid sheets with ink and fill the tracings on the reverse side with paint.

There were a few great female exceptions to this rule: Mary Blair, Retta Scott (seen below), Marilyn and Madilyn Woods (seen above), Retta Davidson, Tissa David, and Kathy Zielenski all worked for Disney throughout the decades; also Lillian Friedman who worked at Fleischer Studios in the 1930's; and La Verne Harding who worked at the Walter Lantz Studio in Hollywood in the 1940's. I hope to showcase and learn more about these women in future posts. :)

From personal experience, I know the majority of film major students are men; from screenwriting, to cinematography, to computer animation, the female to male ratio in class is generally 1:3 (and I can recall semesters in which I was the ONLY girl in the class). Luckily, this trend is changing, but it still begs the question, why?

There's a major bias that assumes women have trouble with technical abilities, and since film production involves an in-depth knowledge of cameras, cables, and computers, the tasks more often than not fall upon men to perform, who supposedly have a deeper knowledge and interest in these things.

Ironically enough, back in the day editing was considered to be a woman’s job because it was something akin to knitting or sewing, and for this reason women learned all of it's technicalities (just as they did during WWII when a shortage of men forced women to learn "men's" work). Below: Anne-Claire Poirier, a Canadian film editor, director, and writer.

It wasn't until sound came into the picture that men began to infiltrate the ranks of the editors because it was somehow considered more "electrical" and important... it was no longer "knitting".

Of course women are more than capable and desirous to gain technical skills, (heck, men have to learn them to, they're not born knowing), however it's more difficult for women to seek acceptance in a competitive, male-dominated environment, much less be accepted as the boss or director.

A Hollywood survey recently found that the number of women directors whose films featured in the list of the 250 biggest films of 2001 was down from 11% in 2000 to 6% in 2000, and the situation is even worse in the UK, of all places, where more work has had to be done to ensure women have an equal shot in the industry.

The findings also revealed that the number of female writers declined from 14% in 2000 to 10% in 2001, and that men worked as cinematographers on all of the films in the survey.

So with that feminist rant, when I heard that Suzie Templeton, a young, beautiful woman from the UK had won an Academy Award in 2008 for writing and directing the animated short, Peter and the Wolf (based off of Prokofiev's score of the same name) I fell instantly in love.

Not much is written about her life, other than she was born in Hampshire, England in 1967, received her BA in Animation from the University for the Creative Arts in Farnham, and that her films have received widespread critical acclaim, including a BAFTA award, two British Animation Awards, the Rose d'Or, the Hiroshima Prize, and the Cristal d'Annecy (in addition to her Oscar). You go girl.

Her films are haunting, to say the least. Her first film, Stanley (2000), could be categorized as a "black comedy" I suppose, in that it's about an old man who has a pseudo-sexual relationship with a giant cabbage he's growing, and his frightening wife who wants to chop it up for her beef and cabbage stew. I won't give away the ending but it's dark and fitting.

Her second film, Dog (2002) is about a boy coming to terms with the death of his mother. It's quite disturbing how the death of his dog reveals certain secrets about his father. I have to say it's incredible how much human emotion can be conveyed through stop-motion animation, much more so than through computer animation anyway.

Suzie's third and final film (for now) is the Oscar-winning adaptation of the classic tale, Peter and the Wolf (2008), with Prokofiev's original score. I can see why Suzie was chosen to direct the film, her forte seems to be that of young boys and their relationships with animals and old men, which is exactly the focus of Peter and the Wolf. You'll be amazed by the incredibly life-like expressions and movement of her characters. Here is an excerpt from her beautifully crafted film:

I can't mention Suzie's accomplishments without noting the unprecedented event that took place this past February in film history; Kathryn Bigelo, an American filmmaker, became the first woman ever to win an Academy Award for Best Director with her film, The Hurt Locker (2009).

Maybe I should dye my hair brown and grow it out to get a better chance, eh?

Despite the hertels still faced by women, progress is nonetheless being made on behalf of films of the feminine-craft. Let's keep pushing it forward!


Sunday, April 11, 2010


One of my favorite illustrators and designers of all time has to be the Russian-born French artist, Romain de Tirtoff (1892 - 1990), known by the pseudonym Erté (the French pronunciation of his initials, R.T.).

I have a slight obsession with Art Deco; the elegant lines, sophisticated figures, and glamorous fashions make me giddy as a school girl. And since Erté is considered the "father" of Art Deco, widely known for his stylized designs of sinuous women draped in beads and furs, it only makes sense that he would be my favorite. :)

Born into an aristocratic family in St. Petersburg, Erté was attracted to the theater and at one point wavered between becoming a dancer or an artist, but eventually, he later recalled, ''I came to the conclusion that I could live without dancing but could not give up my passion for painting and design.'' Being a dancer myself I can't help but think that he missed out on an exhilarating mode of expression, but we can all be grateful that he continued developing his great talent.

In 1912 he moved to Paris and collaborated briefly with the the fashion designer Paul Poiret (another one of my favorites). Throughout his diverse career he created hundreds of covers for Harper's Bazaar Magazine, as well as an array of stage costumes, sets, jewelry, and other fashionable apparel.

I love his blend of delicately fluid, feminine lines with contrasting palettes and geometric patterns. Widely popular in the 1920's and 30's, his style still influences the fashion and decor of today.