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March 14, 2015
David Kalat
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Walt Disney Down South

Walt Disney had a problem. Technically, he had several problems, but they were all knotted up with each other like a set of headphones that had been left too long in someone’s pocket (great metaphor, huh? That’s why they pay me the big bucks).

And his response to this problem was in many ways mean-spirited and venal, cheap and short-sighted. But listen, Walt Disney is one of my heroes. He didn’t have the luxury of seeing the future, of knowing how his decisions would pan out. He did what he could to keep his studio alive, and while I might wish he had made some different choices, I also get why he did what he did.

And thanks to his choices—good, bad, or indifferent they may have been—he seeded to the world a deliriously weird film called The Three Caballeros. This oddity will be on later this week. You have to rearrange your schedules to see it. Cancel your plans, turn your phones off.

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KEYWORDS: Donald Duck, The Reluctant Dragon, The Three Caballeros, Walt Disney
COMMENTS: 7
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The Wonderful World of Disney Comes to TCM

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As a kid growing up in 1970s my Sunday nights revolved around The Wonderful World of Disney. It was my cherished respite before the much dreaded school week began and I savored every last minute spent in front of the family television set. At the time, residents in the San Francisco Bay Area where I was born and mostly raised, only had access to 10 or 12 available channels to choose from and many of those were locally run and operated. There were no video stores renting movies in those days and the idea of streaming films directly into your own home was merely a faraway fantasy. In these limited environs, The Wonderful World of Disney offered kids and adults of all ages a surprisingly diverse and family friendly smorgasbord of programming that included animated and live action films, nature documentaries, educational shorts and special broadcasts made especially for television. Much to my delight, Turner Classic Movies has recently teamed-up with The Walt Disney Studios for a new on-going program called Treasures from the Disney Vault hosted by Ben Mankiewicz and film critic Leonard Maltin that’s making its debut this coming Sunday night on December 21st. TCM’s impressive 8-hour block of television is a throwback to The Wonderful World of Disney of my childhood and I hope it will introduce a new generation to the wonderful treasures hidden deep within the vaults of the Disney Studios.

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1970: The Year of Living Radically

Getting Straight

 I’m working on a project these days that has me cataloging films released in the years between 1970 and 2000. On one level, it’s simple data entry… entering movie titles and pertinent production information (director, principal cast, production company, distributor, genre, rights holder) and good mindless employment; on another level it’s been an incredibly evocative and nostalgic head trip for me. I was 9 in 1970 — actually 8 for most of that year — but I was already walking myself half a mile into town to go to the movies alone. I have vivid memories of going to see a lot of the films released in 1970 but what this perspective has given me is a whole new appreciation of how diverse the American movie scene was 40 odd years ago. There were westerns (RIO LOBO, LITTLE BIG MAN, MONTE WALSH) and war films (PATTON, TORA! TORA! TORA!, THE MCKENZIE BREAK, M*A*S*H) and love stories (LOVE STORY, RYAN’S DAUGHTER, THE OWL AND THE PUSSYCAT)  and horror movies (THE DUNWICH HORROR and THE VAMPIRE LOVERS and COUNT YORGA, VAMPIRE), biker flicks (ANGEL UNCHAINED, REBEL ROUSERS, ANGELS DIE HARD!) and sex comedies (PUSSYCAT, PUSSYCAT, I LOVE YOU) and dramas (THE WAY WE LIVE NOW) and crime pictures (… TICK TICK TICK…, THEY CALL ME MR. TIBBS, A BULLET FOR PRETTY BOY )and musicals (SONG OF NORWAY). There were movies about spies and assassins and mad housewives and hillbillies and cops on the case… and teenagers.

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May 10, 2014
David Kalat
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Schroedinger’s movies

Last week, as a way of exploring the role of the commercial imperative in film, I presented a selection of filmmakers who remade their own, earlier (better) work in an effort to reclaim ownership of work that got away.   In the weeks to come I intend to (next week) look at an attempt to remake a notoriously unpopular work by one of the greatest masters of old Hollywood, remade with less controversy and less effect by a more marginalized director; and (the week thereafter) some excellent but especially difficult films by uncompromising artists determined not to conform to the commercial marketplace.

This week, though, it’s time to look at some major landmarks in pop culture that somehow manage to occupy both a position of personal, arthouse statement and that of commercial juggernaut, at the same time.  Consider these the Schroedinger’s cats of cinema.

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KEYWORDS: Blockbusters, Fantasia, George Lucas, Star Wars, Walt Disney
COMMENTS: 14
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Daliwood

Salvador Dali’s surrealist career was bookended by his experiences in the movies.

I have to couch that statement with the limiter “surrealist career” because Dali was a prolific and prodigious talent whose larger artistic career in toto is almost incomprehensibly vast—he was painting like a pro when he was a small child, and kept at it until 1989.  That’s right, Dali was around to witness the first Internet virus.  Just wrap your head around that.

But… he is known and celebrated primarily as a surrealist, and it is that phase of his career which intersects the world of movies.  And therein lies our tale.

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Zip a Dee Doo Dah

While celebrating my 20th wedding anniversary at Walt Disney World a couple of weeks ago, I had occasion to think about racist content in family movies.

No, no–hold on, bear with me. I was having a great time and was fully immersed in the magical world of Disney like I was supposed to, but I ran across an interesting paradox that got me thinking. You see, over the years, Disney has retired some rides because their source material was deemed too obscure (bye bye Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride), and even some that didn’t seem all that obscure got the axe to make way for attractions based on the latest releases (bye bye 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea).

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Given this policy, the enduring popularity of Splash Mountain at the Magic Kingdom is something to marvel at, since the ride is based on perhaps the most obscure work in the entire Disney canon, Song of the South. Weirder still, Splash Mountain debuted in 1989, a few years after its source material Song of the South was decommissioned and mothballed. It would have been easier to just forget Song of the South ever existed–but there’s something about this film that is not so easily forgotten.

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Which dreamed it?

Alice was a real person.  Her name was Alice Lidell, and the Alice in Wonderland stories are littered with genuine biographical details.  Lewis Carroll, however, was not a real person—that was just a pen name for Charles Dodgson, a complicated genius.  Dodgson was trained as a clergyman but was never ordained; he taught mathematics but resisted the most interesting mathematical discoveries of his era; he was a logician who turned his paradoxes and logic puzzles into children’s stories and absurdist poems.  He told Alice these fantastical tales as a way of entertaining her, and on her insistence he composed them into book form, a single private copy he gave to her in 1864.  Upon further prodding he expanded the text into the form we know it today, and published it for all to enjoy.  The final binding of Alice in Wonderland in 1897 combined Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland with its sequel Through The Looking-Glass.  By that point, the thing had evolved into a ripe tangle of puns and non-sequiters, parodies of other children’s literature, Lidell-family in-jokes, and ridiculous situations.

During her travels, Alice is told that she is merely a figment of someone else’s dream.  It’s a wild and wonderful idea, equal measures disturbing and intriguing, that may be a bit outré for a children’s book.   In a way, it was true: Alice was merely “a sort of a thing” in someone else’s dream, and as such she could continue her adventures indefinitely, rummaging around the unconscious minds of generations of artists to come.

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The secret genius of Preston Blair

There are certain names that have gone in history as legends of animation: Walt Disney, of course, Max Fleischer, Winsor McKay, Tex Avery, Chuck Jones, John Hubley… but amongst their ranks there is an artist whose visionary talents graced some of the most important, influential, and beloved classics of animation but whose name did not pass on to posterity. A man who personally crafted some of the most memorable and beautiful moments of some of the most critically acclaimed animated features, while also being responsible foe some of the nuttiest moments of cartoon comedy.  His creations are thrilling, hilarious, sexy, and beautiful–sometimes all at once. 

This, then, is a tribute to the secret genius of Preston Blair.

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Whozzat? you say?  Well, gather round, and hear my tale.

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Children of Fantasia

On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, I had the privilege and pleasure of attending a rare screening of a more-or-less unique version of Walt Disney’s Fantasia.  The venue was the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Riccardo Muti and the conducting of Ludwig Wicki, performing live to a screening of selections from both Fantasia  and  Fantasia 2000.

It was, in a way, a realization of Disney’s original ambition back in 1940.  He had cooked up the idea that Fantasia would remain in a state of perpetual flux, with musical selections being rotated out and in continually.  One such alternate selection was prepared, but not used, or at least not used for its originally intended purpose, and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s version of Fantasia presented this scene, re-integrated in amongst Mickey the wanna-be Sorceror and the dancing alligators.

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The HorrorDads 2012 Halloween Triple Dip Shockapalooza!

Halloween is fast approaching … where did October go? Well, no time for rhetorical questions, it’s time to get our spook on. With that in mind, I have scrambled the HorrorDads and tasked each to provide us with his idea of an ultimate Halloween triple bill. To impose a sense of order on what might have turned into a maelstrom of free association, I further asked that the three features follow these stipulations:

  1. Choose a “matinee” geared toward the kids.
  2. Follow this with something seasonably appropriate, something classic.
  3. End your evening of chills with something pitched at the horror lifers, the true believers. No punches pulled, no quarter given, fangs bared. [...MORE]

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