Commentary &Hubley &Independent Animation &John Canemaker 12 Oct 2011 06:51 am

A Hubley Affair

– The AMPAS program celebrating the early work of John Hubley went off wonderfully on Monday evening. The show started at 7pm, but prior to it there was a cocktail party for about 50 people. I have no idea who was invited to this, but it seemed to be Academy members who might have know the Hubleys as well as friends of the Hubley family. All four of the Hubley children were there including: Emily, her husband, Will Rosenthal, and their son, Max; Georgia and husband, Ira Kaplan (both part of the group Yo Lo Tengo); Ray Hubley, and Mark Hubley.

Also there, were Tissa David, Ed Smith, Candy Kugel, George Griffin, Vinnie Cafarelli, Lee Corey, Ruth Mane, John Canemaker (of course) with Joe Kennedy and others I probably have forgotten. Patrick Harrison and John Fahr ran and hosted the event for the Academy.

At the program I saw: Ray Kosarin, Linda Beck, Stephen MacQuignon, Richard O’Connor, Bill Plympton, and a hundred others that I recognized. The house was full.

As we entered the theater, prior to the start of the show, the soundtrack to Finian’s Rainbow was playing. Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Ella Logan and Barry Fitzgerald.

The actual program began as all Academy events do, exactly on time. Patrick Harrison spoke for two minutes promising that next month the event would be a retrospective of the work of Saul Bass done in conjunction with MOMA. He then introduced John Canemaker, and we were off and running.

John started with a PowerPoint presentation that showed the child, John Hubley, his surly uncle who became the model for Mr. Magoo; we saw some childhood drawings as well as a number of strong influences including classmate, Alvin Lustig, who designed the UPA logo. These were followed by some of the artwork Hubley did for Disney, which included a lot of Layouts and preliminary Background sketches. We saw art done during the War as well as preliminary art for many of the UPA films. John Canemaker featured a lot of Hubley in-house cartoon drawings peppered throughout the presentation.

This talk ultimately led to screening the movies.

Unfortunately, it started with the only 16mm print, a soft-focus soft color print of Brotherhood of Man. Somewhere a good print of this film exists, and I don’t know when it’ll be found – hopefully in my lifetime. It’s such an enormously powerful film, designed in a style which was borrowed from Saul Steinberg‘s work at the time.

Flat Hatting followed with a beautiful 35mm print. This is a brilliantly directed film showing how much good can be done with limited animation. It never felt limited, nor does it feel like an educational film for pilots. It’s very entertaining and drew a lot of laughs. Hubley had spent years directing mediocre films under Frank Tashlin at Columbia and a number of films for the military. This film shows how much he had learned as a director in such a short time.

The Magic Fluke is probably the best of the Fox and Crow series. This film has a great sense of design featuring that famous background by Jules Engel of the concert hall. I’m not sure Hubley was best cast as the director of a lightning quick comedy cartoon, but, for the most part, it works well. The print, again, was sterling.

Following this was a beautiful print of Ragtime Bear, the first Magoo cartoon. I hadn’t remembered how fluid the animation was; there was some beautiful distortion on Magoo later in the film. My guess is that it was a Pat Mathews scene. The film offers all of Magoo’s traits, but the character design is far away from what Pete Burness ended up directing.

The crème de la creme of the evening: Rooty Toot Toot followed. What a beautiful, big 35mm print. What a stunner of a scene – that great Grim Natwick animation of Nelly Bly – all blue – corkscrewing her hands and arms in the witness chair. Beautiful and funny. This is certainly one of the great films ever created.

An image photographed off the screen

There were a stash of commercials – both West and East coast – from the original Storyboard Prods. I own prints of all screened except for my favorite: a spot for Mennen aftershave. A rectangle of wrinkles around a pair of eyes. Mennen helps the lines smooth out, and the commercial uses abstraction for a very funny commercial. It was the first time I’d seen this commercial. They certainly were creative back then. Hubley repeated the use of abstraction in a number of other, later spots. I’m thinking particularly of one done in the early 70s for AT&T; Tissa David animated.

Beautiful reconstructed prints from MOMA included Adventures of an * and Tender Game. One was more beautiful than the other. Both are great films.

Voyage to Next was represented with a beautiful print, though I have to say, I never really liked this film. I had a lot to do with the making of it, and it really was a challenge and a great learning experience. About a third of the way through the production money ran out, and we had a film to get out with a small but great staff. There was a lot of stylistic improvisation done to try tokeep on a vbery tight budget, while being artful. It was a tough time for the Hubleys, and they stayed true to the film at hand.

Finally, the evening ended with a beautiful animatic called Facade. These were storyboards filmed (with slates) for a William Walton and Edith Sitwell score. John Canemaker actually located and got the rights to a version with Edith Sitwell, herself, actually doing the narration. Miraculously, it all seemed well in sync. This piece was done in 1964 as a sample for PBS., though the film was never completed. A real find for Canemaker straight from the Hubley collection. A film not seen by the public (and it hasn’t made its way into animation history books, either.)

All in all the show was so invigorating that the Academy had a hard time getting rid of us. People stayed and chatted in the lobby. It was a great event.

John and Joe, Heidi and I went out for dinner so we could chat about the program. I had a blast all night; it was one of the finest animation events I’d attended in many years.

Here are pictures I took during the evening.

The Program

2 3

The cocktail party

LtoR: John Canemaker, Georgia Hubley, Emily Hubley, Will Rosenthal

LtoR: unknown, Patrick Harrison, Georgia Hubley, John Canemaker,
unknown in rear, Emily Hubley, Will Rosenthal

LtoR: me, John Canemaker, Patrick Harrison

LtoR: Emily Hubley, George Griffin, Vinnie Cafarelli,
Candy Kugel, John Canemaker

LtoR: Mark Hubley, Candy Kugel, Vinnie Cafarelli

LtoR: Ed Smith, Vinnie Cafarelli

LtoR: Vinnie Cafarelli, Tissa David, Lee Corey, Ed Smith

LtoR: Vinnie Cafarelli, Ruth Mane, Tissa David
Lee Corey (partially hidden), Ed Smith

at table LtoR: Ed Smith, Heidi Stallings, Vinnie Cafarelli,
Ruth Manne, Tissa David
in rear, standing with winde glass: George Griffin w/Jeff Scher and wife, Bonnie.

The three Hubley Oscars for (LtoR): Moonbird,
The Hole, The Tijuana Brass Double Feature.

Audience front row (RtoL):
John Canemaker, Joe Kennedy, my empty seat,
Heidi Stallings, Tissa David, Ruth Mane
2nd Row, over empty seat: Stephen MacQuignon
3rd row (RtoL): Ed Smith, Richard O’Connor

LtoR:Tissa David, Heidi Stallings, Joe Kennedy, John Canemaker

Patrick Harrison giving thanks and introducing John Canemaker.

John Canemaker giving PowerPoint presentation
The following images were photograped during the PowerPoint
presentation or during the films. Consequently, they often soft focus.
With apologies.
A very young John Hubley

An early John Hubley painting

A gag cartoon from Hubley. Self portrait in straight-jacket.

Rooty Toot Toot

Images from Facade follow:

The animatic was done in 1964.

Stylistically it feels like:
Moonbird, The Hole and The Hat crushed into one.

Beautiful B&W oil paintings

Very much like Moonbird

The Hat for this animated duck-like character


Toward the end of the film there was one extremely long vertical pan.
It was an oil painting done by John, beautiful in its simplicity, perfectly
planned to fill a good 45 secs to a minute of screen time and yet it
was so compositionally correct and glosiously layed out.

All I can say is that I am so pleased to have had the opportunity to have
worked with John & Faith Hubley; it was all that it could have been and more.
One of the high spots of my life.

14 Responses to “A Hubley Affair”

  1. on 12 Oct 2011 at 7:41 am 1.Andriana Ruzic said …

    Great report, thank you, Michael. It’s so exciting to discover the existance of 8 min Facade! And it is also almost impossible to imagine the face of forever young John Hubley, present on this event, next to Tissa David, for example, still alive and kicking, thank God, along with Ed Smith and other veterans.

  2. on 12 Oct 2011 at 8:15 am 2.Mark Mayerson said …

    Thanks for the report. I’m sorry that I couldn’t be there, but you’ve at least given me a flavor of what I missed.

  3. on 12 Oct 2011 at 8:49 am 3.Stephen Macquignon said …

    I’m still thinking about the show

  4. on 12 Oct 2011 at 9:00 am 4.Ray Kosarin said …

    It was a terrific event. John and Faith’s work is so splendid and important and, though long recognized as such by the film, art, and animation world, scandalously undervalued in the quality of attention paid to it. Scholarship has been limited and often paid better attention to the Hubleys’ rebellion from conventional animation than the films themselves, and videos have too often been from middling and faded prints. The beautiful restorations of ADVENTURES OF * and TENDER GAME are a cause for celebration, as is the AMPAS event. Let us hope it leads to others like it.

    Kudos to panelists Michael and Emily, those Hubleys offstage (Mark, Ray, Georgia, and any others) who helped with who Patrick Harrison and John Fahr for arranging this important and excellent event, and to John Canemaker, whose opening presentation was top-notch and a special treat. John’s unearthed a treasure trove of new and exciting material, photos, artwork and stories, turned it into a smart and fascinating talk, and presented it with flair. (Note to film and art curators, university department heads and directors of film series: drop what you’re doing, check your calendar and book this talk! It’s that good.)

  5. on 12 Oct 2011 at 9:32 am 5.Mike Rauch said …

    Looks like a great event, Michael. Thanks for sharing this. Wish I could have been there!

  6. on 12 Oct 2011 at 11:34 am 6.Milton Gray said …

    Is there any chance of a DVD release of these films with better transfers than the faded prints of the previous DVD? I was especially excited to read of the restoration of The Tender Game — I would buy a DVD just for a good color copy of that alone!

  7. on 12 Oct 2011 at 11:47 am 7.Milton Gray said …

    You mentioned wishing for a good print of Brotherhood of Man. Years ago I met Scott McQueen, who at that time was in charge of film restoration at Disneys, and he mentioned that, as a personal interest, he had made a carefully color corrected film restoration of Brotherhood of Man. I don’t know where he is these days, but if you can find him, he should know where to find that restoration.

  8. on 12 Oct 2011 at 12:04 pm 8.Tom Sito said …

    What a wonderful show. I wish I was there. God Bless Tissa! In 1976 as a 21 year old, I thought she was up there in years! She is indestructible. I still use a few of her maxims in my class that she taught us during those training sessions on Raggedy Ann. That “at first, everyone animates themselves.” Emily and Candy look great too. Thanks for the report, Mike.

    p.s.- Yer too skinny! Eat some lasagna!

  9. on 12 Oct 2011 at 12:06 pm 9.Jeaux Janovsky said …

    Great read Michael! Thanks!

  10. on 12 Oct 2011 at 4:09 pm 10.Michael said …

    Milt, the two prints: Adventures of an * and Tender Game belong to the MOMA. They paid for the 35mm restoration. I don’t think they have any plans to copy them to DVD. If I learn of anything, I’ll let you know.

    I agree. I don’t think there are any good copies on VHS or DVD of any of the Hubley films, and it’s a real crime.

  11. on 12 Oct 2011 at 7:04 pm 11.Dan Haskett said …

    Well, Mike…you just transported my heart from LA to NY. Again. What a terrific evening! Please give my best to Tissa, John and Emily. And I’ll join the chorus of expatriate New Yorkers; I wish I had been there.

  12. on 12 Oct 2011 at 11:06 pm 12.DEBRA SOLOMON said …

    The Hubley screening was truely an amazing event on so many levels. John Canemakers opening remarks brought the Hubley films into a hitorical persective for me. But what really became clear is that everything the Hubley’s worked on
    was art with a capital A – even in the commercials, the products were all in service to his art…Banks, Ford and the US Airforce were just vehicals for his tremendous wit and brillant visualiztions of a lighthearted world where everything bops around to a beat that that is nothing short of joyous. The brushwork the shapes and textures are candy we rarely get to feast on now… and wow those prints… made the films look like they were created last week … this was a evening no one who loves animation shoulda missed!!!

  13. on 13 Oct 2011 at 6:52 am 13.LindaBeck said …

    Thanks for preserving the evening with this terrific write up, Michael. I agree with Deb, in that this was an evening not to be missed and was so pleased to be there.

  14. on 14 Oct 2011 at 5:49 pm 14.Janet Benn said …

    Michael, you said it best when you said it was so nice to see so many beautiful hand made works up on screen. John and Faith were a big part of my life – they changed my view of the world of animation and taught me that art can be animated and can be used to communicate so much more than words. I’ve seen the Hubley kids grow from teenagers to adults who have kids in college now, and I’m proud to have Emily as a close friend. The Hubley Studio was a great place to work – we’d watch films at lunch and share the experience of seeing the latest “Letterman” or whatever had been finished lately. John didn’t talk much at work to us, anyway, but he gave me a chance to contribute to his work beyond my job at ink-and-paint, and he gave me my first martini (which I could not finish!). A warm and generous soul.

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