Animation &Books 30 Jun 2006 07:33 am


Grendel, the opera, directed and adapted by Julie Taymor from John Gardner‘s novel recently opened in San Francisco to good reviews. There’s an excellent review on the site The Lemmings Were Here, and there’s another by animation composer, Ross Care, at Music From The Movies. (You’ll remember Ross’ commentary on the Bambi dvd.)

The opera is set to open July 11th at Lincoln Center as part of its Lincoln Center Festival.
(Click on any image to enlarge.)

For those long-hearted animation afficionados, you’ll remember that there was an animated feature based on this same book. Grendel Grendel Grendel was an Australian film directed by Alexander Stitt. Stitt was a commercial director/producer down under. He put all his chips into this film and gave it a dynamic style. As a matter of fact, his house style seemed to be limited animation without outlines on his characters. Unfortunately, the script and the direction was bland, and the dynamic book died as a film. It also wasn’t distributed widely, nor was it marketed well.

At the bottom of this page, I’ve included a saved copy of the NYDaily News review, in case you’re interested.
I have some interest in this opera and animated film because of my connection to the book.

Back in 1976, when I’d first started working at Raggedy Ann & Andy, I was thoroughly grabbed by the book and felt that it would make a wonderful animated feature. I did the unconscionable move of the innocent; I wrote to the author, John Gardner, c/o his publisher. I told him that we could make a great film and would somehow raise the money. It wasn’t the greatest concern. (I said I was innocent.)

Believe it or not, John Garder wrote back and said he was interested. The fact that I’d worked on one of his favorite animated shorts, Cockaboody, gave him a bit more interest in me. We eventually hooked up, and he gave me a couple of stories to tell just with that first evening when we met at his home in Bennington, Vermont. It was a real trial of an evening which ended with an all night bout of martini drinking and conversation.

I ended up with the rights to the book, and John Gardner, himself, would write the screenplay. The problem was that I was that innocence I spoke of. A real neophyte, I didn’t raise the money, and the project stagnated in my hands.
I came close when an executive at United Artists was sold on it, and wanted to go. She was a real mover in the company and had clout. Unfortunately, UA collapsed in scandal, and MGM bought the company outright eliminating all execs, including my contact. I came close in selling it to Cinema V, who had just had a good hit in Terry Gilliam’s Jabberwocky.

I have no doubt that I would be able to sell it today if I went out with the materials I had in hand and that selling point, John Gardner’s name. I’d also found a couple of celebrities who were willing to connect to it – including Paul McCartney. But it wasn’t to happen.

Gardner had a hard divorce, came down with cancer (which he overcame), and owed a lot of back taxes. He had to sell the project to an Australian filmmaker who offered cash. My last ditch effort before he sold it was to call Roger Corman. Corman took my call (the magic of John Gardner’s name) and tried to think how we could raise, at least, the $25,000 to secure the rights. He asked me to give him a week. At the end of the week, Corman decided to let it go, and I had to surrender.

I did get invited to the Alexander Stitt film when it played in NYC. It only stayed at that one theater for a couple of weeks, then it too disappeared. But I got an interesting lesson in life. I also have some incredible memories of John Gardner; I illustrated a couple of his books.

I look forward to Julie Taymor’s opera.

3 Responses to “Grendel”

  1. on 01 Nov 2009 at 9:16 pm 1.John said …

    I see this is a rather old post. But what the heck, I’m going to comment anyway.

    I adore this film. I admit, the design and color are a big part of it. Yet I do think Stitt handled the material well. It has humor and grace, charming animation and tells a story while making the point of the source material.

    I have a terrible old vhs copy and have been hoping to see it appear of dvd. This will probably not happen but, here’s hoping…

  2. on 17 Oct 2010 at 3:33 am 2.Paddy Stitt said …

    It’s interesting what turns up on one’s computer on a springtime Sunday afternoon.

    I just happened on this site while I was looking for something else for a book about the fifty-year career of my partner in life and work, Alex Stitt, who is alive and well and working — more in graphic design than in animation, though we do still have an animated community service spot on air for a referral service for adults with literacy problems.

    We had no idea that any other claim had ever been made on John Gardner’s book before it was bought by Phillip Adams, who produced ‘Grendel, Grendel, Grendel’.

    The film has its fans (thanks, John!) and its detractors (can’t win ‘em all, Michael).

    GGG is in the national film archive here in Australia but the only DVD copy we know of was made from the same terrible old VHS that John has, and so do we. We also have a copy on two ancient Umatic cassettes, but know of no machines to play them.

  3. on 17 Oct 2010 at 10:11 am 3.Michael said …

    Paddy, thanks for checking in and letting us know what Alex has been up to all these years later. On the basis only of Grendel Grendel Grendel, it can’t be denied that he is an extraordinary designer, and I would love to see other work by him. Perhaps a Google search is in order.

    I will write more about this film, since I think it’s been unfairly neglected. It had an extraordinary sense of design, and should have reaped greater grosses. Perhaps if it had been released today it might do.

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