The Unknown Artist that Everyone Loves

Despite it’s tragic ending, most of us of a certain age remember with great fondness the Disney film Bambi.

Originally released in 1942, it’s considered one of the finest examples of animation from the 20th century.

bambi_tyrus_wongYet the artist responsible for the backgrounds, the atmosphere, the ‘look and feel’ of the film is still largely unknown. Tyrus Wong, 104, died Friday Dec. 30th, yet another remarkable artist to pass on in 2016. You’ve probably never heard of him, however, due to the lack of acclaim offered to Chinese Americans of his generation.

Wong worked as a staff artist in Hollywood beginning in the 1930s. He created storyboards and concept art for both animated and live-action films, many of which are  beautiful paintings in their own right.


Born in China in 1910 he arrived at Angel Island at age 9 and was promptly detained under the Chinese Exclusion Act. Eventually he was aloud to join his father. It took until 2001 until Wong received  recognition for his remarkable work.

Fortunately for him, and us, he lived a long and creative life.

Read more about Tyrus Wong, here:


Law of the Jungle

I saw Disney’s new Jungle Book film, and it’s a magnificent experience – a beautiful, heart-wringing adventure. As one of the millions of kids who were a captive audience for the 1967 animated version, I watched it in rapt delight and breathless anticipation.

I’m more of an experiential viewer than a critic; thus I fell in love with Bagheera’s green eyes and cultured voice (Ben Kingsley.) Bill Murray as Baloo the bear was inspired. The lushly detailed environments, plants and animals is a feast for the eyes. But the story the crisis that Mowgli the man-cub brings to his jungle community is bittersweet.

Mowgli is raised by the wolf pack and mentored by Bagheera. They consider the boy one of their own. Shear Kan, the menacing Bengal tiger, claims that man is the most dangerous beast of all, and insists that the man-cub must leave, and later, die. The community erupts in debate, and Mowgli, unwilling to be the cause of such strife, agrees to leave.

For all the lush beauty of this film, with it’s depiction of vibrant life, knowing it’s all created with CGI leaves me with a hollow ache. The ‘jungle’ world that Kipling wrote of in 1894 no longer exists today, except in scraps of parkland.  So Shear Kan made a valid point: humans will bring the end of life as they know it.

Please, go enjoy the movie. It’s lovely. But then take some small action to help the creatures in the film.

To learn more about the state of the ‘jungle’ today, visit one of these organizations.

Global Tiger Initiative

Wildlife Conservation Society

World Wildlife Society



Anti-Heros: Where are all the Women?

reblogged from Writer Unboxed

I love me a great anti-hero, from Batman to V for Vendetta to the evil yet delicious Frank Underwood. So I enjoyed this blog and loved it’s important question: Where ARE the women? (I suppose Claire Underwood could earn the title in her own right, but the show really is about Frank. See ‘sidekick’ in the discussion of key features of a great anti-hero, below). Tell me about your anti-hero loves (or hates!), and tell me why we don’t see more women in these roles.

Anti-Heroes: Why Devious is so Delectable,
and Where are all the Women?

I don’t watch much TV. In fact, I binge on one show per year on Netflix, maybe two if it’s a good year in television, but that’s about it. (There are just too many good books to read.) But recently I’ve become addicted to the political thriller House of Cards and the indomitable Frank Underwood. With each episode, I find myself absolutely gripped—both fascinated and horrified by this character. I wait with bated breath for his next brilliant comment, his crocodile smile, and the twist of his knife in someone’s back. Another superb detail I adore is that Frank is from a small town in Georgia, so his lilting accent and charm almost make you believe he’s a gentleman. Almost.

Frank Underwood got me to thinking. What’s so great about him? He is egotistical, driven, conniving, adulterous—even murderous, yet he’s an amazing orator, a statesman with manipulative skills that are unparalleled, and above all, powerful. Also? He loves his wife. Though his needs are often first and foremost, he truly loves his wife and it shows. Frank isn’t the only anti-hero…

read more at the original post

Holiday Blues and a White Christmas

I love the movie, and the song,  White Christmas  beyond all reason. The film stars Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, Danny Kay and Vera Ellen,and I think I watched it with my grandfather every year, curled by the fire.We laughed and sang the songs together,  and  knew many of the lines.

trainWCThe movie is ridiculous. (go watch it, NOW) Crosby and Kaye are terrible cross-dressers. Vera-Ellen needs to eat something. Who bursts into song on the train? And how on earth does that rustic little inn have the soundstage for those dance numbers?

None of this matters. Somehow, this confection, conceived in sunny Hollywood with a hit song written by a Jew manages to evoke the most perfect nostalgia and longing for the perfect Christmas that never was.

I’m home snuffling with a cold/flu thing, looking at my one string of lights and missing all my bygone family, who would be getting on my nerves if they were here, and feeling all these pangs of longing for home. Of course, it’s been a big year for me,  moving  beyond the householder’s life and embracing a new simplicity. With it comes freedom and a lightness. Out goes the tree and the three boxes of ornaments.

I heard composer Rob Kapilow describing what makes the song so great, on the Kojo Nnamdi show the other day. It was a hoot to hear Nnamdi say “I grew up in Guyana and never knew what snow was, and this song still gets to me. Thank you for explaining why.”

Rob Kapilow is known for his talks and performances of “What Makes it Great?” which is now also a book. He’s brilliantly enthusiastic about music, and believes that everybody loves music, given a chance to really listen and understand it. In this video he attempts to explain the genius in Irving Berlin’s song. “You can just feel the pang of memory!”

The love for this film, and song, lives on. The song is covered again and again but it will always belong to Crosby. The film gets trotted out every year, shared with new generations. It’s in the mash-up culture: here’s Vera Ellen dancing, brilliantly,  to Run DMC:

Watch the original 50’s jazz music version

Review of Tinker,Tailor,Soldier, Spy

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy , the latest film from Swedish director Tomas Alfredson of Let the Right One In, is a carefully detailed slowly tightening trap of a tale, wreathed in cold-war gloom. I’ll recommend it if you like films which demand close attention, and if you have an interest in the machinations of government and an appreciation of fine British actors, then it’s a must-see.

My first surprise, being largely ignorant of the book or previous series, was that the story unfolds in 1973.  That’s the year I graduated high school, when the world felt fresh and exciting. I’m often shocked at what the 70’s look like after nearly 40 years; there is not a whiff of  ‘fresh’ and ‘exciting’ here, unless you count the pitch-perfect de-romanticization of the spy thriller.

Benedict Cumberbatch as Peter Guilliam

It’s a story that seethes with distrust, and so, much of the action is watching and being watched. Certainly not a thriller in the big box office way, the film is none-the-less riveting for it’s subtle and relentless unfolding. Gary Oldman is spell-bindingly inseperable from his character, George Smiley. He appears to do nothing. I’ve never seen so many talented poker-faces in one film. Mark Strong shape-shifts from agent to tourist to teacher. Firth is the charmer among his creepy colleagues played by Ciaran Hinds, Toby Jones and David Dencik. Tom Hardy’s sexy dishevelment and Benedict Cumberbatch as the earnest Peter Guillam add a bit of refreshment.

I always love London the city-as-character, but this version is so grim as to be barely recognizable. Think of how distinct the city performs in Sweeney Todd,  or Mary Poppins, or Love Actually. Well, here’s another one:  here the city is both antique and coldly new, with slabs of  ominous orange and gray office decor, creepy technology, and a hangover of victorian charm that might feel warm if not viewed through smudged windows or a sticky haze of cigarette smoke.

Framing of shots is intelligent and careful: so many scenes are viewed through layers, like windows that grid the world or constrict like portholes. Doors and entryways seem to tighten around you, heightening the sense of danger. Even the  scenes on location in Budapest and Istanbul are carefully composed evoking the suffocating nature of the spy’s world. Thank god for Smiley’s new glasses; without them, it would have been difficult to keep track of flashbacks.

I’d love to hear from fans of the novels of LeCarré and 1979 series: how did this compare? Since the book and series were presenting a contemporary situation, how is it different to see it as history? Please share your thoughts!