Friday Flotsam: Disney, Kafka, and Lovecraft

1. The Wisdom of Walt Disney re-release went off with very few hitches. There was a close call where I thought none of the updates (including the discount) would be available by the release date, since, at least as far as I can tell, Amazon doesn’t provide the ability to precisely control when the book will be available, whether in kindle or paperback form. If I could schedule it ahead of time, so that the approval process could be dealt with separately from the release, that would be one thing, but I haven’t been able to find a way to do that (anyone knows better than I do, I’d appreciate the info).

In case you missed the announcement, my book The Wisdom of Walt Disney is now available in paperback, and both the paperback and Kindle versions are being sold at a reduced price through Wednesday the 2nd. Get ’em while they’re hot!

2. Anyway, looking over it for the editing process I was actually more pleased than I expected. Re-reading what one has written years ago is often a dicey, cringe-inducing experience, but the book held up better than I thought it would. I even teared up in a few places (though that’s much more on account of remembering the films in question than because of my own work. But still, I’ll take it).

I still think the line-up of films discussed is about the best I could have made it. You definitely need the ‘big four’ of Snow White, Pinocchio, Fantasia, and Bambi (Dumbo, I thought and still think, is too light and unambitious to really demand a discussion). Then you need to talk about Song of the South, both as the transitional film to live action and because it’s something of an elephant in the room (and frankly deserves more attention), and Treasure Island for being the first full live-action film. Cinderella revived the animation department, of course. Then 20,000 Leagues was really the moment they emerged as a fully-fledged major film studio: a mature, big-budget science-fiction film with a big-name cast. Old Yeller of course is one of their more iconic live-action films, Sleeping Beauty was Walt’s last fairy tale and one of their more ambitious animated films, and Mary Poppins is…well, Mary Poppins.

I think Swiss Family Robinson is the only debatable case. Not because there’s anything wrong with it, but simply because there’s not as much reason to include it as opposed to one of the other major films of the time. I chose it because it was a staple in our house growing up and so I was fairly familiar with it, and because I thought it had some interesting ideas to talk about.

3. Looking back, if I were to pick one more film that I would have liked to discuss, it would probably have been Alice in Wonderland. Partly because there’s a good deal of meat there, but largely because that was long regarded as Walt’s greatest failure. It flopped when it came out and Uncle Walt was loathe to talk about it afterwards. From what I can gather, my guess is that that’s partly because Alice was special to him and he’d really wanted to get it right. The Alice shorts were, after all, one of the first major projects he was involved in as a producer, and they were discussing an adaptation for a long time (there’s a copy of the book in the opening to Pinocchio, for instance). So for it to be poorly received, I think, probably hurt him a lot. In retrospect, I would have liked to have included Alice as a kind of retroactive assertion that it wasn’t a failure after all (not that my word is necessary at this point, of course).

4. Read The Metamorphosis for the first time this week. It’s a very sad, very strange story, but I would highly recommend it. It’s evident why it became a classic, and not just because of its weird premise.

Basically, it’s a story of a man who abruptly becomes an invalid and the burden it places on his family. Only, perhaps to prevent it’s becoming too sappy or maybe just to drive the point home, his condition is that he’s inexplicably transformed into a giant cockroach.

It’s very much of the same tone of most other early-twentieth century European ‘alienated working man’ stories that I’ve read, of which a little goes a long way, but it’s impactful nonetheless. There are lots of intimate details about Gregor Samsa’s new existence lending just the right sense of repulsive pity, and the whole thing drives along to its inevitable conclusion with ever-increasing weight. Definitely a story that sticks with you.

5. Also read Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness for the first time. I have to say that I think he may have pulled the curtain back a little too far with that one, revealing too much of his mythos. But even then he shows his mastery: we learn about the Old Ones and their civilization, their relationship to some of the other denizens of the Lovecraft world, all a little more than I would have liked (and somewhat unbelievable for a day’s worth of study of ancient murals). But then he layers on something further: there is another range of mountains, even higher some few hundred miles away, and these were so terrible than the Old Ones shunned and feared whatever is hidden there.

If you must pull back your curtain, at least make sure that the revelation includes another curtain.

6. The Old Ones also turn out to be one of the more benign entities of Lovecraft’s fiction (and since one of the first things they do is to dissect a few expedition members, that’s saying something). They at least had social structures, cities, and artistic skills, as well as scientific curiosity. There’s a bit where the narrator even expresses his sympathy for them and the cruel cosmic joke that was played on them, not blaming them for their violence against the camp but evincing understanding for their situation.

“Radiates, vegetables, monstrosities, star spawn—whatever they had been, they were men!”

7. To show where my mind was this week: we had another corporate training session (where we, a support team of all roughly the same expertise where pretty much everyone works on different projects, learn best practices for a small team of diverse specialists working on a single project. Don’t ask).

Instructional video: “Humans do not multitask well.”
My brain: “Acquire a shoggoth. Got it.”

They multitask very well!

8. By the way, the internet is a big place, but it occurs to me that I suspect there are very few other sites where you’re likely to encounter this particular heading.

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