(pictures via John Canemaker's site)
John Canemaker presents “Winsor McCay, his Life and Art” at this year’s Annecy Animation Festival
Imagine Winsor McCay’s first four films on a giant screen with live musical accompaniment (festival director Serge Bromberg on the grand piano) and background information provided by one of animation’s most accomplished historians.
John Canemaker’s highly informative and well-prepared lecture was illustrated by examples of McCay’s graphic and motion picture work on the big screen. On the basis of McCay’s first four (partly) animated films, Canemaker managed to explain not only McCay’s groundbreaking evolution in the field of animation but also how his showman skills were important to his success. In reference to the cartoonist’s extraordinary draftsmanship – he usually drew from top to bottom with almost no sketching even on poster sized pictures – Canemaker compared him Leonardo DaVinci.
With perfectly timed comments during the screenings of Little Nemo (1911), How a mosquito operates (1912) and Gertie the dinosaur (1914) the historian revealed interesting background information while helping a contemporary audience to fully appreciate and enjoy the gags and allusions. The presentation included McCay’s clearly staged live-action efforts to emphasize that he was the creator of what is on the screen. Canemaker pointed to the sense of weight McCay put into his early films decades ahead of Walt Disney. When Gertie empties the sea, for example, her body is not inflated but the ground starts giving way to the increasingly heavier dinosaur.
If you ever thought that Gertie was nothing more than a lengthy exercise of mere historical value, you should see John Canemaker presenting it the way it was intended: as a vaudeville act. Although he also showed the live-action intro that was made for “standard” theatrical exhibition, he then proceeded to take on the role of Winsor McCay and started telling Gertie to do some tricks. Whenever she didn’t follow his commands he called on the audience (almost 1000 people that afternoon) to encourage Gertie to be obedient. Suddenly strange looking parts such as back and forth loops or endless repetitions became understandable as either dancing or refusing to lift a foot on orders, for example.
While most experiments in character animation (squash and stretch in Nemo, weight and re-use of drawings in Mosquito) were applied expertly to Gertie, the background still had to be traced frame by frame. So Canemaker ended his presentation with a short introduction to McCay’s first cel animation The Sinking of the Lusitania (1918) which was then projected accompanied only by Serge Bromberg’s sensitive piano playing to bring out the sheer beauty of the film.
John Canemaker achieved the feat of transporting the audience back to the 1910s and opening their eyes for an unfamiliar experience of familiar movies. No wonder John was brought out “for an unprecedented curtain call at the end of his presentation.”
(Wow -- wouldn't it be great to get Canemaker over here in West Michigan??? McCay Day '09... or the Muskegon Film Festival... or the Kalamazoo Animation Festival... Hmmmmm...)