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The Pomegranate Architect

January 29, 2015 | by

Becoming the world’s only accidental architect.

Ray Bradbury

From the cover of Sam Weller’s Ray Bradbury: The Last Interview and Other Conversations.

I first met Ray Bradbury while writing a feature story for the Chicago Tribune magazine in 2000, the year he turned eighty, and we quickly bonded over our shared childhood experiences (roughly fifty years apart) growing up in northern Illinois, as well as in Southern California. We had a remarkable number of things in common and a similar sense of curiosity and a joie de vivre, and we began to work together closely, as I became his authorized biographer.

For two years, from early 2010 to April 2012, Ray had an essay that he wanted to work on each time we met. It was always one of the first things he mentioned—“Can we work on my architecture essay today?”

Despite the fact that he had written about his work in the field of architecture in his book of essays, Yestermorrow, and I had surveyed his work extensively in my biography, Ray was resolved to get the entirety of his creations in the field of architecture down in one essay. He wanted me to submit it to Architectural Digest. The essay was never completed—it was never quite right, because he always had more memories or thoughts he wanted to add to it. And it was rough, having been dictated over many months. Even on the occasion of his ninetieth birthday, with guests in the house, he called me into his den and asked me to record a new section. And the very last time I saw him, less than two months before he passed, he asked me again to help him finish it. There was something vital about this essay to Ray Bradbury—he wanted, I think, to prove to the world his influence on the field of architecture. Whatever the case, he very much wanted this essay published. It is presented here and in Ray Bradbury: The Last Interview and Other Conversations, in rough form, for the very first time. —Sam Weller

 

How did I become an architect? It was all a happy accident. I suspect it began when I was three years old, living in Waukegan, Illinois, in 1923. My grandfather influenced me by showing me architecture. He had pictures of the 1893 Columbian Exposition, and of the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904. I looked at these pictures through an old stereopticon, a Viewmaster, and I could see all the old, beautiful buildings.

When I was five, my grandfather influenced me yet again. And I think this caused me to go on and to eventually influence other people and to start thinking about public spaces and buildings myself. My grandfather was so important. When I was around five years old, he showed me a copy of the magazine Harper’s Weekly. It was an issue from around 1899, and it contained a story by H. G. Wells called “When the Sleeper Wakes.” The story had marvelous illustrations showing the cities of tomorrow. They were so beautiful. I fell in love with those pictures. They burned into my subconscious. Read More »

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Sweets for the Sweet

February 6, 2014 | by

cookie carnival

A still from “The Cookie Carnival”

I devoutly hope there is an academic somewhere writing a serious essay about the role of anthropomorphic comestibles in Depression-era cartoons. I am no authority, but it seems pretty clear to me that, besides the obvious economic implications, all this humanized food has a great deal to do with gender norms, and attitudes toward food, and probably class, too. Disney’s 1935 Silly Symphony “The Cookie Carnival” would have to be the centerpiece of any such argument.

“The Cookie Carnival” is a Cinderella story that focuses on a sort of proto–Miss America boardwalk parade in which various confections compete for the title of “Cookie Queen.” In describing the plot, I can do no better than Wikipedia, which undertakes the task with commendable thoroughness:

Various sweets and goodies of Cookietown are preparing to crown their new Cookie Queen. A parade of potential candidates passes by, all based on various cakes and sweets. Far from the parade route, on what would appear to be the wrong side of the peppermint stick railroad tracks, a gingerbread drifter overhears an impoverished sugar cookie girl crying. Upon hearing that she cannot enter the parade because she hasn’t any pretty clothes, he hurries to remedy this, concocting a dress of colored frosting and candy hearts. He covers her brown hair with golden taffy ringlets and adds a large violet bow to her dress as a finishing touch. Thus attired, she is entered as the final contestant in the parade: Miss Bonbon. Read More »

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Horror Story

October 25, 2013 | by

“First of all, it was October, a rare month for boys.” So begins Something Wicked This Way Comes, Ray Bradbury’s 1962 tale of a demonic carnival that descends on a Midwestern town. I’ve long loved the 1983 Disney adaptation (which is way scarier than many a grown-up horror movie, and actually nothing like the synth-heavy trailer) but until this fall, had never read the book. When I did, I was intrigued by the dedication: “With love to the memory of GENE KELLY, whose performances influenced and changed my life.” In his afterward, Bradbury explains the unexpected dedication—altered for the second edition—and also relates the anecdote below, in a talk he gave in Pasadena a few years ago.

 

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Chamber of Secrets: The Sorcery of Angela Carter

October 17, 2012 | by

Illustration by Igor Karash

Fairy tales were reviled in the first stirrings of post-war liberation movements as part and parcel of the propaganda that kept women down. The American poet Anne Sexton, in a caustic sequence of poems called Transformations, scathingly evokes the corpselike helplessness of Sleeping Beauty and Snow White, and scorns, with fine irony, the Cinderella dream of bourgeois marriage and living happily ever after: boredom, torment, incest, death to the soul followed. Literary and social theorists joined in the battle against the Disney vision of female virtue (and desirability); Cinderella became a darker villain than her sisters, and for Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, in their landmark study The Madwoman in the Attic, the evil stepmother in “Snow White” at least possesses mobility, will, and power—for which she is loathed and condemned. In the late sixties and early seventies, it wasn’t enough to rebel, and young writers and artists were dreaming of reshaping the world in the image of their desires. Simone de Beauvoir and Betty Friedan had done the work of analysis and exposure, but action—creative energy—was as necessary to build on the demolition site of the traditional values and definitions of gender.

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Those Are Marshmallow Clouds Being Friendly

December 22, 2011 | by

My first shift at the candy store was on the first day of October, my last just before New Year’s, but when I talk about it now, what I say is, “Last Christmas, when I worked at the candy store.”

In the world of candy stores, and this candy store in particular, Christmas is a perpetual condition that just happens to spike at the end of the year. A red-and-green decorating scheme carried throughout the shop—I could not escape it, even when I retreated, as I sometimes did, to the store’s one bathroom, also tinged with red and green, just to shut out the world for a minute or two. On the sales floor, the shelves were heavy with saltwater taffy and boxes of truffles and delightfully analog toys—balsa gliders, pick-up sticks, chunky wooden puzzles. The general effect was that of being buried inside the holiday stocking of a child who’d been very, very good that year—along with the child himself, and a hoard of his less well-mannered friends and their overstressed, oblivious parents.

I took the gig shortly after finding myself laid off from the job I’d had for the last four years as an editor at a music magazine. I felt adrift and thought tending to a candy store, such a bastion of simple pleasures, might anchor me more firmly to the world, and also I thought that money might be a thing I’d might want to have again. But in my vague desperation I had forgotten about humans’ terrific knack for rendering even the most ostensibly pleasant pursuits completely soul crushing, and how that tendency increases as the winter days darken.

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An Adult Returns to ‘Sleeping Beauty’

February 8, 2011 | by

Sleeping Beauty is often cited these days as the ultimate antifeminist tale.

Recently, while visiting my parents, I came across my childhood edition of Sleeping Beauty. As I opened the book again, the decades collapsed: the old illustrations recalled how dire that sleeping palace had appeared to me as a child, how thick its rooms had seemed with dark, ungraspable truths. The story had seemed entirely indecent, and that was precisely why it was so magnetic.

Sleeping Beauty is laced throughout with inchoate threat, which is why it feels so bottomless. Most obviously, there is an outrageous fact that the story passes over and that most children do not consciously note: Beauty is a century older than the prince who kisses her and ends her sleep. When he enters her dusty room she is one hundred and fifteen years old. As the reader bends with him over her inert form, adoration is tinged with something else entirely—the apprehension of death.

Earlier versions of the story, such as Charles Perrault’s (1697), make this explicit: the prince, seeing the newly awoken princess, “took care not to mention that she was dressed like his grandmother.” Later versions—the Grimm brothers’, for example—got rid of such details so as to make the ending more youthfully nuptial. But the fact of Beauty’s age still lurked in the background as a kind of unfamiliar smell; even a child reader has the sense that this apparently straightforward love affair is stalked by impossibility and decay.

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