Saturday, June 25, 2005

Gumby Show at AMMI on until January 2006

My son and I journeyed south to Astoria yesterday to spend the day with Gumby at the American Museum of the Moving Image. I worked there for about five minutes in the mid-80s, ok a bit longer, but it was during the period of rapid change when I hopped jobs and apartments frequently, that is to say, I was a young, unattached, restless New Yorker.

I still have a friend working at AMMI and it was great fun to visit him and see some of the inner workings of the museum. But the Gumby exhibit was the main attraction. My son, a committed filmmaker, liked the Gumby claymation demo well enough, but adored the 2D animation station, where the two of us sat side by side for hours making 100-frame animations with the provided cut-outs, then watching them. We saw a bunch of Gumby episodes, but my favorite piece from the Art Clokey oeuvre was a short called "Mandala" from 1964, an Eastern-influenced eruption of plasticity that will make you wish for a studio full of clay and an animation stand. That's what Art had in the 1100-sq. ft. basement where he shot Mandala, and his whole family worked on it. Gumby was something of a family effort as well—many of the plot lines came from stories Art made up to read to his children at night. (Even the shape of Gumby's head was family-inspired, but I won't give that one away if you don't already know; go see the show and find out the source of the adorable bump). We may safely add the Clokey family to the collection of creative spirit guides that inspire our playwork around this house.

Anyway, if you can get to museum, look for "Mandala" and "Gumbasia," Clokey's less commercial works, as well as lots of Gumby episodes, going back to the 50s.

When we finally tore ourselves away from Clokey and Pokey there was plenty else to wonder at, from a moving sculpture by Gregory Barsamian that takes advantage of persistence of vision to the special effects section, where my son took to a documentary about the mixing of archival and original footage in Forrest Gump. At the gift shop, he picked out a director's slate, which he has already started putting to productive use. For my husband, who bears a striking resemblance to the little green fellow, especially when he's smiling, we got a Gumby t-shirt. While animating we had missed the program of silent shorts in King Tut's Movie Palace, but given the choice between spectating and creating, what could we do? The day flew by; we hated to leave, but time was edging toward the last bus departure from Port Authority.

And we hadn't even had time to contemplate seeing the Comix Ex Machina show at the nearby Flux Factory!

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Beatrix Potter: Artist, Storyteller & Countrywoman

1993, Produced and directed by Cari Best, Paul Gagne and Judy Taylor
55 min., documentary
All ages

This documentary about the life of Beatrix Potter, the brilliant writer/artist behind Peter Rabbit, Mrs. Tittlemouse, Squirrel Nutkin and a dozen other memorable animal characters, gives a great sense of how she became such a fine observer of animals, the role solitude played in her creative development, and the means by which her work was introduced to a wide audience that continues to grow. Includes archival photographs and drawings. Late in life Potter bought land in the Lake District of England and became a conservationist, leaving 4,000 acres to the National Trust when she died. A must-see and a great accompaniment to the Royal Ballet's Tales of Beatrix Potter.

The Tales of Beatrix Potter

1971. Reginald Mills
90 minutes
All ages

The pull quote on the DVD cover says "delightful" and there really is no better word for this series of dances by members of England's Royal Ballet, featuring Beatrix Potter's animal characters, from Miss Tiggywinkle to Jeremy Fisher. The sets, costumes and masks and choreography awe and enchant; the dancing is fine and the slow pace and quiet moments are welcome (especially in contrast to what we watched afterwards, Looney Toons Back in Action—an unremitting assault on the senses; sorry to be square but within a few years I think we'll be diagnosing a lot of five-year-olds with tinnitus).