Animation History
March 10, 2014 posted by Mark Mayerson

“Animation: The Naked Art” by Chuck Jones

Introduction by Mark Mayerson

chuck-jones-184In the summer of 1974, I was visiting Washington D.C. While there, I found the latest issue of the AFI Report, the quarterly publication of the American Film Institute. It was an issue devoted to animation and one of the articles was an essay by Chuck Jones entitled “Animation is a Gift Word.” It was something of a manifesto, declaring that the essence of animation was movement; everything else was merely an addition. At a time when American animation was at low ebb, Jones was calling for animation to return to first principles. The article was inspiring and one that a new generation of animators would take to heart, though it would take more than a decade for the results to appear on screen.

It is only recently that I learned that the article was a condensation of a speech Jones gave to the World Animation Retrospective, held in Montreal in 1967. That year was Canada’s 100th birthday and the country celebrated by hosting Expo ’67 in Montreal. The animation retrospective, curated by Louise Beaudet for the Cinémathèque Québecoise was part of the celebration.

Animation festivals were a relatively new idea at the time. Annecy had started in 1960, but festivals in Zagreb and Hiroshima were still in the future. The Montreal event may have been the first international animation gathering on North American soil. Close to 200 animation professionals attended from North America, Europe and Asia.

The list of attendees can only be described as impressive. The U.S. was represented by people from both coasts: Chuck Jones, Bob Clampett, Ward Kimball, Ub Iwerks, Abe Levitow, Pete Burness, June Foray, Paul Frees, Bill Hurtz, Steven Busustow, Les Goldman, Dave Hilberman, Jimmy Murakami, Milt Gray, Michael Lah, Fred Wolf, Walter Lantz, Bill Littlejohn, Art Babbitt, Bill Tytla, J.R. Bray, Otto Messmer, Pepe Ruiz, Edith Vernick, Shamus Culhane, John Culhane, I. Klein, Ruth Gench, Arnold Gillespie, Grim Natwick, Tissa David, Barrie Nelson, Dave Fleischer, Paul Terry, Mordi Gerstein, Ed Smith, Robert Breer, Richard Rauh, Phil Klein, Al Stahl and Ruth Kneitel.

Canadian attendees included Norman McLaren, Grant Munro, Gerry Potterton, Mike Miller and Ron Tunis.

Europeans included Len Lye, Peter Foldes, Fedor Khitruk, Jean Image, Bretislaw Pojar, John Halas, Bruno Bozzetto, Dusan Vukotic, Zelimir Matko, Ivan Ivanov-Vano and S. Mancian.

A historian present on the site could have written a history of animation just by talking to the attendees. Unfortunately, the event did not generate much in the way of coverage or interviews. It is almost wholly absent from the history books and can only be described as one of animation history’s great missed opportunities.

Dave Fleischer, Paul Terry, John Randolph Bray, Walter Lantz, Bob Clampett (with Cecil puppet), and Otto Messmer. Photo courtesy of Michael Barrier

Dave Fleischer, Paul Terry, John Randolph Bray, Walter Lantz, Bob Clampett (with Cecil puppet), and Otto Messmer. Photo courtesy of Michael Barrier

Jones’ speech was called “Animation: The Naked Art.” In it, he marveled at how much of animation’s foundations had been laid by 1920. The Victor Bergdahl film that he refers to in the preface can be seen on YouTube. The galloping cycles in the film are at least 20 years ahead of their time.

Jones surveyed the field, paying tribute to the pioneers, quoting Mark Twain, arguing for the primacy of motion and finished with a tribute to the recently departed Walt Disney. In addition to acknowledging Disney’s influence on the entire field, Jones related a conversation about Disney’s plans for Cal Arts.

The speech was reprinted in Top Cel, the newsletter of the New York animation union in 1968 and also in early issues of Michael Barrier’s magazine Funnyworld. Neither publication is widely available, but now, forty-seven years after Jones delivered it, it’s here for you to read.

(My thanks to Julienne Boudreau of the Cinémathèque Québecoise, Michael Barrier and Jerry Beck for information that contributed to the above.)



Editor’s Note: I found these ancient thermofax copies of a few pages from Top Cel (Sept. 1967) that contained candid photographs from a cocktail party at the Montreal Expo, with a who’s-who of animation veterans (everyone from Paul Terry and J.R. Bray to UB Iwerks and June Foray). The pictures are a bit hard to see (I restored the images best I could using photoshop – the original thermals are much worse), but I think these are more than worth a look. – Jerry Beck



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