10/15/10

Diamond Edition of "Beauty and the Beast" Proves that Creative Work is Still Work

Jake recently treated me to my first ever Blu-Ray disc. When it was released last week, the day of the release in fact, Jake surprised me when he picked me up from dance class with the Diamond Edition of "Beauty and the Beast" waiting for me in the car. We had been haggling for weeks over what our first Blu-Ray purchase should be, being geeks, it was an important moment for us. I thought, "Jaws" and Jake thought, "Spaceballs". We argued and argued. I love Spaceballs, so it's not that I was against it...but for our first ever purchase? (That movie has inspired many in-shower concerts of this.)

But I thought we needed something with a little more ceremony. Little did I know, he was bluffing, getting a kick out of my baffled facial expressions while I asked in a shrill voice, "Really? Spaceballs?" He knew all along that he would be treating me to my favorite Disney film. (When combined with the recent gift of, "Aladdin" by my aunt and put together with some of our Pixar DVDs, we're finally mounting a decent Disney collection!)

We wanted to be able to recall with fondness that our first Blu-Ray was a meaningful one. Especially because I make NO plans to replace any of my DVDs in the near future. I plan to keep them for decades upon decades, no matter what leaps in technology are made. People might be watching movies via injections before I'll give up my DVD collection.


Peter O'Toole in, "Lawrence of Arabia".
Anyway, there was one reason why Jake knew such a gift would win my heart. The special features. I am a special features junkie. I almost love them more than the movies. I thrill to behind-the-scenes information. Always have, always will. Some of the best film special features belong to LOTR, The Alien films, Indiana Jones, Lawrence of Arabia, and Star Wars. Of course, I bet there are a plethora of films that don't get the back end coverage they deserve, and the more they earn at the box office, the more likely we are to get the story of the filming later on DVD releases.(Rumors still swirl that the critical bomb and troubled production that was the third Pirates of the Caribbean movie is why the special features are almost completely absent from that DVD, compared to the lush and in-depth special features on the first two films.) But to me, special features are an addiction, and in terms of film history, these behind-the-scenes peeks are very new. Only in the last few decades have film lovers been able to see the man behind the curtain.

Well, the special features on the Diamond Edition of, "Beauty and the Beast" are wonderful. They're tear-inducing with their coverage of Howard Ashman's final days of life spent on the sweet songs of the film, which colors the music in an entirely new way for me, knowing that the composer was slowly dying of AIDS as he finished the film. (Not even kidding, I'm crying right now. Think of the strange synergy and inspiration that had to come from being an artist, knowing you are dying, and working on a score about a man being transformed into a new being. Kleenex break...)

Okay, I'm back and less verklempt. (Spell check really wants that word to be, "versatile".)

The Diamond Edition provides a collection of short documentaries on the history of animation, Walt Disney's humble beginnings and consistent bankruptcies due to a lack of financial sense, and of course, all the coverage you can handle about the making of, "Beauty and the Beast". Even the DVD menus are a thing of beauty (pun intended) as they walk you through the Beast's enchanted castle in Pixar-esque 3D animation.

So far, every time I've popped it into the PS3, the dialogue from the menu host, Lumiere, has been totally different. Last time he said, "It's been a while, I'm glad you're back!" Between that and the high level of interactivity in the special features, there's a similar sense of wonder that mimics the film's actual release back in the day(1991), when I remember hearing my sister and her boyfriend talk about rumors they heard that the detail was so great in the film that you could see Belle's petticoats reflected in the ballroom floors. A level of detail so fresh and mind-blowing that the buzz was almost unreal. I remember not believing it. This movie, for those of you who weren't alive when it was released, changed film history forever. (Say the following with an old-timey prospector's voice, "Back in my day, we didn't have The iPhones and The Internet, why, hot rollers were the wave of the future!" Aaaaand, I'm old.)

But the special features show something else. That even working on a Disney cartoon is hard work, involves conflict and frustration, and isn't always all sunshine and roses. But that out of hard work, determination, and being forced to meet a deadline and make compromises, great art can be born.

The documentary tells of squabbling behind-the-scenes, changes in leadership, animators moving locations begrudgingly, and all types of personal and business-related conflicts. One of the featured hosts of the DVD (Who turns and talks to the screen directly at you when you make certain mid-documentary selections...how cool is that?) is Don Hahn. I was lucky enough to meet Don in person this time last year at the Heartland Film Festival and attend his talk about creativity. (Name drop alert.) I got to sit at his table, take a picture with him, view a Disney short called, "Lorenzo" that nobody had yet seen...it was basically a dream come true. But he is very open, though his same authentic and warm self as he was at Heartland last year, about the difficulties of professional creativity, which come with an entirely fresh set of complications involving having to respond to chains of command and corporate entities.

I try to tell my creative writing students this all the time, that art is still work. It takes discipline, revision, and the willingness to go through conflict in order to finish what you've started. That includes internal mental conflicts, which artists never seem to be short on. Art, in our society, seems to come with a lot of guilt. Say you want to be anything in this world, a doctor, a lawyer, a teacher, a politician...and most people will nod their heads in approval.

Writing: Career Choice or Cursed Existence?
Now, say you want to be a filmmaker, a writer, a painter...and people will warn you of your cursed chosen profession. Mostly because they love you and don't want you to starve to death. But after years and years of warning people so hard...there are entire generations of people too filled with fear to go out there and do what they love for a living. Culturally, we've bred the risk-taking out of our artists. (Which I think has resulted in an unfortunate plague of yuppies.) It's as though the risk of being poor has become worse than the risk of living a life creatively unfulfilled. The biggest truth that aspiring artists aren't told is that art, like everything else in life, is work.

You have to become disciplined, force yourself to work when you don't feel like it. If you have homework due in school, you can't just skip it because you don't feel like it. The same is true in our nine-to-five jobs. So why do we give ourselves a free pass when it comes to our art, our calling, and our inspirations? We shouldn't! (Read this incredibly funny Lorrie Moore essay for some insight into the life of a writer.)

The best way to stay encouraged as a creative person of any kind is to see how other, more established artists have struggled too, and in that way, the Diamond Edition of, "Beauty and the Beast" does artists everywhere, especially my generation who grew up with the animated Disney renaissance happening in our adolescence, a gigantic favor by demystifying the creative process.It's tempting to think that Disney's brand of magic just ends up onscreen by the wave of a magic wand, but these special features teach you otherwise...and thank goodness. I always appreciate it when a company opens up that way, because they certainly don't have to, but it's almost like a public service when they do.

Because work is work is work.

So if you have to do it, and you do, why not at least spend some time doing it your way for your own devices, right?

Right.

Now go draw/paint/write/sing/dance! Oh, and watch the special features on the Diamond Edition of, "Beauty and the Beast". You'll be glad you did. They're a delight.

P.S. Every time I say something is a delight, I think of Will Ferrell in THIS.

1 comment:

Jake Williams said...

I love how you combine solid analysis of the creative process all the while keeping your style and wit. I love that this piece was sparked by Beauty and the Beast on Blu Ray... that spark is a result of you.