Monday, July 1, 2013

Margaret Williams, co-author of The Thief and The Cobbler, reviews Kevin Schreck's Persistence of Vision

Artwork from The Thief and the Cobbler by Errol Le Cain
Margaret Williams was the co-writer of the original screenplay of The Thief and The Cobbler, that is to say the version that existed before the film was radically altered by Miramax and Fred Calvert to become Arabian Knight. She recently went to a special screening of Kevin Schreck's documentary of The Thief, Persistence of Vision, and gave us her thoughts on the film.

FLIP: was Persistence of Vision?

Margaret: Well, last weekend I sat through the rather surreal experience of a screening of Persistence of Vision. It is an excellent documentary, in spite of some amazing whoppers served up by a couple of the interviewees. Overall, Kevin Schreck is a brilliant young filmmaker. I look forward to seeing his future endeavors.

FLIP: You mean, some of the interviewees perhaps exaggerated their role on the film?

Margaret: Well, it's human nature, I guess. For example, I remember well that every time I watched Snow White with Grim Natwick (one of Disney's top animators in the 1930s), he seemed to remember doing more and more of the animation.

Richard Williams, Grim Natwick, and a mystery protege
With regard to Persistence of Vision, I took some exception to the versions of the story told by John Culhane and Howard Blake. John Culhane's major contribution to the project, as far as I recall, was that he gave Richard a ride to the party at Chuck Jones' house where I first met my future husband.
Margaret and Dick at a recording session in 1972. On the background on the left is Kenneth Williams
John Culhane came to London the same summer that I moved there, but didn't produce the script he was paid handsomely to write. Howard Blake, whom I never met, did write a a script, which Richard brought home and tossed in the trash.

After that, Dick said, "I've got to get a script before any more people at the studio come up with one!" I had published a few things and had also taught expository writing in college and I knew the rudimentary principles of story, plot, character, spectacle, etc., and I offered to help out.
Margaret in 1972
FLIP: It was your idea to have Zig Zag speak in rhyming couplets?

Margaret: Yes, but I did not, as Howard Blake said, set out to write the whole screenplay in verse. I did ZigZag's dialogue in verse to underscore how manipulative his character was, but when Vincent Price recorded the lines, I told him to ignore the line breaks and iambic pentameter, etc., and just speak it naturally. and I think it worked, overall. The rest of the script was a compromise between my wanting to simplify and unify and Richard's furious insistence on keeping all the elements he'd created in the 7 years before we wrote the full story.
Vincent Price played Zig Zag - in rhyming couplets
FLIP: So did you enjoy the film?

Margaret: I really enjoyed having my family there with me to see someone else's version of what was a big part of my life. And it was delightful to have Olvidio Salazar join us, since he was so important in obtaining the Saudi backing for the war machine sequence.

Overall, I was so impressed by Kevin's ability to put this together, to get the right balance of criticism and praise, to capture the bittersweet saga of something I was part of for more than twenty years, without ever meeting the subject. That's a rare talent, I think.
(Editor's Note: you can also read a review of  Persistence of Vision by animator (and interviewee) Michael Schlingman, here. For more on Thief and The Cobbler, read our interview with film-maker Garret Gilchrist and his Recobbled Cut)

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