Sunday, May 28, 2023

The Legend of Bill Moore

Bill Moore, 1981.                 Photo by Chris Wahl

Thursdays at CalArts were brutal.  Getting to class early to pin our assignments on the long crit wall, we'd wait to be slaughtered by the old man.   Upon his arrival, the room would go silent.  He would casually stroll along the wall, surveying our assignments in his sport shirt and slacks  (or Jordache jeans!), cigarette propped in a bent back wrist, like Tim Gunn and Humphrey Bogart's love child.   Welcome to Bill Moore's design class.  

You could hear a pin drop as we held our breaths, each hoping the Angel of Death would pass over their assignment.  At last he'd pause at someone's piece and say, "Who belongs to this?"  The owner of said piece would then have to stand and "qualify" their work - that is,  explain what they did and why it works while he challenged everything they said.  This went on for three excruciating hours until each of us had our turn hemming and hawing in defense of our work.    

I came to CalArts right out of high school - a Catholic, art-hating prep school at that.  I had ZERO knowledge of color and design theory.  So on a weekly basis, in front of the class, Bill murdered me.  Gleefully.   He gleefully murdered me so much so, he took to calling me "Zombie".

But 40 years on, Zombie lives, as does Bill's voice when I work on any creative endeavor.  I hear him reciting his design mantras, "Repetition with variation....contour continuity....".  And I hear his cold, judgmental prodding, "Is that the best you can do?"  Of all my CalArts teachers - men who had worked with Walt Disney personally -  I would have never bet the most influential would be a guy who never worked a day in animation, and in fact, held a general contempt for it.   
Bill's profound influence is almost universally shared among my industry peers, as is their fear and love of him.  Anecdotes have been shared and re-shared to great laughter over the years from those fortunate enough to have been there.  But his life outside of school has been a mystery, beyond stories he'd share for shock value or laughs.  So I did some research and interviewed many former students then cobbled together this piece.  It's not so much a biography as it is the story of a legend.  

Bill would hate it. 

                                                                                                                       photo by Chris Wahl

Sunday, May 14, 2023

Godspeed, Allen Stovall

May 8th marked the latest premature loss to our hunched and goofy community with the death of Allen Stovall at the age of 69.  He was a veteran visual effects animator on features such as "Cats Don't Dance" and "Hercules". He always carried a gentle, mellow vibe, with a cat-that-ate-the-canary smile on his face.   

We first met in 1987 while doing 7-Up commercials at Duck Soup Produckions (yes, Produckions) a small commercial house in Santa Monica.   I recall going with Allen and a few others after hours to a sleepy little bar down the block called Father's Office.  Over beers, we started talking about strange dreams.  I shared a flying dream, where I floated up to a cloud which opened up to reveal a hilly, verdant village inside.  On the threshold of entering I panicked and backed off, waking myself up.

"You were Astral Travelling."  Allen said.

"What?"  I laughed.  I thought he was joking.  He wasn't.  

And so I was introduced to the concept of Astral Projection.  From what I could wrap my head around, you could travel to the after-life while still tethered to your earthly body by a silver umbilical cord.  But break that cord and you're dead!  Allen explained it with more nuance. 

The conversation somehow segued to the time he lived in Nicaragua during the counter-revolution. 

 "What?"  I laughed.  I thought he was joking.  He wasn't. 

Backstory: In 1979,  the Nicaraguan government was overthrown by the leftist, USSR backed Sandinistas, freaking out the US government.  In 1981 the right wing Contras (counter-revolutionaries) formed to overthrow the overthrowers with US backing under President Reagan.  It was quite a mess.  

Allen was very much bothered by Reagan's Contra policy and got involved - really involved.  He saved as much money as he could, working extra hours at his Filmation job.  In 1985,  he took his "She-Ra: Princess of Power" savings and joined a group of like minded Americans called "Architects and Planners in Support of Nicaragua" doing humanitarian work from the capital city of Managua.  He tasked himself with creating a comic book to teach impoverished locals, many illiterate, how to build their own homes complete with hiding places from the Contras.

Sample pages from Allen's "Manual Grafico"

This endeavor was not without risk.  One member of the American group, Ben Linder, was killed by Contras in 1987 while working on a small hydroelectric dam project.  Among the pall-bearers at his funeral were Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and....Allen Stovall.   

For all his bold adventures, Allen was no raconteur, no Commander McBragg.  He seemed to prefer listening.  So when he'd break out one of these stories, they always landed as jaw-droppers.  Allen was a very smart, unique, and most humble guy.   I last saw him about six years ago, at the Union Christmas party in the Gene Autry Museum.  He'd been fighting throat cancer with great courage for many years, and was doing pretty well at the time.   But last Monday he broke his silver tether,  joining that Nicaraguan village in the big cloud.   

Adios, Amigo!  And my sincere condolences to his wife, Jennifer.

And gratias, Al Holter, for your invaluable input with this post.


Sunday, May 7, 2023

Recipes for Pie - The Throwing Kind


Natalie Wood gets served in "The Great Race"

On a primal level, what's funnier than a pie in the face?  Pie fights were ubiquitous in the early days of film comedy.  But take a close look at those pies - they're not like Mom's.   They had a texture to them that stuck to a face long after impact, giving the actor plenty of time to mug.  As a youngster, I always wondered how those pies were made.  Thanks to the wonders of the internet, I have found recipes to share with you, FLiP reader! 

 Keystone Pie

An Atlas Obscura post describes The Keystone Kops' pies as "heavy-duty pastry and especially slurpy custard.”  Pie fights were such a signature part of those films, a bakery across the street from Mack Sennett's studio made nothing but custom pies for them. 

 Keaton Pie

Buster Keaton described his pies as two crusts glued together with a flour and water paste, so as not to collapse in the hand of the thrower.  The pies had a thick flour-and-water paste filling, to stick to the face.  They would add chocolate or strawberry to the mix if a particular pie tone was desired.  For instance, if the victim was light haired, or wearing white, the pie would be dark toned to show up on black and white film.  The pies were topped with whipped cream for impact spray.  

Stooge Pie

A Slate post reveals Moe Howard's secret pie recipe as  "whipped cream, marshmallow sauce and pumpkin filling".  The marshmallows made them extra sticky to the face, and the sound effect added impact. 

 Soupy Pie

Soupy Sales brought pie comedy into the Television era with his show in the 50's.  According to News from Me, his recipe was simply pie crust and shaving cream.  Being a live show, this allowed for fast clean up.  He would sell the impact with a bang sound effect ( a gun shot?) and by throwing his head back on impact.

Great Race Pie

This glorious Technicolor pie fight involved anywhere from 2500 to 4000 pies.  Because it was color film, the pies were filled with custard and various fruit fillings like blueberry, lemon, and raspberry.  It was shot over five days, with the stench of spoiled custard becoming so bad, the set needed to be totally cleaned and the remnants recreated for continuity. 

I always wished Twin Peaks did a pie fight sequence, but alas....

Okay, now get baking.  And if you've watched these clips and did not laugh once, we can't be friends.  

Happy throwing!