#412: Makings Of

Dry winter alley with cracked pavement, power lines, old car and empty shopping cart.
La Salle Gardens, Detroit, MI

A holiday tradition of ours is an annual viewing of The Muppet Christmas Carol. Though some years, like this past one, call for several. No other film is more quoted in the house; “Light the lamp, not the rat!” is a whole philosophy unto itself.

So I was thrilled to come across, in a Little Free Library, a copy of Jim Henson: The Works. The book’s more of a monograph of Henson’s studio than a typical biography, but you get a really sense of Henson’s eternal optimism, his tendency to scratch whatever creative itch until it turns into a full-on rash. A friend recently divided the world in two categories: Muppet people and non-Muppet people. I am, for sure, one of the latter.

Speaking of pseudo-biographies ...

I’ve seen all of the fly-on-the-wall documentaries of Hayao Miyazaki, but I was not, until just a week ago, aware of his two non-fiction prose volumes, Starting Point and Turning Point.

The books collect Miyazaki’s various talks, interviews, and articles over three decades, from 1979–2008. They neatly arrange technical discussions of, say, how many frames should be devoted to different kinds of walking, alongside his diatribes on the sorry state of the animation industry, which have surprisingly – or maybe unsurprisingly – hardly changed over the years.

Miyazaki’s half-jokingly sardonic attitude is an interesting counterpoint to Henson’s freewheeling uber-optimism. Henson died tragically young, while Studio Ghibli formed when Miyazaki was in his mid-forties(!). But they both also obsessively push(ed) at the edges of their respective art forms, worked in large collaborative teams, and – I find this particularly interesting – had a keen sense of what flowed the hearts and minds of their audiences at any given moment. Ideas and execution combined aren’t enough; they need a third companion: timing.

We’re planning to see The Boy and the Heron in theaters later this week.

Speaking of models ...

Thanks to all those who responded to my last letter on models and mentors. I really like Patrick Rhone’s potent list of notes on the subject, particularly:

Mentors don’t have to know they are your mentors. You don’t have to let them know, either. Just let them mentor.

Speaking of birds ...

I rewatched Winged Migration, chock full of “How did they do that?” moments. I haven’t seen enough Cousteau to divine the lineage of this French documentary, but it feels like an evolution of the form. The aerial footage is literally breathtaking, and seems to be shot from Christian “Bird Man” Moullec’s microlight glider (though I didn’t find him credited anywhere in the actual film). Either way I think I’ve discovered a new dream job: Crittercam builder.

And I can’t resist ...

Mentioning this new-to-me documentary on the making of Tampopo, aka the greatest food movie of all time. I can’t tell if it’s typical of these kinds of making-of documentaries in Japan, but I loved the way this was aimed at the layperson, explaining things, sometimes tongue-in-cheek, that might be obvious to those who’ve worked on a film set but not to outsiders. What a treat. (But do watch the original first.)

Thanks for reading, and onward to 2024!