Monday, June 07, 2010

The Birth of Creativity

It's no secret I'm a huge Frank Capra fan. As a writer and a film maker and lover of all things cinema there can be no greater player in the landscape of American entertainment.

His autobiography THE NAME ABOVE THE TITLE is one of the best autobiographies ever written. It spans his life, his work, his thoughts, his observations and the passion for seeing the "natural" expression of the invisible.

The work he is most remembered for is a small piece of the Capra story, this is a man who witnessed the transitions of an industry, who had no formal training but was deeply in touch with the environment for the subtler energies and spirit in which humanity flourishes.

Chapter Six that Capra entitled The Sound and The Fury offers a parallel to every story of change and transition. For everyone who has lived through a tremendous transformational event and is using it to connect further to the fullest expression of their being... this one's for you.
"On the historic night of October 23, 1927, Al Jolson's shadow sang from the silver screen. The sound waves of "Mammy" were as devastating as seismic waves. A major earthquake rocked the film world. The silent screen had grown a larynx! Hollywood shook. the inmates took over the asylum."

"Not only was I ignorant of all things theatrical, I was also contemptuous of their phoniness. I was raised in my own "school" of naturalness... My stage was the real world, and the actors had to appear just as real. I considered the camera-- and, now, the microphone--as a ubiquitous phantom eavesdropper on the comic or tragic goings-on of people...

I had yet to learn the power of creative art; that Leonardo, seeing with an inner eye, could, with simple brush and canvas, evoke a bewitching smile on Mona Lisa that no all-seeing lens could "see"; that the Psalmist's powerful imagery in nine single-syllable words, "Be still then, and know I am God," was worth more than ten thousand pictures. Moreover I was not yet aware that the art of the stage was in its limitations; that its make-believe gave wings to the imagination, making the stage one of the most enduring, beguiling, inspiring, and socially incisive of all the arts."

As Delbert Mann wrote about THE NAME ABOVE THE TITLE
"It's a love story. It's the story of the Capra-Film love affair, and it's marvelous, stimulating and exciting as all good love stories are."

The book has inspired me since the days I first opened Capra's life story so many years ago... I share this next moment for the inspiration that it offers to every dreamer looking to find their "people" in the business of creativity.

"In 1929 two history-making events took place-- each involving an egg. Wall Street laid one; all the muses got together to hatch one.

During the shooting of the Donovan Affair George Seid Columbia's exuberant laboratory man, buttonholed me, bursting with excitement about a piece of film he insisted I see after rushes.

"You've got to see this," he said "it's like nothing you've ever seen."

When the lights dimmed again I started to close my eyes, but as the picture flashed on the screen I opened them wide as saucers. This was something new -- an animated cartoon! A bright perky mouse -- with a saucy, squeaky voice--was burlesquing a piano recital, banging on the piano with his hands, his feet, his nose, even with his tail. And picture and sound were beautifully synchronized. The tired crew howled with laughter. This was new and wonderful entertainment. As I remember, the cartoon was only four or five minutes long. But when it was over I forgot my fatigue and plied the trampish-looking man with exited questions. He answered them humbly:

"Yes, I was a cartoonist in Chicago... No, this mouse character is a new creation... I call him Mickey Mouse... No, that's my voice he talks with... No, we record the sound first, then time the animation to it. Yes, I'll be happy to show it to Harry Cohn."

"For chrissake, it's just a lousy cartoon," grumbled Cohn when the film started.

"Lousy, hell -- it's terrific! You'll flip..."

Cohn more than flipped. He called in the hungry-looking cartoonist and wheeled and dealed him into a contract to produce Silly Symphonies for Columbia release.

A genius was born -- Walt Disney. But Disney a man-child and Cohn the vulgarian spoke different languages. Cohn mistook sensitivity for weakness. Crudely, and stupidly, he badgered and bulldozed until he lost Hollywood's richest gold mine. The man-child took his enchanting film to RKO for distribution. And later, as all true geniuses must, Walt established his own production and distribution set-up. The modern wonder of Disney's magic flowered. The world and its children smiled.

It was sound that made Disney's wizardry possible. What Gutenberg's printing press did for the written word in the fifteenth century, sound did for the spoken word in the twentieth century:"

Seizing the opportunity sound represented in bringing to life his vision, Walt Disney is the hero of his own story and a true inspiration.

Frank Capra is an artist of unparalleled excellence.

It is a privilege and honor to work in the same business as these pioneers.

Here's one of Walt Disney's early piano playing Mickey Mouse shorts...



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A paperback version of Frank Capra's THE NAME ABOVE THE TITLE is available at Amazon click here to buy.
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