Tag Archives: Disney

Walt Disney, Stephen Miller and the Future of Jersey City

2 Nov

Buildings … are not discrete objects. They are building blocks of a democratic society. W. H. Auden once proposed that a civilization could be judged by “the degree of diversity attained and the degree of unity attained.” In the spirit of service, architecture can contribute to both. Without the spirit of service, architecture can be a highly destructive force.

– Herbert Muschamp, Visions of Utopia

No doubt you are familiar with Walt Disney, the guy who made cartoons and nature documentaries, created the world’s first theme park, and gave his name to what is now the world’s largest entertainment company. But it’s been years since Disney himself appeared in the media – he died in 1966 – and his life story isn’t well-known, though there must be at least a dozen biographies of him (I’ve read four of them).

But what does Uncle Walt have to do with Stephen Miller and what do either of them have to do with the future of Jersey City?

And, by the way, WHO is Stephen Miller?

I don’t know how many laser cutters there are in Jersey City – 10, 20, 100, 763? I have no idea – but one of them is in his atelier off Harrison Street between Monticello and Bergen.

What’s a laser cutter?

It’s a high tech device used for cutting materials such as wood, plastic, leather, metal perhaps.

And what the h___ is an atelier?

It’s a workshop and design studio.

OK, gotcha, but what does that have to do with Walt Disney and what do they have to do with the future of Jersey City?

Let’s start with Walt Disney. Disney was an entertainer; he made movies and went on to build a theme park. Miller is an entertainer too, though of a different kind. He’s musician and a very good MC – he tells me he used to front a band. And he’s a slammin’ djembe player.

And I know a little about djembe players. When I lived in upstate New York I performed with Eddie “Ade” Knowles, a percussionist who toured as a percussionist with Gil Scott-Heron early in his career. I hear and feel the same power and nuance in Miller’s djembe playing that Ade has in his.

OK, so he’s an entertainer, there are lots of entertainers in the world…

Just cool your jets. Don’t go getting testy on me. I’m gettin’ there.

Take a look at this video (embedded below). It’s a promotional video that Disney prepared for Epcot (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow) and it shows a small city that’s very different from and far more interesting than what the Disney Company eventually built in central Florida.

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Conjunctions on the Autumn Equinox

22 Sep

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Early yesterday afternoon I found myself sitting in the sanctuary at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in Manhattan. The Parish was founded in 1835; this is its third church, built in the second decade of the 20th Century. It is Byzantine in style, with glittering mosaics on the interior.

The pipe organ is the largest in New York City, and one of the ten largest in the world. I didn’t know this when I sat there yesterday, as that was the first time I’d even been in the church. “Byzantine” didn’t even click in my mind, yesterday as I sat between my sister and her friend, Yoshiko, but I was certainly thinking “icons” (“iconoclasm”), “Greek Orthodox,” and even “Russian,” the conjunction of which all but added up to Byzantine. But didn’t. This was, after all, an Episcopal Church, no?

Yes.

The Wikipedia tells me that it is this parish that brought Leopold Stokowski from Europe in 1905 to be its organist and choir director.

Holy crap! says I to myself, no way!

Way.

Stokowski went on to direct the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra, and had become something of a celebrity when, over 30 years later, he ran into Walt Disney at a restaurant in Los Angeles. Walt invited him over to his table and Fantasia was hatched. Not then and there, mind you, it took awhile. But that’s when the wheels started turning.

Walt’s father, Elias, had been one of many carpenters who worked on The Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. And that fair featured a Japanese exhibit and pavilion on a small 16 acre in a lagoon. It was the unexpected hit of the fair and the first time most Westerners had had any contact with the Japanese, who’d only recently been subject to forced entry by Admiral Perry in 1853. Continue reading

Truth and Tradition in Disney’s Dumbo

25 Jun

Several years ago I sent a long email to Mike Barrier, the animation historian, about Disney’s Dumbo. I couple days later I noticed that he’d posted it on his website, along with some frame grabs he’d added. I’m now reposting that essay here.

That’s all well and good, you say, but what has THAT got to do with Truth, Tradition, and the American Way?

Everything, I say, well, not everything, but a lot. Which I explain in some detail in the analysis. But I’ll give you a little taste here and now.

In the first place that film reaches deep into American myth and lore: trains, the circus, the value of labor. Yes, the value of labor, in Dumbo. The tent-raising scene is stunning, showing hard-working men. AND animals, because the animals helped raise the tent as well. So we’ve got cross-species solidarity. Further, those workers and animals are skeptical about management, deeply skeptical. Yet management, then as now, is sneaky.

Sneaky sneaky sneaky!

The film depicts managment manipulation of workers to set them at odds with one another. We see scapegoating in action. Poor little Dumbo is made to take the fall for managment greed and stupidity. Let me repeat that: Dumbo is made to take the fall for managment greed and stupidity.

And you know how Dumbo gets out of it? Interspecies solidarity with Timothy Mouse and with a mess of jivometric crows. Those crows teach Dumbo about the importance of groovology. There is nothing so deep and traditional about America as groovology, groovology of all sorts. Why, the first book published in America was a hymnal. What’s hymn singing but Groovology 103?–patty cake is Groovology 101 and double-dutch is Groovology 102.

I’ve gone on enough setting up this thing. Read review, watch the movie, and ask yourself: Could this film be made in American today and now with the 1% lording it over the 99%?

DUMBO MOM AND CHILD

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