The more things change, the more things stay the same. Even though this historic nonfiction story took place in the 1930's, in many ways it could be now or tomorrow. Part of the fascination, I think, is in making the comparisons. A promising future? Neat attractions with corporate sponsors? Backstabbing bureaucrats who take credit for others' ideas? A public who largely didn't want high-minded stimulation as opposed to mainstream entertainment. A cynical critical mass that scoffed at lofty dreams of a better world? Sound familiar?
, written with great detail from historical sources, but in a narrative/dialogue form with occasional ironic side comments. It's a credit to Joe Mauro that a heavily researched book like this is so surprisingly breezy and readable. But by "breezy," I don't mean all happy peppiness. There are moments of terrible violence and sorrow upon which the story pivots.
The central character, so to speak, is Grover Whalen, a self-created New York media figure who made himself famous for being famous (how 21st century is that?). Whalen is the "Walt Disney" behind this early Disneyland/Walt Disney World/Epcot, from its flashy beginnings to its money-losing end. I can't help but draw parallels to the Disney parks, especially Epcot, because its the high-tech, futuristic leanings -- as well as the multinational presentations -- of World's Fairs that bear so much resemblance to Epcot, which by the way was briefly marketed in the '90s as the "World's Fair of the Future." It's to Epcot's credit, though, that it is still one of the world's most popular destinations where some of the biggest World's Fairs (New York '39 and '64) had gone into the red.
The book does not detail each pavilion because that is not its purpose, which is to tell a story that straddles Whalen's career and the stories of others who orbited the '30 Fair, including Fiorello LaGuardia, Robert Moses, Albert Einstein and two "regular guy" police detectives who are among the many assigned to follow up on the many bomb threats.
All of this in the context of one of the most volatile turning point in history -- the start of World War II, the rise of fascism in Hitler's reign, the creation of atomic weaponry and the great irony of such a fair in the midst of economic depression and social chaos.
The one fair attraction that Mauro does detail, over all others, is the most popular one at the time, GM's Futurama. A symbol of the hope, irony, and subsequent trial and change, Futurama was a ride through diorama that made parkgoers feel as if they were flying over modernizing cities linked by superhighways. And like The Jetson, some of it came true, for the good and the not so good. When the fair ended, the workers rode it one last time, filled their pockets with parts of the gigantic sets, then started to tear it down.
Makes you think. As does the whole book.
ALICE IN BLU-RAY LAND
Posted on Feb 10 2011 by Greg
Alice in Wonderland
is one of my favorite books. I enjoy watching version after version, each taking a shot at making Lewis Carroll
's dreamlike, episodic prose and poetry into a film or TV production that is cohesive and at the same time, worthy of the fantastic images we all have in our minds as we read.
Unless the story is changed markedly--as Tim Burton
did with his 2010 version, the only big screen Alice
that was a box office smash--many have tried with varying results. Walt Disney's 1951 version, which is presented for the first time on a 60th Anniversary Blu-Ray combo package
in this edition also including a not-quite-so-decked-out-with-bonus-materials DVD.
The Alice material was clearly close to Walt Disney
since he did his own twist on the idea in his first successful film series, the Alice comedies, in which a live action Virginia Davis
interacted with animated creatures. Alice in Wonderland
was also almost the first Disney animated feature until Snow White
was ultimately selected. Mary Pickford
was to play a live Alice for Disney, along with Ginger Rogers
--and even Margaret O'Brien, whose mother turned it down because of the price offered (a fact she recently told talk show host Stu Shostak on a recent shokusradio.com
By the time Alice was underway as an all-animated feature, the studio was still hurting from WWII losses, the 1950 release Cinderella
had helped things considerably and high hopes were dashed when Alice
initially underperformed at the box office.
The musical score lived on through the decades, even though the film was out of general release for 23 years and shown twice in edited form on TV. The ultimate public embrace of Disney's Alice
came over the last few decades as it became a staple of home video and cable TV. Now, as Alice voice Kathryn Beaumont
states quite truthfully in the new bonus documentary, it is absolutely now one of the most popular and beloved Disney animated features.
The very things that were problematic for Alice
as a '50s movie have become assets in modern times. The choppy, episodic nature makes it ideal for television and video. It's loose, zany, irreverant style is welcome to kids brought up on Spongebob
. The voice cast, once almost completely well-known to the world at large, now fits the characters better than ever--and have become iconic on their own And perhaps above all, the look of the film is a monument to the legendary Disney art director Mary Blair
. See the recent New York Times review
for more about that.
For those on the fence about investing in Blu-ray, Alice provides a very strong argument. The crisp angles are razor sharp and each color's nuance is shown to best advantage.
But my favorite feature on the Blu-ray disc is "Through the Keyhole-A Companion's Guide to Wonderland," which is better described as a "video commentary." Like an audio commentary, this bonus feature accompanies the entire film, which plays on one part of the screen or another while expert commentators like Brian Sibley, Paula Sigman
and many others discuss the film, Walt Disney, and especially Lewis Carroll, in a very sensitive and non-sensational way, offering thoughtful insights and endless details.
For DVD owners, you may want to keep your previous editions (there are three) to hang onto all the features, many of which have been included only on the Blu-ray this time around (though DVD player owners can still enjoy very nice "Reflections on Alice" featurette, which includes comments from the marvelously effervescent Stacia Martin
and others). But I still don't think that absolutely all the marvelous features from the wondrous laserdisc of Alice have all been included on any DVD or Blu-ray.
But if they want to do another reissue, that's fine with me. Like Mary Poppins
, regular home video reissues keep the films fresh and in the public eye. If that makes me a little "mad," well, don't let's be silly!