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Friday, November 16, 2012

Fascinated by THE THIEF AND THE COBBLER, an incomplete masterpiece 30 years in the making

I haven't updated this blog the past two weeks because I was busy with my doctorate dissertation. The week that led to the dissertation were spent mostly in my dimly-lit room or my lab in Waseda University. It was a repetitive cycle of writing, researching, drinking lots of black coffee. The topic was something I have been familiar with for the past four years (It's an expansion of my Masters' Thesis), so it's not as difficult as I have worried. But there were still a lot of things to write.

Exactly a week ago, on a Friday afternoon, I managed to turn in my dissertation. Whatever happens next is beyond my control. Having not slept for the past 48 hours, I was tired when it all ended.

Saturday was a day I chose to recharge my energies. There was nothing else I planned to do except staying on my bed.

While doing that, I read on The Playlist about a documentary called PERSISTENCE OF VISION, a documentary about animator Richard Williams' 30-year-long work on his passion project "The Thief And The Cobbler".

PERSISTENCE OF VISION - Trailer #1 from Kevin Schreck on Vimeo.

Richard Williams is the animation director of WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT (which won him two Oscars, one for, I presume, visual effects, the other was a special achievement award for blending animation and live-action). I first saw WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT in the cinemas with my parents when I was 4, I may have seen it twice during its theatrical run, and it blew my mind, because back then, it was amazing to see Disney and Looney Tunes characters in the same film! (And hanging out with live-action characters? Whoa. Too much.) I probably didn't understand the noir story back then, but visually, it was enough to captivate me. This was an important film in my childhood.

Sadly, he had less luck with THE THIEF AND THE COBBLER. He aimed to create a masterpiece, but the film was finally taken away from him by the bond company to be completed in the cheapest manner possible. The end result was something drastically altered from Williams' vision. The film came out in 1993 as "THE PRINCESS AND THE COBBLER". (apparently available only in Australia and South Africa, so what you are watching is something very rare)

It was then acquired and distributed in the US in 1995 by the Disney-owned Miramax. With even more changes. That version was called ARABIAN KNIGHTS. If you are curious, you can watch the entire film here too.

But what really fascinated me is that, in 2006, a fan named Garret Gilchrist actually restored the film to something faithful to Williams' original vision based on original workprints. With the help of animators who were part of Williams' crew, he managed to secure numerous footages from around the world. Of course, not everything was complete, so Gilchrist used storyboards instead, but the restoration itself was an epic undertaking.

This was the end result, it was called THE THIEF AND THE COBBLER: RECOBBLED CUT

Some scenes are absolutely jaw-dropping. I cannot even believe that they were all hand-drawn.

Especially this scene. Just look at it!

The RECOBBLED CUT just made me wish that Williams' was able to complete his life's work, and that in a perfect world, the film would have been able to show on cinemas everywhere. Imagine how this would look like on a big screen, on an IMAX screen! Sadly, the world doesn't work like this, and this would end up being part of this long list of unfinished artistic masterpieces that we had to deal with throughout history.

Gilchrist and gang are still working on the 4th version of the restoration, with some longer scenes that they had rediscovered.

And quietly, with some fascination, I have been monitoring their progress from his message board.

I am writing about this now because I want to remember. Even if I have posted these on Facebook (which I did), it would be impossible to find my posts again. If you still happen to be reading this blog, I really recommend you to check out this work that had became the passion project of so many people in the span of fifty years.

It also made me worry about the feature film project that I have spent the past year developing.