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Working for the military Motion Picture Unit


Abstract art and me
Jules Engel Film-maker
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So you see, I was, I was drawing the Kandinskys and, at least there was one major or whatever he was, at least he had some idea that when he looks at shapes he doesn't just, 'Who-o-o', you know? What the hell it is? He really, at the moment he saw it he said, 'Kandinsky', you know? So that made me feel good, although I know why I was doing it, because when you're up there, 20,000 feet and you look down, believe me, everything is abstraction. But I think also somehow that aspect of viewing something from way above and become something else, I think that probably propelled me, to a degree, of looking at, as it is. Okay, this can be art. So, to a degree, it's possible that initially that thing in me, to look at that drawings from above, become an abstraction. And maybe there's a lot more of that. Or maybe there's a lot more of that without me going up there or all those other problems. So that drawing of abstraction, it came but it also came because it, to me, a drawing often have a lot of sense of movement without moving but then again, when that fellow took me to downtown Chicago and I saw painting, I mean, I saw movement for the first time. I've never seen movement like that, you know. That, plus the environment that they were moving about, was a painting by itself. And so, if I can just take that outside the theatre, you know? And I can then look with something very special, but I have not had the opportunity to see that kind of art, you know? I don't know why. I should have gone to downtown Chicago Art Institute, but that was too damn far to go. And I wasn't that hi-ho, at that time, on that. But later, later it happened that I could see there's an art form. And then I started to work like that and it came naturally and I remember, even Evanston high school, where everybody had to go out, two hours drawing the nature, you know? And I told the art teacher that, you know, 'I'm really not interested drawing nature'. She was, I don't understand, I don't understand, after all these years, why she listened to me. She said, 'No, you just stay in a room and do that. Everybody out'. You know? And that was the first time that somebody saw something I did and said, 'Okay, you do that and just stay put'. So I think she was a very bright teacher to work at that. So everybody was out and I was drawing my abstractions. To that, to a degree, that was the beginning of something. Came from the movement, from the art, in the world of ballet. And then when I started to really put things down on paper, they were squares or circles or lines and stuff like that. And for her to say, 'You stay here and do that. Everybody out', you know? So that, to a degree, was the beginning of something that dealt with the abstract world of painting and drawing. And from that moment in time, it was a natural thing for me, you know?  And even like drawing the mushrooms, they are shapes, they are objects, but they move. So again, it works. It's not that far from the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, to a Chinese dance at Disney, you know? Because I propelled it into that situation.

The late Hungarian-American film-maker Jules Engel is best known for his contribution to the field of animation. His work includes the dance sequences in Walt Disney's 'Fantasia' and the creation of 'Mr Magoo'. His films and lithographs are housed in museums all over the world and have won many awards.

Listeners: Bill Moritz Tamara Tracz

William Moritz received his doctorate from USC and pursues parallel careers as filmmaker and writer. His forty-four experimental and animation films have been screened at museums in Paris, Amsterdam and Tokyo, among others. He published widely on Oskar Fischinger, James Whitney, Bruce Conner, the Fleischers and 200 pages of animation history for an AbsolutVodka website. He wrote chapters for the "Oxford History of Cinema", appeared in several television documentaries, curated art exhibits and received a lifetime achievement trophy from the Netherlands Royal Academy for his work with visual music. He has served on film festival juries and received an American Film Institute filmmaking grant. His poetry and plays are also performed and published. He is a leading expert of Oskar Fischinger and recently published a biography of him. He teaches at The California Institute of the Arts.

Tamara Tracz is a writer and filmmaker based in London.

Tags: Evanston High School, Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, Disney, Chicago Art Institute, Air Force, Wassily Kandinsky

Duration: 4 minutes, 51 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2003

Date story went live: 24 January 2008