The Lucky Character

The conventional screen writing books will tell you that bad luck can get a character into trouble, but good luck can never get him out. That’s cheating. The character has to devise the solution and make it happen.

But when Jack Sparrow sails into port on the top of the mast of a sinking ship, stepping onto the dock as gracefully as you please, luck has brought him in that way. While Jack is a skilled and clever fellow, luck serves him very well through all his adventures. He has charmed the gods.

Buster Keaton’s character was also a lucky guy. When, in Steamboat Bill Jr., the house wall gets blown down on top of him, and he fits neatly through the window, it was pure chance that saved him.

What brought me to think of this was my re-watching of the original cut of The Thief and the Cobbler. Way back in the day, I had the chance to see the original cut of the film. I remember being blown away, especially by the war machine sequence of the climax. I just got around to watching the entire “recobbled cut” on youtube.

As I watched it seemed to me that the cobbler is very much a Charlie Chaplin style character. while the thief is Buster Keaton. In particular, his Keatonesque act is apparent during the war machine sequence of the climax. It is a must see sequence for anyone in animation. It is absolutely spectacular, and NOT included on the horrible “Arabian Knights” video that was made from the parts.

His goal is to steal the three golden balls that are perched at the top of a massive war machine commanded by the evil “One Eye”. The Cobbler shoots a tack, which starts a chain reaction that destroys the preposterously huge war machine. As this world is exploding around him, the Thief manages to avoid obliteration many times over. He casually walks and flies through the conflagration of falling elephants, waves of arrows, and giant spiked balls. It is Buster Keaton on acid.

Here are the two vids that contain the part I’m talking of, but if you haven’t watched the whole thing, start from part 1 and make it full screen.

3 thoughts on “The Lucky Character”

  1. Are those random clips cut together, or is that supposed to be the continuity? Nothing makes sense… No hookups, important action occurring off screen, small things taking a year and main actions happening way too fast, music and drawing style and timing theories all jumbled up randomly. The characters seem to be from six different movies, and none of them seems to have personality, just mannerisms. I have a copy of the “recobbled cut” but I’ve never been able to get very far into it. That top video you link there is even more scrambled than the stuff I saw before.

    I wonder if this really is a “cut” of the film or if it’s bits of a half dozen completely different movies patched together randomly. There’s a lot of design and a ton of inbetweening here, but not much moviemaking. It just looks like a hell of a lot of torturous work with no purpose.

    I worked with Art Babbitt when he was animating on this and he said that there was 2 1/2 hours of finished animation in the can and only about 20 minutes of it fit into the structure the movie had evolved into. This stuff looks like the trims, not the real movie.

    This film is like short term memory loss. It’s only coherent for momentary bursts.

    • Obviously, Richard Williams is a great example of why it’s not always magic to leave an artist with complete creative control. Williams was the Colonel Kurtz of animation.

      While it’s been a very long time, that cut seems to be what I remember seeing. I suppose they assembled as much as they had. Nobody, not even Williams, knows what the “real” movie would have been. I’m embarrassed to say I actually worked on the project for the completion company. I worked two and a half days before quitting because of the working conditions. But that’s beside the point. I accept the work on it’s own terms. I actually like the clashing styles, and the time that is lavished on minor events. I hear what you are saying about the characters, but I also find them all to have powerful desires and are fully engaged in pursing them. I recall being amazed at the war machine sequence, and was glad to see it again. It served my purpose of illustrating characters with crazy luck, and how they are generally found in comedy and animation.

  2. I mentioned this to a friend of mine and he said that he was told that Williams never cut the footage together into a work reel until the bond company demanded it very late in the game. The cut was thrown together and didn’t really work at all, which is why the bond company took it away. I can’t imagine trying to build a feature out of one man’s head with no work reel. Yow!


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