Thanks to an insightful interview with Colin Cantwell by Jason DeBord of the Original Prop Blog, we now not only have some long-wanted insights into Colin Cantwell's role on Star Wars, but to everyone's astonishment, even some never before seen concept art. In fact, not just never before seen, but never before talked about! Cantwell's pieces were auctioned off this weekend in California; hopefully these were documented and will end up in a second edition of The Making of Star Wars some time in the future.
Edward Summer passed away on thursday from cancer. Ed was a friend, whom I was lucky enough to have gotten to know over the course of the past few years. He is most well known for having started the first comic book store in New York, Supersnipe, in the early 70s, through which he came to know and go into business with Lucas for the accompanying comic book art gallery. A more gracious man I’ve never known. He had an almost childlike glee about movies and comics, and shared his stories freely, and at length. He’ll be remembered for his love and dedication to movies and comics thanks to the Buffalo Film Festival and of course Supersnipe, I’ll always remember him for his unbounded enthusiasm.
Doyers Street is a small 200 foot long street on the outskirts of Chinatown in New York, marked by a sharp bend in the middle. It’s known as ‘the bloody angle’ thanks to the early 1900s Tong Gangs of Chinatown and their proclivity to murder one another, gun and hatchet (thus the term, hatchet man). That was the first of many stories Ed told me at our first face-to-face interview at the Nom Wah Tea Parlor. That’s been there, in the bloody angle since 1927 by the way, that was the second story.
Ed loved telling stories, and he had many of them. And he loved Chinatown. I got the feeling that although he had grown up in and still lived part-time in Buffalo, where he managed the Buffalo Film Festival, his real home was New York. But in particular Chinatown. He had studied Chinese as a young man (he explained that it had come out of thinking that the characters of the Chinese alphabet were like picograms, that when placed together told a visual story, not unlike comic books), and liked speaking it with whomever he could.
On one occasion we were walking down Bowery after lunch at Congee, and he was pointing out to me where the old cinemas he used to take in Chinese martial arts films used to be. He loved those films and we ended up in a small basement DVD store (again, a place I would have walked blindly by) where we spent a while just browsing and talking about films. I walked out of there with Come Drink With Me (he was right, it’s a phenomenal film). He loved adventures, and we both shared a love of John Carter. We complained about its bungled launch; he was happy that it was making its money back in DVD sales.
He had an uncanny knack for remembering names, and would often spell them out, just to be sure I was getting it right. He was meticulous about making sure people were recognized for their efforts and often encouraged me to find out more about teachers and friends he told me about. He would chastise me, in a friendly manner, if I didn’t know or remember someone whom he thought was integral to the history of film. Legacy was important to him. He talked about Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, and the misconception of the self-made man. He mused about how he and Lucas’s careers overlapped in funny ways in those early years. He maintained that he never in a million years would have come up with the idea for Star Wars.
I last met Ed in June on the Upper West Side. He was in the hospital recovering from surgery. It was a beautiful day, and he took me to a small russian bakery just down the street. He wasn’t supposed to leave, but he sweet-talked the nurses into letting him off the hook for fifteen minutes. He was too nice to say no to. We stayed out for over an hour. He was also mischievous. Drinking hot chocolate and eating pastry, he told me the story of St. John the Divine, the cathedral across the street, and how it had been continually under construction since 1892. We marveled at the craftsmanship. The dogged persistence. Then he talked of double-dating as a young man with Scorsese. As I walked him back to the hospital, he encouraged me to take a walk in the cathedral garden; say hi to the peacocks.
He called me a few weeks ago to ask a favor. We agreed to meet again soon.
Thank you for your friendship, Ed.
I'm in the process of transcribing our interviews, and will put them here when they are ready.
For the past few days the full-length Star Wars: Kitbashed has been doing the rounds generally to a fantastic reception. It's odd to me in a sense, because it was always more of a 'work print' for me to perform my research with, and to harvest the occasional shorter scene or sequence comparison from for use on this site. That I turned it into something that could be seen by others was more of an afterthought. For me it was always the research in itself that was the prize, and the resulting book (which I'll hopefully finish before I keel over). In the context of it as it exists then, its meaning is not just what Lucas and his team brought over into it, but the very fact that film history itself is rich and deep! Before ILM made X-Wings fly, the Brits filmed giant Lancaster bombers flying low over the water for real! It's about taking a longer look at how model shots have evolved over the years and how the same kinds of shots have been used for decades to great effect. How pacing differed. It's about how John Wayne almost poked a horse's eye out with a spear, he was so busy acting disgruntled! It's about that awe-inspiring final shot in THX 1138, which quite frankly should be in an art gallery. It's not just about what's in Star Wars, it's about showing love and appreciation for all these other sources. I could have made a super-fast cut of the Battle of Yavin, but above all it wouldn't show you where I don't believe it used inspiration, only where it did, and secondly I couldn't bring myself to cut down that sequence because it remains to this day one of the greatest pieces of filmmaking ever.
Ironically, one of the few criticisms it does receive is that it's too long. Which is partially humorous to me of course, because if the people who bring this up as a flaw had more than a fly's attention span, they would find the host of other videos that are all short and succinct, right there on the Vimeo account. But they don't, because they already said their piece and sped on to the next 'link of the day'. That the video is embedded and people watch the first 20 seconds, skip around in it and then proceed to leave their comment also doesn't help.
Kitbashed is not about brevity. It's about lengthiness, depth and context. For those seeking a quick thrill; a 30-second comparison between Star Wars and The Hidden Fortress, the Internet already has your inane needs covered. Top 10 Crazy Things You Didn't Know About Star Wars! It's out there, go right ahead and tweet it. I started work on Kitbashed in early 2010, The Searchers comparison segment of the video was the first thing I did in fact, and I've worked on it ever since. This is not auto-tuned news, it's not a Buzzfeed article or an animated GIF. The world has plenty of those already. What the world needs now is less brevity and more context.
What's more, how do you even show how some of the more abstract sources of inspiration in Lucas's life went on to influence the film? They don't necessarily have visuals that can be shown together and form any kind of meaningful sequence?
I guess you'll have to read...
PS: Regarding the things that are not in the cut, it's simply a matter of me finding the time (and ironically inspiration). Yes, I know about Triumph des Willens, yes I know about Silent Running too. But trust me when I say this: There are more sources of inspiration than anyone knows about, including me. I keep finding new ones (that I can and do substantiate), sometimes because I stumble upon them, sometimes because people send them to me. Besides, whether intentionally or not, you're making a hell of an accusation by showing something like Triumph des Willens and saying "Lucas totally got inspired by this" without adding some context.
The entire film, intercut with (a lot of, but not all of) its influences. I still have a lot of work to do, but I'm tired of sitting on it.
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