Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Thief Who Got Ripped Off.

 To bitch about it yet again, I’ve never met an artist who didn’t, at some point, tell me a tale of woe, poverty, ignominy and frustration: no matter how great their originality and genius, they’ve been ripped off, plagiarized, copied, left to eat dirt in the gutter whilst their competitors/nemesis have hit the heights of fame and fortune. The artist getting ripped off is yet another urban legend and goes with the image being an artist like fucking their models and starving in garrets does.

So I hate to mention that I also got fucked over, all along the way by the six fuckwits out of every seven hunger-artists I met, and by one prick in particular I met early on in my non-career as an artist, whose plagiarism was astounding in its gall, and who so undermined my confidence and trust I wince from it still thirty years later as if it were the sting of a blue-bottle jelly fish.

It has rankled on me for so long I dread meeting him again, he goes by the shit-house name of Hobart Hughes, for I fear I’d smack his face or spit in his eye if I spotted him, it’s almost given me a nervous breakdown thinking about it. But I’ve mellowed out in my old age, tired of all the brawling and caterwauling, I’m over the Big Rip-off, and the non-career, kind of, I want a life of peace, contemplation and wanderlust.

Still I was amazed when Bruce Curry, his partner in plagiarism, showed up at the Piccolo Cafe 30 years later, I didn’t even recognize him and, on being re-introduced, didn’t scream or smack him. I was my usual, accommodating polite self, yeah yeah, surprise surprise, and simply asked him if he’d had any success in all these years, (other than with the design/technique he’d ripped off me.)

“If you call animating candy M & Ms television commercials success?” he replied. “No, sorry, I wouldn’t,” I confessed. He was dressed plain-Jane David Jones style, with a flat wimpy affect, no charisma, like nothing much had happened for him, he was all washed out, nothing for me to get uptight about, I smiled graciously and let him go his way, back into oblivion. His partner, the main instigator in the rip-off, “Hobart” Hughes, I still detest but am glad I’m over the blood-curdling violence I’ve long felt, I have indeed moved on.

Back in about 1981 I'd naively invited a stupid bitch named Julie Cuntham into my animation studio at Wooloomoolloo squats in a foolish attempt at mentoring the young and she brought Hobart and co with her, all fresh from art school yet knowing nothing.

(They were like vampires and I guess it was my fault for "inviting them in".) I was about a year into making “The Thief of Sydney”, and wasn't thinking when they asked to borrow my test-reel of 16ml footage that I'd slaved so hard over, Hobart took it to Mushroom Records and passed it off as his own, stole both the technique and design and in 6 months did a music video clip for the band Mental as Cut Snakes which he got 15 nano-seconds of fame for and based his whole arts-career upon. I could still sue him for “Breach of Confidentiality” and “Breach of Copyright” for there is a life of 70 years on such things. But fuck him, I’m over it.

(And, "What's the problem?" you may think, "you still got your film out there!" But as they said in the movie "The Social Network" on Zuckerberg ripping off the idea for Facebook, in this shallow world of competitive capitalism and shallow celebrity worship, "it's who gets there first that matters." He stole my thunder, pre-empted my project and took the gloss off, he and his friends would be nowhere if they hadn't come into the studio and ripped off EVERYTHING!

As a child in the ‘50s I was wildly influenced by “Arabian Nights” type movies like “The Thief of Baghdad”, “Jungle Book”, “Hadji Baba”and “Sinbad the Sailor”, my fondest fantasy being that of flying on a magic carpet over domed palaces and minarets, with a genie for a side-kick who granted my every wish. I was enamored of the flashy costumes, jeweled scimitars, enlightening lamps and winged horses, and a magic trick round every bend. West Heidelberg Melbourne was so ‘50s mundane and pedestrian, I longed to escape, I’d lead a gang of lost boys roaming into the city and, before our flights into the fairy-tale palace cinemas, we’d go up to the roofs of department stores like Myers and Foys where they had amusement parks with Ali Baba caves and magic grottoes. Once inside we’d wreck them, beating up the costumed dummies with wooden swords and smashing the papier mache treasures, as if we were heroes defeating wicked demons.

Eventually, at 22, I flew to India to live out these dreams in reality, the madness of a past and future life as a shaman, wizard and turbaned prince of the realm, traveling the length and breadth of India playing at “Kim”. Imagine me as a 27 year old, fresh from these adventures, bright and naïve, spirited and agog, landing in Sydney in 1977, city of a glass-tower future nestled in an ancient Koori bush-scape on a bedrock of convict sandstone. And I had to make my way, using the boons I’d won in my travails, so I dreamed up the story for “The Thief of Sydney” while down and out in the gutters, clinging to squats and beating off skinhead gangs.

One day, when wandering the grungy back-lanes of Sydney, putting up my posters, I met a kooky old fellow, a veritable techno wizard, who admired my drawing and suggested I try animated cartooning to truly reach the epitome of explosive art, and a light-bulb lit up in my pinhead, “Yes! Animated cartoons, the culmination of all my interests!”

I knew the basis for most of the special effects in all the science fiction movies I adored were stop-framing and cartoon super-imposition, such as the phantom monster in “Forbidden Planet” and the models of space ships spouting death-rays in “War of the Worlds” and I dreamed that I too maybe might somehow make science-fiction films with magical effects.

The old man’s name was Eddie van der Madden, he was Dutch, a World War Two refugee from the traditional school of European animators, a crack-pot genius in animation techniques and automated photography. I visited him assiduously in his tumble-down squat studio in Darlinghurst to imbibe as much animation know-how as the cranky old fellow would impart, sitting at his hand-built animation desk that took gorgeous, crisp photos sequentially of drawings placed under it.

 Eddie had previously worked for television doing animated comedy and commercials till he threw one too many temper tantrums and they sacked him, with no recommendation. Here he was, destitute, in a condemned slum, capable of works of extreme brilliance, always grumbling about how he’d been ripped off by everybody. Often his sour eye fell on me, who’d made some innocent remark, and with much abuse and smashing of the camera-desk, the old maestro would shout how the power was his and nobody could take it from him. I remained patient and encouraging with the cantankerous Master, I was the lowly apprentice and I weathered the temper-storms to imbibe his craft, learning how to move cut-out pictures one, two, three frames at a time to get different flows, to finger paint in slow motion, to move smooth and surrealist like Disney with different levels of painted cells, to spin objects and move puppets with stop-framing.

I realized animation was a way I could clearly depict the psychological underpinnings of human reality, printing cartoons onto real heads for thinking and dreaming. I spent my meager dole money on film and art materials, plastic cells and paints, and on appeasing Eddie, to practice photographing animation sequences, eventually creating a shocking cartoon called “We’ve got it all for You!” with Donald McRonald kidnapping cancer kiddies and turning them into hamburger meat.

I knew there was a way of capturing realist movement in animated splendor from seeing films like Disney’s “Fantasia” but I didn’t know what the process was, and I very much wanted it as I felt my science fantasies should have some grounding in reality, look real enough so an audience would buy it, however surreal the story. I trekked out to the Film and Television School in the wilds of middle-suburbia to attend an animation course where I inquired about the realist movement, in cartoon, of the human form walking. I was shown a 1960s, French-Canadian film of an animated pair of legs walking, the feet realistically and rhythmically placed with every step, and it looked very cool. The process was called ‘rotoscoping’, projecting live-action film a frame at a time onto a desk top and tracing each frame onto a perfectly registered cell. This was the key to the ‘look’ I had in mind for my next wondrous piece of anti-cinema and Eddie built me a rotoscope-machine accordingly.

All the while I was dreaming up “The Thief of Sydney”, inspired by “The Thief of Baghdad” and “The Time Machine”, “On the Beach” and “Logan’s Run”, and my own tawdry life, about dreaming of winning a futuristic sport called “sound surfing” that I’d discovered for myself jumping the waves at electric rock gigs around the underground clubs of Sydney. I drew up a cartoon storyboard for the script and, to prove my ability at rotoscoping, shot two sequences of film, one live action of an actress dissolving into and superimposed upon another hand-painted, animated image of the same actress. A woman smoking a cigarette dissolves smoothly into the cartoon version of herself, smoking and eating a hamburger, and hallucinating a whirl of deadly symbols out of her ears before her face goes up in a puff of smoke. (This is what Hobart Hughes ripped off, only he used a guy, that clown Flacco, instead.) I tacked this onto the beginning of my cut-out animation of a woman smoking and eating hamburgers, then Donald MacRonald harassing her. I figured I could include it in some wild film of future date. (And I did, I put it in "Darling It Hurtz!")

I got a small amount of money from the Aust Film Commission to make “The Thief of Sydney”, it took me 4 years to finish the 13 minute film as I had to paint 21 thousand acetate cells and 40 backgrounds by myself, it went on to win a Bronze Dragon at Krakow, Poland in 1985 and best kids' animation at ATOM Awards in Auz, has been shown hundreds of times around the world and is now referred to as an “underground classic” but the travail to get there is another story, to be told in later Blogs.

 This is for the Akashic record: it's ironic that "The Thief" got ripped off, the cunts even took the animation camera, and in all the interviews they did over the years they never acknowledged Eddie vander Madden as the genius who launched them, or me as a founding member of the "animation collective", pretending it all came out of their wonderful brains. Julie Cuntham even had the nerve for the last thirty years to tell other fools she "taught TZ everything he knows about animation." What a dill! She couldn't even press the button on the camera to take a photo. To succeed in this 'post-modern' world the artist has to be ruthless, shallow and have a beastly fame-diseased soul. They conned a lot of arts bureaucrats to get money and fame but I'm glad I kept my integrity untarnished and carried on, doing my thing. 

Sadly, the rip-offs were a "never-ending" horror tale. Mt next project, "Virgin Beasts" got dumped halfway through production by the funding bureaucrats while they, feminist dykes, went on to snaffle huge amounts of money from the Film Commissar to copy its format. I refused to give in and persisted till a new "male" bureaucrat took over and permitted me to finish the film. No one would distribute it and I had to sell it to Troma for a measly $1000. They showed it all around the world, especially after it won best Trash Film in the World at Feakzone, France 1996, but always telling me it made no money and yearly presenting me with a bill. In 2005 Troma re-released the film, why if it wasn'y making any money? I was ripped, plain and simple, left to starve in the utter.

If you are from a poor background, with no Private School background, no connections, no where-withal to hire a lawyer, no fame, living way down in the boondocks of Auz, not even fuckable, but with some ability at producing interesting work, then you can expect to be ripped off. The plagiarism/money-grab has been a constant, right up to this very day: I do my stage act, someone in the audience sees it, thinks, Hmmmm, that's pretty good, I want that act. All I have to do is get rid of Toby Zoates!" A few weeks/months later I see my act repeated by some dickhead I know, who looks at me oafishly, "How absurd, I dreamed this up, I've got better connections and you're just a guttersnipe!" Post-modernism even allows it with the bullshit line, "Everything is up for grabs!" 

I know it goes on all over the world but hicksville convict cringe-worthy Australia is particularly bad for it. Auz has to be kept safe as a military base, a mining camp, a food bowl, a product test market, nothing can be allowed to rock the boat, all has to be State sanctioned and supported and feed High Fascist Capitalism. That's why most cultural products from Auz are so bad, so boring, so obsequious to Authority, elitism or the lowest common denominator. Fuck'em all, I'm out of here! (I suspect even the best of my stories here on this Blog will get ripped off and "worked over" post-modern.)

If you enjoyed this story please go to the WEB address above and consider buying my book of tales about growing up anarcho-queer, rock and roll punter and mystic adventurer in Australia and India of the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s.