Chapter 28: The Charlotte Papers
I was in full cry, shoveling my enthusiastic ideas to him:
Gene Deitch Mostecká 273/B Prague 1, Czechoslovakia
December 30, 1970
Thank you very much for the very helpful material you have already sent me. Your letter describing the farrowing of Digs is a treasure! All of this is helping me to round out my own first analysis and basic film treatment, point-of-view, structural ideas and so forth. I will greatly appreciate anything you care to send me, and, if you have the patience for it, I will send you my own progress reports. In your own first script (how I wish I had the whole thing!), you have a very beautiful line:
"This is a story of miracles, the miracle birth, the miracle of friendship, the miracle of death."
I would like to use that. You also state the entire story in one phrase:
"...a large spider saves the life of a pig by spinning words in her web."
I have already pounded out many pages trying to state this in terms of filmic exposition, My first problem, in trying to redevelop your story into a theatrical medium is to find the central action premise, I find it to be this:
"DEVOTION TO ANOTHER MAGNIFIES ONE'S SELF"
Within this six word line is what I now believe to be the driving force of the story in terms of its action. It gives us an underlying motivation, the reason why Charlotte the spider makes it her life's work to save Wilbur the pig. She actually needs him as much as he needs her. Wilbur becomes the instrument by which Charlotte gives meaning to her own life, and by which her memory is perpetuated as an individual, unique among the billions and billions of her ancestors, She thus becomes a spider among spiders. She even manages to convince that self-centered rat, Templeton, that there is something in it for him, in the saving of Wilbur! And Templeton, possibly the most complex of your characters in this book, does in fact do what is needed. Perhaps this is because Char1otte is able to help him satisfy his own "scruples" which do not allow him to be seen doing something for someone else out of nothing more than mere goodwill!
This is not potentially a comic-gag nor helter-skelter action cartoon. Perhaps we will create the first dramatic-humanist animation feature! Though all of the events take place within an area of the familiar, as you say, miracles occur, and thus these familiar locales and creatures must be given an aura of magic in the way they are portrayed, probably through the use of a graphic style and camera technique which will convey an atmosphere of warmth, comfort, security, humanity, and gentle humor - a rather new approach to the barnyard in a movie cartoon!
Structurally, the film divides into four seasonal sequences, each having its predominant color scheme. Each of these sequences would be introduced by a lyrical montage which would visually and aurally create the atmosphere described in the book with words.
For example, where you describe so well the smells of which conjure up the image, we would rely on sounds: the buzzing of flies, a panapoly of bird sounds, crickets, rain, distant sounds of screen door closings, farm animals, machines.
Also, I would use these seasonal sequence-opening, evocative passages to introduce various characters and plot points which might otherwise require explanations, and thus slow down the flow of the film. For example, in the opening sequence showing the coming of spring to the farm, we would incorporate shots showing the birth of baby pigs, and shots of a rat scurrying about gathering bits of strange junk, and of course, a spider meticulously constructing a web. Thus, when we come to Templeton's role in the story, we will already know the essential facts of his character and unpleasant habits.
Under the titles of course, would be seen the slow, diligent weaving of an entire spider web. In developing this idea, which I am happy that you like, I would like to see the spider rest from time to time, moving off to the side, pausing as if to survey the work in progress. And once, when a strand of the web is drawn askew, thus breaking the otherwise perfect symmetry, the spider actually undoes the line, and re-spins it to conform to the overall pattern! In this action, we are suddenly aware of a consciousness, a personality.
Then, when the titles are at last over, and the web is complete, a pure thin voice, speaking a disciplined New England dialect, would be heard to say:
"It's not bad, really. But I expect I will do better still before I am done."
Without our yet knowing it, this line would tell us in advance the whole story of our film, and the determination of its heroine.
Then we would pull away from the glistening new spider web, and begin a visual/musical poem on the annual renewal of life, which is Spring.
In addition to the dramatic/structural premise I have chosen, I would add what I feel to be the overlaying parallel themes of the story; the expression of the interdependence of all individuals to one another, (friendship), and of all to the land, (Ecology). The story is in fact a paean to Life, and the film too must convey a feeling of joy of life, and an acceptance of its patterns. Further, the story impels tolerance for other ways of life,(and by inference, other cultures). After all, we are dealing with a PIG who sloppily slurps garbage, a RAT who scavenges anything he can get for himself, and a SPIDER who drinks blood.
Well, these are some excerpts from twelve pages of notes which I have typed up so far. Also, I have collected some very interesting samples from several artists here, and am waiting impatiently for Mike Campus's arrival to either confirm or condemn my basic filmic approach. He should be here any day, according to his last phone call. Then, I hope I will really be off on the great adventure.
As I said before, I will be in need of any and al photographic material, as detailed as possible, dealing with New England farm life.In the meantime, Zdenka and I wish you and Kay the very happiest of New Years. Now, I must run to the snow before the corner Post Office closes for the year. . . (it's Dec 31st by now!)Let's hope that during the next year, more people will get a little sip from those front teats! (Gene)