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Legendary Animation Educator Moritz Passes Away

AWN is saddened to report that legendary animation educator and historian Bill Moritz passed away on March 12, 2004 after suffering a long illness.

Dr. William Moritz is a world-renowned expert on animation, experimental film and visual music, and has authored more than 100 articles, chapters and program notes. His forthcoming book OPTICAL POETRY is the culmination of his 34 years of research and work with the Fischinger Archive. OPTICAL POETRY reveals fully his passion for the Fischinger legacy, and fully details his decades of archival work on the films.

Born in 1941 in Arizona, Moritz was raised in Arizona and Southern California. He received his doctorate from the University of Southern California in 1968 (Comparative Literature, minor in Cinema). He began teaching at Occidental College in 1965, and continued teaching film and humanities at institutions including Otis Art Institute, Pitzer College, American University Center (Calcutta, India), UCLA, Art Center College of Design, and CalArts. He worked at the Creative Film Society distributing animation, and at radio station KPFK as a film and music critic. He promoted experimental film and animation through venues like Los Angeles Filmmakers Cooperative, Theatre Vanguard and Los Angeles Film Oasis; and was a member of the Visual Music Alliance in the '80s.

His own 34 films, both experimental and animation, have been screened at museums in Paris, Amsterdam, Stockholm and Tokyo, and venues including Pacific Film Archive, Anthology Film Archive, San Francisco Art Institute and Academy of Fine Arts (the Hague). He toured giving poetry readings, had many of his poems published, and two of his plays were produced including THE MIDAS WELL SHOW.

He has published widely on animation and experimental film, including articles on Oskar Fischinger, James Whitney, Visual Music, Jordan Belson, the Fleischer Brothers, Bruce Connor, Hy Hirsh and numerous other filmmakers. He was a past president of the Society for Animation Studies, and lectured at film festivals, museums, universities and conferences worldwide. He curated numerous film exhibitions and was a guest curator for several art exhibitions, including The Spiritual in Art and Degenerate Art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. He has appeared in television documentaries including the French PATHS OF LIGHT, the British ABSTRACT CINEMA, and the American CBS CAMERA THREE series. In 1993, he was honored with a lifetime achievement trophy for service to Visual Music by the Royal Academy of the Netherlands. In 1995, he received an American Film Institute Independent Filmmakers Grant for his animated film, ALL MY LOST LOVERS.

Most recently, he was faculty at California Institute of the Arts, department of Film/Video.

Below is a tribute letter written by Janeann Dill, M.F.A., M.A., B.A., Jules Engel biographer and artist in residence for the Creative Alliance at The Patterson, Baltimore, Maryland, USA.

I am so deeply sad at this news, as many of you are as well, I'm sure. Bill was my teacher at Cal Arts and was solely responsible for placing me in the position of being the official biographer of Jules Engel. Bill, who nominated me for that position, and Jules would often say to me (especially when I was feeling overwhelmed with the task at hand ... enough to scare anyone, I think, no matter how experienced a writer). "Now don't you forget! Bill Moritz is the one who nominated you for this!" (Jules would pick up on the smallest hint of loss of confidence and this was his way to bolster that.)

I had written on Jules under Bill's guidance in a class that he and Christine Panushka instigated at Cal Arts in 1992 called THE AESTHETICS OF EXPERIMENTAL ANIMATION. I well remember that they taught this class out of love for our field and the absence of scholarly authorship. They both took on this class adding to their teaching load for no additional compensation by the institution.In that class I wrote a paper on Jules for the SAS Conference and presented it when SAS was held at Cal Arts the spring of 1993. Maureen Furniss subsequently published that article on Jules in ANIMATION JOURNAL. I also well remember that this newly created journal was birthed for similar reasons as the class: an absence of published scholarship in our field at that time. We have come a long way since.

Bill's life and work informs in a visceral, pedal to the metal way -- for this, I am indebted to him as a brilliant mentor from the depths of my heart. I thank him also for the impassioned and joyful spirit he brought to life in the work of Fischinger as well as many other filmmakers in animation. I remember Bill's being asked to the Sorbonne one semester for a visit. I asked him what he would be doing there and he gently, unobtrusively commented that he was serving on a doctorate defense committee for a dissertation on Maya Deren. I was thrilled and floored at the same time. Firstly, I was once in that doctorate program until I bumped up against the French exam that I was required to take before graduating. I had lived in France for four years and that was absolutely of no help to me when I saw that exam. Not only was Bill the extraordinary scholar in film (at-large), his command of the French language (along with about 5 others, including Sanskrit) was so perfected that he could participate in a doctorate defense in France in the mother tongue. I often told him I would so love to download his brain! He always smiled when I said that to him.

One last note, which somehow comforts me: Bill died right after what would have been Jules' 95th birthday, March 11, 1909.

A gentle man, a gentle soul, and a very generous Dr. Bill ... Janeann

To learn more about Bill Moritz and his work read Cindy Keefer's ANIMATION WORLD MAGAZINE article. Keefer provided biography for this news item.

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Rick DeMott
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