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ClassicDocumentaryFeature Film

This Friday in NYC: Documentary About Richard Williams’ “The Thief and the Cobbler”

This Friday, November 9th, New Yorkers can see the East Coast premiere of Kevin Schreck’s new documentary Persistence of Vision, about Richard William’s never-completed-as-envisioned The Thief and the Cobbler. Williams worked on the film from the mid-1960s through the early-1990s before it was taken away from him and finished by producer Fred Calvert.

I’m looking forward to seeing Schreck’s film, which includes interviews with many people who worked on the film, though not Williams who declined to participate. And if the film is playing at a festival near you, see it! The documentary likely won’t be released on home video anytime soon because Schreck didn’t obtain permission from the copyright holders whose animation appears in the film. Sadly, Schreck’s approach is just about the only way nowadays to create animation history projects since the handful of conglomerates that own the film libraries don’t understand the value of cooperating with historians and researchers to present an accurate historical and critical portrait of the animation they own.

The film screens on Friday at 9:15pm at the SVA Theater (333 W. 23rd Street, NY, NY). The director will do a Q&A after the film. Tickets cannot be purchased at the theater. They must be purchased in advance, either at the IFC Center or online HERE. There’s also a Facebook page for the film where you can bug the filmmakers to bring a screening to your city.

  • Sarah J

    Oh, I really wished I could be in NYC! The Thief and the Cobbler was a very interesting film (the “recobbled” version, anyway. The narration was so annoying in the official release…) with an interesting history, and I’d love to see a documentary on the subject. Any chance that said documentary will pop up on the internet?

  • Luke

    Amid, who owns Thief nowadays?

  • Seth

    I’ve been waiting for this documentary to come out almost a year now! If only the film could be completed as Mr. Williams intended. Didn’t Roy E. Disney buy some of the rights before his demise to put it together in its intended form before actually shelving it? If it were completed, I’m very sure it would stand alongside Disney and Miyazaki films as one of the greatest animated films ever made.
    Anyway, Yuri Norstein’s The Overcoat is bound to break the record for the taking the longest time to make a feature-length animated film, surpassing The Thief and the Cobbler.

  • dbenson

    Back in the mid-70s, saw a documentary about Richard Williams during a college class. They talked about “The Thief and the Cobbler”, showing a pencil test of some royal wise men pontificating on the subject of bread. No hint of such a sequence in the film as it stands now.

  • Kurt

    A documentry that can’t be commercialy released about movie where the director’s cut of the movie will problay never see the light of day is just tragically ironic. iI remeber seeing the bowlderized version that Miramax put out in theatre in Chicago & thinking that great animation was sacrifced in order to turn into a Disney knock off.

  • TStevens

    I can remember seeing the bootlegged rough cut back in 99 and I recall that the individual scenes were more impressive than the whole. It seemed like an attempt to make every sequence more technically brilliant than the one before but with very little story to hang on to. It is a beautiful film that is almost impossible to watch.

    For years people have noted how the film was taken away from him. However, every story I have heard indicates that the bond company took control of the film when it was clear that Williams was unable to finish the project. This is an indistry about turning a profit and not one purely designed for artists to make vanity projects.

    • James

      Well, first of all, the “recobbled cut” is just an unfinished workprint, so it should be just treated a a glimpse of what the finished product could possibly have been. Story issue would have likely been tackled later and new scenes could have still been planned later to flesh it out.

      Second of all, even in this unfinished state, the spectacle and artistry of the animation carry the burden of entertainment the simplistic story generally lacks–much like how excellent production numbers in a musical can carry an otherwise weak screenplay.

      • Hank

        No. Story issues must be worked out before hand. The film is a beautiful mess–but NOT a “great film.”

        • James

          Who’s saying it’s a great film? I just disagree with the above comment that it is “almost impossible to watch”

  • andreas Wessel-Therhorn

    It will be interesting to see, specially for us who worked on it.Whatever the movie may or may not have become, it was inspiring for many young animators to work on a project so fueled by passion, not by the need to feed a franchise

  • Dave O.

    Any idea why Williams declined to participate?

    • Hannah

      Williams hasn’t talked about The Thief for years since he is understandibly upset about having it taken away from him and meddled to death.

      • Hank

        It wasn’t “taken away.” Williams himself couldn’t bring himself to complete it on the budget and schedule he agreed to.

  • Just saw the film tonight, it was really wonderful. I took some notes from the Q&A and I’ll share it shortly, but it’s a bit late so it’ll have to wait until tomorrow.

    But I really enjoyed the film, the pencil tests and behind-the-scenes footage was worth it by itself.