Remembrance of Giannalberto Bendazzi (1946-2021)
John A. Lent
I first met Giannalberto Bendazzi when I picked him up at the Philadelphia International Airport, April 8, 2002, but I knew of his contributions to animation studies for years. He was staying at my home for a few days. On the drive to my house, Giannalberto began talking about his wife. I chimed in about mine, just having been divorced--a second time, no less. Then, out of nowhere, Bendazzi tells me he takes his wife to the beach every week. Things can’t be that bad if he does that. Not so, he snapped back; he took her there hoping the sharks would get her. A sample of the dark humor he was capable of.
For the next few days, we talked about everything--of course, animation, a book he invited me to co-edit, our Italianness, and, of course, his wife. We spent a day in New York City with Oscar-winning animator and professor John Canemaker and others, had a potluck dinner at my house with Temple University colleagues and graduate students interested in animation, and visited the nearby Brandywine Museum and its Wyeth family collections. Bendazzi also lectured on animator Alexandre Alexeieff to a large class of film students at Temple University after which he described as a listless bunch.
About a month later, we met again at Penn Station in Manhattan. Bendazzi wanted to fill me in on a huge book project he was planning with mutual friend, Keith Bradbury of Australia. They had invited me to join them in co-editing a 16-volume, tentatively titled, Understanding Animation: An Anthology of Documents and Sources. Indiana University Press showed a keen interest in publishing the books to be extended over ten years. As far as I know, the project did not come to fruition; Giannalberto wrote us in April 2003, saying he wanted to put it on the “back burner.” Keith suggested that he and I continue, but this did not materialize either. I think Bendazzi wanted time to continue where his 1994 groundbreaking Cartoons left off, organizing what was to be the three-volume Animation: A World History. He asked me to write the sections on Taiwan and India, and coordinate with the collaboration of Hassan Muthalib, the Southeast Asia part, including Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and the Philippines.
Animation: A World History hit snags along an eight-year journey, about which Bendazzi lamented to me. John Libbey Publishing was commissioned to bring out the volumes, but needed a co-publisher for an American edition. Multiple publishers, including Indiana University Press and University of California Press, rejected the proposition, complaining the book was too large. Focal Press, affiliated with Taylor & Francis, eventually published the nearly 1,100 pages in three volumes in 2016.
I saw Giannalberto twice more, when we had dinner at the Milan airport Oct. 24, 2002, during a layover I had enroute to Lviv and at a comics and animation conference in Jilin, China, in September 2006. We kept up a correspondence at our lazy paces; his emails were personal at times, philosophical some times, sad and happy, humble and proud, but usually, peppered with some sarcasm and much wit. When I sent him a review I wrote of his work, he replied: “I received the review, made three somersaults and sent it to my publisher. We have a very well-coordinated opinion of each other: I tell him he is an idiot, and he behaves so” (May 22, 2017). On one occasion, he labeled his publishers “slow as a snail,” another publisher as “the worst bunch of screw-ups on the planet,” and bemoaned the “geological times” of another publisher.
He could also tangle up emotions as in this Sept. 18, 2014 email:
you bet that I will come to see you!
After the publication of the book, I will be travelling around to present it, and get some rewarding appraisal. Actually, I don’t give anything for appraisal=vanity. Appraisal is a substitute for love. I wrote all my books in order to demonstrate that I am honest, intelligent, in other words, worth [sic] to be loved.
Mine was a lifelong search for this thing, but I didn’t succeed.
I’m 68 and I’m alone.
I have no complaints: I did my best, with sincerity.
I’m deeply devoted to animation, for its qualities but also because it is underloved. So I do my best to promote it and enrich the number of its loving specialists.
I always felt at home with animators from every country of the world because in general, they are sensitive, kindhearted, altruistic.
In other words, loving and lovable people.
Thank you for listening. I realize that this confession is almost embarrassing…
Giannalberto was always humbly thankful. When, on June 22, 2019, he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the Universidade Lusόfona of Lisbon, that he said was “the first that an animation scholar ever received,” he sent many of us a note saying,
I thank all of you for the affection and teaching you have given me, in many ways, over many years of career. This result would not have been possible without you. I hope (I believe) that this is one more step in the ascent towards a generalized conception of animation as an art.
Thank you, Giannalberto (June 26, 2019)
That was Giannalberto Bendazzi as a human being: kind, frank, intelligent, and accommodating. He usually called me a friend which I was appreciative of and honored by.
As for Giannalberto Bendazzi as a scholar, his accomplishments provide the answer. That he was a pioneer in animation studies and one of the field’s most outstanding representatives and promoters is undisputable. He took the route to a career in animation as so many of us have--via training and employment in other disciplines; his was law, which he studied but never practiced. Instead, he became a film critic and in the 1970s, began easing his way into animation, especially its history, a virgin topic outside of coverage of Disney, Fleischer, and other U.S. studios.
Giannalberto wrote books, monographs, and articles on various animators, such as Quirino Cristiani, Italian-born Argentine who created the world’s first animated feature, Osvaldo Cavandoli, Bruno Bozzetto, Alexandre Alexeieff, and others, as well as his best-known compilations, Cartoons: One Hundred Years of Cinema Animation and Animation: A World History. He held teaching stints at Università degli Studi di Milano (2002-2009), Nanyang Technological University of Singapore (2013-2015), and Griffith University in Australia; lectured and presented papers in Italy, U.S., China, Singapore, and elsewhere, and co-founded ASIFA-Italy (1982) and Society for Animation Studies (1987).
His death, at age 75, on Dec. 13, 2021, left a huge void in the profession of animation studies and in the hearts of those of us who had the privilege of knowing him, that will be difficult to fill.
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