Will Dizzy Gillespie Survive the Apocalypse?
This short animated film from 1962 features a pair of well-acquainted construction workers whose idle chit-chat grows serious when the subject of the nuclear threat is breached. Could Armageddon be brought on by nothing more than a minor accident, now that so many nations possess doomsday devices? And since we have willingly brought ourselves to this point, could even an accident be considered blameless? That’s what THE HOLE wants you to consider.
This is not your standard animation. It’s somewhat limited (an artistic choice, I’m sure), and feels grittier and more urban than your typical cartoon, which is perfectly fitting with every aspect of the film. It was a bit difficult to tell what was going on at times, but the effect created with the newspaper (where the headlines were frequently shifting) was very cool. This is an attempt at art, and wasn’t intended for mass consumption, so it’s not going to be as easily digestible as a Disney or Warner Brothers cartoon.
Whatever minor amount of dislike one might have for the animation should be counteracted by an appreciation for the dialogue between the two characters. This can’t be attributed to a scriptwriter, as it was entirely improvised by it’s two stars—jazz legend Dizzy Gillespie and actor George Matthews. Their conversation flowed freely and believably, as if they truly were longtime friends. Jazz is a largely-improvisational art form, and this short proves that Dizzy is just as adept at improvising dialogue as he is at improvising musical compositions. Matthews was often cast in films as heavies and ruffians, but he also had an extensive stage career and a great intelligence, which may explain why he was able to keep up with Dizzy.
My favorite exchange between the two involved Dizzy discussing how he broke a drinking glass while he was doing dishes, much to his wife’s chagrin. Matthews retorts, “You know the reason you broke the glass? You didn’t want to do the dishes in the first place.”
THE HOLE was made by married animators John and Faith Hubley, who collaborated on almost every film they made during their lives together. John had begun in animation as a background and layout artist at Disney, pitching in on some of the studio’s most cherished productions such as PINOCCHIO, DUMBO, and FANTASIA, and he is also co-creator of the character Mr. Magoo. Two of John and Faith’s children grew up into a spotlight of their own: Georgia Hubley is a founding member of the band Yo La Tengo; and Emily Hubley supplied animated segments for the musical HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH.
This was not Dizzy Gillespie’s first collaboration with the Hubleys, nor was it his last. A DATE WITH DIZZY (1958) was a blend of live action and animation, and a satire of the advertising industry that had Dizzy and his band attempting to score a television commercial. THE HAT (1964) also featured the voice of Dudley Moore, and involved a border guard whose hat is accidentally dropped on the other side of the line that he is sworn to protect, resulting in an argumentative dialogue with his opposing counterpart. VOYAGE TO NEXT (1974) has actress Maureen Stapleton and Dizzy Gillespie voicing Mother Earth and Father Time respectively, pondering why the human race is so intent on destroying each other in war. EVERYBODY RIDES THE CAROUSEL (1975) was a feature-length presentation about human development from the day of their birth to the day of their death, and Dizzy contributed to the soundtrack. And finally, THE COSMIC EYE (1986) was another feature-length film, this time about a race of extraterrestrials who visit earth and give the humans an ultimatum—achieve peace or welcome absolute destruction—with Dizzy appearing as Father Time once again.
THE HOLE won an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film in 1962, and in 2013 was selected for preservation by the Library of Congress in the U.S. National Film Registry. It can be viewed online for free at the Internet Archive.