Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Musical Memories

Today I am posting a sentimental Fleischer cartoon released November 8, 1935 and animated by the unit (or 'group' as they were known at the Fleischers) headed by Seymour Kneitel. What I wanted to say about this cartoon really has to do with a stupid age-old bit of cinema journalism from the late 60's into the 70's when a lot of "What To See In Film" books invaded university book stores for the first time. Thankfully such errors as listing Dave Fleischer as one of the great cartoon directors (he was actually one of the greatest gag men) were corrected by guys like Shamus Culhane. However, other opinion-as-fact assessments remain in the literature to this day. One such opinion which has been repeated already too many times is how the Color Classics series, produced from 1934-1940, were successful neither as Fleischer cartoons or as bogus Disney Silly Symphonies ...

This angle affords us a brief look, in color, at John Burks incredible stereoscopic set-up from a few paces back.

Let the creepshow begin!

Carl Wessler describes working on the scene above (click to enlarge)

Scary Durante (see comments)

Another astonishing John Burks set-up. 'Musical Memories' may have had more 3D sets than any other Fleischer cartoon. Each one is amazing.

A startlingly creative wipe brings the frame of the 'photographer's studio' into the composition and explains it's reason - the whole cartoon is a P.O.V looking at stereopticons remember? The female character is plainly a modified fairy from 'Poor Cinderella'.

Getting back to the 'bogus Disney' rap: I find it peculiar that such a charge has only ever been leveled at the Fleischer series when every major studio set about making like product during this time (mid-30's). Even Warner Bros. had Merrie Melodies. Harmon & Ising's Happy Harmonies (see last post if you like punishment) were by far the most egregious imitators of Disney with by far the most hollow results. Yet it is Fleischer Studios that is always singled out. Still, I think there isn't much doubt the Color Classics were conceived (and perhaps even ordered by Paramount) as a response to the tremendous popularity of the Disney color series. And why not? The Fleischer cartoons benefited enormously from increased budgets which allowed the experimentation with new mechanical devices and processes: particularly the use of turn-table camera. For the mechanically minded Max this prospect must have seemed irresistible.

I love Fleischer EFX animation: it's not realistic but it's way more interesting.

At any rate along with the definition of Color Classics as 'bogus Disneys' or 'unsuccessful Fleischers' you will likely read that the Fleischer cartoons lacked the sincerity of Disney. For me, this particular cartoon defies that claim. It is, after all, a sentimental look at a time and a place (turn of the century New York) which many of the artists who worked on the picture (particularly the elder Doc Crandall*) would have known. The songs, conveniently in the public domain, would have been known to the artists also. It is conceivable that a bunch of New York animators could express themselves sincerely, within the confines of their unique artistic perspective, skill & the demands of business, on a subject they would have been able to discuss in expert detail!

*Roland 'Doc' Crandall was originally born in New Canaan Conn. but migrated to New York at an early age to work as an engraver. This would have been prior to World War 1 in which he served. After returning from the war he worked for Bray before settling in with the Fleischers. He was one of their first employees.

Review of 'Memories' (the film's working title) from the November '35 issue of the Animated News (click to enlarge)

Of course, as the review above states, this cartoon is intended to be "very realistic in treatment". If they were trying to get 'realistic' out of Crandall they should have thought twice! This is, however, a strength not a weakness. Sure it's a little fruity but it's also gnarly, creeped out and ruggedly individualistic: something Disney discouraged in his ranks. Simply put 'Musical Memories' is a Fleischer cartoon through and through. In our current era where hyper-realism is the norm and all animation looks basically the same (they are all strongly if not wholly based on a single Disney textbook: Thomas & Johnson's 'The Illusion of Life') how have we really benefitted cinematically? Hey, you kids - don't think I don't know what you're doing ... don't make me shake my cane!

Notice the 'Lager Beer' sign and buildings re-used from the opening shot of the hurdy gurdy.

The mind blowing reveal at the end reminds me of more of an art deco movie palace in the manner of Radio City than simply an 'ultra-modernistic home'. This above image has been giganticized for your drooling pleasure...


Jim said...

Thanks so much for this cartoon; a real pleasure. One trivial comment: I think the "scary Durante" is really a caricature of Al Smith, whose 1928 campaign song was "the Sidewalks of New York". (See the Wikipedia page for Al Smith.)

Thanks again.

p spector said...

Wonderful post Uncle John!

J.V. (AKA "White Pongo") said...

I think you are correct: it is Al Smith. The caricature is was a little hard for me to read (it is much clearer in 'Betty Boop For President') so I assumed from the schnoz and vocal delivery it was Durante.

Thanks for the correction and stopping by!

Anonymous said...

the song sounds very simuler to the fleischer cartoon little annie rooney but it seems they have used a variety of songs in this cartoon

paul etcheverry said...

Thanks, Uncle John! I saw that ages ago on 16mm, found it not only quite the showcase for the Fleischer Studio's tabletop set 3-D technique, but at times moving and eloquent, especially in that closing shot.

All's Fair At The Fair is an especially wonderful Color Classic that epitomizes the unique style, inventiveness and humor of Fleischer.

Rusty said...

I noticed the last 10 second of the film it looks more like a model set than an animation.

Jim said...


You are correct, it is a little set. It's the Fleischer rotograph. See the May 10th 2007 entry at bluespill.com to learn more.