Saturday, January 22, 2011

Mr. Bug at the Cinematheque

I'm leaving the blog to go dormant for a while, as I'm sure some of you have already noticed, but didn't feel right about not saying anything about a recent screening in my area of Mr. Bug Goes To Town which played here last Sunday.

Crispen Glover and Charlie Chaplin on the same bill? What kind of crazy town is this?

The Pacific Cinematheque is a small art-house theater in downtown Vancouver. The screen is not too large but large enough to approximate the scale of a 35mm. The audience drew mostly young animation students and a few families and their kids.

This was the first time I had ever seen it with Paramount Logos and original titles. This re-issue titled version above has been the only way I've ever been able to see it for years! For those curious the 'Mr. Bug Goes to Town' titles are the identical font to the one above. However the truck-in starts in the right spot!

If you look at the title card that follows 'HOPPITY GOES TO TOWN' above there's a bit of a jump. The camera shot was restored in this print of 'Mr. Bug Goes To Town' beginning properly in a deeper blue part of the star field before panning off to the planet below. The soundtrack starts with the Paramount Logo which was new for me as was the logo itself: almost a Puppetoon version-wish I had snapped a photo!

I'm not sure if it was just because I was hearing the soundtrack through a theater's sound system but the sound on this was probably the best I've ever heard. Fleischer soundtracks occasionally come off as a little thin or distorted. This could be due to the transfer but the AMC version which I'm using to illustrate this post suffers from this ... only very slightly ... but I noticed the difference with last Sunday's 'Mr. Bug'. It really sounded great - very clear and full!

According to Jerry Beck, the film is a recent restoration from the UCLA Film & Television Archive struck from the negative they have there. It screened in LA in recent months and Jerry was able to tip off the Cinemateque's program director where to find it. Of the versions I know of (which now number 4 - one of which is 16mm) this Japanese Print is as close an approximation of what was shown ... though not quite as dark. If anybody can clarify any further drop me a comment!

The AMC version is also missing a line: Mr. Bumbles reply to Smack & Swat's "It's us, boss". The line was present in the UCLA print.

Of course one always hopes that some day this and some of the other goodies, like the newly restored Raven, which are housed at UCLA will get green-lit for a still Paramount controlled Fleischer DVD retrospective. I know they have good materials on the Color Classics, a series poorly represented (in beat, dark & faded 16mm prints) in the DVD market for years, but that's the subject of another rage ... er I mean post.


p spector said...

I'll miss you during your dormancy.
Hope it's productive.cala

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

Hi Paul,

Thanks for stopping by! Productive or reductive, I'm buyin' me some beans! Not those crap-ass no name cans either. Will the fast lane be too much for me?

Thad said...

Hey John,
The AMC copy (which came from me, originating from Jon Cooke), is just glitched. The line should be there, but the recording software flubbed it. Sorry. It's sort of the best copy out there right now otherwise though.

I saw "Hoppity" at Cornell two years ago as part of their Kidscreen program (it was the NTA version). What surprised me is how the mostly under 10 audience was able to sit through the whole thing! Because speaking objectively, it really is kind of dated, but no, these kids loved it! One girl jumped up and down in her seat every time Smack and Swat came on - finally collapsing in it.

I echo your sentiments about the movie wholeheartedly. Whereas "Gulliver" more or less emphasize all the things the studio wasn't good at (mainly being Disney), "Hoppity" embodies what they were best at - everything Disney wasn't!

I wish the Fleischers got to make a third feature - I'm sure it would have been even better.

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

Strange because I actually see a lot more of Disney coming through in Mr. Bug particularly in the posing & timing. The Lilliputians come off to me (when we're not seeing them in crowd shots) much in the rubbery manner of the Popeye & Color Classics cartoons as do the spies. The expressions reflect that earlier style too. The "Disney" timing (as interpreted by Fleischers) comes off more in the Glory & David scenes. In Mr. Bug the timing & particularly the posing reflect the Disney method. Characters anticipate movement in a very Disney-esque way and land (& hold!) on poses far more melodramatic than you would see in the earlier cartoons. Just look at the scene after Honeybee shuts the door on Hoppity after their date. Hoppity is shot from behind as he reaches out forlornly to the departed Honey slowing into the pose. Now compare with the forlorn wrinkly old man swans from 'Time For Love'. I detect a difference.

'Mr. Bug' is still an amazing film though for many reasons. Is it better than 'Gulliver'? In a way I suppose. But I think the genuine legacy of the Fleischer Studios was in their short subjects: an area in which they excelled more consistently, over that 10 year period from 1930-1940, than practically everyone in the business.

BTW-Thanks for the info on the AMC copy (& to both you & Jon Cooke for the DVD itself!). I kinda thought it might have been a commercial interruption!