Saturday, December 26, 2009

Is it over?

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

And the winner is....

By a landslide. Now you can waste valuable seconds on a brand new pole. Vote today, lives depend on it!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Act Fast! Time Is Running Out!

Over a year in the making: the polls are only days from closing answering the age old question of dog vs. dog vs. kid! Who will take home the gold and who's dreams will be forever shattered? Will it be the chubby old man, the chubby young man or Cialis The Hound? For goodness sakes man - go to the polls in the sidebar!

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...

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Tom Turkey

Here's a heavily DVNR'd Happy Harmony "Tom Turkey & His Harmonica Humdingers" (1940). The pluses? There's some nicely done animation in there. The minuses? If you can get through this without putting your fist through the screen you have my eternal admiration.
Oh you'll find out.

Color Classics coming soon!

Happy Inbred Turkey Day!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Some Of These Days

Thanks everyone for stopping by for my annual Halloween Cartoon Countdown! I'm taking a little breather (not that I post that often anyway) but thought I should at least put something up before I go so here's a wonderfully fun and funky bit of animation from 'Wise Flies' (Talkartoon 1930, credited to Willard Bowsky and Ted Sears) to the tune of 'Some Of These Days'. The song goes back to 1910 (when it was composed by Shelton Brooks) but became enormously popular through a version performed by Sophie Tucker in the 20's. Rather than include that version I've opted to post the stellar 1930 recording by Cab Calloway and his amazing back-up band: The Missourians. At least one of the musical cues, in the later 'Minnie The Moocher' (Betty Boop) cartoon was a Missourians song composed before Cab joined the band! Enjoy and see you soon!

Happy nightmares!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Halloween: Midnight Frolics

Topping off my Halloween Cartoon countdown today is the Color Rhapsody "Midnight Frolics" which was released Nov.24, 1938. The 16mm print above is a real beaut but was unfortunately transferred a little dark thus obscuring the opening of the picture. I have included frame grabs from a different B&W print (which I've tinted blue) to help explain what is going on through the dark section. Happy Halloween!!

The camera pans down to a ruined front gate. The tree blows in the breeze a la Iwerks.

The camera pans right from the front gate over a dark tree-lined path to an old house. Lightning flashes intermittently. The image above is the film's proper color palette (on 16mm anyway). This film would look amazing on 35 - anyone out there seen it?

Camera trucks in on the house.

Cross dissolve to the front door of the house.

Camera trucks in as the door falls inward.

Truck-in continues through darkness until the house interior is revealed.

Camera pans left to the window shade.

The wind blows the shutter across the keys of the organ.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Halloween: Boo Boo Theme Song

Clockin' back to 1933 for today's post and a wonderful forgotten cartoon: 'Boo Boo Theme Song'. The Screen Song cartoon was released Oct.3, 1933 (ten days earlier than Mintz' Studios' Halloween offering: 'Krazy Spooks'), and credited to Willard Bowsky and Myron Waldman. This happens to be a cartoon that I only discovered recently as it was not a 16mm direct transfer but a VHS dub of a 16mm transfer. Oh, we're getting into a pretty sick area, folks.

'Dekayo Factory'? Is this the door to my apartment?

The essential ingredient of Brown Dekayo. I am not above the cheap jokes.

Here's a depressing bit: the ghost spider is almost completely blown out. Good enough of an example of how bootleg is no threat to something properly mastered from studio or archival 35mm elements. Anyway, I've reproduced it here ... watch the eye strain!

The film contains a number of ghost animals. Barely visible here is a vulture (?) who mans the bottling line of 'Dekayo'

The spider almost looks like a proto-design for the later Dave Tendlar directed Color Classic cartoon 'Cobweb Hotel' doesn't it? Here he is below for comparison.

Of the 'Funny Boners' I unfortunately can't say: the print (like most of the 16mm Screen Songs) has had the live action musical performance removed. I did, however, discover a typo in 'Of Mice & Magic' while checking this film's release date. It credits The Funny Boners as performing on 'Down By The Old Mill Stream'. Actually that film is performed by The Eton Boys. The same credit is given in 'Fleischer Story's list of Screen Songs.

Of particular interest to both Betty Boop & Popeye fans is the short scat vocal by original Popeye voice William 'Red Pepper Sam' Costello. It certainly calls to mind another, better known, 'Red Pepper Sam' vocal from 'Betty Boop M.D.' which was released a year earlier: Sept.2, 1932.

As with some other cartoons I've posted I should note the appearance of a racial stereotype occurring at 3:40 & 4:26.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Halloween: Seeing Ghosts

I'm bumping past the 30's today because I just couldn't let Halloween go by without posting this gorgeous Terrytoon from 1948: Seeing Ghosts! It took the Terrytoon Studios a while to catch up with the business but once they did they were doing some really beautiful stuff. Actually some of the animation may have come from an earlier film: Happy Haunting Grounds (1940). I've never seen it and it doesn't appear on the 'Garage Sale' discs so I don't know. Below however is a piece of a layout drawing (top right) which was published in Nat Falk's book ('How To Make Animated Cartoons', 1940).

While this particular drawing doesn't occur in 'Seeing Ghosts' (that I can see - perhaps I missed it?) fans of 'Lights Out' (Gandy Goose, 1940) and 'Ghost Town' (also Gandy, 1944) will recognize animation reused in the film. Of course the whole thing is based on a Disney cartoon from 1937: Lonesome Ghosts! So, not exactly original territory and Terry sure as hell was gonna get mileage out of the animation, but in spite of that this is a beautifully realized cartoon with a very 1930's style ending! One thing for sure, the cartoon has an unbelievably sumptuous color sense!

Yum. Yum.

Look at those condoms fly!


Ghost Love.

Is that my name carved on that tombstone! I'm freakin' out, man!

Here's a new wrinkle: a real ghost appears. At least it's real in the sense that it is more faithful to a traditional mythology of ghosts as unaware wandering spirits...

"I ... am shakin' ... mister!"

Moral of the story: A career in House Decoration means eternal torment. Who says cartoons aren't educational!