Saturday, November 19, 2011

Seymour Kneitel Blog

Now here's an early Christmas present. Seymour Kneitel's daughter (& Max Fleischer's grand daughter!) Ginny Mahoney has kindly set up a blog honoring her father. For me, Kneitel's cartoons are at the very top amongst the best ever! So, don't delay-go here to be treated!!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Pure Gold

Today I am showcasing another cartoon from the WTF department: the Scrappy cartoon 'The Gold Getters' (released March 1, 1935) animated by dependable duo Sid Marcus & Art Davis (& crew). Sure, it's not on anybody's top ten list but there's some funny gags, some nice rubbery cartoon animation, weeeeird timing and, well, a lot of head scratching in general. What more could you ask for?

SEQ 1: Some guys are sifting through some crap. This is what people did before the internet. Crap sifters came in a variety of decorative colors and styles.

Hemorrhoidal mules were a key demographic. This image later appeared in a series of popular medicinal cream ads in the Saturday Evening Post.

Not everyone could afford crap sifters however. The less advantaged had to make due with body hair.

Some learned to eat the crap while sifting out the nuggets with their teeth. This was a life lesson they learned early.

Gray nuggets, of course, were known as a delicacy and the prices they could fetch were capable of supporting any number of gambling or alcohol habits for as long as six weeks!

Of course, the cultural center of any such mining community was 'Ye Old Saloone'. Families would come from miles around to see the nightly ye old drunk beatings.

As times were difficult bartenders in such establishments allowed only one drop of acid per mug.

By this time in the cartoon, Scrappy already has his pile of gray nuggets so, one might think, there's no place for the cartoon to go from here. But Marcus & Davis have an ace up their sleeve...

That's right, I'm talkin' about a giant hideous head!

I have no idea when this practice started at Mintz but it certainly had an antecedent in 'The Match Kid' (released May 9, 1933) which is a veritable smorgasbord of giant hideous heads!

Upstream industrial effluents were widely known to cause milk to be highly toxic to the crap sifting community. Depression era saloone keepers happily capitalized on the situation by renaming the beverage "milk with a *pop* *pop* *pop*".

Meanwhile tobacco expectorate and filthy butt cans continued to delight children of all ages.

I kid a lot but you know if Sony ever did put out a collection of Mintz cartoons I'd be first in line, pushing senior citizens and children out of the way, to get the first copy! I love this stuff.

And seriously, once you get this song in your head you'll never shake it out.


Monday, September 12, 2011

For many, when the the Fleischers started their own color series in the manner of the Silly Symphonies, the cartoons lost their edge. Admittedly there are examples which confirm this: Bunny Mooning, the later Hunky and Spunky entries, Little Stranger et al. However there are plenty of anomalies: films no other studio (with the possible exception of Iwerks who, at the time, was primarily staffed by ex-Fleischerites) would create - especially Disney. One such excursion into the bizarre is a film that often slips my mind (along with the equally great 'Kids in the Shoe') when thinking of the best entries to the Color Classics series: Greedy Humpty Dumpty.

It'd be nice to see the original color for this film. Is this really three strip Cinecolor? I'm guessing it is but the Fleischers' first Technicolor film, 'Somewhere in 'Dreamland' (released January 17, 1936), was released several months before 'Greedy Humpty Dumpty' (released July 10). It seems, however, to have been used sporadically in the films which followed with some, like 'Play Safe' (October 16), using Cinecolor and others, like 'Hawaiian Birds' (August 28) using Technicolor. Regardless, and I know I beat this drum for every Color Classic post I do, 35mm would do much to reveal layers of detail that help to explain why these films rank amongst the best of the 30's.

By 1936, the release year of 'Greedy Humpty Dumpty', Dave Tendlar was already directing a group of his own having left Bowsky's a year earlier. Once off the hook as a head animator Tendlar dove into the workload with formidable zeal. In 1936 he was directing in practically every series the Fleischers had going with the exception of the Screen Songs. At the time of 'Greedy Humpty Dumpty', and after some personelle shifting through 1935, Tendlar's group finally settled on: Tendlar, Bill Sturm, Joe Oriolo, Eli Brucker, Nick Tafuri and recent arrival Graham Place.

Gag cartoon of Tendlar from 'The Animated News'

It's hard to think of any cartoon of the 30's which delights more in cruelty and greed than Greedy Humpty Dumpty. What an insufferable jerk! And yet this cartoon hasn't a hero in sight and we stay with regent asshole through the length of the picture. Are the denizens of Fairy-Tale Land oppressed under his regime? It seems so ... but their indifference to being whipped is pretty mystifying. In fact, their sanctimonious chiding and the joyous zeal with which they build the tower, fully cognescent that it will mean the end of the big egg ("the bigger they come, the harder they fall"), doesn't exactly make them clearly sympathetic either. This is the sort of moral indifference which clearly defined the New York studios over the west coast.

The even timing of the sheep could be an example of the meddling of the Fleischers' checker Nelly Sanborn. She was known to ask inbetweens of drawings she felt were too far apart and raised the ire of many an animator. It certainly seems like a mistake and yet there is something otherworldly and hypnotic about it as the two doe-eyed pilgrims sway back and forth like reeds under water.

The same basic gag occurs in the later 'All's Fair At The Fair'. The timing here is quicker and funnier but less hypnotic.

A batch of characters resembling those of 'Kids in the Shoe'. GHD begins with much chiding. Are we supposed to sympathize with these characters ...

or the character that's whipping them?

But the moral question of greed and it's consequences is not really the focus of 'Greedy Humpty Dumpty'. Rather it's more of a framework, a ruse almost, on which gags and funny animation could be built. Fairy Tales, with their clearly defined moral boundries, were strange territory for the Fleischer animators who were likely more influenced by the similar moral ambiguity and rough and tumble action of NY newspaper comic strips of the era (and before) over the more rarified world of professional children's book illustrators. But that statement may not be entirely true, as a number of Fleischer animators belonged to illustration societies, so it may have been a more conscious choice to steer from the more subtle but less immedietly legible (and less funny), approach of children's books. I have no idea.

I do know this however: GHD has the greatest arm animation in the history! I recommend the Greedy Arm Dance for anyone who has experienced a windfall. Try it for yourself and be amazed at the results!

Be aware though that The Greedy Arm Dance can only lead The Greedy Step Dance. You will need to grow a third foot but the results are worth it!

Of course the biggest shock of 'Greedy Humpty Dumpty' is who the character was based on: none other than Dave Fleischer! Dave wasn't new to being caricatured in Fleischer cartoons. In fact you can see him as a mountain in my post in 'Hide and Seek'. However, you have to give him credit for being a good sport about being so mercilessly mocked in 'Greedy Humpty Dumpty'. From all accounts Dave was a pretty likable guy. What inspired Tendlar to turn him into a greedy demagog I have no idea!

Do you see the resemblance? Allow me to clarify...

See it now?

Dave wasn't the only one to be caricatured though. Wearing a straw boater and spinning in a washtub (in a vat of gold cement no less!) is what appears to be none other than Max Fleischer. Can't be certain of course, and Tendlar isn't around to ask, but Max (sans boater) was depicted similarly in many gag cartoons of The Animated News (the studio's in-house newsletter).

Aside from funny action, Greedy Humpty Dumpty employs quite a lot of difficult perspective scenes as the Fairy Tale characters build the tower steps just in time for Humpty to dance across them. A number of techniques of GHD, such as use of cut outs and FX animation, would be employed later in the Superman cartoon series. The crumbling tower, for instance, seems to predict the crumbling fortress of the first Superman cartoon.

Crumbling fortress of the first Superman cartoon (1941).

'Greedy Humpty Dumpty' is certainly an oddity. The joy of the cartoon is to be found in the animation and design, which is pretty amazing at times, and the relish Tendlar and Co. find in taking the greedy action to an utterly ridiculous apex ... and then destroying everything-including the main character! Not sure of the moral message of it all ... but then again neither, I think, did Tendlar!

Who'd have thought the secret to riches was a jagged axe?

Wonderful horrible greed.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Human Deformities Redux

Things are beginning to pile up a bit here at Crazy Town Industries (I have named myself CEO, Treasurer, Janitor, Image Management Consulting Ambassador*, and Fridge Cleaner) but before I send the blog into hibernation for a bit I thought I'd follow up with a Crandall cartoon from the later 30's.

*-this position comes with epaulets

By the time of 'Never Should Have Told You' (1937) the Screen Song series was, much like the Betty Boop series, in decline. Sweet bands proliferated and most of the tunes were pretty lame*. There were exceptions though such as the two featuring The Westerners: 'The Hills of Old Wyomin' (1936) & 'Twilight on The Trail' (1937). Nat Brandywynne sounds like he should be more terrible than he actually is. Actually it's not a bad tune and Maxine Tappen pulls off a pretty decent Peggy Lee style vocal. Not terrific but certainly pleasant enough and even has a nice trumpet break...

*-the quality of gags & animation remained high though. Fleischers' was the most consistent studio of the 30's. The skillful movement and the constant inventiveness of the cartoons remained strong practically to the studio's demise.

But I digress. That is because the late 30's also gave us one of the most bizarre and utterly wrong (yet so right) characters ever in cartoon history: the great and powerful Wiffle Piffle! Most sources claim Tom Johnson as the creator of the character but to look at him I wonder if it couldn't have been Crandall. The two basically split the Screen Songs between them during this period and even supporting characters appear in both artists' films. While the rest of the industry were refining the exact proportions of cuteness Crandall & Johnson knew what the public really wanted: human deformities! It is important to remember that at this time the only hope of a decent livelihood a Piffle could expect was working in Bouncing Ball Cartoons. Anyway, you will see the Piffle in his full range of emotions:






Welcome to the enchanted kingdom of The Bronx! It's Two Reel to be true!

Where men bite dogs.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy 4th of July!

From my crazy town to yours. The image is from a terrific cartoon:

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Greatest Cartoon Ever Made

Continuing my series on The Greatest Cartoon Ever Made which began in 2008 with The Greatest Cartoon Ever Made I present today The Greatest Cartoon Ever Made. Fleischer cartoons could get pretty weird but there's a special category for 'Hide And Seek' (Released May 26, 1932).

It was animated by history's crustiest animator: Roland 'Doc' Crandall! The animation gets pretty crude at times. Some of it even resembles Terry animation from a few years previous. Crandall preferred to work on his own and from the film itself I can see why! Welcome to the inside of Doc Crandall's brain - I'd turn back if I were you ...

Scene 1-Pervert looks through window...

Bimbo is a cop for some reason. Pants are falling down. Mickey & Minnie flee the area...

How many perverts have their own business card? Wait, don't answer that ...

This cartoon has it all: Lechery, Goats On Ropes.


Razzberry sputtering motorcycle anuses. Calling Dr. Freud...

Character Designers take note: a prop can also be two separate characters. Class dismissed.


Who needs The Human Centipede when we've got 'Hide & Seek'?

I kid a lot but Crandall had a wonderfully raw expressiveness to his stuff. You'd never see something like this from one of the west coast studios. Urban anxiety permeates throughout. Nobody did this like the Fleischers!

Mount Dave.

Enjoy your weirdo pie!

Note: the cartoon ends with an asian stereotype. Not the kind of thing I endorse here, hence this warning, but for sheer strangeness, and it is pretty strange, I decided to post 'Hide & Seek'.