Archive for Lou Bunin

Hairbreadth Harry

Posted in Comics, FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 7, 2016 by dcairns

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Click to enlarge — it’s worth it!

I’ve been greatly enjoying Dan Nadel’s Art Out of Time, Unknown Comics Visionaries, 1900-1969, a stupendous compilation of funnybook esoterica. Above we see an adventure of Hairbreadth Harry, a twenties newspaper strip. It’s nice to see that Winsor McCay’s GERTIE THE DINOSAUR was still remembered in 1924 (the nightmarishly expanding creature also recalls McCay’s Rarebit Fiend short THE PET). According to Rudi Blesh’s Buster Keaton biography, Gertie inspired the dinosaur scene in THE THREE AGES, with Keaton reasoning that animation and live-action could be combined in a way inspired by McCay’s short.

This got me thinking about that dinosaur again — I’ve often wondered who made it. A Google search brought me a sample of Mark F. Berry’s indispensible-sounding The Dinosaur Filmography, published the same year as Nadel’s book, in which Lou Bunin (he of the peculiar ALICE IN WONDERLAND) named the great Charley Bowers as the artist responsible. This would make a lot of sense — Willis H. O’Brien is the only other Hollywood stop-motion man I can think of from this period, but if it was him we would know, wouldn’t we? — and would be Big News — a Bowers-Keaton collaboration! I hope it’s true, but we may never know.

Here’s another bit of Maurice Ketten’s strip with another movie reference ~

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Airless in Wonderland

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 28, 2016 by dcairns

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I had never even heard of this 1949 British ALICE IN WONDERLAND. I have suspicions it may have been suppressed by Disney, but maybe it was just judged not entertaining enough. But if so, how to explain the 1972 ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND, possibly the least entertaining thing since the Aberfan disaster, which got tons of airplay in my dim youth?

This one has wonderfully smooth stop-motion animation — their ways of integrating the live-action Carol Marsh (of BRIGHTON ROCK fame) are simple, but adequate. Split-screen predominates rather than matte shots or rear projection. Lou Bunin, whom I had never heard of, was in charge of animation. A Russian-born American and former apprentice to Diego Rivera…

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Unfortunately the script pursues some pointless conceit of Lewis Carroll’s characters all having real-life analogues. This extends the framing structure endlessly, a real problem since the movie also reproduces all of Alice’s to gain access to the garden of Wonderland — I’ve never seen the caucus-race presented on-screen before, and now that I have I understand why it’s usually cut.

Pamela Brown plays Queen Victoria and voices the Queen of Hearts. A couple of other popular actors do voice-only duty: Peter Bull (unspecified role/s) and Joyce Grenfell (Duchess AND Dormouse). There’s a preponderance of French crew, including Claude Renoir as co-cinematographer.

It’s curiously unaffecting, maybe because the material is so familiar and the film does nothing very effective to re-energize it. There’s an arch style of playing which nearly everybody adopts when doing Carroll (which is why Ian Holm’s White Knight is so startling), and you then need either magnificently odd production design or some other means of refreshing it. Here, the smoothness of the animation is coldly admirable but the designs and characterisations aren’t uniformly beautiful or charming, though there’s some nice use of Regency stripe and some of the flattened stylisation is pleasing in its approach to Yves Tanguy.

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Worse, it isn’t funny. Disney’s version is criticised for Americanizing the characters but it does have a certain slapstick energy. When I saw it as a kid, on a double-feature with CANDLEWICK, it made me feel stoned, before I knew what that was. It’s interesting that Disney couldn’t completely Disneyficate this unconducive material. One reason I hated the Tim Burton version more than I hate my own body is that it mutilates and malforms Carroll’s nonsense into a bogus “empowering” Disney princess tale. There aren’t enough thunderbolts in heaven to punish anyone who (a) thinks that’s a good idea (b) attempts to do it (c) breaks box office records by doing so. The only good thing is that schoolchildren drawn to the book by the Burton monstrosity are due to have their minds blown all over the nursery walls by the unexpected psychedelic hilarity.