Archive for Terrytoons

No Intertitle Today

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 21, 2022 by dcairns

Amazing 1906 Vitagraph silent by company boss J. Stuart Blackton, who also apparently stars. No intertitles or titles of any kind because it’s 1906, I guess. I’m not actually sure what exact year intertitles became commonplace.

AND THE VILLAIN STILL PURSUED HER takes its title from a melodramatic meme — already the tied-to-the-railroad-track type situations were ripe for parody. This one not only reduces — or inflates — its continual crises to absurdity, it folds it all into a self-reflexive meta-narrative thingy. Ludicrous fun, and it gets crazier the more it goes on. Do, do, do watch it.

Blackton, who collaborated with Winsor McCay, seems to have had a predilection for silliness — I must see more of his surviving works.

Odd sense of synergy this morning. I was lying in bed reading Dead Wake by Erik Larson (gripping stuff) — the window was open and the usual cacophony — soften by it being a Sunday morning in summer — was filtering into the room. Between our tenement building and the ill-famed Banana Flats which curve around the back of our block in a slack concrete embrace, there is a kind of echo chamber in which any noise from the Flats is bounced reverberantly around the neighbourhood. I was hearing the Beatles’ And I Love Her combined with an intense male voice which I eventually recognized, despite not being able to make out a single word, as that of William Shatner. The Shat, to give him due credit, devised dramaturgy’s most distinctive phrasing. I couldn’t identify the episode. As the Lusitania was struck silently by a torpedo in the pages of my popular history, the Enterprise klaxon sounded an arooga of sympathetic distress.

Winsor McKay, of course, crafted an amazing visualisation of the Lusitania’s last minutes afloat, since no actual newsreel camera were present.

This is vaguely interesting. A 1954 TerryToon, I guess one would call it. The same melodramatic cliches are spoofed. It looks much like a 1930s toon to me, except the figures have developed skeletons and joints rather than rubber bands (in 30s toons, even the skeletons don’t have skeletons, but simply BEND where required). In fact it’s a 50s TV entertainment. Apart from the disconcerting way the figures have of simply freezing, so the thing turns into a stationary drawing every few seconds, it’s much more elaborate than later TV crap. They haven’t worked out yet how bad they can do things and still get kids to stare slackjawed at the idiot box.

The villain believes he’s in a melodrama, the hero thinks it’s an operetta, the heroine, an extra-virgin Olive Oyl, is to passive to express a preference to one genre or the other. At one point she simply floats through the air in a sitting position, propelled by the Snidely/Dastardly type’s superior willpower.

I’ll spare you the Arthur Askey song of the same name but it’s here if you want it. I thankew!

Ark Shadows

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , on January 20, 2018 by dcairns

Are thirties cartoons strange because the sensibilities attracted to motion picture cartooning at that time were inherently odd people, or because the years have aged the films in unexpected ways, or because the medium was still in its relative infancy and so rampant experimentation predominated, or something else, or some combination of all three.

At the Fleischer Bros studio, we seem to have a peculiar worldview that’s beautiful to watch (as long as they stayed with shorts: GULLIVER’S TRAVELS and HOPPITY GOES TO TOWN exhibit a very different manner), whereas the lesser studios, it seems to me, often produced work that’s bizarre but doesn’t seem to WORK.

Witness Terrytoons’ jug-band rendition of the deluge, purportedly as Aesop’s Fable according to some title cards, while others (the film has been released with various hot-spliced main titles over the decades since its manufacture) don’t bother with this band-aid alibi and leave the blasphemy to stand on its own merits.

I don’t think the Old Testament mentions anything about a mouse playing a toenail xylophone, so the picture gets off to a flagrantly apocryphal start. Noah’s modern dress overalls suggest this is an updating of the apocalypse, something like TAKE SHELTER.

Then we get a plotless stretch of musical farm animals which is disturbing in a classic early thirties way, especially the la-la-la cow who ought to be rendered into sirloin ASAP to preserve sanity. So things are already a bit upsetting before the single black storm cloud starts a storm that engulfs the entire planet. The giraffe with windows in his neck, and down his right leg, is an unwelcome invention also. Co-star him with the Frankenstein monster from VAN HELSING, the only other character I can think of with windows in him, so I can avoid both at the same time.

OH GOD NO MAKE IT STOP MAKE IT STOP

Mouse seems to be riding a toy horse, it has puppet-like joints on its legs and is too small to be a real horse, but then it gets struck by lightning and becomes a skeleton. What. And then it gets chopped in half but keeps running, like Baron Munchausen’s steed. (Terry Gilliam had to leave this passage from the novel unfilmed, due to budget problems on THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN: “I cut the thing that made me want to do the movie in the first place.”)

Various equally appalling gags show more exotic animals boarding the ark two by two. Toons of this vintage often have a nice/scary quality of BLACK GLOW, where the ink-lines are somehow underexposed or badly duped, resulting in an antimatter aura of darkness bleeding from the dark figures. This one is kind of washed out, but the lightning bolts are interesting: they’re so over-exposed they just look like some kind of print damage or error, blinding fluctuations in the brightness.

But the ending is the thing that makes this one worthwhile. You should really watch it before reading further, but I do want to write it down so I can see the words in cold black and white. So stop reading now and watch at least the last minute of the toon if you haven’t already, then come back and read on after this happy image ~

YES. Like the freed prisoners of Bunuel’s THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL, the happy menagerie give thanks to the Lord for their deliverance — and He strikes them down again, for no reason. Noah ends up with a frozen lightning bolt through the seat of his dungarees, as it rains cats and dogs (more than two by two, them critters breeds FAST). In a cartoon, God is a capricious, cruel, infinitely destructive demiurge, like Bugs Bunny tormenting Daffy Duck in DUCK AMUCK with nightmarish metamorphoses in a cel-painted Beckettian torture-show. The cartoonist hits on the perfect metaphor: if there were a God, this is the kind of guy He would have to be, randomly dishing out surreal punishments before returning us to the darkness of the inkwell.

And the Lord sayeth, “Ain’t I a stinker?”