Archive for Van Helsing

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.


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?”


Jekyll Week

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 1, 2008 by dcairns

“He gave an impression of deformity without any nameable malformation.”

Yes, September is REGGIE NALDER MONTH here at Shadowplay, as we celebrate the career, life, and charitable work of the Salem’s Lot star who —

No, wait, wait, that’s a TERRIBLE IDEA.

But it is in fact JEKYLL WEEK. Five days of schizoid ramblings.

Fiona and I have been running a range of different Jekyll & Hyde adaptations, from her favourite version (and one of her very favourite movies) the 1931 Rouben Mamoulian piece produced by Paramount, to the often-dismissed late Renoir curio, LE TESTAMENT DE DR. CORDELIER. It’s been fun!

“My devil had long been caged; he came out roaring.”

A general observation, which will hopefully be developed over the week: different versions of the story have often built upon their predecessors, whether they had the legal right to or not. Stephenson’s story has supplied the central idea, but the narrative structure of most versions owes more to the Barrymore film, which in turns appears to derive from a stage version. In a way, the novella has been treated like a myth, with successive accounts developing the story and adding new characters and elements to suit the mood of the times or the requirements of the media.

A trivial example: in Alan Moore’s comic book The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (great fun, recommended), Moore ignores Stephenson’s description of Hyde as being significantly smaller than Jekyll, and follows the archetypal path laid down by The Incredible Hulk, making Edward Hyde a gigantic musclebound brute with inhuman strength. This suits the action-packed requirements of a comic book adventures, while also strengthening the connections between Stephenson’s story and the comic book tradition of the superhero/villain with a secret identity.

“My reason wavered, but it did not fail me utterly.”

Sean Connery’s somewhat regrettable swansong as star, very loosely based on Moore’s comic, preserves this notion and has Jason Flemying as a wiry Jekyll, transformed by a bulging special-effects muscle-suit into a he-man Hyde. Or maybe “it-man” would be more apt. LXG, as its dumb-ass producers wanted us all to call it, gets just about everything else wrong, and by bending Moore’s simple and effective comic out of shape, found itself on the sharp end of a lawsuit from filmmaker Larry Cohen (LXG ended up by using characters Cohen had already enlisted for a proposed project called Cast of Characters — a terrible title, incidentally). But the dumbed-down idea of a gigantic Hyde was a natural for an action movie blockbuster. Pitiable noise-fest VAN HELSING, which gave Fiona a migraine for the first time in her life, appropriates the same idea.

“It wasn’t like a man; it was like some damned Juggernaut.”

So I’ll be trying to trace and examine the Jekyll-Hyde meme as it evolves through some sample films, and also just mucking about with whatever ideas get thrown up by the voyage.