Saturday, June 13, 2009

Old Experiments

I'm greatly enjoying "Animation in the Cinema" by Ralph Stevenson.

It's like a snapshot of world animation taken from a British perspective in 1967.

Each chapter gives a cursory review of a nation or region's history and "scene." Although there are some academic deficiencies -claiming "Krazy Kat", for instance, as derivative of "Felix the Cat" when Herrimans' character pre-dates Sullivan's by several years -there are more than enough "I didn't know that" gems to make this a very valuable little book.

He lists four unproduced feature films developed by UPA: "The White Deer" based on James Thurber, "Don Quixote", Ben Jonson's "Volpone" (spelled with an "h"), and "Helen of Troy". This short list conjures the greatest "What if?" imaginable for animation history.

Stevenson has a cynical stance on American cartoon animation. He decries the violence of Tex Avery as cliché and the evolution of the Disney product as hackneyed. For my interests, this is fine. There's more than enough history dedicated to the Warner Bros. and Disney output. His treatment of independents, especially internationally, more than makes up for his distaste of the mainstream.

Here's an excerpt:

Chuck Jones in one of his films "Now Here This", instead of the usual sound effects shows a notice: GIGANTIC EXPLOSION. This is fine. But in the long run the violence palls, the formula becomes stereotyped, we tire of the endless repetition of virtually the same situation, the absence of any plot, any subtlety, and relief from the bang-bang-bang of two characters chasing and bashing each other.

He spends several pages on the American avant garde.

Oskar Fischinger: "Allegretto", "Composition in Blue", "Optical Poem", "An American March" as well as collaboration with the Disney Corporation on a sequence in "Fantasia".

Mary Ellen Bute: "Sychronization", "Anitra's Dance", "Evening Star", "Parabola", "Toccata And Fugue", "Tarantella", "Spook Sport".

John and James Whitney: only listing five short "Exercises" and "Yantra".


Douglas Crockett (a name I didn't know): "Fantasmagoria", "The Chase", "Glenn Falls", "Sequence". These are oil paint on glass. Google is no help.

Joseph Vogel: "House of Cards"

Chester Kessler: "Plague Summer"

Hy Hirsh: "Divertissement Rococo", "Gyromorphosis"

Carmen D'Avino: "A Finnish Fable" and "Pianissimo" (following)

D'Avino went on to make several films for "The Electric Company".

Morton and Mildred Goldscholl: "Envelope Jive" and "Intergalactic Zoo". The Goldscholls had a commercial production company out of the MidWest.

Robert Breer (who is still active today): "Frame by Frame", "Four Phases", "The Miracle", "A Man and Dog out for Air", "Horse Over Tea Kettle", "Jamestown Baloos", "Blazes".

A Man and his Dog out for Air

Eliot Noyes: "Clay"

Teru (Jimmy) Murakami: "The Insects", "The Top".

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