Friday, October 20, 2017

The Fabulous Émile Cohl




While writing earlier this month about "pixillated" animation involving found objects, cut-outs, etc. from such imaginative indie filmmakers as Frank & Caroline Mouris (both separately and together), Mike "The Wizard Of Speed And Time" Jittlov and especially the National Film Board of Canada's intrepid Norman McLaren, made passing mention of the innovator who developed this technique in the first place: Émile Cohl (1857-1938).



Much as Alice Guy Blache did, Émile Cohl, an illustrator-caricaturist-animator-filmmaker-special effects designer, got there first with all kinds of cinematic innovations.



Fittingly in the freewheeling spirit of early cinema, Émile appeared to be making these innovations up as we went along, as entomologist-turned-filmmaker Ladislaw Starewicz did in the field of stop-motion animation and Max Linder did in his many comedy short subjects.

It's a darn shame Émile Cohl didn't live long enough to be lionized, lauded and interviewed by film historians around the world. Cohl's still stunning film Fantasmagorie blazes cinematic trails with flair, panache and creative invention to spare. No doubt Winsor McCay saw Fantasmagorie and perceived that Émile threw down the artistic gauntlet!



Émile Cohl appears to have responded to the films of Georges Méliès and Ferdinand Zecca as if they had thrown down the gauntlet. Cohl's Magic Hoop, produced in 1908, adds a cartoony component to the illusionist "trickfilm" universe of Georges Méliès.



In such films as Clair De Lune, the cartoon figures interact with the live-action characters in a Méliès style presentation. Ladislaw Starewicz must have seen these films and taken notes!



The numerous short films - over 250 produced between 1908 and 1923 - by Émile Cohl for Pathé Freres and Gaumont demonstrate a seemingly inexhaustible imagination.

















Rather amazingly, fragments of the long-lost American films Cohl created for the Éclair Company in New Jersey are starting to turn up, over 100 years after their theatrical release. Here is a clip from He Poses For His Portrait, one of the Newlyweds series in which Cohl collaborated with comic strip artist George "Bringing Up Father" McManus.



For more info, check out the excellent overview of Émile Cohl's career posted on The Bioscope, as well as the superlative biography and portrait of life in late 19th century/early 20th century Paris, Émile Cohl, Caricature, and Film, penned by silent film and animation historian Donald Crafton in 1990.



The hardcover edition of Prof. Crafton's book is out of print and, thus, not cheap, but one can order the paperback edition via Amazon. University libraries, especially for colleges that offer film and animation study curriculums, may have copies of Émile Cohl, Caricature, and Film for checkout as well.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

100th Birthday Fedora Tip To Thelonious Monk



With the full understanding that whenever Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog posts about music, all readers BUT musicians appear to go away, we salute the one, the only Thelonious Sphere Monk, born on October 10, 1917. 100th birthday tributes are pouring in for the genius of modern music from NPR, the Mercury News and the Monk Institute, just three among many kudos from around the world. Jazz At Lincoln Center has been presenting the Thelonious Monk Festival, a series of concerts in tribute.

The prolific and original pianist-composer-bandleader - as well as a mathematician, ping-pong champ and chess master - is much celebrated 100 years after his birth. This was not so much the case during his heydey, which extended from the latter 1940's through the mid-1960's.



Fortunately for present-day music lovers, a good many complete concerts and television shows featuring Thelonious Monk and his Quartet are on YouTube. Monk's last concerts were in 1975.







The 1940's pop culture and music writers who covered jazz in the post-WW2 era were definitely interested in the trendiness of it all and being in on the shiniest, hippest new thing, but seemed to entirely miss out on who Monk was. Monk was dubbed "The High Priest Of Bebop" and, while this made great copy, it was also a big fat swing and a miss as far as comprehending what his music was about and why he was important.

For this music aficionado, Thelonious Monk's importance was not just his ability to create an original, very specific compositional style and musical universe, much as Duke Ellington had, but his knack for synthesizing ideas from highly varied sources (Fats Waller, Willie "The Lion" Smith, James P. Johnson, Earl Hines) and keeping the tradition alive while creating something entirely original, new and different in the process. This is also true of Monk's renditions of standards by other composers.



The following page of Thelonious' handwritten guidelines for band members still constitutes a primer for anyone who is playing music in an ensemble or otherwise working in non-WWE variants on the arts. His philosophy of music, life and art informs all of it.



Even 70 years after the release of Thelonious Monk: Genius Of Modern Music on Blue Note Records, his compositions are frequently performed but not necessarily entirely understood, even by world-class musicians. In the composer's words, "when you're swinging, swing some more!"



This is because Monk's compositions, even the simplest ones, remain difficult to play but easy to botch! Incredible music . . . and not for the dilettante or amateur!



2017 turns out to be the centennial for Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie and Dean Martin as well.

Saturday, October 07, 2017

Pixillated Saturday At Way Too Damn Lazy To Write a Blog



Many moons ago, the indie filmmaking technique du jour was pixilation. . . . A.K.A. stop-motion, shot a single frame at a time. The technique, developed at the turn of the 20th century by Emile Cohl, would be adopted by countless young filmmaker wannabees. Pixilated short subjects were made by the dozens with crummy 16mm (or even 8mm) movie cameras and without the creativity of a Willis O'Brien, Ray Harryhausen or king of pixilation Norman McLaren.

Everybody who made crappy cheapjack student films in the 1970's (as this writer did) used it. Boy, did we use it - like 1960's slide guitarists used Elmore James' "dwee dee dee dwee dee dee dwee dee dee dwee dee dee DWEE DEE" ad nauseum.

Films featuring pixilation seemed to have required by law to be shown in every program everywhere and proved a staple of that relic from the 1980' s, the "16mm film room." Some were great, some not-so-great. Consistently in the former category: the short subjects of the creative and "pixilated" indie filmmaker Mike Jittlov. In Fashionation, he skewers the unrelenting marketing of 1960's - 1970's pop culture images adeptly.



The Mike Jittlov opus which seemed to be required by law to be shown at every screening in the 1970's and 1980's was The Wizard Of Speed & Time. Still enjoy seeing it.



This was followed by a feature film version of The Wizard Of Speed & Time produced by Mike Jittlov in 1988. Don't know Mike Jittlov's story, but he did employ a lot of ingenuity and razzle-dazzle on limited budgets to make fun independent films. Wherever Mr. Jittlov is in October 2017, hope he's doing well. Periodic appearances at conventions and film festivals indicate that Jittlov's moxie, formidable imagination, swashbuckling personality and excellent sense of humor remain intact.

Don't know if indie filmmakers Frank and Caroline Mouris are still with us and active in 2017, but their idea-packed and visually kaleidoscopic short subjects were staples of animation screenings.



Tom Petty, the great bandleader/songwriter who passed a few days ago, was known to show the duo's Oscar-winning cut-out animation opus, the biographical Frank Film (1973) as part of the Petty & The Heartbreakers sets, as accompaniment for one of his songs (forget which one, unfortunately).



Like Mike Jittlov, Frank and Caroline Mouris managed to consistently create strong indie filmmaking distinguished by intriguing visuals and split-second psychedelic montages on shoestring budgets.



The Iota Center website features some very cool and in some cases pixillated animation by Frank and Caroline Mouris.



This blogger's favorite purveyor of pixilation, then and now, is Norman McLaren.





We close today's post with a favorite of all pixilated films: Norman McLaren's OPENING SPEECH. Norm had a wacky sense of humor to go with his artsy side.





Saturday, September 23, 2017

Favorite Psychotronic Cartoons



Back when this blogmeister started Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog in 2006, the mission was to spotlight favorite films that even classic movie buffs would deem too rare, obscure, off-the-beaten path and downright odd for DVD.



Was the objective to write erudite, thoughtful and penetrating essays about said films? No. To enjoy them? Yes - and especially animated cartoons!



Especially close to this blogger's foolish heart: Incredibly Strange Cartoons. Among numerous favorites: the Fleischer Studio's "follow the bouncing ball" Screen Songs, which did not get the frequent TV airplay of the Popeyes and Betty Boops and still have not received a proper Blu-ray/DVD release. Boilesk (1933) is a great one from the series and blends burlesque (featuring cartoon hippos) and vaudeville in the form of live-action guest stars The Watson Sisters.



The primitive yet extremely goofy Van Beuren Studio cartoons of the early sound era have their charms. It's as if random concepts from Disney and Terrytoons were thrown in a blender. . . Press the frappe button, shake well, pour and something funny, strange and different from both the cartoons of Uncle Walt and Uncle Paul Terry oozes out. Are we guilty at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog of liking Don & Waffles, Tom & Jerry, Sentinel Louey and The Little King? Yep.







This starring vehicle for Otto Soglow's The Little King, Marching Along, is atop the list of imaginative and topical Great Depression themed cartoons, the ethnic stereotypes - rampant in films and especially cartoons through the 1930's - notwithstanding.



The Ub Iwerks Studio presented barbed commentary about prohibition in the delirious Willie Whopper cartoon Hell's Fire, released theatrically on February 17, 1934.



Lesser-known cartoons can be most entertaining and wonderfully hallucinogenic.



While a fair number of these wild and sometimes randy early 1930's cartoons are out-of-print or have not made it just yet to an official DVD release, and others are well into the process of being restored for Blu-ray and DVD, they are all over YouTube.









In stop-motion: the absolutely indescribable but fun Hector The Pup.



At least the following way-out entry from the Van Beuren studio's Tom & Jerry (a.k.a. Dick & Larry) series made it on to one of the Thunderbean DVD releases.




And, speaking of wonderfully hallucinogenic, here are cartoons from the Charles Mintz/Columbia Studio.





In particular, the early sound cartoons of the Walter Lantz Studio, starring the former Disney silent era headliner Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, are bold, inventive and form-bending, partly due to the ever-rubbery animation of Bill Nolan.





While the visual wildness and ultra-cartooniness of the Lantz cartoons toned down as the 1930's progressed, there were still some fun entries in the series such as the King Kong spoof King Klunk (which, dear readers note, is in 1933 style bad taste, no, make that very bad taste - no harm intended 84 years ago).



The new Porky Pig 101 release is out on DVD and we shall see it shortly. Bob Clampett, Tex Avery and Frank Tashlin in particular are patron saints of the "psychotronic cartoon."



The 5-DVD set remains something we are awaiting with Termite Terrace-bated breath.



While reviews of the transfers and overall pictorial quality on Porky Pig 101 range all over the map, from raves to pans, the cartoon-crazed individuals at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog love the inspired black & white gems produced by the crazy gang at Termite Terrace just the same.



The "Termite Terrace" boys in the summer of 1935: (clockwise, from left) Virgil Ross, Sid Sutherland, Tex Avery, Chuck Jones, and Bob Clampett


There are 101 cartoons, beginning in 1935, on the set. Don't have a portable 35mm projector and safety prints struck from the nitrate negatives on hand, so we're cool with this, even if transfers and restorations on some titles are better than others.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Monologists And The Movies



Writing about Eddie "The Old Philosopher" Lawrence brought up the topic of monologists who also acted in movies. First and foremost, there's monologist/satirist, movie actor, cowboy and star of The Ropin' Fool (among numerous films in silents and talkies), the great Will Rogers.



Will Rogers' monologues about The Great Depression - a time of 30% unemployment in significant swaths of the United States - have weathered the test of time and resonate all these decades later.





His commentary on hubris and politics still rings true.



Rogers would star in a remarkably successful series of feature films, many directed by John Ford or Frank Borzage. He projected warmth and likability onscreen that transcends the era and certain dated aspects of the storylines.








Without a doubt, humorist Robert Benchley, of Algonquin Round Table fame, considered himself first and foremost a writer, but ended up in movies as a lark.



To amuse his friends at parties, Benchley used to do sendups of stodgy "after-dinner speakers" and less-than-dynamic academic orators. Several were filmed in 1928 and theatrically released among William Fox' first sound-on-film Movietone short subjects.





The 1-reelers Benchley starred in for William Fox eventually led to his headlining his own short subject series for MGM and Paramount.

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Sometimes Benchley ventured into the same current events territory as Rogers, as he does in the following wry and satiric clip, courtesy of the British Pathe Collection.



In between his writings, Robert Benchley ended up appearing in 92 films, including Sir Alfred Hitchcock's Foreign Correspondent.



We at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog are particularly fond of Mr. Benchley's role in the Hope & Crosby vehicle The Road To Utopia.






Three who changed the comedy world in no uncertain terms were Jonathan Winters, Mort Sahl and Dick Gregory.









Jonathan Winters very likely did not consider himself a thespian in any way, shape or form, but played a character part in Tony Richardson's 1965 satire The Loved One quite well.



Mort Sahl occasionally acted in television programs (including an episode of the Gothic-noir-suspense series Thriller), while his fellow standup philosopher, political and social commentator, the recently passed Dick Gregory, starred in the movie Sweet Love, Bitter. Gregory excelled in this drama, as he had as an activist and monologist.



Contemporaneous with this trio and, along with them, key among those who expanded standup comedy beyond the joke-punchline format, the edgy and quick-witted Lenny Bruce only appeared in a couple of films, including one, very early in his standup career, Dance Hall Racket, a tawdry and terrible movie directed by Phil "Robot Monster" Tucker. Was there a director worse than Edward D. Wood, Junior? Yes - Phil Tucker!



There aren't all that many uncut Lenny Bruce monologues available - after all, his preferred performing venue was strip joints - but here's a breathless one, including references to Jack Durant, Alice B. Toklas, Liberace and Julian Eltinge, from the Palladium. The audio element only tells a minimal fraction of the story. Just hearing his use of his voice and dynamics, one concludes that if Lenny Bruce had been interested in pursuing acting, he may well have been able to make the transition from standup comedy successfully.



Richard Pryor, along with George Carlin, could be considered among those who carried on the standup comedy approach of Lenny Bruce, while extending it into uncharted political and social territory. Richard Pryor's brilliant monologues became movies - Live In Concert, Live On The Sunset Strip, Here And Now - but he was also an actor who co-starred in Paul Schrader's Blue Collar and both starred in and directed the biographical drama Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling. Pryor's abilities as a storyteller and actor distinguish him from his contemporaries and subsequent political comedians. One envisions that Mr. Pryor could have spun off into further writing, directing and acting in indie films, not just doing comedies.



Best known of all the monologists who transitioned into movies would be the late, great Robin Williams, capable of playing rather darn and menacing characters adeptly, in a departure from his standup comedy persona.



Williams starred in World's Greatest Dad, written and directed by Bobcat Goldthwait, still occasionally a standup comedian, but primarily a filmmaker - and a quite original and provocative writer/director at that.



Speaking of dark and provocative movies, the latest monologist to go into filmmaking is Louis CK, who, after his brilliant yet gritty and ever-uneasy television show Louie, is now writing and directing disturbing indie films.



This does not seem a stretch to this writer, as Louis CK's standup performances frequently focus on finding humor in the dark side of human behavior - and especially his own behavior. And that recalls another brilliant monologist who ultimately made movies.



Woody Allen would be the most famous/infamous and prolific among the monologists who also wrote and directed movies - and the very best of his films are, indeed, dark and disturbing. . . not far afield from those written by Bobcat Goldthwait and Louis CK.



Whether Jon Stewart, who has produced the Steph Ching and Ellen Martinez documentary After Spring, or current standups Chris Rock, Sarah Silverman and Lewis Black opt to ultimately move behind the camera as well - that remains to be seen. The more provocative and original films, the better.

Saturday, September 09, 2017

And This Blog Loves "The Old Philosopher"



There are many philosophers of the standup variety this blogger loves - Will Rogers, Bill Hicks, Richard Pryor and George Carlin - as well as satiric writers Mark Twain and Jonathan Swift, and illustrators William Hogarth and Honoré Daumier. None of them will be the topics of today's post! For the September 9, 2017 post, this jet-lagged but undaunted Blogmeister tips the cap to actor, playwright, comedian, recording artist, singer and cartoon voice ace Eddie Lawrence (1919-2014).



A bit of background: Your Blogmeister's mom, an accomplished professional woman who, off-work, possessed a delightfully goofy sense of humor, would ask her at times sad, isolated and discouraged son, "Is That What's Bothering You, Bunkie?" Only later did I realize that mi madre was referring to Eddie Lawrence, the Old Philosopher, A.K.A. monologist/comic Lawrence Eisler - and, most importantly, attempting to steer me in the direction of LAUGHS. It was her way of trying to cheer me up and help.



Eddie Lawrence, it turned out, was not just The Old Philosopher, as funny and iconic as that character was.





As much as that "theme with many variations" was key to Mr. Lawrence's fame, as the obituary in the New York Times duly noted, he was also a multi-talented director-writer-actor (onstage and in movies) and a musician.



There were numerous versions of The Old Philosopher, all funny.


Lawrence even carried The Old Philosopher persona to radio ads.



A couple of decades after the records were first released, Eddie's Old Philosopher recordings received frequent airplay on the Dr. Demento radio show. When the radio host presented the performers of the program's most requested records in a concert, Eddie, of course, was invited. He did not disappoint.



Still later, I realized that Eddie Lawrence wrote and provided voices for many Paramount cartoons and often wrote the stories as well. It turned out they were animated versions of his routines.



The following Famous Studios cartoon visualizes one of Eddie's records, Abner The Baseball.





A few of these non-prototypical Famous Studios efforts found their way to television's New Casper Cartoon Show, but this writer, much more a fan of Warner Brothers and Tex Avery MGM cartoons than of Casper The Friendly Ghost as a child, did not see any of Eddie Lawrence's cartoons back then. This is for a good reason: most of the Eddie Lawrence cartoons and other mid-1960's Paramount/Famous cartoons had not been produced yet when the six year old version of Your Correspondent was watching The New Casper Cartoon Show on TV.



The Eddie Lawrence cartoons, including the Swifty & Shorty series which re-imagined many of his routines, were in movie theaters at the time; unfortunately, I did not get the pleasure of seeing them on the big screen before a Jerry Lewis flick.


It was not until even later, the early 1990's, when this animation buff actually saw Famous Studios cartoons from this period, courtesy of a Nickelodeon program titled Cartoon Kablooey. Surprise - the 1964-1967 Paramount/Famous cartoons, directed by Howard Post, Shamus Culhane and Ralph Bakshi, in this writer's opinion, are more often than not fresh, original and funny in an unorthodox way. Unlike the 1950's Harveytoons, they do not come across as repetitive and formulaic, even though the animation and design is more minimalist.



For more information on The Old Philosopher, check out the wonderful tribute to Eddie Lawrence posted by Mark Evanier on his News From Me blog, as well as the superb interview conducted by Kliph Nesteroff, author of The Comedians: Drunks, Thieves, Scoundrels, and the History of American Comedy and posted on his Classic Television Showbiz page.



Most importantly, NEVER GIVE UP, NEVER GIVE UP, NEVER GIVE UP. . . THAT SHIP!


Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Cartoon Jazz On Labor Day Weekend



THIS Friday, September 1st, at Angelica's in beautiful downtown Redwood City (as opposed to beautiful downtown Burbank), Jeff Sanford's Cartoon Jazz Septet will kick off the Labor Day Weekend with a bang that sounds just a tad reminiscent of a Warner Bros. cartoon.





In store for San Francisco Bay Area music lovers: new compositions and selections from the Cartoon Jazz Septet's eclectic repertoire of compositions by Raymond Scott, Jelly Roll Morton, John Kirby and Lenny Carlson.



The Date: Friday, September 1, 2017
Showtime: 8:30 p.m.
The Place: Angelica's, 863 Main Street, Redwood City, CA.
Bell Stage Main Dining Room
Buy Advance Tickets here.

On Sunday September 3rd, the group will have an open rehearsal/concert from 6-9 at Savanna Jazz in San Carlos. This rehearsal precedes a return of the Cartoon Jazz Orchestra to Savanna Jazz on the evening of Thursday, September 14th.

The Septet will also perform on Tuesday, September 12th at 6PM, for a Sonoma Jazz Society event at Sonoma Plaza Grinstead Amphitheatre in the square. Last but not least, the full orchestra shall also give a concert at Opus One Winery in Oakville on September 16th.

For more info, check out:
Cartoon Jazz Orchestra official website
Facebook page
YouTube channel