Thursday, October 05, 2006

More Films We'd Like To See

I will periodically spotlight favorite films that are too obscure for DVD. . . or, come to think of it, mankind.

This classic cartoon is from my all-time favorite era of movies, the early 30's, the pre-Code epoch when Barbara Stanwyck "hos" straight up the corporate ladder - sneering more contemptuously than Lou Reed every step the way - in Baby Face (1933) and silent screen icon Billy Haines, in Way Out West (1930), looks straight in the camera, with a smurk, and quips "I'm the wildest pansy you ever picked". And before overtly sexual humor, most notable in the incredible surreal films of the Max Fleischer Studio, was sanitized out of cartoons (at least until Tex Avery, Bob Clampett and Frank Tashlin took on the censors - who were not swift enough to catch their subversive antics - in the 40's).

The Hash Shop is just one of many wildly, insanely imaginative cartoons that Walter Lantz (yes, the kindly host of The Woody Woodpecker Show, if you are an over-the-hill "boomer" and remember such things) produced in 1930. They are distinguished by the remarkable - rubbery, expansive, creative, way-out - draftsmanship of Bill Nolan, who was doing "acid trip animation" decades before Vince Collins, Paul Driessen and Sally Cruikshank.

The m.o. of the best pre-Code cartoons, especially those by Fleischer, is "anything can happen - and there doesn't have to be a reason." Besides Fleischer, who truly produced films for the ages, Walter Lantz, Van Beuren and the transplanted New Yorkers at the Charles Mintz studio number among the most egregious exponents of this cartoonmaking philosophy.

When Disney became supreme, draftsmanship and continuity in animation improved dramatically, but the phenomenon of "anything, I mean, anything, for a laugh - and besides, this is a freakin' cartoon", unfortunately, fell by the wayside. Again, it took Tex Avery and Frank Tashlin becoming Looney Tunes directors, soon followed by Bob Clampett, to challenge the gospel according to Disney. But, save a brief mid-1940's blast by the aforementioned directors, we would not see anything quite as uninhibited as early 1930's animation until the heydey of Ernie Kovacs and Monty Python decades later.

My favorite moment in The Hash Shop:
Oswald is a waiter in a restuarant. A loud customer asks "HOW'S YOUR LIVER?" Oswald nonchalantly pulls up his skin to reveal a little organ flopping around, pauses, and then answers "OK" in 1930 de rigueur cartoon character falsetto.

Saturday Night Live, MAD TV - eat your hearts out!

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