Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Happy 100th Birthday, Frank Loesser

Frank Loesser, author of literally hundreds of songs and numerous enduring standards, was born on June 29, 1910. Loesser, who could write both lyrics and music with panache, deserves credit for giving that Gershwin-Porter metropolitan musical tradition an original spin drenched with genuine 1950's style Americana.

To represent the Damon Runyon-esque part of that mix, I submit the following:

Pianist, vocalist and walking encyclopedia of American musical theater, Michael Feinstein, spoke at length about Loesser (whose classic Broadway shows include Where's Charley, Guys And Dolls, The Most Happy Fella and How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying) in this interview by Terry Gross that aired as part of a tribute on the Fresh Air show.

The following trailer plugs Walter Gottlieb's 2006 documentary about the Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winning author of Broadway shows and movie scores.

My favorite Loesser tune? Let's Get Lost! And while I have a tough time choosing between Sinatra's and Chet Baker's versions of it, for today's blog entry, I go with Chet - but promise to crank up Frank's killer version of "Luck Be A Lady" from Sinatra At The Sands later.

My second favorite? Tough call, since there are so many cool songs to choose from, but I just love the simmering salaciousness of Baby, It's Cold Outside. Here are two highly entertaining covers - with big time thanks to Dino, Satchmo and Velma - of that fine song:

Sunday, June 13, 2010

More Amazing Stuff By The Fabulous Émile Cohl

Back at the beginning of the 20th century, cinema innovator Émile Cohl picked up where Georges Méliès, Ferdinand Zecca and others left off and invented many animation techniques.

We can only hope there's a place somewhere in which 35mm nitrate negatives of the following two films, The Dentures and Mobilier Fidéle (A.K.A. The Automatic Moving Company) have been sitting untouched in cold storage for 100 years.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Winsor McCay Invents "Squash And Stretch"

After I posted a couple of the very, very few surviving films by the remarkable early animator Émile Cohl, one of my film buff friends responded by sending me a link to an equally wonderful clip by another genius of early cinema, animation, comic art and illustration, Winsor McCay.

I've seen this clip before in 16mm, but never in a nice color print like this one. The mere thought that McCay drew and hand-colored EVERY FRAME boggles the mind.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

The Wondrous And Strange Stop-Motion World Of Ladislaw Starewicz

News flash: 3-D animation techniques didn't start with Pixar in the 1980's or Henry Selick in the 1990's.

While quite a few great, creative, original and innovative artists - Charley Bowers, Willis O' Brien, George Pal, Ray Harryhausen, Jim Danforth, Karel Zeman, Jiri Trnka, Art Clokey - developed stop-motion animation techniques, arguably the most vivid, dreamlike, and strikingly surreal 3-D animation universe created onscreen was by the Russian-born entomologist turned animator Ladislaw Starewicz.

Starewicz produced puppet animation films for six decades. He began his career in filmmaking in 1909-1910 in Russia, then fled during the 1917 Bolshevik revolution and produced a wide range of puppet animation films in France until his passing in 1965.

He started as an entomologist making educational films with bugs - yes, bugs. . . real bugs. Working on a documentary illustrating the mating rituals of insects, Starewicz discovered stop-frame animation, and realized that he could make "trickfilms" featuring said bugs. So observe the following remarkable and surprisingly adult-themed piece produced nearly one hundred years ago - starring insect philanderers.

What separates Starewicz from his animation contemporaries - with the possible exceptions of the Fleischer Studio - is a macabre sensibility. His 1933 film The Mascot (a.k.a. Fétiche) remains the only stop-motion film I have seen to elicit the reaction "holy crap - this is a 3-D Heironymous Bosch painting!" No doubt viewing an original 35mm nitrate print of Starewicz' complete 30 minute opus would be an amazing big screen experience - and here is the very scene that provoked that reaction:

Starewicz worked for ten years on a feature film Le Roman de Renard (a.k.a. "The Tale of the Fox"), released in 1931. Here's a clip:

So today, this blog raises a snifter of Stoli to the memory, vivid imagination and visionary imagery of Ladislaw Starewicz, the spiritual predecessor of present-day stop-motion surrealists The Brothers Quay and Jan Svankmajer. The following DVD can still be ordered via Amazon.com.

For more info, check out Eric Schneider's piece, Entomology And Animation: A Portrait Of An Early Master: Ladislaw Starewicz in Animation World Magazine, as well as this scholarly article penned for the Senses Of Cinema website by Adrian Danks, president and co-curator of the Melbourne Cinémathèque.