Thursday, January 02, 2014

Remembering Art Clokey, Part 2

"Just below the level of seasickness, of nausea, is the peak of excitement" Art Clokey

Topping Mr. Blogmeister's list of stop-motion immortals: Ray Harryhausen, George Pal, Wladislaw Starewicz, Charley Bowers, Willis O' Brien, Karel Zeman, Jiri Trnka, Joop Geesink, Norman McLaren - and Art Clokey!

We left our clay-boy answer to Al Pacino after the first few Gumby cartoons, which began as an extra on The Pinky Lee Show. Gumby's Godfather, 20th Century Fox producer Sam Engel, saw Art's experimental film Gumbasia and gave the OK for a series of cartoons in 1956. The first season is full of marvelous films that tap into a childlike sensibility in a way no animator before or since has been able to pull off. Clokey accomplished what Bobe Cannon at UPA wanted so much to do, with great success.

As popular as the clay-boy is around the world, his adventures are not for everybody. Once watched a Gumby cartoon with a knowledgeable classic film buff friend who found the clay animation technique amateurish and absolutely could not comprehend what I liked about it.

This missed the point. Gumby cartoons are not the equivalent of Rembrandt with oil paints, Isaac Stern with a Stradivarius, William Faulkner in print or John Coltrane with saxophones.

The objective is NOT to blow the viewer away with technique, but to suck 'em into Art Clokey's fantasy world, that place where green clay-boys walk into books and find just about anything.

In this blogger's opinion, it was when the Clokey Productions jettisoned the handmade look of the first two seasons of "Gumby Adventures", transitioning from making characters with cookie cutters to utilizing molds, that the clay-toons got substantially less unique and less fun. The handmade characters in the 1956-1958 Gumbys add so much to their genuine otherworldliness.

Stay tuned for more in Part 3.

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