Monday, January 27, 2014

This Saturday - Oh No, It's The Return Of The KFJC Psychotronix Film Festival!


Poster by Judy Zillen




We're baaaaaaaaaaaack - with our customary off-kilter vengeance, the KFJC Psychotronix Film Festival!



For some unbeknownest reason, the powers that be are allowing the mad scientist archivists who concoct the KFJC Psychotronix Film Festival back to Foothill College to sully the hallowed halls of Room 5015 yet again this February 1.



You know what THAT means: yet another hallucinatory excursion through the irritated bowels of popular culture!



The usual suspects: trailers from bad movies, Soundies, well-meaning but now ridiculous 1950's educational films, cheesy "snack bar" ads, Scopitones, cartoon rarities, commercials, bizarro comedy shorts, "thunder lizards", kidvid, silent movie clips, serial chapters, puppet animation, and whatever not-exactly-cinematic drek we can dredge up for the occasion.



Your Host For The Evening's Festivities: expert on all things involving film and TV soundtrack music, Mr. Robert Emmett of KFJC-FM's "Norman Bates Memorial Soundtrack Show"



The KFJC Psychotronix Film Festival
Saturday, February 1, 2014
Room 5015 on the Foothill College campus, 12345 El Monte Road, Los Altos Hills (El Monte Rd. exit off of Highway 280)



Showtime: 7:00 p.m. (get there early - the hall sells out)

$5 benefits the innovative and fearless
KFJC 89.7 FM



Parking: $3, in Lot #5, right before the brown trailers - follow the signs

Doors open at 6:00 p.m.



Be there or be a trapezoid! (wait a moment - we ARE trapezoids)



Friday, January 24, 2014

Opening Tonight In San Francisco - Noir City 12




Who: Eddie Muller & The Film Noir Foundation
What: Noir City 12: It's A Bitter Little World
When: January 24 to February 2
Where: Castro Theatre, 429 Castro Street (at 17th)
Why: This festival KICKS ASS!
Tickets: Brown Paper Tickets
Info: Noir City website



Here's the official Noir City 12 trailer:



Also, check out this excellent article by G. Allen Johnson about the 2014 Noir City fest and the international makeup of its lineup.



And also this superb piece from The Chiseler, FOUND IN TRANSLATION: Film Noir South Of The Border by Imogen Sara Smith, author of In Lonely Places: Film Noir Beyond The City.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Remembering Art Clokey, Part 3


"They were charming little stories and they pleased a lot of people. I'm grateful for that. It kept animation alive, too." Ray Harryhausen




Fast forward to 1960. Gumby cartoons, after making their debut on The Howdy Doody Show, have become a huge success on television and receive massive nationwide airplay.



Now just how did Gumby, along with Jay Ward Productions' highly satiric Adventures Of Rocky & Bullwinkle, represent the yin and yang of animation produced for TV in the late 1950's and early 1960's?



There were two approaches to children's TV. One was to produce shows starring characters that, while appealing to kids, also featured clever scripts and storylines filled with witty repartee for the grownups. This approach was pioneered in the late 1940's by the legendary Jay Ward and Alex Anderson (Crusader Rabbit), as well as former Looney Tunes director turned producer Bob Clampett (note: the Time For Beany show had a "dream team" writing staff that included Stan Freberg, Daws Butler, Charlie Shows and Bill Scott).





The second approach was to create an alternate universe so compelling that only the stodgiest, most boring, most dreadfully unimaginative parents could resist taking that journey with their toddlers. Dialogue and story did not delve into satire, parody or social commentary, but created a vivid fantasy world where anything can happen anytime. That world is the essence of Art Clokey's animation.



Since the studio of Art & Ruth Clokey succeeded at this with such flying colors, offers to produce additional series inevitably followed. Enter the Lutheran Church, with aspirations to produce their own children's TV show. Art & Ruth produced the Davey & Goliath series, which presented a (forgive this joke) "model family" that in no way, shape or form corresponded to the broken home of Art's early childhood, or for that matter, the lives of most people.



It is definitely tempting to hold a self-satisfied, cynical 21st century "shallow hip" viewpoint regarding Davey & Goliath, but these days, as Mr. Blogmeister plunges yet deeper into the dreaded "middle ages", his evaluation - especially of the episodes penned by Art Clokey (Silver Mine, A Sudden Storm) - has become increasingly less snarky and more positive towards the series. Although the messages and morals in the stories are not exactly subtle, they're nonetheless handled skillfully.



The fact that Art Clokey had to battle the Lutheran Church staff over screen credit - they did not give him screen credit for writing these episodes until he called them on it - amuses your correspondent no end. At least Art subsequently got a bit of revenge by incorporating Davey & Goliath mainstays as unsympathetic characters in Gumby cartoons!



There's more to this story - stay tuned for Part 4.

Monday, January 20, 2014

R.I.P. Michael Sporn (1946-2014)



Woke up on January 20, the birthday of a great man, Nobel Peace Prize winner Martin Luther King Jr. and while preparing to watch the Eyes On The Prize documentary series, learned that the multi-talented and lionhearted animator/historian Michael Sporn passed away yesterday. Michael was a brilliant animator, historian and mentor to many. Eloquent tributes have been penned by authors Michael Barrier and Jerry Beck, filmmaker Mark Mayerson and archivist Steve Stanchfield of Thunderbean Animation, as well as Animation Magazine and Variety.



This loss hits the animation and film historian communities hard, as did the untimely passings of the much-missed Earl Kress and, a few years back in 2005, Joe Ranft.



Besides writing arguably the best animation history blog of them all, Sporn was responsible for many terrific films. He was nominated for an Oscar for his superb adaptation of William Steig's book Doctor DeSoto and won a slew of Emmys. Here's his film of Rosemary Wells' book, Morris' Disappearing Bag.



Several of Michael Sporn's 15 adaptations of children's books for Weston Woods are on the Treasury Of 25 Storybook Classics DVD.



Doctor DeSoto (1984 Academy Award nominee) and more Michael Sporn Animation films are also on the following VHS tape of Weston Woods cartoons, The Mysterious Tadpole And Other Stories.

While I did not have the pleasure of meeting Michael in person, he corresponded with me way back when I started investigating film and animation history in the 1970's and was generous and supportive. R.I.P. and thanks for making the world a better place for lots of people, Michael.



Filmmaker-animator-historians John Canemaker and Michael Sporn

Friday, January 17, 2014

Happy Birthday, Mack Sennett!



Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog pays tribute to Mack Sennett, a.k.a. The King Of Comedy, born on January 17, 1880.



The career of Sennett, a.k.a. King Of Comedy, has been chronicled very thoroughly and skillfully in Brent Walker's Mack Sennett's Fun Factory book.



As pretty much everyone who reads this blog knows darn well, the roster of comedians, comediennes and character actors who worked with Mack Sennett, then moved on to bigger projects, was longer than a telephone book and, thankfully, infinitely more entertaining.










Sennett began making 1-reel comedies for D.W. Griffith at Biograph, then started Keystone Studios in 1912. Ford Sterling, Fred Mace, "Madcap Mabel" Normand, Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle and The Keystone Cops were among the first Keystone stars in 1912-1913.



Submitted for your approval, Keystone's staggeringly inept police force, here in their glory, in Bangville Police.



The end of 1913 saw the arrival at Sennett's of the first 20th century "British Invasion" and still the biggest comedy star in movies, Charlie Chaplin.



The first four of Chaplin's thirty-five Keystone Comedies were released theatrically in February 1914.



In the historic comedy The New Janitor, we see two firsts, both from frantic Keystone and in Charlie's illustrious career: that first hint of pathos and a sense of where Chaplin's stories would be going just a couple of years down the road.



Besides Chaplin, the Sennett Studio headliners Mabel Normand, Roscoe Arbuckle and Harry Langdon would leave the Fun Factory and find big money and international stardom in feature films.



Of course, the biggest Fun Factory "free agent" of all was Chaplin, who signed with Essanay, headed by George K. Spoor and western star G.M. "Broncho Billy" Anderson, for a then un-heard of $1,250 a week in 1915.



Then again, other Sennett stars (Fred Mace) did about as well as Saturday Night Live graduates whose careers ended with the transition from TV to movies. Director Henry "Pathe" Lehrman, sometimes termed "Suicide" for his cavalier attitude towards the safety of actors, left Sennett to form his own studio, L-Ko (Lehrman Knock-Out) and later Fox Sunshine Comedies; both expressed an even more frenetic, surreal and iconoclastic variant on the Keystone style, if such a thing can be imagined.



Some comedy luminaries, as Harold Lloyd and Charley Chase did, began their careers at Sennett as supporting players. Here's a very young "pre-glasses" Harold Lloyd in the Roscoe Arbuckle comedy Miss Fatty's Seaside Lovers.


Both Harold and Charley Chase would leave and go on to great success in front of and behind the cameras, as producer-writer-director-stars.



"Madcap Mabel" Normand would star in feature films for both Goldwyn and Sennett.



Indeed, the Sennett roster from the studio's two decade history encompassed a veritable Who's Who of silent era moviemaking, with Bing Crosby and W.C. Fields joining the lengthy list in talkies.

Directors and writers Roy Del Ruth, Frank Capra and Del Lord would enjoy lengthy careers in screen comedy and successfully bring at least some measure of that signature Sennett frenzy well into the sound era.


The studio's stars included:


Mabel Normand


Fred Mace


Roscoe Arbuckle


Ford Sterling


Al St. John


Ben Turpin


Chester Conklin



Harry Langdon



Raymond Griffith



Sunday, January 12, 2014

100 Years Ago Today: The Debut Of Chaplin's Little Tramp



Filmed 100 years ago, on January 12, 1914, the Mack Sennett Studio's Keystone Comedy Kid Auto Races At Venice. Funny, there's a vaguely familiar comic in there. . .


This is available on the epic Chaplin At Keystone DVD set.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Today - Charlie Chaplin Tribute At The Castro Theatre



The extravaganzas celebrating the 100th anniversary of Chaplin's debut at Keystone Studios are officially on. The San Francisco Silent Film Festival presents an all-day Chaplin tribute program at San Francisco's Castro Theatre.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

And This Blog Loves Charley Bowers


The roads that lead to George Pal, Ray Harryhausen, Jiri Trnka, Joop Geesink, Karel Zeman, Art Clokey and other stop-motion masters lead inevitably back to the still unsurpassed silent era geniuses Charley Bowers, Wladislaw Starewicz and Willis "King Kong" O'Brien.





Bowers in particular intrigues and delights Your Blogmeister no end for his unique blend of silent era comedy and imaginative stop-motion animation.





A fascinating 2-DVD retrospective of his work, The Rediscovery Of An American Comic Genius, originally released a few years back by Image Entertainment, is now, unfortunately, out-of-print, but well worth scouting around for a used copy on DVD (on anyplace but EBay or Amazon, where prices are now ridiculously, insanely high).



Before developing his stop-motion animation techniques and starring in his own series for Educational and FBO Pictures, the legendary Charley Bowers produced Mutt and Jeff cartoons for Bud Fisher Film Corporation and Pathe-Freres.



He also created the illustrations for The Bowers Mother Goose Movie Book in 1923.



Bowers became a comedy star in 1926, headlining 2-reelers that successfully blended silent film "sight gag" humor with way-out stop motion animation.



The 18 "Whirlwind Comedies" produced for FBO and Educational release in 1926-1928 by Bowers and collaborator Harold Muller were - with the exception of an intriguing article that veteran animator Dick Huemer wrote for Mike Barrier's Funnyworld magazine - largely forgotten until almost 40 years after Bowers' passing in 1946.





Louise Beaudet of the Cinemateque Francaise brought a devastatingly wonderful Charley Bowers retrospective to the United States, which was screened at Berkeley's Pacific Film Archive, among other venues, in 1984.



Excellent news for animation buffs: there will, in 2014, be a new release of Charley Bowers: The Rediscovery Of An American Comic Genius on Blu-ray.







Fortunately, until the upcoming Blu-ray is out, the Slapstick Encyclopedia DVD set is still in print, which includes the following wild and wooly Bowers masterpiece.



For more info, check out author Imogen Sara Smith's excellent and scholarly article on Charley Bowers in Bright Lights Film Journal.