Friday, October 27, 2017
The aficionados of classic movies at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog are thrilled to hear that numerous formerly lost feature films and animation gems from the halycon days of silent movies can, a century later in 2017, hold an esteemed place on the film buff's shelf.
Author Leonard Maltin has beat Your Blogmeister to the punch with his October 22 post From Lon Chaney To Louise Brooks: Silent Films That Speak, which covers the slew of cool silents becoming available on Blu-ray and DVD. These include the William A. "Wild Bill" Wellmann feature Beggars Of Life (starring Wallace Beery, Richard Arlen and, in a good part not in a despair-ridden G.W. Pabst opus, Louise Brooks), two Marion Davies comedies and Chaney: Before The 1000 Faces, featuring three 1915-1916 Universal films which precede the gifted actor's mega-stardom as Hollywood's ever-menacing monster du jour.
On this blog, we have extolled the good work of Ben Model and Undercrank Productions. We were happy to support the Kickstarter fundraiser that led to the release of When Knighthood Was In Flower, just one of several fun and entertaining Marion Davies vehicles produced in 1922.
An original 35mm nitrate print of When Knighthood Was In Flower, preserved by the Library of Congress. was scanned for this Blu-ray/DVD release. The original color tints have been reinstated and the hand-colored sequence digitally replicated.
Added to this: two more Marion Davies comedies produced in 1922, Beauty's Worth and The Bride’s Play. There is a certain long overdue justice to these films finally becoming available for viewing, as Ms. Davies, whose skills as a comedienne, actress and mimic enliven such classic late silents as The Patsy and Show People, received an enduring bad rap as vapid and untalented via (Citizen Kane) screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz
These vehicles for Davies, charming and funny in both light comedy features and elaborate costume dramas, have essentially been unseen since those halcyon days entertaining audiences on the big screen in 1922. In all cases, her playfulness, likability and good humor shines through.
Considerably less lovely and charming but an even bigger star in the early days was Vitagraph Pictures comedian John Bunny (1863-1915).
Bunny, the corpulent, irascible, craggy and most Dickensian character actor, was the first comedy star of American movies.
There's a new DVD on the prolific silent movie star which features several of his farcical starring short subjects, as well as Tony Susnick's superb film, John Bunny - Film's 1st King of Comedy Documentary, which can be ordered here.
Bunny's stardom, beginning in 1910, preceded Roscoe Arbuckle and Charlie Chaplin. He appeared in 172 films and was frequently teamed with character actress Flora Finch in a series termed Bunnyfinches. There was palpable tension between the two of them - think William Frawley & Vivian Vance on I Love Lucy or John Belushi & Jane Curtin in Saturday Night Live - and this added to the comedy.
To answer those who find the John Bunny films most entertaining and what to know where the heck can one more of them, will note that in addition to the John Bunny DVD, several John Bunny Vitagraph short subjects in excellent pictorial quality have been uploaded to YouTube by the marvelous archivists of Eye Film Institute.
As far as early cartoons are concerned, we champion those who have been presenting animation rarities on the big screen. The usual suspects would include Jerry Beck, author, teacher and curator of numerous programs at The Steve Allen Theatre, this blogger/showman's frequent collaborators Bob Ekman and Scott Moon of the KFJC Psychotronix Film Festival and Rheem Theatre screenings, as well as Tommy Jose Stathes of Cartoons On Film, who has been bringing early 20th century animation to 21st century Blu-ray and DVD in his Cartoon Roots series.
Halloween Haunts, featuring new HD transfers & restorations of animation from the Stathes Collection, is the latest in the Cartoon Roots series. The eye candy for toonheads comes with informative liner notes and extras galleries.
The lineup of Halloween Haunts, including both silents and goodies from the sound era, is as follows:
The Haunted Hotel (J. Stuart Blackton, 1907)
The Pumpkin Race (Roméo Bosetti, 1907)
Out of the Inkwell: The Ouija Board (Max Fleischer, 1920)
Dinky Doodle in Just Spooks (Walter Lantz, 1925)
Out of the Inkwell: Koko Sees Spooks (Max Fleischer, 1925)
Alice’s Mysterious Mystery (Walt Disney, 1926)
Mutt & Jeff: Slick Sleuths (Associated Animators, 1926)
Hot Dog Cartoons: Pete's Haunted House (Walter Lantz, 1926)
Felix the Cat in Sure-Locked Homes (Otto Messmer, 1928)
The Fresh Lobster (circa 1920s) with Billy Bletcher
Snap the Gingerbread Man: The Witch’s Cat (Kinex Studios, 1929)
Waffles & Don in The Haunted Ship (Van Beuren Productions, 1930)
Felix the Cat in Skulls & Sculls (Otto Messmer, 1930)
Tom & Jerry: Wot A Night (Van Beuren Productions, 1931)
Felix the Cat: Bold King Cole (Van Beuren Productions, 1936)
We at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog support these endeavors and encourage readers to do so as well!
Friday, October 20, 2017
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
"Working with Monk brought me close to a musical architect of the highest order. I felt I learned from him in every way--through the senses, theoretically, technically. I would talk to Monk about musical problems, and he would sit at the piano and show me the answers just by playing them. I could watch him play and find out the things I wanted to know. Also, I could see a lot of things that I didn't know about at all." - John Coltrane (1960, in Downbeat Magazine)
With the 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, Monk bandmate Steve Lacy's jottings of Thelonious' handwritten guidelines and advice for group 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
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.