Large Association of Movie Blogs
Large Association of Movie Blogs

Friday, October 30, 2020

Happy Halloween 2020 from Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog

Tomorrow is Halloween of what has been a horror show year - and a very tough time for all of us at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write To Blog, with the sudden loss of a beloved, esteemed and wonderful mascot to a blood clot earlier this week.

“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” — Anatole France

The best this blogger can do is confirm that he, unlike our lovable mascot, is not dead, here to write the Halloween 2020 blog post - and that he and Madame Blogmeister have long since mailed our ballots.

We will start Halloween as we do every year with a viewing of the Cartoon Roots series' Halloween Haunts, a ghost, goblin, ghoul and animation rarity-filled DVD/Blu-Ray set from Cartoons On Film which gets the official Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog Red Seal of approval.

The 15 film set is an exceptional compilation of spooky cartoons representing a slew of studios and animation techniques. Here are low-res examples of two gems from the Halloween Haunts set.

All the studios - from Lantz to Mintz to Iwerks - produced Halloween-themed cartoons, in response to the success of Disney's The Skeleton Dance.

The Fleischer studio made more Halloween-themed cartoons than anyone.

Wish there was a post on Vimeo, YouTube or DailyMotion of the complete version of Boo Boo Theme Song, an exceptionally creepy Halloween "Screen Song" cartoon from Fleischer Studios. Here's the one bit from this Screen Song which is up on YouTube: the Funnyboners singing Boo, Boo Theme Song - and spoofing Mr. Showbiz of 1933, Bing Crosby.

Oddly, the 16mm film prints of Fleischer Screen Songs cartoons struck for television distribution by UM&M/NTA often do not feature the live-action song sequences. Frequently, the song segments were cut from the 16mm negatives. One hopes 35mm materials on complete Fleischer Screen Songs are still intact and sitting in an archive (UCLA? LoC? Eastman House? Eye?) or a cold, dark cave somewhere.

We'll follow that up with, rather amazingly, a couple of Walt Disney cartoons. Yes, Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog, believe it or not, has a couple of favorite Disney cartoons, after "Pink Elephants On Parade" and Goofy in "Hockey Homicide" (and, at #3, the attempted Diz-Dali collaboration, unfinished back in 1946 but completed in 2003).

A few Disney films are actually apropo for Halloween. The following classic, The Mad Doctor, is right up there with Mickey's Garden and Through The Mirror as one of the truly great cartoons from this series - and, for who knows what reason, passed into the public domain. Don't know why - there were many Copyright Catalog errors regarding Fleischer, Famous Studios and especially Van Beuren Studio titles going public domain, but very, very few mistakes involving Disney cartoons.

Another film we love is the Silly Symphony Egyptian Melodies.

Alas, Walt, no doubt planning the move to full-length animated features, put the kibbosh on the surreal and dark imagery seen in the first two seasons of Silly Symphonies. The Mad Doctor could be considered the last gasp of this at Disney, very odd moments involving ducks eating chicken in Donald Duck cartoons notwithstanding.

In Disney's extremely ambitious animated features, the memorable Night On Bald Mountain segment in Fantasia, may have, to some degree, been inspired by an incredible film made seven years earlier by pinscreen animators Alexandre Alexandrovitch Alexeieff and Claire Parker. Have not seen a quote from Walt Disney confirming that he was aware of this, but it would come as no great surprise that he did, and that it was one of the inspirations for Fantasia.

The Alexeieff and Parker films were created using a technique even more intensely painstaking and detail-oriented than the animation Disney made showcasing the multiplane camera: the pinscreen.

In closing, here's Alexander Alexeieff and Claire Parker's 1963 homage to that lighthearted partying guy and literary visionary, Nikolai Gogol, Le Nez. It's even better than Poe's The Tell-Tale Heart and will haunt your dreams.

Happy Halloween from Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog, where Don & Waffles, Mutt & Jeff and Alexeieff and Parker all co-exist on the same psychic plane!

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Happy Natal Anniversary to the legendary Merian C. Cooper

Born on this day in 1893: a documentary filmmaking innovator, producer of King Kong and Son Of Kong and co-inventor of Cinerama, the extraordinary Merian C. Cooper.

While well aware that Cooper, with director Ernest B. Schoedsack and special effects genius Willis O'Brien created a sensation with King Kong in 1933, the more I delved into Cooper's astounding career as world traveller/adventurer, fighter pilot, aviator and producer, both in silents and talkies, of feature films and documentaries for David O. Selznick/RKO Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and John Ford's Argosy Productions, as well as his forming of Pioneer Pictures to develop and champion the use of three-strip Technicolor in live action movies (starting with the RKO musical short subject La Cucaracha), the more mightily impressed I was.

While King Kong was Cooper's most famous production, he also made history at RKO Radio Pictures by teaming Fred Astaire with Ginger Rogers on FLYING DOWN TO RIO, arranging Katharine Hepburn’s screen test and beginning his 20+ year association with John Ford. Cooper's keen interest in Technicolor would eventually lead to its showcasing in the feature films Becky Sharp and Gone With The Wind.

There is so much to Cooper's work across varied fields of endeavor, it is tough to determine just where to begin! A good place to start is the following outstanding Photoplay Pictures documentary, I'm King Kong! The Exploits Of Merian C. Cooper, produced by Patrick Stanbury and directed by Kevin Brownlow and Christopher Bird for Turner Classic Movies, which explores the breadth and brilliance of Cooper's transitions from aviator to documentarian to Hollywood movie producer and co-inventor of Cinerama.

Wikipedia elaborates:
Merian Caldwell Cooper (October 24, 1893 – April 21, 1973) was an American aviator, United States Air Force and Polish Air Force officer, adventurer, screenwriter, film director, and producer.

Cooper was the founder of the Kościuszko Squadron during the Polish–Soviet War and was a Soviet prisoner of war for a time. He was a notable movie producer, and got his start with film as part of the Explorers Club, traveling the world and documenting adventures.

He was a member of the board of directors of Pan American Airways, but his love of film always took priority.

Cooper was one of the first bomber pilots in World War I. After the war, he helped form the famous Kosciuszko Squadron in battle-torn Poland. He then turned his attention to producing documentary films that chronicled his hair-raising encounters with savage warriors, man-eating tigers, nomadic tribes, and elephant stampedes.

He returned to military service during World War II, serving with General Claire Chennault in China, flying missions into the heart of enemy territory and then changed the face of film forever with Cinerama, the original “virtual reality.” He is also credited as co-inventor of the Cinerama film projection process. Cooper's most famous film was the 1933 movie King Kong. He was awarded an honorary Oscar for lifetime achievement in 1952 and received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960.

The first "giant ape" movie, extending concepts animator Willis O'Brien showcased in the 1925 epic The Lost World, was unprecedented and a box-office sensation, very much influenced by Cooper's world travels and the two documentaries he produced with cinematographer Ernest B. Schoedsack. For more info, by all means read The Making of King Kong by George E. Turner and Dr. Orville Goldner).

The two King Kong films weren't just massive box office hits, they profoundly influenced one of Willis O' Brien's key successors as a master of stop-motion animation in the action/adventure/fantasy genre, Ray Harryhausen.

Mr. Harryhausen worked with Willis O'Brien on the stop-motion wizardry in Ernest B. Schoedsack's 1948 film Mighty Joe Young,

As a filmmaker, technology enthusiast and special effects designer, Cooper was on the advance guard and a key developer of the three-projector widescreen process, Cinerama. He directed the 1952 documentary This Is Cinerama.

New digital restorations of epic films produced using the process were presented at New York City MoMA in January 2018 as part of Cinerama Day. This included The Story of Cinerama: An Illustrated Lecture, presented by the Cinerama, Inc., digital restoration team of David Strohmaier and Randy Gitsch.

Mr. Strohmaier's 2002 documentary Cinerama Adventure accompanies the restored version of This Is Cinerama, completed by Cinerama, Inc. in 2017.

The Best Of Cinerama (1963), comprising segments from Cinerama movies shot in Rome, Paris, Vienna, Athens, Brazil, Japan, Africa, Israel and New Orleans. would be the last project Merian C. Cooper worked on. As David Strohmaier, Cinerama and 70mm champion, describes in the following piece, the restorations can be exceedingly painstaking albeit rewarding work, bringing modern digital technology together with the expertise of those who worked for Cinerama.

Cooper, the intrepid explorer-adventurerer-filmmaker-inventor-aviator-special effects designer has been celebrated by a terrific article, Distant, Difficult And Dangerous: The Life of Merian C. Cooper, penned by Mitch Hemann for the Norman Studios website, as well as an outstanding book by Mark Cotta Vaz, Living Dangerously: The Adventures Of Merian C. Cooper.

And, for more on Cinerama, there's the Cinerama movie theatre in the Belltown district of Seattle.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Toons Around The World: Halas & Batchelor

While still enjoying an extended British comedy binge, including usual suspects Monty Python, Beyond The Fringe, Goons, Alexei Sayle, Rowan Atkinson, Blackadder, Sir Alec Guinness, Ealing Studios, etc. (and also looking forward to Sunday's Silent Comedy Watch Party), the blog now pivots to the animated cartoons of Great Britain.

Today's post pays tribute to the films of Halas and Batchelor, the prolific animation producers with studios in London and Cainscross (in the Stroud District of Gloucestershire).

First and foremost, we'll start with a respectful tip of a bowler hat worn by Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel to Vivien Halas, whose YouTube channel offers a treasure trove of Halas & Batchelor films and interviews.

Vivien Halas also co-wrote the splendid Halas & Batchelor Cartoons: An Animated History with Paul Wells, while contributing to the documentary The Animated World of Halas and Batchelor.

Halas & Batchelor, Great Britain's preeminent animation company from 1940 to 1995, are regarded as the United Kingdom's answer to Disney.

Formed in 1940 to produce animation for the World War II effort, the studio made everything from conventional animated cartoons to social commentary to films influenced by experimental cinema and modern art animators Len Lye and Oskar Fischinger.

The studio is best known for its 1954 feature film adaptation of George Orwell's Animal Farm.

Of the studio's features, we especially like the 1967 film Ruddigore.

The Halas & Batchelor studio has been lauded, celebrated and cited as inspirations by such luminaries as the founders of all-time Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog favorite Aardman Animations.

While the John Halas & Joy Batchelor studio's films are out on Blu-ray and DVD, one will need a region free player to watch them.

It's true - all of us who have presented the KFJC Psychotronix Film Festival and its various offshoots in various venues share a soft spot for the Halas & Batchelor studio's Dodo The Kid From Outer Space cartoons.

We're also big fans of the stop-motion Snip and Snap cartoons, the inventive paper cut-out animation films which remind this writer just a bit of Art Clokey's clay-mation.

The John Halas & Joy Batchelor studio produced 70 films for the WW2 effort. The British approach is much more "stiff upper lip" than Warner Brothers' Private Snafu cartoons, but effective nonetheless.

The studio also produced some very clever animated commercials.

Throughout its six decade run, the Halas & Batchelor studio were prolific producers of industrial and educational films.

Due to the participation of Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog favorite Peter Sellers and an emphasis on musicality, we especially like the Halas & Batchelor Tales From Hoffnung series, produced in 1965.

Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog has posted about animation of Great Britain before, with our favorite, by far, being a tribute to the great classic cartoons of Harringay's British Animated Productions, the creators of Bubble and Squeek, led by former Fleischer Studios and Walter Lantz Studios animator George Moreno, Jr.. These blend cartoony American humor and dry British wit.

Also penned an April 2013 post about the studio headed by former Walt Disney Studios producer, director and head animator David Hand that produced the Animaland and Musical Paintbox series.

In closing, we suggest checking out the following Halas and Batchelor animation playlist on YouTube. Many of the studio's films covering the history of Great Britain and more industrial/educational short subjects about life in post-World War II era England can be found there.

The British Film Institute, owners of a Halas & Batchelor collection donated by Vivien Halas, has posted the studio's educational and industrial films on their YouTube channel.

For more info, read the aforementioned Halas & Batchelor Cartoons: An Animated History. It's the last word on the studio and features a foreword by one of our favorites from Aardman Animations, the great Nick Park.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

This Weekend's Binge Watch: Sir Alec Guinness and Ealing Studios

Determined to avoid the news AND the plague, we at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog continue the Brit-com bent that started with The Goons, The Pythons, The Two Ronnies and Alexei Sayle and now begin an Ealing Studios and Alec Guinness binge. Batting leadoff, just one of many outstanding movies starring the one, the only Sir Alec Guinness - The Horse's Mouth.

There is Kind Hearts & Coronets, in which Guinness plays eight incredibly disagreeable and loathsome characters with perfection. For this writer, the Ealing Studios masterpiece ranks high on the list of greatest feature films - and most wicked comedies - ever made.

Very much enjoyed seeing one of this blogger's favorite standup comedians, authors, B-movie historians and cartoon voice artists, Patton Oswalt, introduce and discuss Kind Hearts & Coronets, the black comedy to end all black comedies, as a TCM guest programmer.

As is the case with the great comedies of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, there's no such thing as too many viewings of The Lavender Hill Mob.

The late, great Robert Osborne elaborates:

The Lavender Hill Mob is so cool, it even includes one of the earliest silver screen appearances of the iconic and always winsome Audrey Hepburn.

Another Alec Guinness vehicle we dearly love is The Man In The White Suit.

Next up: the brilliant black comedy The Ladykillers.

Alexander Mackendrick, the director of Whisky Galore!, The Man In The White Suit and The Ladykillers, was a master of the witty Ealing Comedies style, but also helmed an all-time favorite American film of the classic movie fans at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog, the warm and cozy Sweet Smell Of Success.

We're also quite fond of the ever-so-slightly less well known but very funny Passport To Pimlico.

We'd be remiss to not mention the classic 1949 Ealing Studios comedy that was the directorial debut of Alexander Mackendrick, Whisky Galore!

Before watching another 15 or 20 Ealing Studios Productions, followed by several episodes of Hancock's Half Hour, we shall finish off today's post with this look at the Ealing Studios from the British Film Institute.

Friday, October 02, 2020

And This Blog Loves Alexei Sayle

"If you travel to the States ... they have a lot of different words than what we use. For instance: they say 'elevator', we say 'lift'; they say 'drapes', we say 'curtains'; they say 'president', we say 'seriously deranged git!" Alexei Sayle.

Headlong into a Brit-com binge, Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog is revisiting the career of one of our favorite comedians who is still living and performing, Liverpool's Alexei Sayle.

A standup comic and actor, Alexei Sayle made his name along with Rik Mayall and Nigel Planer as one of the punk rock comedians who performed at Soho's The Comic Strip in the late 1970's and early 1980's.

First noticed the comedy of Mr. Sayle in The Secret Policeman's Other Ball, a favorite film, which also features John Cleese, Peter Cook and Rowan Atkinson.

For many, the first look at Alexei Sayle was as one of numerous over-the-top characters in The Young Ones.

In this clip from The Young Ones, Alexei Sayle does a sendup of Benito Mussolini, which now comes across as most apropo in fascism and authoritarianism-friendly 2020, the era of Vladimir Putin, Mohammed bin Salman, Kim Jong Un, Viktor Orban, Jair Bolsonaro, Narendra Modi, Rodrigo Duterte and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Very much Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog, we'll quote Wikipedia's entry on Alexei:

When the Comedy Store opened in London in 1979, Sayle responded to an advert in Private Eye for would-be comedians and became its first master of ceremonies. In 1980, comedy producer Martin Lewis saw Sayle perform at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and became his manager. Sayle became the leading performer at the Comic Strip. He appeared on The Comic Strip Album (1981) and recorded Cak! (1982). He also appeared in the stage show, film and comedy album of The Secret Policeman's Other Ball (1981–1982). Sayle's material covered a broad range of topics, but one of his favourite subjects remained politics. His angry persona, coupled with his vociferous delivery, gave immense bite to his material.

Our favorite of his TV series remains Alexei Sayle's Stuff.

This show carries on the anarchic tradition exemplified by Peter Cook & Dudley Moore's Not Only But Also, Spike Milligan's Q series and Monty Python's Flying Circus.

There were three Alexei Sayle's Stuff series, first broadcast in 1988-1991.

All three series are hilarious.

Of the British comedy shows from the late 1980's and early 1990's, they are right up there with Red Dwarf and A Bit Of Fry & Laurie in the untethered inspiration department.

They would be followed later in the 1990's by The All New Alexei Sayle Show and Alexei Sayle's Merry-Go-Round.

Do we love the Bobby Chariot character in The All New Alexei Sayle Show? Yes, very much.

Bobby Chariot is as unrelentingly terrible a performer as Andy Kaufman's tres toxic lounge lizard Tony Clifton, not to mention SCTV's egocentric entertainer Bobby Bittmann (Eugene Levy) and even less talented brother Skip Bittmann (Rick Moranis), but weirdly endearing.

The last of the comedian's TV shows we can point to that is still within the 20th century pop culture focus of Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog is Alexei Sayle's Merry-Go-Round.

While we in the States have not seen Alexei Sayle on TV in too many moons, the actor-writer continues to tour, write new material and perform standup comedy. In the past decade, this has included extended engagements at London's Soho Theatre and at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. He also hosts and writes the BBC 4 radio series Alexei Sayle's Imaginary Sandwich Bar, a.k.a. stand-up, memoir and philosophy from behind the counter of his Imaginary Sandwich Bar.