Sunday, November 27, 2022
Much of this blog over the past 15+ years has been devoted to plugging screenings. Love classic movies, so am quite pleased to finish 2022 going to actual public screenings. Movie events we love in Northern California and have promoted repeatedly here: silent movies at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, the Psychotronix Film Festival, Noir City and San Francisco Silent Film Festival. The Psychotronix shows, at Foothill College and the Orinda Theatre, express a love of film humor, intentional and unintentional, in all its forms
After experiencing an extended period that included a year of lockdown and NO SCREENINGS, ZERO, NONE (!!!) for way too long, it boggles the mind that there are actually two classic film events in one geographic area on the same day.
Next Saturday A Day Of Silents plays the Castro Theatre while the Psychotronix Film Festival presents its 2022 Christmas show at the Orinda Theatre. Here’s a cool trailer promoting the latter. . .
Now, in all honesty, the guy who writes this blog co-founded the KFJC Psychotronix Film Festival with Sci Fi Bob Ekman and KFJC’s intrepid movie soundtrack expert Robert Emmett back in 1992.
Bob Wilkins/Creature Features historian and publisher of Planet X magazine Scott Moon of Cinema Insomnia joined the merry band of psychotronic 16mm purveyors in 1997.
After yours truly moved to upstate New York, Sci Fi Bob and Scott have carried on and continue to carry on the Psychotronix spirit and brand with a series of shows at the Orinda Theatre, beginning in 2016.
I'm very proud of the work I did with Sci Fi Bob and Scott, both talented, knowledgeable, resourceful and inspired film collector/curator/programmers.
We shall return to Foothill College for the 30th Anniversary KFJC Psychotronix Film Festival on December 10!
Also on December 3, the San Francisco Silent Film Festival presents A Day Of Silents at San Francisco's Castro Theatre.
There will be tributes to Sessue Hayakawa in The Cheat, Anna May Wong in The Toll Of The Sea, and the new SFSFF/Cinématheque Française restoration of the 1921 film Pour Don Carlos starring Parisian producer-director-scriptwriter-actress Musidora.
Hands-down, our favorite from A Day Of Silents is Marion Davies and William Haines in King Vidor's Show People.
The tribute to Davies, the great movie comedienne of silents and early talkies, will be introduced by biographer Lara Gabrielle, author of Captain of Her Soul: The Life of Marion Davies.
If you are a blog reader geographically in the greater San Francisco Bay Area on December 3, we suggest doing both events - first checking out the early shows of A Day Of Silents.
And then, it's time to head for the Orinda Theatre to see the Christmas Psychotronix.
In closing, we note that the excellent Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum has re-opened and is doing programs every other Saturday at the Edison Theater!
Wednesday, November 23, 2022
Well, here we are in November 2022 and, lo and behold, another Thanksgiving has just about arrived. Happy and very thankful to still be here and drawing breath? Yes! Feeling big time gratitude? Heck, yeah! Thankful for numerous blessings and lots of dumb luck? Indeed!
Thankful for the spectacle of Thanksgiving Day parades gone wrong, terribly wrong? Er. . . uh. . . that would be stretching it just a tad, although I am ever-thankful for giant Bullwinkle and Rocky balloons.
Do I take some measure of guilty pleasure in the unfortunate impalings of gargantuan and not terribly well thought-out parade inflatables? Absolutely, provided I was definitely NOT there in person to witness the balloon-bursting disasters and get clobbered with flying debris!
Thankful for first responders and others with the task of dealing with the aftermath of parade disasters? YES - more than can be expressed!
As anyone who reads this blog well knows, we're also thankful for classic and not-so-classic movies and cartoons.
Posted the following MGM cartoon here 10 or 12 years ago.
Like it so much we're bringing it back: Tom Turkey & His Harmonica Humdingers, directed by Hugh Harman and starring a turkey variant on recording artists Borrah Minevitch & His Harmonica Rascals. This cartoon, IMHO, is not without its charms!
Borrah Minevitch & His Harmonica Rascals, who appeared in many short subjects from 1928 through the early 1940's, were also not without their charms.
Hugh Harman could never quite successfully emulate Disney (although the Harman-Ising produced Silly Symphony Merbabies comes close) or the post-Avery and Tashlin Warner Brothers cartoons, he did make many very interesting and imaginative animated films over his years as an independent producer in the 1930's and then as one of the official MGM cartoon-meisters in 1939-1942. Unfortunately, Hugh's pet projects, an animated version of Gray's Elegy and a live-action/animation version of The Little Prince (collaborating with Orson Welles), were never realized. Ironically, Hugh was succeeded as director of MGM cartoons by . . . Tex Avery.
Yes, Tex Avery, the guy who changed the face of animation practically the moment he arrived in 1935 as the new director at the Leon Schlesinger/Warner Brothers cartoon factory and would be the leader of the Termite Terrace gang that included Chuck Jones and Bob Clampett, as well as the creator of the Bugs Bunny we know and love in A Wild Hare (1940).
Tex also made a delightfully twisted Thanksgiving cartoon for MGM in 1945.
It features a "Droopy" pilgrim and a wisecracking Jimmy Durante turkey.
First posted it in the very first Thanksgiving-themed entry on this blog, back in 2006. 16 years later, it's back for an encore!
As Jerky Turkey fell into the public domain, it very likely remains, along with the public domain Fleischer Popeyes and Supermans, and the epic MGM Happy Harmonies opus TO SPRING, in the most frequently shown cartoons in public screenings of 16mm.
We are also thankful for classic comedy films.
Remain steadfastly and endlessly thankful for the great comedians and comic actors/actresses of silent and early sound era movies.
Here's the 1940 Harry Langdon 2-reeler COLD TURKEY, produced by the Columbia Shorts Department and directed by Del Lord.
While there are difficulties in translating Harry's manchild space cadet character to his middle-aged 1940 incarnation, Harry still periodically summons his blazing comic mojo and felicitously, his perennial onscreen nemesis (and offscreen best friend) Vernon Dent is on hand.
One could never entirely steamroller such outstanding and original silent movie comedians as Buster Keaton, Harry Langdon and Charley Chase, even with the most threadbare of budgets and accelerated shooting schedules.
Friday, November 18, 2022
©Walt Disney Productions
94 years ago today, Steamboat Willie, the first Walt Disney Productions sound cartoon and the second starring vehicle for Mickey Mouse, premiered at Universal's Colony Theater in New York City. Walt elaborates, in an appearance on his television show.
Steamboat Willie wasn't the first cartoon with sound - Max Fleischer's studio had already made a bunch of Screen Songs a.k.a. Sound Car-tunes.
Fleischer Studios also produced a documentary about the introduction of sound to movies.
What's new and different about Steamboat Willie is the way sound was synchronized and how the music by Carl W. Stalling and sound effects were as much the star of the show as Mickey. Contemporaneous efforts from other studios just slapped a music track on a silent cartoon. Walt Disney, Ub Iwerks and Carl Stalling asked the questions "what can we do with sound?" and "what can we do that nobody else is doing?"
Who could be attributed with the animation style of Steamboat Willie and its predecessor Plane Crazy? Ub Iwerks!
Charles Mintz had hired away much of the staff from Disney and (at least briefly) took possession of flagship character Oswald The Lucky Rabbit, leaving the extremely talented Ub Iwerks as Walt Disney Productions' top animator.
Steamboat Willie was followed by the first Silly Symphony, The Skeleton Dance, which extends and further develops the creative use of music (Carl W. Stalling!) and sound effects.
Ub and Stalling would leave the Disney Studio in 1930 and then produce the first sound cartoon in color, Flip the Frog in Fiddlesticks.
For more info on Ub Iwerks, watch this. . .
For more info on Disney's 1920's cartoons, the transition to sound and Ub Iwerks, also read Michael Barrier's Hollywood Cartoons: American Animation in Its Golden Age, The Hand Behind the Mouse: An Intimate Biography of Ub Iwerks by Leslie Iwerks and John Kenworthy, Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse, The Ultimate History by David Gerstein, J. B. Kaufman, Bob Iger and Daniel Kothenschulte (Editor), Walt Disney's Ultimate Inventor: The Genius of Ub Iwerks by Don Iwerks (with foreword by Leonard Maltin), Russell Merritt and J.B. Kaufman's Walt in Wonderland: The Silent Films of Walt Disney book.
And the also terrific book by David A. Bossert, J.B. Kaufman (Foreword) and David Gerstein (Archival Support) devoted to the Disney Oswalds. David Gerstein's
In addition, it is highly likely that a search for articles about Walt Disney, the early sound era and Ub Iwerks by such terrific authors and historians as John Canemaker and Jim Korkis will turn up something interesting on these topics.
Friday, November 11, 2022
Today, we pay tribute, three years short of his 100th birthday, to the highly original, groundbreaking and brilliant standup comedian Jonathan Winters.
The improvisational standup comedian and comic actor (in such movies as It's A Mad Mad Mad Mad World and The Loved One) was born on this day in 1925.
First became familiar with him via comedy records.
What was this pop culture vulture's favorite part of The Dean Martin Show? No, not the comely and undulating Gold Diggers, but the very funny guest star comedians, among them Jonathan Winters, Paul Lynde, Dom DeLuise, Bob Newhart, Foster Brooks, Jackie Vernon, Allan Sherman and Guy Marks.
The Tonight Show, especially the incarnations hosted by Jack Parr and Johnny Carson, provided a showcase for standup comedians. Winters was a favorite of both Tonight Show hosts.
Parr's Tonight offered free rein to comedians, including Jonathan Winters.
Jonathan Winters would continue making frequent appearances on The Tonight Show when Johnny Carson hosted.
Favorite Winters appearances on Carson? Those featuring both Jonathan Winters & Robin Williams!
He also periodically could be seen on Late Night With David Letterman - sometimes with Robin!
Winters was also responsible for gazillion cartoon voices. Author Jerry Beck wrote at length about Jonathan Winters' many contributions to animation in The Animated Jonathan Winters 1925-2013. These voices included a continuing role as Papa Smurf and key characters in the I GO POGO special.
In closing, here are, from Archive.org, some of the earliest Jonathan Winters TV appearances.
A roomful of varied hats off to the great Jonathan Winters!
Friday, November 04, 2022
In the "time flies when you’re having fun or not" department, it's November 2022 and another election is here.
While the preference here is to stick to subjects we actually possess knowledge about - classic movies, silver screen and TV comedy, animation, jazz and rock music, silent films - the gang here feels strongly that voting is important.
Is it really, really important that all of us, after swilling a generous slug for courage, vote in the midterms? Yes!
And, if you happen to live in one of those states where giving water to those who wait 8+ hours in line to vote is illegal, bring a thermos full of generous slugs! Glenlivet, Tres Generaciones Tequila and Crystal Head Vodka will do nicely - after all, they're NOT water.
Indeed, voting in both midterms and presidental elections is important. The candidate in your local race could be Edgar Kennedy!
Or, worse yet, Clark & McCullough could be working for one of the candidates!
With the ballot now in the mail box or drop box, even though this is not a presidential election, it's time to celebrate with some classic cartoons, starting with Popeye's campaign as candidate for The Spinach Party. Credited for story on Popeye For President: none other than the funniest and most prolific of all the Popeye voices, Jack Mercer.
In this 1937 entry from the Betty Boop series, The Candid Candidate, ever-cheerful inventor Professor Grampy wins his mayoral race and offers his constituents cool Rube Goldberg style contraptions. While that's often not quite enough for a ticked-off and disgruntled populace, there are worse election outcomes than public works created by a genius inventor.
This was not Betty's first election cartoon. While yet to find any specific midterm election videos, clearly Betty Boop cannot and will not be outdone. Here, produced for the 1932 campaign, no doubt betting on the queen of the animated screen's spunk and charisma to beat that Great Depression is Betty Boop For President.
Bugs Bunny invariably gets the last word, in this election-themed cartoon directed by Friz Freleng.
Have immense respect for everyone who got off their derrieres, knocked on doors, did phone banking, letter writing and on-the-ground organizing, as well as driving people to the polls this election cycle. Big time kudos, bravos and huzzahs to all the intrepid individuals who, this election cycle, got up, got into it and got involved!