Saturday, November 7, 2009

Stop Motion Matinee

I'm proud to announce Cartoons On Film's STOP MOTION MATINEE, a new release produced in conjunction with Inkwell Images, Inc. This DVD collection is an exploration of early stop-motion animated films, and should serve as a great introduction to a most interesting aspect of animation history. It demonstrates the level of talent possessed by several filmmakers of the 1910s, 1920s, and 1930s who were able to produce visually stunning films using three-dimensional objects without the aid of computers. It can be argued that these works, in turn, are true film feats compared to the commonplace animation of today.

First in the show is THE AUTOMATIC MOVING COMPANY (1912), a film by Romeo Bossetti. Wrongly attributed to Emile Cohl since the 1970s, this film was in fact produced by Bossetti for the Pathe company two months after Cohl left the studio. Bossetti worked at the Gaumont Studios during an earlier period in which Cohl produced a film with the same theme, Le Mobilier fidele (1910); now only viewable at the Cinematheque Gaumont-Actualites.
Animation historian and author Donald Crafton makes the important distinction between the two films in his book Emile Cohl, Caricature, and Film (Princeton Press, 1992) and suggests that Bossetti must have had the pleasure of watching Cohl at work during the Gaumont period and experimented with furniture in an earlier 1911 film as well.
THE AUTOMATIC MOVING COMPANY is a short yet charming film depicting actual furniture unloading from a moving truck and arranging itself in a second-floor apartment without the aid of a human moving crew.

In that same year, famed animator Ladislaw Starewicz produced our second film, THE REVENGE OF THE KINEMATOGRAPH CAMERAMAN (1912). This dramatic telling of a lecherous couple, the Beetles, has a humorous edge in that a grasshopper cameraman provides the climax by showing his secretly-captured, incriminating film at a cinema where the Beetles are in attendance. Husband and wife betray each other and yet they remain together at the end of the film with a bottle of wine to bind them!
Starewicz uses actual preserved insects as subjects in this film. And to think I throw them away after I swat them...

Our third feature is THE DINOSAUR AND THE MISSING LINK (1917), a Conquest Pictures production distributed by Thomas Edison. Willis O'Brien animates superb, lifelike figures in this film which is part of a prehistoric-themed series he produced in the mid-to-late 1910s. Miss Araminta Rockface, the protagonist, is called on by local cavemen The Duke and Stonejaw Steve. These two cavemen are rivals, and Steve throws The Duke into a pot of boiling water! Theophilus Ivoryhead, the "unassuming hero" as an intertitle introduces him, eventually wins the love of Araminta - but I'd better not spoil the rest of the plot for potential viewers! The film features an almost stunningly similar precursor to KING KONG, "Wild Willie," who serves as the antagonist and is also the 'Missing Link' of the film's title. O'Brien's work is revisited later in this program.

Jumping ahead to the eve of the Great Depression, we find ourselves in the fantastic world of Chip the Wooden Man. Kinex Studio's CHIP IN THE LAND OF WHIZ (1929) is one of various toyland-like adventures. Kinex's series such as Chip, Snap the Gingerbread Man and Doodlebugville all feature characters crafted out of wood and other materials in a much more "cartoon"-like style, whereas realistic bugs and human-like dolls were predominant characters in earlier stop-motion films. While not much is known of the Kinex Studios, historians believe their films were produced in approximately 1928 to 1930 as silent films for non-theatrical 8mm and 16mm distribution by Kodak's Cinegraph branch. Ex-Kinex staff went on to produce a small number of sound films such as Hector the Pup (1935).

As promised earlier, the work of Willis O'Brien is revisited. This time we're showcasing a rare reel that saw no general release until its discovery in recent decades. O'Brien designed sets and dinosaur figures which were built by Marcel Delgado for a short-lived project dubbed CREATION (1931). The plot was to have featured a submarine discovering a lost island where dinosaurs still roam. David O. Selznick scrapped this project when he became head of production at RKO in 1932; however, work already completed on it convinced Selznick's assistant Merian C. Cooper that this technique of filmmaking was feasible. This rare fragment represents what eventually bore fruit as the famous King Kong (1933).

Our program concludes by revisiting the work of Ladislaw Starewicz. By 1933, Starewicz fine-tuned his skills in the medium and moved on to using some cartoonish characters alongside anthropomorphized objects such as wine glasses. A true surrealist work with a Depression-era European edge, THE MASCOT concerns Duffy, a cute stuffed-animal dog, facing some strange adventures before returning to his human masters' home. This film is the only in our program to have been produced with a soundtrack.

This collection represents a turning point for me as an early animation collector and historian. I've been interested in early animation history since the mid-1990s, when I was a young child. Out of sheer frustration caused by the general unavailability of these films, I began collecting them around a decade ago and started my home-based operation of selling DVD collections under the Tom's Vintage Film moniker in the Summer of 2005.
This year, 2009, has been an important period as colleague David Gerstein helped with the formation of my new Cartoons on Film website. Also, fellow animation historian Ray Pointer of Inkwell Images, Inc. sought to help upgrade my product to something that has a better focus and a much more professional presentation. I'm grateful to both for their collaboration in producing STOP MOTION MATINEE, with Ray serving as fellow director and David as package designer, respectively.

Needless to say, we all look forward to working on future releases of historic animation. For the moment, though, let's enjoy STOP MOTION MATINEE! Visit for ordering information.