Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Story of Les Elton

Dear friend; up and coming animation history researcher Charlie Judkins has just posted a great story of Les Elton's career on his blog. Click here.

Elton was involved in some Bray Studios tomfoolery in the 1910s and is best known in animation circles today for his highly bizarre cartoon, Monkey Doodle.

Thanks Charlie!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Sorry, Oswald: You're an Unlucky, Exploited Rabbit.

Earlier today, Jerry Beck posted a Cartoon Brew article regarding the now-viral "lost" Oswald cartoon auction that has been hyped by a successful press release campaign.

The Situation

Staff at the Huntley Film Archives, a private British stock footage firm, located a 16mm print of Hungry Hobos (1928) in their collection several weeks back. Upon doing some preliminary research and realizing the film was not available publicly and had been touted as a "lost film," Huntley staff shared news of the find to industry folk through a listserve frequented by cinema historians and archivists. Reaction was small but definitely excited among the few of us who specialize in early animation...these finds are usually of less importance to others who specialize solely in live action films.

As one might expect, though, several of us in the animation history circles who learned of this discovery were of course excited about it. Until this week.

The Problem, In All Fairness...

We in the archival film community are reminded of the rare nitrate Charlie Chaplin film, "Zepped" (circa 1916), which was also offered by Bonhams in June of this year. This too was sourced from a British collector of antiques. It did not realize the ~$160,000 asking price, and this came as no surprise to us in the field. To assign values to old films, especially exorbitant amounts, has always been a difficult task as these items simply never have been successfully traded at high prices, even between those of us most interested in them. Perhaps it is because typically, we scholars are the only ones interested in old and obscure films; making their value ultimately historical, not financial. They simply do not turn a high profit for us, and so collectors and historians have traditionally traded, bought and sold at relatively low prices when compared to other historically significant pop culture artifacts.

Hungry Hobos is different from "Zepped" in that it is a 16mm safety print. Considering this was located in Great Britain, the print was probably made by Ensign LTD., a firm much like Kodascope Libraries that offered contemporary films for sale and rental in the 1920s and 1930s. Any person could consult Ensign to rent or buy a print of Oswald cartoons as well as many other subjects they carried. This means that unlike nitrate 35mm prints, which too were originally mass produced but then destroyed en masse, Ensign and most other 16mm prints are not entirely unique. While they are rare today, to call a 16mm subject of a mainstream film a "lost" subject is a bit of a misnomer. We too like to use this term in the field, but it better suits commercial endeavors such as the sale of the Oswald film. Unfortunately, though, prospective buyers and the general public would not understand that this print probably is not at all unique. Though, even unique silent animated films are often traded for a few hundred dollars if not less, and certainly not for several thousand dollars.

Silent Cartoon Economics and Oswald

Silent animation truly is an orphan genre. While there are many fans of silent films today, few have more than a passing interest in the animation of the period. Ironically, many silent cartoon series enjoyed widespread broadcasting on 1950s television as it was very satisfactory time-slot filler material. But since then, silent animation has never really enjoyed much of a wholly dedicated fan base. Even few individuals ever really focused on collecting just this one genre of film, either. I can count those individuals on one hand.

Seeing as my focus in collecting and preserving film has always specifically catered to silent animation, I feel more than qualified to comment on the economics and values of these films. It is clear to me that Bonhams did not consult any of the fine gentlemen in our community of animation historians to help formulate an asking price for the Oswald cartoon. That price is absurd to me on many levels, but most obviously because I have been able to amass my library of over six hundred rare silent cartoon subjects for a sum that rivals or is less than the asking price for that one Oswald cartoon. Thus, to me and to fellow industry insiders, the whole situation seems more tongue-in-cheek than anything; if not insulting to those of us who might otherwise be interested in obtaining the film. This is a classic case of poor field research and wide-eyed agents seeing dollar signs swarming around the room.

With regard to Oswald, the character itself has had a very colorful history, moving through several producers and owners. In recent years, Disney reacquired certain rights to the character and put out a very nicely prepared DVD collection of the shorts that could be found in time for its release. The contents of that DVD collection are consulted today when one locates a Disney Oswald cartoon and determines its rarity, as in the Huntley example. I should note that from what I understand, Disney did pay a premium to acquire certain cartoons for its DVD collection--sometimes a few thousand dollars each. Yet we must put this in perspective. A few thousand is still nothing compared to the Bonhams asking price--and a few thousand is still exorbitant to those of us with insider knowledge of more typical silent cartoon prices. A few hundred dollars per film is more the norm for selling and acquiring rarer or "lost" titles. Disney is the exception that proves the rule: the one studio that produced silent animation that survives to this day that still seems interested in archiving its past works. Given Disney's interest, it is somewhat more reasonable to expect that a "lost" Oswald cartoon--as opposed to other "lost" silent cartoons--could fetch a large sum. But still there are limits. My cartoon researcher peers and I have bought several pre-Lantz Oswalds for less than a hundred dollars, including a Disney subject on which only one other original element was known at the time.

In Conclusion

Silent cartoons deserve to be collected easily and seen by interested groups; not traded as fine art pieces, though they should still absolutely be the subject of books and ample academic research. If we come to a point when famous auction houses with powerful press releases bring in high bids on these kinds of items --from individuals who are not involved in this field, clearly--it could further limit the availability of new "lost" film finds for researchers, scholars, and curious individuals in the future. These films were created to be enjoyed and then usually discarded. The goal should be to keep them in a public spotlight for enjoyment, but not to be locked up in vaults with $30,000 price would be akin to discarding them from the public eye.

As someone who has been a lifelong participant in locating and preserving early animation, I feel right in voicing an opinion that the route this sale could take worries and disappoints me. Working in this field has already been difficult enough considering it is mostly a labor of love that rarely brings much of a rewarding financial return. It is based on that experience, too, that I find the auction route and the expected financial sum worrisome in that it could create a dangerous precedent that could make my work--as an individual and not a firm or archive--more and more difficult.

This one is still missing. Will it one day lead to empty wallets?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Eyeglasses For the Ages

Post Contributed by Ethan Krall

If you'll have a look around you, clearly many people wear eyeglasses. For most wearers, glasses serve a medical need to compensate for vision problems. For some, they are fashion statements...though this can also be said for those who wear eyeglasses for medical purposes as well. For these two reasons, unique manufacturers like Zenni Optical are producing eyeglasses which fit both medical needs and the necessity for fashionable, attractive specs.

We also know that eyeglasses can very much define a time period. Seen in film, photographs and other popular mediums of the past; it becomes obvious to us that certain styles are apparent in specific time periods such as decades of the 20th century. Today, however, it can be said that eyeglasses are available in the widest variety of styles ever, and for a variety of reasons. There are new methods of producing eyeglasses and new materials being used in their construction. Today, it's also very popular for some people to purchase and wear specific styles of eyeglasses that were popular in past times. These can either be genuine, vintage frames or newly produced frames designed in these older but now very popular styles.

Thankfully, no matter what style suits you best, cheap eyeglasses are available in abundance from several manufacturers. It just takes a little bit of research and trying pairs on to figure which eyeglasses are right for you.

Monday, October 31, 2011

RIP GAC Forums, hello Intellitoons

As many of you rabid classic animation fans now know, the old GAC forum is now ka-put. Golden Age Cartoons Forums had a nice 7 year run for which we graciously thank Jon Cooke, founder and administrator. The GAC forum was born as the Termite Terrace Trading Post, a category forum on ToonZone, but thanks to hostility from others at TZ who had little to no appreciation for Golden Age animation, the writing was on the wall and soon GAC was born as its own independent venture.

While I myself retired from GAC several weeks back in response to poor moderating and censorship as I saw it, it's been an overall sad experience to see the site go out to pasture.

Thad Komorowski and I have moderated our own forum, Intellitoons, since 2009. It has been completely inactive since that year but we encourage GAC expatriates to join and start some new topics at our forum. Visit today.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Bill Plympton's rendition of The Flying House (Winsor McCay, 1921)

Originally composed in the Summer of this year:

Contemporary treatment and recognition of silent animation is of great interest and importance to the savvy film historian. Understandably, there have not been many subjects in today's industry headlines relevant for comment on this blog. Silent film enthusiasts are mostly aware that very little attention has been given to the roots of the animated film, both in the animation "fandom" realm as well as actual archival preservation undertakings. Of course, rare major endeavors, such as the launching of the Bray Animation Project at the beginning of this month, are exceptions.

Another such exception is a project being spearheaded by independent animator Bill Plympton. Recently, Plympton announced that he has been spending considerable time and money to remake Winsor McCay's 1921 film The Flying House. Plympton is not remaking the film in his own personal style of animation; rather, he is executing a process in which each frame of the film is being digitally retouched and colored. In keeping with the fact that Plympton is indeed an independent producer with little or no initial underwriting from large studios or distributors, he has started a Kickstarter project to solicit production funding from the public. Before reading ahead, it is recommended that you read the Kickstarter project page and watch the video, which is also embedded here for your convenience.

Watching the video and learning a few basic facts about the project brings forth aesthetic and ethical questions on the topic of early film appreciation, or more appropriately in this case, reconstituting. True, adding color and sound to silent animated cartoons is by no means a new idea. In the early 1930s, Screen Attractions Corporation took silent, black and white Mutt and Jeff cartoons from 1925 and 1926 and added color to them by physically redrawing each frame of the films as well as orchestrating musical soundtracks for the films, sometimes with dialogue. A sample poster (right) demonstrates the amount of interest a firm would try to solicit based on the fact that their product was not silent nor monochromatic. In the early 1970s, Radio and Television Packagers did the exact same thing to a few dozen silent and early sound cartoons. Fred Ladd, known for his involvement in bringing Japanese animation to the states a decade prior, was a consultant on this and several similar projects. In short, Plympton is not exactly doing something new--of more importance is the manner, aesthetically and technologically, in which he is doing it.

Visually, there is an obvious disparity between McCay's original image and Plympton's composite. As you can see in the strip of comparative frames on the left, the metamorphosis between the two versions occurs by via digital reconstructing of a physical, analog frame. As you study the frames, it becomes quite clear that the new version of the film has been adapted for a widescreen aspect ratio which is not true to McCay's original production. The resulting aspect ratio alone leads one to ponder several ideas. Is a widescreen product the chosen output method in order to conform to now widespread digital playback methods? Or, is a widescreen product chosen as a filmmaking technique simply because most contemporary viewers, and one could arguably claim young animators, are accustomed to and expect this format? In reality, both reasons are probably viable explanations of why Plympton's version of the film is not being produced with the original aspect ratio in mind.

While digital manipulation of historical films is a now common practice in the archival and preservation fields, one important detail has not been addressed, at least in the Kickstarter project and its introductory video. Plympton is audibly concerned about the film's deterioration. It should be noted, however, that Plympton's team appears to be working from one or more 16mm prints. As was the industry standard at the time, McCay's film was shot in 35mm. Milestone's VHS (and later DVD) collection of McCay's films used at least a fragmentary 35mm print for their version of the film, and a 16mm print was included as an extra feature.

At this point in time, it is fair to consider, for example, a fragmentary 35mm print to be a master element--and it is unclear if Plympton has used sources closer to an original nitrate than a 16mm printdown dupe. It is not necessary to recount the story of the original 1940s 'rediscovery' of McCay's films at this time. However, in Plympton's defense, it is important to state that the few surviving master elements of McCay's films (or nitrate prints and 16mm prints closer to those elements than what circulates in collectors' circles) were retained, possibly in a controversial manner, by the Cinémathèque Québécoise following their screening of historical animation at EXPO '67. Gaining access to films in the Cinémathèque's archives is incredibly difficult, even for established historians, and this may explain why Plympton might not be working from a higher-quality element--if such an element exists in the archive.
While the blogmaster has yet to see the results of this project, it is fascinating to see in retrospect that Mr. Plympton not only met the goal of his Kickstarter campaign but brought in nearly DOUBLE the $10,000 sum originally sought for the endeavor.

I'm still on the fence about what weight this project carries in terms of historical ethic and setting precedents for future 'restoration' concepts. What do you think?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Old Slot Machines

Thanks to Willrus Wreand

It goes without saying that as a collector of old things, slot machines are of a real fascination to me. Ever since childhood, free bingo no deposit and slot machines have been so interesting. Not only for their beauty, at least in those days, but also the sights and sounds associated with them. Clearly, people garner pleasure from playing the slot machines and still do to this day. It's been a hobby of mine for over fifty years and still counting...even my wife has gotten into the games, and we consider it a joint pastime.

I've picked up a few over the years, but the old collectible ones, especially antique models, can be prohibitively expensive. As you probably guessed, I have even purchased some with the proceeds from playing slot machines and free no deposit bingo! I'm truly a slot enthusiast. Nowadays, I also play slots on the internet as there are many reliable slot sites and no deposit bingo sites out there. The winnings can also be exciting, and the websites are fun. It's also a great way to connect with other slot enthusiasts and have an all around good time. Slots and bingo no deposit is the way to go!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Messages for me

Thanks for the post, Arthur Lawrence

When I think about all of the times that I’ve seen a message on my computer that says Click Here, it’s almost too many to count. Every time that I go to a website it seems to have something pop up that says to click somewhere. I have to tell you, I’ve actually followed the link to a lot of these sites, and most of the time it’s one of those claims that seems to be too good to be true and then it actually is. But, I’m a sucker for trying- jus t in case I miss something that I regret missing later! The above link is for Satellite, which I purchased and LOVE. I’ve also gotten a few free movies from Red Box out of the deal. So far, I haven’t gotten any sort of virus on my computer, but my dad keeps telling me I have to be careful not to ‘trust’ sites that I don’t know anything about. I’m not going to lie- I’ll probably keep clicking until something bad happens—I just love a good deal that much!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Bray Project: 28mm Transfers

Here at the Bray Animation Project, we have in our possession approximately forty films in the 28mm format. 28mm is a now-obscure and obsolete film gauge developed in the early 1910s as an alternative to theatrical 35mm film. It was also designed as perhaps the first non-flammable safety film stock which could be shown safely in schools, homes, churches, and other establishments that did not have fireproof projection booths.

It appears J.R. Bray made an agreement with United Projector and Film Corporation (and possibly other companies) sometime in the late 1910s to the early 1920s to distribute his studios' films in the 28mm format. Thankfully, while sometimes fragile, many of these prints have survived today for the simple reason that they are safety prints and are not subject to the far-worse deterioration that most nitrate prints will experience over time. You can read more about the United prints on this page of the Bray Animation Project website.

Thankfully, a hoard of 28mm films were found and sold on the public market last year and this provided, so far, the full extent of our 28mm Bray films collection. The films were in varying condition with the worst problem being shrinkage in some of the prints, which is thankfully 'relaxed' and partially solved with camphor treatments. Other than that, the prints were in relatively good shape, simply needing extensive cleaning.

With the help of a few colleagues, two of the prints have been professionally transferred to video so far. It is a painstaking and very costly process, so it may be some time before more of these prints are converted. For your enjoyment, below are some framegrabs from the two prints that have been transferred.

The original canisters for both films:

Bobby Bumps Gets a Substitute (1916)

Bobby Bumps' Incubator (1918)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Unique Halloween Costumes

It's no secret that yours truly is a big fan of the holidays, especially Halloween. I've always been fascinated by the decor, holiday traditions, and especially the costumes that folks come up with for this favorite holiday. Obviously, Halloween this year is still at least a couple months away but it's never foolish to start planning your Halloween Costumes early! Are YOU thinking of planning your costume early?

Maybe I can help with a few ideas. In the past, I've dressed up as Charlie Chaplin, Bozo the Clown, and simply an old man--a very easy costume to put together. There are so many different possibilites...Childrens Costumes are just as varied these days, and so are Plus size Costumes!

In my research, I've come across a great supplier of a most varied selection of costumes for the holiday. has been in business since 1981 and boasts over 10,000 items in its online catalog. From costumes and accessories to decor...and even items for pets, it's truly your one stop shop for unique Halloween party supplies.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Announcing the Bray Animation Project!

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

After years of researching and collecting materials, as well as recent months of toil, I am extremely proud to formally announce the launch of a new website that will be of great interest to film historians.

The Bray Animation Project, as I'm calling it, is a major research tool devoted to the 1913-1927 output of animated films from the Bray Studios. Combining imagery, videos, essays, and the most complete filmography published to date, the Project pays overdue homage to an early New York City film studio whose product has been painfully understudied.

Noted film and comics historians David Gerstein, Charlie Judkins, Mark Newgarden, Ray Pointer, Tom Stathes (yours truly) and Jack Theakston have provided informative texts for the site. The animated cartoon filmography can be viewed either chronologically or by series. It establishes whether each film is lost or survives (to our present knowledge), as well as noting whether an element has yet been collected for the Bray Animation Project proper.

There is also a discussion board included in the site. Film scholars, historians, fans and surfers are encouraged to post messages and connect with others through the site.

Without further ado, please visit the Bray Animation Project and pass along the word to your colleagues in the industry.


Tom Stathes

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Hello from the Blogmaster

Some of you faithful readers may have noticed that after a long hiatus, there have been some new posts on this blog. Yes, while only slightly informational, they are mostly commercial in nature. The fact remains that few are able to or believe they should financially support archival film efforts so I have had to take steps in monetizing this blog which happens to have very good page ranking thanks to all of the links I've received. That said, I wanted to let everyone know that I have in no way abandoned my efforts: quite the opposite, in fact.

For the past couple months I've been working on a VERY special project that all you animation and film history enthusiasts will just love. It's a website devoted to my favorite early animation studio and it will be packed with lots of goodies, info and images you'll find nowhere else. The new site will even have a discussion board for all who want to talk about any aspect of the studio or early animation archiving in general. I will of course keep everyone posted.

Now- for those of you who have not seen this groundbreaking film, I would like to sign off this post with a lovely YouTube video I uploaded recently. Please excuse the poor video source on this film is not so good at all and a better copy is forthcoming.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

New York Video Production

Those of us who know a thing or two about film history are aware that the industry flourished in the New York area. With its roots in the very late 19th century, most aspects of commercial production were born in or were perfected and monetized in New York and New Jersey. However, the Motion Picture Patents Company, of which Thomas A. Edison was part, drove then 'independent' film producers out of New York City. The MPPC's film camera patents only extended into the midwest, and the lush "free zone" of California proved to be the future hot bed for building a place where cinematic dreams could come true.

Clearly, most people think of Hollywood when discussing media production. California has historically been the center for film production but thankfully New York video production companies are still in full force and can be found with ease. After all, the medium was born here in New York and we in the film studies field are certain that will continue to be the case.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Annapolis Photography

Our friends at Roman Grinev Photography want to tell you a bit about their work in the photography industry. Roman Photography is a leader in the Maryland area and are especially renowned Annapolis Wedding Photographers.

The esteemed Annapolis wedding photographer Roman Grinev has captured occasional humorous subjects, as can be seen in the sample at the bottom of this post. The 'macabre' wedding cake reminds me of some of the darkly cute stop-motion animated subjects that have come out in recent years, wouldn't you agree?

That said, if you are in the Baltimore, Maryland area-- particularly Annapolis and are contemplating marriage, do contact the studio for specialized Annapolis Wedding Photography.

(Photo courtesy Roman Grinev Photography)

Today's compact Audio/Video Interface

In the years before I was a film collector, my main medium of operation was VHS tapes and their duplication. Thankfully, the VHS technology was simple and even kid-friendly, as I was dubbing tapes as an early grade school student. Film enthusiasts had great fun with VHS which relied primarily on the standard three-color RCA cables. Video dubbing in the home in the home is still relatively easy and accessible through a new and wide array of other electronics.

Today, we've moved on to other technologies. I can't say I've used all of them, but there are two new common types of video interfaces, both of which readers are probably familiar with. First there is the High Definition Multimedia Interface, which obviously makes use of HDMI cables. Second there is the Digital Visual Interface which utilizes DVI cables. It would be interesting to know who among us in the archival field use these technologies in their home setups.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

FTC Disclaimer

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