Saturday, October 20, 2012

Silent NYC Animation on Turner Classic Movies!

Tune in to Turner Classic Movies on the evening of 
Sunday, October 21, 2012

The news has been circulating for some time, but it's with great pride that I finally report here that Turner Classic Movies will be broadcasting some rare, early New York Animation from the collection of yours truly. It's a rather rare event, and one that's wholly exciting: early, rare, and obscure animation is being spotlighted on a major television channel. Turner Classic Movies is one of the finest outlets for this type of material, as it's the most highly-regarded source for classic and early film on television.

Meeting and talking with TCM staff led to the concept of their showcasing some items from my early animation collection. With the help of close friend and research colleague David Gerstein, I put together a selection of films that will be outlined below. Gerstein was also responsible for research and overseeing musical scores, which were beautifully executed by Robert Israel and Ben Model. It's incredible how well a new musical score can enhance the experience of viewing a silent cartoon.

Jerry Beck (r) on the TCM set with host Robert Osborne (l)
In a very appropriate turn of events, though, TCM staff connected with Jerry Beck--practically a celebrity in the field of animation history research--who consulted with them to turn this broadcast concept into an entire evening of animation showcases. As you'll find in Jerry's introductory posting here, other highlights of the evening will be Max Fleischer's landmark feature films, as well as a selection of UPA cartoons topped off with the broadcast of Lotte Reiniger's historic, early silent animated feature The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926).

Now, for the details Cartoons on Film blog readers want to read...some notes on the cartoons showcased as part of the New York Animation hour. Like the other showcases for the evening's broadcast, this segment is prefaced with a brief conversation between TCM host Robert Osborne and Jerry Beck, who reappear to introduce different sections of the show.

Please see the bottom of this post for a special message!

Silent Era Animation from the collection of Tom Stathes at 12 midnight Eastern/9pm Pacific

All films have been digitally remastered, in HD, from 16mm film prints. Film scans and restoration by Process Blue. Further post production, editing and restoration carried out by Steve Stanchfield of Thunderbean Animation; to you I am extremely grateful.  

The Farmerette
The program begins with The Farmerette (1932).  Produced by the Van Beuren Studios as part of the Aesop's Fables series, The Farmerette was chosen as the header for this program as a symbol for familiarity; the type of early black and white cartoon most would associate with the early New York animation studios. The storyline is simple: a dismayed farmer calls in a 'Farmerette' to perk up the depressed, despondent animals on his farm who refuse to work. The Farmerette, upon arrival, gets the animals' attention quickly--she sings, dances, and is a parody (or more likely, a blatant copy) of then animation sex symbol Betty Boop. The animation is sometimes crude, the drawings are sometimes laughable--as is the case for much Van Beuren product, but the cartoon is funny as hell and the music is catchy, to say the least. Although the subject matter deals with 'down home' farm and animal troubles, The Farmerette is a prime example of the New York animation output of the early 1930s, and it serves as a segue to go back in time to the earliest days of animation production in this city.

From the beginning...

Lightning Sketches
Lightning Sketches (1907). Produced by J. Stuart Blackton at Vitagraph Studios. This very short film is one of the earliest, and few, surviving examples of a filmed 'chalk talk.' Early studios like Edison had filmed extremely brief clips of artists, such as Flushing, Queens resident R. F. Outcalt of Buster Brown fame sketching on a drawing board. In a similar but more notable case, Blackton took a popular vaudeville act of the time, the chalk talk, in which an artist draws humorous sketches for the audience, and adapted it for the screen. By using basic editing-in-camera techniques, Blackton produced crude, novel animated effects concerning the subjects he has drawn, such as a caricature of a man smoking or a seltzer bottle spritzing its contents into a glass of wine. Lightning Sketches, although extant for some time, has been a rarely-seen Blackton entry post-dating his famous and oft-seen Humorous Phases of Funny Faces (1906). Music by Robert Israel.

The Haunted Hotel
The Haunted Hotel (1907). Produced by J. Stuart Blackton and Vitagraph Studios. The Haunted Hotel is one of several early films, produced by various studios in America and abroad, that depicted the then-popular vaudeville act of the same title. A wanderer in the night, played by William V. Ranous, finds himself in a haunted hotel. Mysterious figures appear and objects in the room move on their own; on stage this was achieved using thin wires, but again basic editing was used for the illusion of things moving or disappearing in this early film. A mostly live-action film, this Vitagraph novelty is especially notable for its extensive stop-motion animation sequence. A loaf of bread is cut by a knife, a drink is poured, all on their own. A toy clown--clearly from the Humpty Dumpty Circus, a popular toy set of the early 20th century--walks around the table without any aid and smokes a pipe. Ranous' character, continuously flabbergasted throughout the film, suffers a most unfortunate fate at the end of this surreal early trick film and stop-motion animation gem. Music by Robert Israel. Special Thanks to the Library of Congress.
The Artist’s Dream

The Artist's Dream (1913). Produced by J.R. Bray. Proudly presented by yours truly as well as the Bray Animation Project, this film was Bray's first successful animation project. For a few years prior to 1913, Bray had attempted animating his wildly popular Little Johnny and the Teddy Bears comic strip. He later reminisced, albeit glumly, that it would take far too much time and effort to make an animated cartoon--without shortcut techniques--especially considering that there were backgrounds and more than just one character to reproduce in each frame. By 1913, Bray had discovered (and patented) a process by which backgrounds could be printed and only the areas of the frame or character(s) that needed to move in a particular frame could be painted or drawn on top of that sheet, accordingly. This process was likely 'adopted' from Winsor McCay by Bray after a visit to McCay's studio, and the infamously litigious Bray later took legal recourse against McCay who did not take out a license on Bray's patent. In this novelty film, featuring live-action sequences intercut with animated segments, Bray plays an artist who draws a dachshund on his easel. Shocked, upon returning to the easel various times after the dog has either moved around or stolen sausages placed above a cupboard (during the animation sequences), Bray summons a friend to take a look at the situation. In the final animated segment, the dog explodes after eating more sausages. It turns out this was all a dream--at the end of the film, Bray is awoken by his actual wife, Margaret, who thinks he should quit napping and get back to work. The Artist's Dream was a highly exciting offer to Pathe at the time, who did well with the film, and signed Bray on to produce many more animated cartoons at a time when there was no such product regularly offered in theaters. Dream was the beginning of an animation empire, and more about its (and Bray's) significance can be found at the Bray Animation Project website. In the 1940s or 50s, Bray gave the film an alternate title; The Dachshund and the Sausages, and replaced all of its main and inter-titles. New close-up shots of the dish containing sausages were also added to aid continuity in viewing an already aged and problematic print. These changes are present in this newly remastered version, as no original version of the film has surfaced to date. Music by Robert Israel. Special Thanks to Cinematheque Quebecoise.


Down on the Phoney Farm
Down on the Phoney Farm (1915) Produced by Paul Terry. Phoney Farm is a relatively new and highly significant discovery made within the last two years. It had been assumed that none of Terry's earliest animated works survived, at least none of the cartoons predating his Farmer Al Falfa series produced at Bray Studios (which now survives almost in its entirety). The find occurred when David Gerstein and I were viewing a reel of unidentified film clips preserved at the Library of Congress. After some pondering, initial excitement and then checking against period reviews, it became obvious that the primitive fragment of a crude farmer character we were watching was indeed Terry's second film, Down on the Phoney Farm. I was unaware that Farmer Al had been featured in an animated cartoon prior to the Bray series, so this was indeed an exciting find. Farm was the second of two cartoons distributed by Thanhouser in 1915, after an unsuccessful earlier attempt that Terry made to distribute his pilot works. What is presented here seems to be a fragment, but may be close to complete. Farmer Al waters the ground and out of it grows a frothy mug of beer; shortly thereafter he suggests that his cow drink a cocktail. Al is then chased around the farm, and bows at the end after outsmarting his drunken farm animal friend. The film is both primitive and fascinating; one very intriguing technique used is that a new scene is fully “drawn” from scratch, but without showing an artist’s hand, as was common in certain silent cartoon series. This very historically significant cartoon was the debut of a character whose appearances spanned more than forty years; throughout several hundred cartoons in the silent and early sound period, as well as in color cartoons of the 1940s and new television spots in the 1950s. Farmer Alfalfa is often remembered by some baby boomers as “Farmer Gray,” an alternate character name given by some TV kid show hosts in the 1950s who were showing the silent Aesop’s Fables cartoons as part of their programming. Music by Robert Israel. Special Thanks to the Library of Congress.

Bobby Bumps Starts for School
Bobby Bumps Starts for School (1917) Directed by Earl Hurd and produced by Bray Studios. In animation history, the Bobby Bumps series is of utmost importance. Bumps was the creation of innovator Earl Hurd, who developed the cel system. The series was actually adapted from an earlier comic strip of Hurd’s, entitled Brick Bodkins’ Pa. Some have described Bobby as the Bart Simpson of the silent cartoon era; and this is a fairly true assessment. The youngster was seemingly always in some kind of trouble; a dreamer and creative type who usually annoyed the family (or their maid Goldie) upon executing various schemes or adventures with his dog Fido. In Starts for School, Bobby would very much rather be playing baseball with Fido than concentrate on his history lesson at school. So, to try and prolong recess, he (and Fido) go up into the bell tower and prevent the bell from being rung by physically hanging inside of it. Mayhem ensues, the bell tower collapses onto his teacher (who has fallen off of the roof!), and the finale of the film finds Bobby and Fido bringing flowers to the teacher’s hospital room. For more information on Bobby Bumps, visit the Bray Animation Project page dedicated to the series. The print presented is a version with television-era main and end titles, circa 1950. Music composed and performed by Ben Model.

Trip to Mars
Trip to Mars (1924) Directed by Dave Fleischer and produced by Max Fleischer. An entry in the Out of the Inkwell series, Trip to Mars finds Max sending Ko-Ko the clown up to Mars...against his own will, of course! Out of the Inkwell and its star clown character was, like Bobby Bumps, an immensely significant fixture in the silent-era animation scene. Max Fleischer, an inventor and technical artist, got his start at Bray animating technical and educational films dealing with World War I technology subjects as well as general science films, such as The Electric Bell and Eclipse of the Sun. As far as his early work is concerned, however, Fleischer is best remembered for patenting the rotoscope animation technique, and, as the fable goes, tracing film footage of his brother Dave who was a clown at Coney Island, to produce a new form of animated films. Out of the Inkwell cartoons were first released as part of the Goldwyn-Bray Magazine in the late 1910s and the series eventually led to the Fleischer brothers starting their own studio. The rest of what the Fleischer studio accomplished later in the sound-era--Betty Boop, Popeye, Color Classic, Superman, Gulliver’s Travels--is history. Special thanks to Mark Kausler for providing a circa 1930 reissue soundtrack for this film.


Fireman Save My Child
Fireman Save My Child (1919) Produced by Bud Fisher, possibly directed by Charles Bowers. In this early Fox release, Mutt and Jeff are firemen. As one would expect, the wildly famous comic strip characters of the day get into quite jam as firefighters; Mutt spends some time hanging off a building. Jeff is wholly contented with frying some eggs over by the horse-drawn fire truck, and feeding the horse too, of course...while everyone else is consumed by the mayhem. At least two or three hundred Mutt and Jeff cartoons were produced in the silent-era; though most of the pre-1925-1926 Dick Huemer-era titles remaining elusive today. Some have resurfaced in France; though it is difficult to properly identify French prints as no copyright synopses exist (the series was seemingly not copyrighted), release titles given were often vague, and most of these particular cartoons were not reviewed by trade papers of the time. This cartoon was sourced from a 1930s French Kodascope print, with new main, end, and intertitles recreated by David Gerstein. Music by Robert Israel.

The Bomb Idea
The Bomb Idea (1920) Produced by International Film Service for Bray Studios. Likely animated by Vernon Stallings and/or Walter Lantz. The Bomb Idea is an entry in the Jerry on the Job series, started first at International Film Service and then produced for and released by Bray Studios in 1919 thru 1922. The plot is simple: Jerry, Mr. Givney, and other locals become worried when, after reading a newspaper article about the threat of Bolshevism, a strange man arrives at the New Monia station carrying what appears to be a bomb. As it turns out, the man is a “Champion Bowler” and is wandering around, practicing his bowling skills, but he is scared away after the New Monia clan begin fighting in a dust cloud out of primal fear of this strange, possibly dangerous man. This is one of many examples of Bray cartoons preserved by Keystone Manufacturing Corporation’s 16mm prints produced for home use in the 1940s, and it is presented with its Keystone introduction title accordingly. Music composed and performed by Ben Model.

Scents and Nonsense
Scents and Nonsense (1926) Directed by Bill Nolan and animated by Jack King. As the legend goes, it is purported that in 1948 or thereabouts, one Margaret J. Winkler made a very unfortunate decision. Winkler was a pioneer, perhaps the first female film distributor, who was very active in the 1920s and handled series Out of the Inkwell, Felix the Cat, Disney’s Alice Comedies, and Krazy Kat at one point or another. Unlike a couple of her contemporaries, Winkler did not have the foresight to understand that her old film stock would have value as time slot filler material in the burgeoning new medium of television. Winkler ordered her film negatives destroyed so she could finally eliminate storage bills, and an entire series of silent Krazy Kat cartoons were part of the stock that was burned. As such, most of these cartoons have been difficult or completely impossible to see today, though some have survived in rare, original nitrate prints or very obscure 16mm prints made for home use. Scents and Nonsense concerns Krazy’s scheme to make money by selling furs of captured animals to a Jewish furrier, but his plan doesn’t go so well when he tries to sell a raccoon and then a pig to the gent. Music by Robert Israel. Special Thanks to the Library of Congress.

Springtime (1923) Produced by Paul Terry. Earlier in the program, we showcased a very rare and significant Terry cartoon, one of his first and the debut of Farmer Alfalfa. The program concludes with a more familiar Farmer Al; that of his 1920s incarnation as part of the Aesop’s Fables series. In this very funny entry, Farmer Al is dismayed that he can’t get the attention of a couple women at the beach. When the women ogle at a bow-legged man and then a “sun-burnt” gentleman, Al sets out to destroy himself with the aid of a cat sidekick in hopes of mimicking the other men so that he, too, could hopefully catch a stare from the ladies. The plan fails, of course, but the cartoon doesn’t end before Al winds up roasting on a spit and gets chased by a lovesick monkey who confuses Al for a long-lost mate. The print presented was originally part of the Kodascope Film Library, an early film rental service and is presented with its 16mm rental titles. Music by Robert Israel.

It’s time for that special message I mentioned earlier!

If you support seeing this kind of material on television, please make your concerns known. Turner Classic Movies relies heavily on viewer feedback and sentiments expressed on their online forums. If you enjoyed this broadcast and want to see more, definitely say so here. Jerry Beck also strongly urges you to share your thoughts with TCM. I thank you kindly for your support!

For those of you who caught this broadcast, I hope you enjoyed it thoroughly and were able to appreciate the lovely high-def transfers, restoration work, and brilliant new music scores. Any of you who have questions or concerns about these early cartoons or my work in collecting, archiving and sharing them, can definitely contact me at cartoonsonfilm (at) gmail (dot) com.

-Tom Stathes


Unknown said...

Tommy: this was a fascinating article and I thoroughly enjoyed reading the behind the scenes stories.

Congratulations to you, David and your team for making this happen.

I look forward to many more Cartoons on Film programs with TCM!

Robert Schaad said...

Tommy, you should get a special commendation from whatever animation powers that be!!!

AronJean said...

I happened to have TCM on and was pointed in your direction. Thank you for sharing some of your animation collection with us! It's awesome to see this on television!


Unknown said...

Thank you so much for sharing this with the TCM viewers...I have enjoyed every minuet of it

Unknown said...

Thank you so much for sharing this with the TCM viewers...I have enjoyed every minuet of it

A said...

Saw the cartoons on TCM last night and I have to say they were fantastic. What gems! I'm so glad these films were saved because they were delightful.

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