Friday, January 18, 2008

The Best of YouTube: Black and White Cartoons

Decided to start this as a regular feature, because as anybody who loves film and has a computer knows, there's a lot more to the revolutionary, world-changing universe of YouTube than amusing skateboarding accidents and teary-eyed monologues requesting that we leave Britney alone. This feature will showcase the best of what YouTube has to offer, from film clips to musical performances to assorted pop culture nonsense.

For this first edition, I thought I'd do an animation blog, because seeing Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi's wonderful Persepolis last week. Wonderful film .... unlike any animated film to come from Disney or out of Japan, and more like the intimate, emotionally earnest, independent short film work of someone like Michael Sporn. It got me thinking about how beautiful hand-drawn animation can be when it's in black and white.... it's not something that's really been commonly done since the 30's and 40's, but there are some real classics of the genre. I thought I'd take this oppotunity to share some of them with you.

Porky in Wackyland (1938)

Directed by Bob Clampett, who was perhaps the greatest genius of the Looney Tunes in their "golden age," the 30's and 40's. Daliesque landscapes and all sorts of weirdness abounds when Porky travels through Wackyland in search of the last Do-Do (who would make his first of many appearances in this film.)

Swing You Sinners! (1930)

One of the most utterly out-there cartoons that the Fleischer Bros. company put out in the Pre-Code era. In this film, Betty Boop's frequent canine companion, Bimbo, is up to no good stealing chickens and running from the po-po. He gets his comeuppance, however, when he runs into a graveyard and is given an ultimatum by a bunch of ghosts, rubbery talking tombstones, and an anthropomorphic farmhouse. It's amazing to think that this kind of utterly surreal, whacked-out fare was quite normal for the Fleischers to have been churning out at this point, and that the only types of mind-altering substances they used to be able to imagine such things was the occasional martini after work.

Piano Tooners (1932)

The Van Beuren Studio was one of the many animation houses in the late 20's and early 30's that eventually had to call it quits because they were no match for the titanic, snowballing enterprise that Disney was fast becoming. Their animation was quite crude, but personally I think there is a lot of quirky charm in these films. This short features their characters Tom and Jerry - not the famous cat and mouse, but a human duo. They were the first Tom and Jerry, a mischivous couple of ragamuffins, and here they wreak havoc at a classical piano recital. Got to love that Valkyrie-esque pianist, she looks like a cartoon version of one of Russ Meyer's bosomy, Amazonian superwomen.

Astro Boy - TV Show Introduction (1963)

This noble-hearted robot boy was a hero to Japanese and American kids alike in the early 60's. Cartoon Network airs reruns of these on Adult Swim in the wee hours of the morning every once in a blue moon, and I wish they would more often. The jerky animation here makes "Speed Racer" look like a Pixar film, but the show is still very charming and very adorable.

The Ghost of Stephen Foster (1998)

Finally, here's the music video for one of my favorite Squirrel Nut Zippers songs, "The Ghost of Stephen Foster." The Zippers pay tribute here to the Fleischers with another spooky haunted house tale. There is even a little nod to Cab Calloway - who appeared in and did the music for several of the Betty Boop shorts - in the little live-action prologue featuring Johnny Mathis doing a crazy zoot-suited dance.

Eternal Gaze (2003)

Part 1

Part 2

Now here's something you see even less frequently these days than black and white cel animation - black and white CGI animation. Eternal Gaze is animator Sam Chen's tribute to the great Swiss sculptor, Alberto Giacometti, and it is an utterly lovely and moving short film. It's not often that I am really emotionally stirred by CGI animation outside of Pixar's films, but this short, which Chen produced, directed, and animated by himself over a period of several years, is just a wonder to behold and a true work of art.


Blogger Jake said...

What a treasury you've assembled, Jack! Eternal Gaze is a rare treat, thanks for finding it.

7:02 PM  

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