Saturday, November 27, 2010

How I Got This Way - pt. 2

When I was quite young, they showed silent cartoons early in the morning.  That was maybe a 6 AM cartoon.  I remembered them all these years, cartoons with music but no speaking, but never really knew what they were.  I'd read something about the silent Farmer Al Falfa/Farmer Grey cartoons, so I checked one out on YouTube, and -- bingo!  This one has whiplash-inducing changes of plot, from the cat employing an unusual mode of fishing with his mouse pal, to playing golf with mouse acting as both caddie and tee...and then the mouse disappears, the cat grabs something that looks a little like a lute or mandolin, and starts playing.  Cupid shows up and shoots him in the ass, and the cat starts serenading a cute girl cat.  I'm still trying to figure out why that ended badly.  The cat suddenly sees a group of mice in aerobics class, and all of a sudden he's a mouse-chasing cat, not a cat with a mouse pal.  Then there is a fairly typical cat-and-mouse chase (although it gives one pause that this 1920s specimen was probably an extremely early cat-and-mouse cartoon, and that the genre is still going strong 90 years later).  At the end, there's an I-thought-Warner-Brothers-invented-that busted cliff-edge bit.  The only thing that sucks is that when the cat sails down on the broken piece of cliff, he and the cliff naturally drill through the earth and end up in China -- and are greeted by a Chinese band, racist depiction.  This sort of thing has markedly improved over the past 90 years.

Paul Terry and Terrytoons are just not a such a big name in cartoon history, not Warner Brothers or Disney or MGM or Max Fleischer, but they did some interesting stuff from time to time.  I guess they didn't quite have the consistent look of some of the other studios.

Speaking of Max Fleischer (and really, who can get enough silent black-and-silent cartoons), we come to Koko the Clown.  Many silent cartoons are a little slow-paced -- like early silent films, they're not sure how quickly the audience will catch on, so they will repeat an idea or move through it very slowly.  But Koko goes pretty fast -- no filler.  The interaction between animation and live-action is stunning -- not to mention the whole idea of the cartoon character knowing that he was drawn and interacting with the guy who drew him (who of course is played by the guy who drew him).  Plus there are just a lot of funny gags.  Much like the cat in the first cartoon, Koko looks better at a distance.  The close-ups of both are kind of ugly.  I just rewatched this and did not catch any racist content.

That one was from 1924.

Now, if you thought the "laughing gas" portions of the last cartoon were trippy, you gotta watch this next one from 1927.  I think this may be the best known of the Koko the Clown cartoons:  a tiny clown and a spiteful puppy cause the apocalypse.  Oopsie.  (I believe this was the puppy who went on to have his own Fleischer cartoon, under the name Bimbo.  Bimbo had a little puppy girlfriend who kind of morphed into a human and became Betty Boop.  You go, Max Fleischer!)

I promise to try to dig up one of the old Max Fleischer Popeyes. 

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