Santa’s Workshop (1932)

Article 4850 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-18-2015
Directed by Wilfred Jackson
Featuring the voices of Pinto Colvig, Walt Disney, Allan Watson
Country: USA
What it is: Silly Symphony

Santa and the elves prepare for Christmas day.

I think I’m beginning to get a handle on these Silly Symphonies from Disney. With the emphasis on music and rhymed dialogue, it has become fairly obvious to me that what these shorts were aiming for was whimsy, not comedy. Whimsy differs from comedy in that when the choice is given between something cute and something funny, whimsy will opt for the cute, and there’s a lot of that here. And though there’s no doubt a lot of creativity and excellent animation on display here as we see the elves going about their toy-making business, a little bit of whimsy goes a long way, and even though I may smile a bit at this, it never turns into a laugh, and the fact that the cartoon lacks anything in the way of a plot just makes it a little duller.

Schwechater (1958)

Article 4849 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-15-2015
Directed by Peter Kubelka
Cast unknown
Country: Austria
What it is: Experimental film

No plot.

If the name of the director seems a bit familiar, it’s because it’s the same guy who directed ARNULF RAINER, which I covered just a few days ago. This one consists of snippets from what looks like several people eating and drinking at a table. Some of the snippets are stills; some are photographically distorted, and they’re edited together in a non-linear rapid-fire fashion, while an annoying electronic music ditty repeats itself on the soundtrack. No, it’s not as annoying as ARNULF RAINER; at one minute long, it’s too short for that, and it somewhat lacks the chutzpah of that one. It’s also much less memorable. The fantastic content is, like the other abstract films, that it’s clearly non-realistic, and thus at least marginally a fantasy. It’s also one of those movies that is difficult to say anything about; it has 461 votes on IMDB at the time of this writing, but not a single user comment.

El Super-flaco (1959)

Article 4822 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-15-2015
Directed by Miguel M. Delgado
Featuring Evangelina Elizondo, Pompin Iglesias, Wolf Ruvinskis
Country: Mexico
What it is: Comedy

A skinny weakling dreams of being strong and winning beautiful women. A mad scientist uses him as the subject of an experiment, and the weakling winds up with super-strength.

Having watched this comedy in Spanish without English subtitles, it goes without saying that I missed most of the verbal humor. However, it was very easy to follow, and much of the humor was visual. Still, one of the reasons it was so easy to follow was that the story itself is very familiar; I’m sure I’ve seen several variations of it by this time, and though I was a bit surprised by some events near the end of the movie, in general it was very predictable and mostly lacking in surprises. There’s a few musical numbers added to the mix, a wrestling subplot (hence the inclusion of Wolf Ruvinskis in the cast), a creepy lab, and a midget. From what I can tell, it’s passable and mildly entertaining, but unless the verbal jokes are really good, it’s no more than that.

Swing You Sinners! (1930)

Article 4819 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-11-2015
Directed by Dave Fleischer
Featuring the voice of Billy Murray
Country: USA
What it is: Weird cartoon

Bimbo, on the run for chicken thievery, takes refuge in a cemetery and gets trapped inside.

If there’s one thing you can say about the Fleischers and their cartoons during the early thirties, it’s that they weren’t afraid to unleash demented surrealism when the spirit took them, and it this cartoon, the spirit REALLY took them. The first half of the cartoon where Bimbo crosses swords with a chicken and a cop is relatively sedate; it’s only after Bimbo takes refuge in the cemetery and finds himself set upon ghosts, ghouls and talking tombstones that it kicks into high gear, with all these beasties accusing, condemning and chasing the poor guy, all to the beat of the jazzy/scary music playing. Some of the creatures are indescribable; they’re funny, scary and outlandish in equal parts. This one may be even stranger than BIMBO’S INITIATION.

Superman (1941)

aka The Mad Scientist
Article 4816 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-8-2015
Directed by Dave Fleischer
Featuring the voices of Joan Alexander, Julian Noa and Bud Collyer
Country: USA
What it is: Animated superhero action

A mad scientist threatens to terrorize Metropolis with his death ray. Can Superman stop him?

I suppose it could be argued that the Fleischer Superman cartoons suffered from bare-bones plots and thin characterization, but to do so would miss the point that those were the least important aspects of the productions. What mattered was the nonstop action, the bright colors, the superb animation and the rousing score, and those are here in spades, and I’m willing to bet that’s just what the Superman fans of the time wanted. Apparently, the Fleischers were initially reluctant to take on the task of animating Superman, claiming it would require a huge budget to pull off the realistic animation necessary to make it work; amazingly enough, Paramount coughed up the dough and it was the most expensive cartoon series of its time. The only element that seems out of place is the mad scientist’s comic-relief pet vulture, a touch that seems to belong in a different cartoon. Other than that, this is a pretty rousing introduction of Superman to the big screen.

The Stupid Cupid (1944)

Article 4815 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-7-2015
Directed by Frank Tashlin
Featuring the voices of Mel Blanc and Frank Graham
Country: USA
What it is: Warner Brothers cartoon

Cupid is on the loose again and causing all of the animals to fall in love. He sets his sights on Daffy, but Daffy, who has bad memories of his last amour, wants none of it. However, he may not have a choice…

There is a certain perverse logic to casting Elmer Fudd as Cupid given his well-known love of hunting. Furthermore, Daffy Duck (in his manic incarnation) is a good choice for his victim. This is a fairly standard Warner Brothers cartoon of the period, but it does have a few standout moments. My favorites include a snapshot of Daffy’s family which shows that there is a strain of genetic mutations in his DNA, and there’s a fun variation on the “Well, now I’ve seen everything…” gag. Oddly enough, Blanc does the voice of Elmer Fudd in this one, but that’s explained by the fact that Elmer doesn’t have any dialogue; he just giggles. Director Tashlin would move on to non-animated features after his stint as an animator; he brought a certain cartoony quality to many Jerry Lewis movies.

The Star of Bethlehem (1912)

Article 4810 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-1-2015
Directed by Lawrence Marston
Featuring Florence La Badie, James Cruze, William Russell
Country: USA
What it is: Biblical tale

Three wise men from the east follow a star to Bethlehem so they may worship the birth of a new king.

According to a useful user comment on IMDB, this movie was three reels long, but all that survives is a condensation reel that runs about fifteen minutes. I somehow sensed the movie was incomplete, though I do wonder what was cut. My gut feeling is that the movie either told more of the story involving Herod (the movie opens with scenes involving Herod who drops out of the action afterwards) or it goes farther back in time to watch the Magi leave on their quest. I suspect this condensation was put together by a very devoted Christian; most of the movie seems to involve people seeing the star, kneeling down in worship, and then getting up long enough to follow it some more, then kneeling down and worshiping some more, and then getting up etc. This is very reverent, no doubt, but dramatically, it’s more than a bit dull. It’s interesting to note that the star seems to be fairly low hanging; during a scene in a doorway, it only seems to be hanging a few feet above their heads. I do find it a bit ironic, though, that a movie as reverent as this one opens with a lengthy sequence in which dancing girls perform for Herod, a scene that is dramatically unnecessary and starts the movie off at a snail’s pace.

A Spanish Twist (1932)

Article 4808 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-28-2015
Directed by John Foster and Vernon Stallings
Voice cast unknown
Country: USA
What it is: Tom and Jerry cartoon (the other ones)

Tom and Jerry’s raft gets wrecked by an octopus. They wash ashore in Spain, where they partake in the dancing at a cafe and fight bulls until Prohibition is repealed.

The best thing I can say about the human Tom and Jerry cartoons of the early thirties is that sometimes they get weird enough to distract you from how lame they are. I’m afraid this one never reaches those – uh – heights. The rubbery animation seems primitive and the characters are non-entities; if there’s any difference between Tom and Jerry other than their heights and clothes sense, I don’t know what it is. The octopus and the bulls have a few anthropomorphic qualities for the fantastic content; furthermore, it could be called a fantasy simply because people don’t move that way. All in all, this isn’t funny, nor is it much fun.

Soap Bubbles (1906)

aka Les bulles de savon animees
Article 4805 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-24-2015
Directed by Georges Melies
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Magic trick short

A magician performs magic tricks, some of which involve soap bubbles.

Yes, it’s another Melies magic trick short, but at least I’ve had a bit of a break from them lately, so I’m a little less tired of them. The best thing about this one is that the use of smoke and soap bubbles in the tricks give the magic a slightly different texture than some of the other shorts of this type; I like the scene where he blows faces from the soap bubbles in particular. Beyond that, it’s a fairly typical Melies magic trick short.

The Sinking of the Lusitania (1918)

Article 4804 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-22-2015
Directed by Winsor McCay
Cast unknown, though it probably features Winsor McCay
Country: USA
What it is: Animated current events reenactment

The sinking of Lusitania is depicted via animation.

As I mentioned when I covered HOW WAR CAME, not all animation is necessarily fantastic, and outside of a couple of very minor details (a pair of fish show a hint of anthropomorphism in their reaction to an approaching torpedo, the smoke from the smokestacks behaves in a rather snaky fashion after the ship is hit with a torpedo which, though it is visually effective, seems rather unreal), this animated reenactment of a watershed moment leading to World War I is very realistic. Unsurprisingly, the short is also a work of propaganda, and a very effective one; with a wisely chosen soundtrack, this is a very moving and tragic. McCay’s animation is very impressive here; it’s detailed and constantly in action. Like GERTIE THE DINOSAUR, it opens with a live-action section involving the making of the short, but it maintains a serious mood throughout.