Friday, September 29, 2017

Silent Horror Movies at the Old Town Music Hall

Hello again fellow film lovers. I great news for my southern California readers and for my fellow silent movie buffs. This October, the Old Town Music Hall (which is located in El Segundo, California), one of the best places to see movies will be playing some classic horror films from the silent era. Each of these films will be accompanied live by a very talented musician (Bill Field) on the Mighty Wurlitzer Organ (which dates back to 1921), and be preceded by a sing along and comedy short. The films that will be plying are Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920), Nosferatu (1922), The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919) and The Phantom of the Opera (1925). If you are able to go to any of these don't you dare miss it. Seeing these movies in a theater with live music is an experience you will never forget.

For dates and show times as well as finding the theaters address, click here.

-Michael J. Ruhland

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Animated Feature Films Before Snow White

Though I cannot deny that the Disney animated classic Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is a milestone in film history and a great movie, it is not the first animated feature film ever made. Why it is sad that this is often believed is because some of the animated features that came before are really good and definitely deserve more attention. That is why today we are going to look at these films.

El Apostol
1917. Director: Quirino Cristani. Writer: Quirino Cristani. Animator: Quirino Cristiani. Character Designs: Diógenes Taborda. Models: Andrés Ducaud.

El Apostol
is believed to be the first animated feature film made. This was a silent film from Argentina. Unfortunately this film is lost today due to a fire in 1926. The film was a political satire about Argentinian president Hipolito Yrigoyen, and the film ran around 70 minutes.

Sin dejar rastros1918. Director: Quirino Cristani. Writer: Quirino Cristiani. Animator: Quirino Cristiani. Producer: Federico Valle.

Sin dejar rastros (or in English Without a Trace) was a silent movie from the same country and director of El Apostol. It is based on a true story of Baron von Luxburg and how he affected Argentinian history. It is unknown if any copies of this film exist today and the film is considered lost.

The Adventures of Prince Achmed1926. Director: Lotte Reiniger. Technical Director: Carl Koch. Animators: Walter Ruttman, Berthold Bartosch, Walter Turck, Alexander Kardan. Titles: Edmund Delco.

This German silent film is the earliest animated feature available for viewing and it is a delight. Through expert film making and subtle but extremely expressive character animation, this film tells a simple story in the best way possible. Director Lotte Reiniger started directing animated films in 1919 and specialized in a style of animation called silhouette animation. This was achieved by cut out figures made from cardboard. Each limb of these cardboard figures had wires attached, creating the onscreen illusion of these characters moving of their own will. The rest of the crew working on the film had amazing film careers themselves. Carl Koch would for instance be a co-writer for Jean Renoir's 1939 classic The Rules of the Game. Walter Ruttman and Berthold Bartosch would direct some films themselves. Ruttman would direct the 1927 classic Berlin: Symphony of a Great City and Bartosch directed one of the most brilliant animated art-house films ever made with the 1932 short The Idea. In The Adventures of Prince Achmed, Ruttman and Bartosch animated mainly on the special effects. Because of this Animation Historian Jerry Beck has referred to them as "the world's first effects animators". When originally made it was hard for the film to find a distributor in Germany. However a composer named Wolfgang Zeller got permission to book a showing at a concert hall with his own  music. Reviews from this showing were extremely positive and the film was picked up for a year at a theater in Paris. This was followed by the film playing all over the world.

  Peludópolis1931. Director: Quirino Cristiani. Music: José Vázquez Vigo.

Peludópolis is believed to be the earliest sound animated feature. This is another film from Argentina and directed by Quirino Cristiani. Unfortunately like his earlier features this one is assumed lost. It is another political movie, this time about Argentine president Hipólito Yrigoyen and how a group called The Radicals were trying to overthrow him.

The New Gulliver1935. Director: Aleksandr Ptushko. Writers: Aleksandr Ptushko, Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, Grigori Roshal. Cast: Vladimir Konstantinovich Konstantinov, Ivan Yudin, Shaolin Santiago. Cinematographer: Nikolai Renkoi Renkov.

This stop motion/live action hybrid was the first Russian feature to make extensive use of animation and the first mostly stop motion feature film released. This movie takes Jonathan Swift's famous book Gulliver's Travels and turns it into soviet propaganda. While this film's combination of stop motion and live action is well ahead of its time, it is really only of interest to film buffs with a special interest in the history of animation, or those who want to see soviet propaganda. All others will surely find this movie just boring.

The Adventures of Pinocchio Directors: Raoul Verdini, Umberto Spano.

This is a debatable film to put on this list because it was never actually finished. The film had production trouble from the start and simply seemed to be fated not to be. If released when it was planned to (1936) it would have been the first cell animated feature and the first animated feature from Italy. It would have also beat Walt Disney's animated adaption of Collodi's book by four years.

The Tale of the Priest and of His Workman Balda1936. Director: Mikhail Tsekhanovsky.

Based on a poem of the same name by Alexander Pushkin, this was the first hand-drawn Russian feature film. Sadly due to a fire only six minutes of this movie still exist today as the rest was destroyed in a fire.

The Tale of the Fox 1937. Directors: Irene Starevich, Ladislas Starevich. Writers: Irene Starevich, Ladislas Starevich, Roger Richebé, Jean Nohain, Antoinette Nordmann, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Voices: Romain Bouquet, Claude Dauphin, Sylvain Itkine, Léon Larive, Robert Seller, Eddy Debray, Nicolas Amato, Pons, Sylivia Bataille, Suzy Dornac, Jamie Palma, Marcel Raine. Music: Vincent Scotto. Cinematography: Ladislas Starevich. Animators: Irene Starevich, Ladislas Starevich. Editor: Laura Sejourné.

This was the first French animated feature, and the first feature to be completely stop motion. It is only appropriate that one of the directors was Ladislas Starevich, one of the pioneers of stop motion animation and one of the first filmmakers to prove animation was art and not just a novelty. Not surprisingly this film is a pure work of art and one of the all time great animated features. Sadly this is the only animated feature film he worked on. The film was originally finished in 1930, but it there were problems with its original French soundtrack. This film ended up being released in Germany and in the German language in 1937, and wouldn't play in France or French until 1941.

Academy Award Review of Walt Disney Cartoons1937. Cartoons directed by Wilfred Jackson, Burt Gillett, Dave Hand..

With no new animation and simply being some short films put together and released as a feature, it is very debatable to include this here. This film is made up of five of the Disney studio's Silly Symphonies cartoons (Flowers and Trees (1932), Three Little Pigs (1933), The Tortoise and the Hare (1934), Three Orphan Kittens (1935), The Country Cousin (1936)). It would be released in 1966 with four cartoons added (The Old Mill (1937), Ferdinand the Bull (1938), The Ugly Duckling (1939), Lend a Paw (1941)). Naturally as these short films are all great the feature film is a lot of fun to watch, but there is nothing new offered here, which leaves it out of most lists of Disney feature films.

The Seven Ravens
1937. Directors: 
Ferdinand Diehl, Hermann Diehl. Writer: Paul Diehl. Cinematographer: Alfonse Lufteck. Music: Walter Pepper. Animators: Ferdinand Diehl, Hermann Diehl.

This stop motion animated feature from Germany just barely makes this list as it was released earlier the same month as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. This movie is based off of a story by the Brothers Grimm.

-Michael J. Ruhland

Resources UsedThe Animated Movie Guide edited by Jerry Beck
Animation Art edited by Jerry Beck 

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Teen Titians Go! Movie and What it Might Mean

Ok so some of you might have heard about the Teen Titians Go! theatrical released feature film. For those of you not in the know, this will be a movie based off the Cartoon Network animated TV series Teen Titians Go!. This show is a hit show, but has also alienated many fans of the 2003-2007 Teen Titians TV series who hate this show with an undying passion. Naturally because of this show getting a feature film based off it many cartoon fans are extremely upset about this news. I on the other hand am not angry as much as curious. My curiosity isn't all dedicated to this simple film, but rather to what this means for other Cartoon Network shows. Many of you may be aware of a 2002 movie called The Powerpuff Girls Movie and based off the Cartoon Network show, The Powerpuff Girls. Well this movie when released did not do as well as expected either at the box office or with critics. Because of this Cartoon Network decided to stop production on any other theatrical released feature films based off their TV shows. And from that day forward, there has not been another theatrically released movie based off a single Cartoon Network show. This is why the announcement of a Teen Titians Go! movie for theaters got me thinking. This movie will be released July 22, 2018 and I have to wonder if it does well at the box office, will there be more movies based on Cartoon Network TV show based movies made for theaters? I don't have an answer to this but it is an interesting thought. Personally I want a Courage the Cowardly Dog movie, hey I can dream can't I?

-Michael J. Ruhland 

Monday, September 25, 2017

Movie Review: Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984)

Review Written By Michael J. Ruhland

Note: I am writing a review of this movie because thanks to Fathom Event's Ghibli fest. If you want to see one of these films on the big screen, look it up on your computer, it is well worth it.

Michael's Movie Grade: A+

Review: Hayao Miyazaki's film adaption of his own manga series is an incredible movie that works on all levels.

One of the most incredible things about this movie is its wealth of atmosphere. The whole world this movie takes place in is so intricately and perfectly set up that it feels completely real. Doing this the movie achieves what ever fantasy film wants to, in that it creates its own perfectly believable reality. The sense of atmosphere becomes completely different during a flashback sequence. During this sequence the animation becomes more abstract and sketchy. However this new kind of animation works perfectly as it brings you into the mind of the character and see the world as a little child would. This scene is not just an experiment in style but rather a way to bring you further into the movie. Speaking of this scene Joe Hisaishi's musical score during this part is absolutely beautiful and I find myself humming it while writing this review. In fact the sound is very important to this movie. The film knows when to awe you with great music and sound effects and when to be silent and let the film speak for itself. Adding to all this is an extremely likable main character. Though she is a role model, she never comes off as too perfect, but always keeps a sense of relatability. She makes mistakes and lets her emotions get the better of her at the wrong time, but her intelligence and bravery win out to make her a very strong character. The story is simple in a way, but also complex on a deeper level. One wonders if any of the villains are really that evil, or if they all simply want what they feel is best and go about it in a way that never seems right. Similarly the environmental message is much more though provoking than how most films would handle the subject as it brings in ideas of the Earth going through a cycle, and how sometimes the way nature works is not so black and white.

This is an incredible movie and seeing it on the big screen with an audience makes it all the better.

-Michael J. Ruhland  

Sunday, September 24, 2017

A Few Thoughts on Porky Pig 101

I am sure many of my other giant Looney Tunes buffs have been awaiting something like the Porky Pig 101 DVD set. I certainty have been waiting a while for something like this. In the end I am very very happy with what I got, even if I do admit it has a few things missing.

What really makes this set is the wealth of cartoons on it. This set is made of the first 101 cartoons staring Porky Pig. This means it includes many classic films, that are not easy to find elsewhere as well as some old favorites. It also lets us see each of these films chronically and see how the Looney Tunes series developed over time. With that being one of the major perks of this DVD set it has cartoons from the perfect time period for this kind of exanimation. That is the mid 1930's to the early 1940's. During this time Looney Tunes were getting away from being imitations of what Disney cartoons were doing and instead becoming their own thing. The truth is the Disney studio was simply the best at what it did and the only way to compete was to do something different. That evolution is perfectly shown here. This period was also the time when each Looney Tunes directors had their own identities most clearly defined. In a way no American animation studio has been before or since, the Warner Brothers studio at this time was simply full of auteur filmmakers. Tex Avery's films were delightfully successful experiments in how far he could go with a zany idea in ways most comedy directors (live action or animated) would never dare to try. Bob Clampett's cartoons were filled with pure imagination and childlike energy. Frank Tashlin employed many cinematic ideas with cinematography and cutting in ways that hadn't been seen before in animation. Jack King's cartoons were much more story based and less gag based than the other directors. In fact some of King's Porky cartoons on this set can't even really be considered comedies (such as Shanghaied Shipmates) and are more action/adventure films. This is interesting considering he directed some really funny Donald Duck cartoons for Disney later. Chuck Jones' cartoons on this disc are his early work and because of this they are the slowest paced and most atmospheric cartoons here. Friz Freleng's cartoons on this set are extremely structured and entertaining but also are the most safe and least experimental cartoons here. These kind of observations you can clearly see watching these cartoons are absolutely perfect for my fellow Looney Tunes history buffs. However there is still plenty here to entertain a causal cartoon fan. This set features many classic cartoons and I don't see how any lover of Looney Tunes can't enjoy watching such films as Porky in Wackyland, Porky and Daffy, Porky's Preview, You Ought to Be in Pictures, The Case of the Stuttering Pig, Porky's Romance, Porky's Duck Hunt, The Film Fan and so many more.

However this set is not perfect. The picture quality is good, but leaves something to be desired after The Golden Collection and The Platinum Collection sets. However the main thing missing is new bonus features. All the bonus features here (both commentaries and storyboard reels) have been seen on the Looney Tunes Golden Collection sets. This is great for newcomers because these are great bonus features, but disappointing for those who already have those sets. Despite any of the faults though the sheer amount for cartoons, and the rarity of many of them, making this a must have for Looney Tunes fans, and a must add set to any cartoon DVD collection. Get it now you won't regret it.

-Michael J. Ruhland           

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Happy 107th Birthday Disney Legend Ruthie Tompson

Today marked the 107th birthday of Disney legend Ruthie Tompson. She is best remembered today for her work in the animation camera department and her work on every Disney animated feature up to The Rescuers (before retiring in 1975). Despite this though her work with Walt began much earlier. As a little girl she lived in Hollywood next to the original Disney Brother's studio during the mid-1920's when Walt was making his series of Alice Comedy shorts. These shorts involved a live action little girl entering a cartoon world. Before the animated sequences these films would feature live action wraparounds. Ruthie got to appear in some of these and the Disney brothers (Walt and Roy) would get neighborhood kids to appear in the films for a quarter (Ruthie bought licorice with these quarters as she recalls).

Ruthie would become a full time Disney employee because she got a job (at 18 years old) at Dubrock’s Riding Academy. Walt and his brother Roy often played polo there and Walt would end up offering her a job as an painter. One of her earliest assignments was to put some finishing touches on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. It wasn't long until she moved up to being an animation checker. By 1948, she would also enter the area of scene planning. Bob Broughton, who worked in the studios animation camera department would later marvel at how good she was at working with a camera. One of her most accomplished works was to find a way to make Mickey Mouse fully turn on screen.

She is still alive today living in Motion Picture and Television Fund retirement home in Woodland Hills. She still enjoys herself by reading and making movies on her phone. Appropriately she spent today at Disneyland.

-Michael J. Ruhland

Resources Used

Charlie Chaplin Carnival #1

We are going to start our look at Charlie Chaplin today with the 2nd film staring him, Kid Auto Races at Venice. When Keystone Film Company got a hold of Chaplin, they didn't quite know what to do with him. The first film with him, Making A Living(1914), was artistically a huge failure. The film simply wasn't funny. So what Keystone decided to do was to visit a soapbox racing event for children, and let Chaplin purposely interrupt the filming, letting Charlie improvise how he interrupts it, and hoping something funny would happen. This film was also the first released (he wore it for Mabel's Strange Predicament earlier but that film would be released later) in which Chaplin wore his immortal costume, that would soon be recognized as his Little Tramp character. While this film unsurprisingly does not have the polish later Charlie Chaplin films would , it still remains quite entertaining today. From 1914 and directed by Henry Lehrman, here is Kid Auto Races at Venice.

Twenty Minutes of Love marked the first time Mack Sennet, head of Keystone Film Company, allowed Charlie Chaplin to direct his own films. While Chaplin would later try to get away from, the slapstick for the sake of slapstick, style of humor of Keystone by creating more motivation for the slapstick, here he plays by the rules of the Keystone style of comedy. This is a fast, fun, and purely slapstick short. From 1914, directed by Charlie Chaplin, and also staring  Minta Durfee, Edgar Kennedy,  Gordon Griffith, Chester Conklin, Josef Swickard and Hank Mann, here is Twenty Minutes of Love.

Next comes one of Charlie Chaplin's great masterpieces, A Dogs Life. This film was Chaplin's first film for Frist National. You will notice in here a strong break from the type of humor at Keystone. The pace is slower, and all the jokes come from the story and characters, and have clear motivations. You will also notice the story line is more defined and there is drama present. Chaplin wanted to show that comedy and drama could be combined, and he proved his point masterfully. Here we can see Chaplin as a fully formed artist in this true cinematic masterpiece. From 1918, directed by Charlie Chaplin, and also staring Chaplin's long time costar Edna Purviance, and Charlie's brother Sydney Chaplin, here is A Dog's Life.

Charlie Chaplin's films were rightfully sensations world wide, and  he was one of the first filmmakers to be hailed as a great artist. Therefore the image of the Little Tramp appeared everywhere. His image could be seen in a comic strip in the newspaper, toys, animated cartoons (done by Otto Messmer and Pat Sullivian, two artists who would bring us the silent Felix the Cat cartoons)  and everywhere else you can think of. Actors such as Billy West (not to be confused with the cartoon voice actor) made a career imitating Chaplin in films. One of my favorite uses of the Little Tramp outside of Chaplin's own films is the appearance of an cubist animated tramp appearing in the classic French Avant-Garde film, Ballet Mecanique. Besides the animated appearance of Chaplin's Little Tramp there is much more this film offers. It is also a brilliant representation of the struggle of humanity against the attack of mechanization. In fact this film is such an artistic success that co-director  Fernand Leger, considered giving up his highly successful painting job to become a film maker. Sadly for the world of film this never happened, but at least we have this artistic masterpiece. So from 1924, and directed by Fernand Leger, and Dudley Murphy, here is Ballet Mecanique.

-Michael J. Ruhland

Monday, September 18, 2017

Movie Review: Beauty and the Beast (1991)

Review Written By Michael J. Ruhland

Note: I am reviewing this movie because it has been rereleased to theaters. There wasn't enough advertising about this in my opinion, so if you didn't know about it, go see it on the big screen since you know now.

Michael's Grade: A+

Review: One of the Disney Studio's best animated features made after Walt passed away.

The characters in this movie are fantastic from the most major characters to the most minor. Belle is an extremely likable and very relatable protagonist. We can both perfectly see why the town thinks she is odd, and why the Beast falls in love with her. The Beast is a complex character, and one with great depth. This is a character which has to change from threating and intimidating to very charming and lovable. This is done perfectly. You perfectly believe his anger and ruthlessness towards the beginning of the film, but also believe that he has a nice and gentle side to him as well. The servants could have easily been just one note characters but they are also given time to fully develop and feel very real and well thought out, while never distracting from the main story.

The animation and design for this film couldn't be better. This look is very stylized but not so much that it ever feels abstract. There is depth and reality in this animation but it still never loses sense of being a cartoon or tries to be like a live action film. This is perfect because this movie ranges from cartoon slapstick to serious drama to pure fantasy. If it was too cartoony, the fantasy would not pay off, because it wouldn't feel like it was something special or out of the ordinary in this world. However if it was too realistic, that would make the slapstick humor fall flat and make the fantasy seem to fake. This film though hits the perfect medium. The character animation is also brilliant (this was the first time supervising animators were credited with which character they supervised in an animated Disney film by the way). Glen Keane's animation of the Beast is definitely a high point of this movie as he captures both the larger than life aspects of this character as well as the subtly of him just through the way the character moves.

The story itself is quite simple, but the beauty is in its simplicity. This is one of those films that perfectly captures the idea of a simple story being told well, it can hold its own with all the huge epic stories out there. There is such a charm to this film's simplicity and the whole movie just comes across beautifully. This kind of simplicity never dates and like how Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs never feels confided to the 1930's this film will never feel confined to the 1990's. This is truly a timeless movie in the way too few are. This is one of the movies that I just know will always stand the test of time. This will still be hailed as a classic many years from now and it rightfully deserves that place.

-Michael J. Ruhland

W.C. Feilds and Mack Sennett

Hello fellow film lovers, today we are going to look at some shorts staring the great man himself, W.C. Fields and produced by the legendary Mack Sennett. W.C. Felids had a very off and on film career in the silent era. While he had been In some big films (he played a major role in Sally of the Sawdust, directed by no less than D.W. Griffith), but he did not become a major film star in that era. His career as a movie star really took off in the sound era. One of his first big breaks in sound pictures was his teaming with Mack Sennett. For any of you who may not know Mack Sennett was one of the major producers of comedy shorts during the silent era, forming the famous Keystone Studios. He helped begin the careers of such film legends as Charlie Chaplin, Mabel Normand, Harry Langdon, Andy Clyde and in the early sound era Bing Crosby.

W.C. Fields only made four short films for Sennett and today we are going to look at all of them. Legend has it that Fields signed on as a writer for Mack Sennett than became an actor for the producer by chance. I do not know if this story is true but Fields did write all the films he starred in for the producer. The first of these was 1932's The Dentist. This film used a plot as a very loose thread, mainly there to connect gags. Luckily the gags are really funny here. This was made during the pre-code era (Hollywood would from 1934 until 1968 police its own films and make sure none of them were too obscene for younger audiences) and there are plenty of scenes that would not fly later. In fact after the film would be heavily cut when rereleased later. In this film Fields played a character quite different than audiences were used to seeing as the protagonist. His character here had little to no redeeming qualities, but man was he funny.

The next short is one of Fields' best, 1933's The Fatal Glass of Beer. This film was directed by Clyde Bruckman, one of the most prolific comedy directors and writers of this era. Over his career Bruckman had worked with such greats as Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Laurel and Hardy, Harry Langdon and the Three Stooges. He would later work with Fields again directing the 1935 feature film The Man on the Flying Trapeze.  This is a very interesting short that seems completely different from any other short subject being released around this time. This is a parody of old fashioned melodramas, and takes many of the ideas used in those stories to ridiculous extremes. Because this short was so different from anything else being released around this time, it was not very popular. In the 1930's often times small theater owners would write about films that were being shown there and audiences' reactions to them for various magazines. In these comments this film was referred to as one of the worst comedies made. Despite this though the film is very funny and an absolute delight to watch, so enjoy and don't listen to 1930's theater owners. Sorry this isn't the best video.

Next up comes 1933's The Pharmacist. This short is not only very funny, but quite fascinating to watch today. It in many ways looks forward to one of the great man's best feature films, 1934's It's a Gift. The Pharmacist was directed by Arthur Ripley, who many of my fellow silent film enthusiasts might recognize as one of the main writers for Harry Langdon's films.


The fourth and last short Fields made for Sennett was 1933's The Barber Shop. Again directed by Arthur Ripley, this is a very funny short even if it is more conventional than the other three here. Sorry I couldn't find a complete video.


-Michael J. Ruhland

Resources UsedThe Great Movie Shorts by Leonard Maltin

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Movie Review: mother!

Review Written By Michael J. Ruhland

Michael's Movie Grade: B+

Review: Complex and fascinating experimentation in auteur style film making, that has its problems, but is an excellent film none the less.

This movie is a complex biblical allegory that is not always clear but is very interesting and worth trying to figure out. Mostly this film is about our main character's struggle with her own faith and to forgive and let go. She doesn't understand the things going on around here and as one with so little faith is left feeling completely isolated and alone even when completely surrounded by people. With this she feels at many times completely relatable. We know what it is like to feel like the only one in the dark about things and constantly completely powerless. The other characters don't always feel that real, but in the case of this movie that makes clear and perfect sense as we are seeing things through the eyes of a character who with her lack of faith does not understand what is going on. This film is not always an easy one to follow, but at the end more of it begins to make sense.

However despite the deep and thought provoking allegory this film has some problems. There is blood and gore in this film, but little of it seems to add to the setting and really feels unnecessary. This definitely could have been toned down and the film would have lost none of its atmosphere and allegorical complexity. This film also features too many jump scares and they can get tiring. It worked once or twice, but not this many times. There are also times when scenes go on longer than they need too.

However these faults are easily overcome by the thought provoking and complex ideas discussed in this film, and the excellent direction which perfectly captures our main characters feeling of bein isolated. This may not be a film for everybody but it is definitely a film with a lot to recommend for those who enjoy this type of movie. Don't let the trailers fool you though this is an art film not a horror movie. Even with its faults it is always great to see a Hollywood movie take these kinds of chances.

-Michael J. Ruhland

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Figaro's Short Subject Career

Though today it is common for characters created for Disney's animated features to appear in other Disney animated works, such was not true until rather recently and in fact such a thing was very rare for quite a long time in the studio's history. The only exception being the characters in Pinocchio. Jiminy Cricket appeared in yet another feature film called Fun and Fancy Free as well as appearing on The Mickey Mouse Club TV show and various educational films. Figaro on the other hand became a short subject star. He often appeared as Minnie Mouse's pet and made a comedy team with Pluto. Today we are going to look at 3 of these short subjects.

First up is his first appearance in a short film with 1943's Figaro and Cleo where he costarred with Cleo the goldfish (also from Pinocchio). This cartoon came about because of a scene cut from Pinocchio. This scene would have involved Figaro and Geppetto trying to eat Cleo while starving in the belly of a whale. Much of this scene though was animated and after this scene was cut much of this animation was used in this cartoon. An example being Figaro using his tail as a fishing hook to catch Cleo (animated by Fred Moore). The cartoon was directed by Jack Kinney who would have been the sequence director for that scene in the feature and this ended up being the last short film with the cat, Kinney would ever direct. This is probably the best of Figaro's shorts and features some great slapstick (thanks hugely to Kinney, who was one of the studio's greatest masters at cartoon slapstick). So enjoy.

Next up comes a typical example of the type of film Figaro would appear in under the direction of Charles Nicholas. While Disney's other two major short cartoon directors (Jack Kinney and Jack Hannah) of this time made films using fast paced slapstick and zany gags, Nicholas' cartoons were often times much softer and slower paced. However Nicholas' films still have their charms, especially the great animation from Disney masters. Much of the animation here is handled by Marvin Woodward and George Nichols. Woodward animated such scenes as Figaro trying to volunteer and Pluto stealing his thunder, Figaro in the first aid kit, Figaro being hit by a cork and more. George Nicholas animates such scenes as Pluto chasing Figaro under the rug, Pluto falling on the slippery floor, Pluto getting hit by the cork and more. Charles Nicholas himself animates a few short bit in this film (Pluto pushing Figaro out of the way, Pluto getting mixed up with a roll of bandages and Pluto crashing under the bed. Other animators include Norman Tates, Harvey Tombs and Bob Youngquist. So from 1944 here is First Aiders.

Last is another cartoon directed by Charles Nicholas. This film is from 1946 and is called Figaro and Frankie. This film uses a rather usual storyline for a cartoon from this era. Figaro tries to eat a bird named Frankie. However while Jack Kinney and Jack Hannah would have used this story as a way to fit in as many cartoon gags as possible, Charles Nicholas here uses it instead to tell a simple story. Despite this though the "kiss and make up" part near the end (animated by Marvin Woodward) may make a cartoon fan think of Tweety and Sylvester's first cartoon team up (Tweetie Pie) released a year later, the scene here is not played for slapstick as it would be in that cartoon. Enjoy the film.

-Michael J. Ruhland

Resources UsedPinocchio: the Making of the Disney Epic by J.B. Kaufman

Friday, September 1, 2017

Silent Film of the Month: He Who Gets Slapped (1924)

Run Time: 95 minutes. Studio: MGM. Director: Victor Sjöström. Writer: Victor Sjöström, Carey Wilson, Marian Ainslee. Based on a play by Leonid Andreyev. Main Cast: Lon Chaney, Norma Shearer, John Gilbert, Ford Sterling, Marc McDermott, Ruth King. Cinematographer: Milton Moore.

He Who Gets Slapped was a very important film in the history of movies. It was both the first movie to be released under the company name of Metro Goldwyn Mayer (or MGM for short). It is also the first movie for the studio headed by Irving Thalberg. Thalberg had received two titles at this time, first vice president and supervisor of production. Thalberg had previously worked at Universal which had made a lot of movies staring Lon Chaney. Because of this Thalberg brought Chaney over to star in this movie. Chaney would later remember his character in this film as one of his favorite characters he ever played.

Paul Beaumont (played by Lon Chaney) was once a very dedicated and brilliant scientist. However one day his assistant (played by Marc McDermott) claims Beaumont's ideas as his own and becomes the toast of the scientific community. To make matters worse he has also stolen the affections of Beaumont's wife. This causes the poor scientist to have a complete mental breakdown. He now sees life as nothing but a cruel joke. Because of this he joins a circus as a clown under the rather self-deprecating name "He Who Gets Slapped".  In this act no matter what he states it is swiftly answered with a slap to the face. At this circus he falls in love with a woman named Consuelo (played by Norma Shearer), who is love with Beazno (played by John Gilbert) a daredevil horseback rider at the circus.

This is a fantastic movie. The setting is hugely absorbing, the characters very well defined, the story engaging, and the performances fantastic. While the cruelty the world keeps dealing our main character could easily have come off as forced and mean spirited, it feels completely real here. This is because the characters and the setting are completely believable. While the main character is often an object of pity here, we feel much more for him as well. We admire who he was and what he had done before subjecting himself to the torture that became his life throughout this movie. This makes us feel all the more for him, and understand the tragedy of the story to a much greater extant. It is also worth noting that the fact that he is simply a pawn to the cruel hand of fate, is shown cinematically as a laughing clown spinning a globe. Not only is fate pilled up against him, but it is laughing at him as well. It is a clown with a cruel sense of humor that simply tortures our hero because it can. This is a brilliant image that sums up this film perfectly, without any dialogue but rather just the power of the cinematic medium. Overall this is just a fantastic movie that ever silent film fan needs to see.

The movie had a budget of $172,000 (and was shot in 37 days) and earned back $349,000. The film did very well with critics with a review in the New York Times even saying "For dramatic value and a faultless adaptation of a play, this is the finest production we have yet seen."

-Michael J. Ruhland

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