Category Archives: wtf

Ignorance is B-B-Bliss

My critical post about Warner Archive’s Porky Pig 101 set has sparked considerable hostility in many corners of the Internet, some of it in my own comments section but mostly on Facebook.  Chief among my critics is Ron Hutchinson of the Vitaphone Project, who wasted no time blasting me as “cinewhiner” because simply wanting the cartoons as they were originally presented is “complaining about everything,” and that I’m upset because I wasn’t called in to work on it. (We were once Facebook friends, and then Ron blocked me some time last year for some unknown reason. So I can’t help but see his attacking me in a venue where I can’t directly respond to him, often on the pages of friends and collaborators, as cowardly.) He needs to work on being a less transparent corporate shill, and ponder if he’d be so complacent if his Vitaphone Varieties collections released through Warner Archive had been plagued with the same issues. I’m not sure what that kind of sniping and gossiping buys us, when the work speaks for itself.

Enough. The Porky set had a noble goal—to get all of the cartoons in one place—but was forced to be completed in a timeframe and budget that obviously precluded basic quality control, and resulted in a collection far below basic acceptable standards (never mind those of the wonderful Golden Collections). Since Warners has admitted that they will not be revisiting these cartoons in the future, the set at the very least should have allowed people to pitch their recordings from Cartoon Network, or in my case the homemade copies I compiled with fellow collectors decades ago. With the vandalism done by Warner Archive, they most emphatically cannot.

Without even getting into the directors’ choices, Carl Stalling came up with a unique opening cue and arrangement for every one of his Warner cartoons. Now his creativity has been sabotaged because people who shouldn’t have their jobs  did amateur production work. This is censorship, plain and simple. The copyright holders deserve no praise for following the model they’ve used for years for Hanna-Barbera dreck on material that obviously deserves better: dumping content (black-and-white or not) and putting out a made-on-demand set on the level of one on a dealer’s table at a movie convention. If people would rather have these compromised versions than nothing, that’s fine. I know the feeling of needing some copy, as I myself had to make due with compromised versions of certain films for years. (Although I almost always refused to grant any censored or colorized films shelf space.) But when this is being done in the modern era, when everyone knows better, if some of us choose to not be blackmailed by corporate thugs and say, “Fine, then nothing,” and hold onto our own old copies, we shouldn’t be chastised – particularly when the errors we’re pointing out are absolutely there.

Perhaps this is another side effect of Trump’s America. People seek anything, anything, to escape this nightmare, and for a lot of people, a set of cheery cartoons was just that. Point out the miserable treatment the films were given, on the level of Alpha Video, and what happens? We have our answer.

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“He has peculiar ways…”

So it gets wider exposure, embeded below is an unreleased song by the country music duo the Miller Sisters about everyone’s favorite social misfit (visual synchronization by me). It was recorded in 1954 at Sun Studios in Memphis, Tennessee. This hillbilly ballad remained unreleased until the 1980s. I can’t imagine why.

(Thanks to Frank Young, who brought the song to my attention.)

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The Only Reaction is the Right Reaction

Screening classic animation from my 16mm collection is a continual learning experience for me. At this year’s Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention in Hunt Valley, MD, I thought it would be interesting to put together a few reels highlighting that very bizarre world of 1940s Screen Gems cartoons. After about an hour and ten minutes of cartoons like these…

… the silence became absolutely deafening. As I switched the projector off and the event room was in near darkness, one of the brave under-ten girls there to see what she thought would be funny cartoons shouted: “Is it over?!”

Lesson learned: general audiences often do have it right. The next day’s ‘variety’ show that I assembled, which kicked off with the restored Popeye Meets Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves and included What’s Buzzin’ Buzzard?, I Taw a Putty Tat, House Busters, Rabbit’s Feat, and Half-Baked Alaska, was more warmly received.

By comparison, the Screen Gems cartoons can only be fully appreciated with a group of animatophiles and a supply of alcohol. Don’t make the same mistake I did.

§

Speaking of alcohol, we also took a side-trip into Baltimore to visit the home of Edgar Allen Poe. The surrounding area is described as “urban” by the foundation’s website, and visitors are advised to not leave any valuables in their cars, in spite of a security guard present on the streets at all times. (I wish I had gotten a photo of the Baltimore cop straight out of a crime drama patrolling and swinging his billy club.) Fortunately, the home is well-preserved and it’s certainly worth the paltry four-dollar admission to see a piece of literary history. (That’s Poe’s bedroom pictured here.)

What an endlessly fascinating figure Poe was, a shining example of the best American culture has to offer. It’d be fitting if his extraordinary life story was appropriately adapted to film. Michael Sporn tried raising some money earlier this year to get his production of an animated Poe biography going, and I only hope he one day finishes it. Certainly no other living filmmaker could do Poe the justice he deserves.

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An Insipid Cinecolor Romp

Following WWII, Hollywood’s overwhelming demand for Technicolor forced the classic cartoon studios to build a backlog of sorts. Cartoons were completed but wouldn’t be released for ages because prints could not be processed in a timely fashion. WB, Famous, and Terry’s backlogs were approximately 18-24 months, whereas MGM’s could be even longer. Lantz, an independent always losing money, could only afford a 12 month backlog.

The backlogging explains why WB could close down for a full six months in 1953 and you wouldn’t see the “post-shutdown” shorts until very late 1955, why Dick Lundy’s last Barney Bear cartoons didn’t come out until three years after he left MGM, and why Tex Avery’s last theatrical cartoons at both MGM and Lantz were released simultaneously. It also explains why the Screen Gems studio could shut its doors in 1946 but still have releases trickling into theaters as late as 1949.

In an attempt to meet release schedules, WB, Famous, and Screen Gems had a smattering of shorts processed by the cheaper, faster Cinecolor. (Famous also used Paramount’s own process, Polacolor.)

In the case of WB, the cartoons were not made with Cinecolor in mind, as the shorts destined for the process were completely arbitrary. (With the exception of possibly I Taw a Putty Tat, which may have been processed in Cinecolor to get a new cartoon with the increasingly popular Tweety and Sylvester out to theaters quicker.) They were filmed with three-strip Technicolor negatives, and the release prints were processed by Cinecolor, using only two of the three strips.

As to whether Famous or the poverty-row Screen Gems studio did the same, I have no idea. Screen Gems did, however, most certainly style the cartoons with the two-strip process in mind. All of the Cinecolor Phantasy entries (the series was in black-and-white until 1946) have a specific limited palette that is exclusive to them. The Technicolor Color Rhapsodies from the same period are far more vibrant. Such a differentiation doesn’t exist between the Technicolor and Cinecolor WB cartoons. The jury is still out on the Famous Popeye cartoons, as the entire series has not been restored in any capacity (yet).

This Technicolor rerelease print of Kitty Caddy therefore showcases a limited palette, regardless of the stock it was printed on. Authentic Cinecolor stock shifts toward blue-green, so it was unnecessary to emphasize these colors when styling the cartoon. The color styling of these 1947-48 Phantasies has far more in common with that of the 1930s Ub Iwerks Comicolor shorts than the contemporary WB Cinecolor releases as a result.

The whereabouts of this cartoon in the Sony vaults are unknown at this time. The two 35mm prints belonging to Mark Kausler and myself are the only two known to exist. I have had this print for a number of years, but only had it transferred when I was visiting Steve Stanchfield last February, along with Cockatoos for Two.

Surely Mark’s is the better print and the one that should be used for true preservation. Mine was has two nasty splices towards the end (I utilized Mark’s copy to make this composite, so you’ll see a drop in transfer quality at those moments), and some distributor in Britain chopped off the end title, so I replaced it with an erroneous Color Rhapsody title that I had in HD. (The same distributor also spliced on a much later Columbia Pictures title at the beginning, which I’ve left intact for your amusement.)

So much prose for a true stinker though! People tend to give its director Sid Marcus an edge over other lesser lights in the Golden Age, but his shorts could stink as bad as anyone’s. The animation and clean-up is seriously bad and not a single gag works remotely well. The opening phone conversation is almost compelling for the amount of time spent on such an inane, inconsequential conversation. This is as pure stream of consciousness as you get for a 1947 Hollywood cartoon.

Contrary to popular opinion, I find Darrell Calker’s wind-heavy scores of this period (for both Lantz and Screen Gems) to be a refreshing change from the brash, crash and boom variety so prominent in cartoon scoring. Surely his soundtracks are the real stars of these intriguing misfires.

“Sylvester”, Crosby, and Hope are voiced by Dave Barry. Barry also voiced Crosby, Sinatra, and Bogart in most of the WB cartoons of the late 1940s, but his greatest contribution to cinema was his role as the asexual band manager Beinstock in Billy Wilder’s masterpiece Some Like It Hot. Sam the Dog’s voice actor remains unknown. Keith Scott, the world’s leading animation voice and Jay Ward expert, tells me it’s the same actor who voiced Meathead in Avery’s Screwy Squirrel cartoons. And if Keith hasn’t pegged that man’s identity down, I sure as hell don’t think anyone else will soon.

T.T.F.N.

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