Saturday, September 26, 2020
Back in May we talked about the writer-director team of Powell and Pressburger, and I’m glad for the opportunity to discuss their movies again. They were beautifully made, with stunning cinematography and lush, vivid color.
If I ever saw Black Narcissus before, I don’t recall. All I knew about it was it had creepy-looking nuns doing nun stuff, but to be more specific: Deborah Kerr establishes a hospital and school with a group of her fellow nuns in the Himalayan mountains of India, but the atmosphere drives them all a little cuckoo. It’s based on a book.
Okay, first of all, I thought for sure that they shot this film on location somewhere in the Himalayas, but it was (mostly) done indoors! Specifically, it was shot in a studio with matte painting backgrounds, so perhaps we should talk about that.
Thursday, September 24, 2020
The animation career of Walter Lantz goes all the way back to the silent era. At Universal, he directed Oswald the Lucky Rabbit shorts and his studio created Woody Woodpecker, Andy Panda, and Chilly Willy, characters that played on TV beginning in the late 50s.
Tex Avery began at the Lantz studio and helped develop the Looney Tunes characters at Warner Bros., but in 1942 he moved to MGM, where his cartoons took on an even wilder tone. In addition to creating new characters like Droopy Dog, he directed memorable shorts like “Red Hot Riding Hood” and the controversial “Magical Maestro” (which is hilarious; I don’t care what anyone says).
Paul Terry co-founded Terrytoons in New Rochelle, New York in 1929, and among the studio’s best known creations include Mighty Mouse (another superhero) and Heckle and Jeckle (a comedy duo).
Tuesday, September 22, 2020
In the midst of an intense hearing for Alabama senator and U.S. Attorney General appointee Jeff Sessions, there was a surprising bit of silliness: Jeff Sessions is a big fan of “Schoolhouse Rock!”During the hearing, Republican Sen. Ben Sasse said that there was a “civics crisis” in the U.S. and asked about Sessions’ thought on [President] Obama’s use of executive orders. While arguing that Obama’s use of executive power was an overreach, Sessions said that he felt “Schoolhouse Rock!” was “not a bad basic lesson in how the government is supposed to work.”
|“Three is a Magic Number”|
|“I’m Just a Bill” taught how a bill|
becomes a law.
taught about conjunctions.
Saturday, September 19, 2020
I was a tad too young for Astro Boy, Gigantor, Kimba the White Lion and Speed Racer, but they were among the first wave of animated programs to hit the States through syndication. The animation is on a par with American cartoons of the 60s: limited, stiff, broad.
Some of these characters, such as Astro Boy and Kimba, were the creations of the man considered the Japanese Disney, Osamu Tezuka. A cartoonist as well as an animator, he was first published at 17, and his graphic novel series—“manga” in Japanese—remain in print to this day. In 1961 he founded his own animation production company and his TV adaptation of Astro Boy was the first to be dubbed into English for an American audience.
Tuesday, September 15, 2020
Ward, a graduate of UC-Berkeley with an MBA from Harvard, was a television pioneer. In 1948, he and his longtime friend, animator Alex Anderson, made an animated pilot film for NBC, The Comic Strips of Television, featuring a variety of original characters. The only one NBC liked became the first animated series made for TV, Crusader Rabbit, debuting in 1950. Ward served as producer and business manager for the duo’s Television Arts Productions.
CR was syndicated nationwide, mostly at NBC affiliates including in New York and LA, until 1952, then a second series was commissioned in 1956 by new parent company Capital Enterprises, but Ward and Anderson lost a legal battle over ownership rights.
Next Ward packaged some more new characters in an unsold pilot, The Frostbite Falls Revue, set in the territory known as the North Woods, which covers northern Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. It didn’t succeed, but two minor characters from the series did pretty well for themselves...
I was used to cartoons with, shall we say, a limited range of expression, but I wasn’t accustomed to cartoons this sharp-witted. I still preferred action-adventure shows overall, but I made time for R&B whenever they were on, in its various incarnations (like Looney Tunes, it appeared under different names).
The original show, Rocky and his Friends, aired on ABC in 1959 before switching to NBC as The Bullwinkle Show in 1961. After 1964, it aired in syndication. Ward created the show with Anderson and Bill Scott. Fun fact: Dudley Do-Right, one of the show’s feature characters, began life as part of the original lineup for The Comic Strips of Television. He went on to a spin-off series of his own.
Ward and Scott collaborated on two more series, George of the Jungle (a Tarzan parody) and Super Chicken (a superhero comedy), both from 1967.
In addition to cartoon series,Ward is notable for his commercial illustration. I never ate kiddie cereals Cap’n Crunch, Quisp or Quake but he designed their mascots. Here’s the first Cap’n Crunch commercial from 1963, and it’s very much of a piece with Ward’s other cartoons:
He also put together this bit of drive-in welcome/intermission filler.
Ward died in 1989 of renal cancer. DreamWorks Animation currently has the rights to his characters. We could use a little more of their kind of madcap humor, don’t you think?