Tuesday 10 April 2018

9 - Spasms, Celia, Mary Deare, Marx, cartoons, Czech

Brain Donors (1992) - there's a good cast (though Bob Nelson's speaking Harpo is a bit annoying). Initially it seems unsure how close should it follow the Marx Brothers. How did John Savident get into this? Though Mel Smith and John Turturro singing Alfie - well that's something. The duck hunt scene too. But the Will Vinton titles and end credits are so good - a stop-motion version may have worked better. But then I realised the version I was watching was mostly Russian. So I watched the English version. "No dogs! I used to be a chef in a Korean restaurant!"  "She's twice the man you are!" "We're their twin brothers! You'll never see us together! We're the same women!" "Jackson Pollock Jr, Son of Roy Litchenstein!". Lots of good lines. But I can see why it flopped.

Spasms (1983) with Oliver Reed and Peter Fonda indulging in ESP with snakes seems promising, the port stuff and the initial daytime roaming about Canadian mansions is attractive, better shot than a lot of Canadian stuff, the locations are picturesque unlike the typical brutalist architecture of Montreal, but then it kind of loses something despite UNIT-like chaos with soldiers and stuff. It doesn't know what it is. It seems that the budget was cut. The much-hyped Dick Smith effects are barely seen.

Celia (1989) - Weird, arty, unsettling possibly for other reasons - like a kids' TV version of the Company of Wolves (with creepy monsters) via Blue Remembered Hills (with actual kids and not Colin Welland, Poldark, Helen Mirren, Michael Elphick, Character Actor Colin Jeavons, Janine Duvitski and one of the Johns running about being stupid). A bit too arty and ponderous for its own good.

Wreck of the Mary Deare (1959) - Gary Cooper, Charlton Heston and Richard Harris appear in this rather hokey Mid-Atlantic maritime potboiler, lots of tilting and boring courtroom stuff, why Hitchcock turned it down. Harris' Northern accent goes from Lancashire to Limerick to Limehouse. Despite being an MGM British production, for coproduction reasons, partly shot on the MGM Hollywood backlot, even though most of it shot in Britain to claim Eady money.

Morgiana (1972) - Attractive but melodramatically nonsensical gothic horror from Morgiana - Czech and Eastern European period horror of the 70s seems so much more refreshingly different than British period horror of the era. It doesn't feel stagey or tired, like most of the post-Hammer stuff. This is Gainsborough stuff, but it's shot with fish-eye lens and over-stylised designs, and the Bulgarian beach locations look appealingly apocalyptic. but then it goes even stranger than your typical giallo - with weird 3-D blue and red tints.  Luboš Fišer's score's nice. It does feel quite similar to some of the Italian stuff, It then goes a bit nun-centric. RIP director Juraj Herz. Also behind the psychedelically alienating noir-wavey The Cremator (1969), a quite haunting if almost incomprehensibly darkly-lit version of Beauty and The Beast (1978), and the wonderfully weird carnival fantasy Devate Srdce/Ninth Heart (1978) - about a wizard stealing hearts of children. The Ninth Heart is quite atmospheric and charming, a la Vampire Circus via Silas via the Amazing Mr. Blunden plus melting villains.
Czech kids' films seem to be free of schmaltz, and often have surrealistic animated title sequences. They're not Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre, which due to their tendency to cast the likes of Peter MacNicol and Mary Steenburgen as children, feel like they are secretly being orchestrated by Dennis Potter. Plus they often feel like they want to please the parents more - though Francis Ford Coppola's shot on video/CSO Rip Van Winkle seems to be a sort of homage to Jackanory Playhouse). And despite Lee AND Price, The Boy Who Left Home To Find Out About The Shivers is not as good as the Storyteller's version - Fearnot, even though Henson's series could be a bit soft, the effects were brilliant and the performances solid (unlike the rubbish Greek Myths followup). Peter MacNicol was by now out of his Dragonslayer phase,  while Reece Dinsdale still was kind of boyish without being disturbing. Plus, The Storyteller (despite French and Saunders' performances) wasn't as jokey. Faerie Tale Theatre is basically American panto via off-Broadway.

The Last Unicorn (1982) - The anime styles of Topcraft are impressive but cutesy. Mia Farrow and Alan Arkin's performances are kind of flat. Arkin is clearly trying to play the role as seriously as he can. Tammy Grimes sounds like Glynis Johns.

Watched some NFB. Despite a promising idea, 1963's The Great Toy Robbery is not a proto Toy Story but an animated western with added Santa, while three year old me would have loved the diggercentric 1967 construction themed short What On Earth... Now... To watch more Bob Godfrey..

Godfrey's stuff, yes, some of it is great (Small Talk is one of the most London things I've ever seen), and some of it is unfunny sex nonsense, but it's better crafted than the aggressively ugly likes of Stressed Eric, Crapston Villas, Bromwell High, Monkey Dust, Mr. Hell, aggressively ugly, and not in a Kricfalusi way, more a stained underwear Robin Askwith way. Godfrey's work still has that sexcom feel, that grim knickers vibe. You can see that he influenced Gilliam. Wicked Willie is rather obnoxious, but he is a cock.

From penises to Pele Pelican - the Sterling Holloway-voiced Winnie the Pooh-like peg-legged host of Hanna-Barbera's 1982 special We Think the World is Round - with anthropomorphic ships and a camp, lisping sea serpent - an interesting educational musical with Cesar Romero in voice and in likeness as the Santa Maria, one of Columbus' ships.

The Sorcerer's Apprentice (1980) - Vincent Price-narrated Canadian short - pretty folk adaptation, if a bit staid. Very Canadian, in its educational status and ligne claire-type animation.

The Fly (1968) Kafka-type short involving a man facing a giant fly that crashes through a wall, as the universe expands. Attractive if incomprehensible, from Zagreb film.

Mr. E from Tau Ceti - a Soviet Astro Boy from the 50s - cutesy but very strange, dubbed by Americans. Educational too, so random cuts to a naked man screaming on a planet.

Watched a lot of these on Jerry Beck's recommended youtube page - full of rarities, from Hayley Mills-hosted poetry readings by the likes of June Foray to Joop Geesink's Phillips Dollywood stop-motion shorts and the rather odd sort-of-trying to be hip Czech-made Gene Deitch Nudnik shorts to Chuck Jones' dance sequence The Tool Box, which is just stop-motion animations of dancing pencil compasses and the barely animated Wacky World of Numbers, and the fun How To Live With A Neurotic Dog (a more refined UPA-style Deitch-drawn public information film about dogs narrated by Arthur Treacher). Also the work of Filmation/Belvision director Paul Fennell's 30s Minitoons (which look like cartoons, but then turn out to be ads for the likes of Shell!), and various obscrutieis from every studio - Van Beuren's adap of the Little King, Terrytoons' Elephants, some Felix the Cat, the Universal Pooch the Pup, Private Snafu, and Van Beuren's Jolson spoofing Croon Crazy.

 Mr. Winkle Returns (1954) - General Mills ad, nicely animated with some ill-fitting deep voices for cutesy characters.

Beauty Shoppe (1954)  - English monkey and his grandsons put makeup on animals. Charming Ub Iwerks short.

The Itch (1965) - Paramount Modern Madcap, voiced by Hermione Gingold and Deputy Dawg. Set in a weird version of London with green buses (actually correct - if you've seen On The Buses, you'll know this). It is about a henpecked Richard Bucket-type with wings, has a very strange view of UK TV, is pleasingly odd. The Ringading Kid, another ModernMadcap is a more typical jokey cowboy thing.  However, this era of Paramount also gave us the minimalist the Trip (1967) which is very NFB-ish and about big whirry computers, andthe  UPA-ish all-white humans (white clothes, white fingers, white nose, white hair, everything) of Swifty and Shorty.

Three Bears (1939) -  Terrytoons, a wobbly, zany spin on Goldilocks with an added hunter. Not as good as Tex Avery's spins, but with its own weird charm. Not to be confused with the Chuck Jones version.

The Cask of Amontillado (1978) - A Poe reading for Encylopaedia Britannica, illustrated by still drawings. Nice drawings but very much edutainment.

Also saw  UPA's very strange, deliberately unattractive The Unenchanted Princess, weird amateur efforts like The Good, the Bad and the Furry (a spaghetti western with bigfoot), Hanna-Barbera's Les Kaluza's Potpurri (a 55 second pen drawing) and Saul Bass/Disney associate Evind Earle's Bass-esque western Death and Sunrise A lot of Ub Iwerks, like MGM/Iwerks' Willie Whopper - a weirdly annoying Archie-type kid, with lots of weird visual gags - and one scene with Poseidon rising out in front of a ship that surely influenced Harryhausen.   Some, like Terrytoons' Popcorn look like every other 30s cartoon, lots of skeletons, hippos, ghosts and weird unspecified vaguely mouse-like animals.   Columbia's Scrappy character of the late 30s/early 40s has the feel of an Our Gang short with added child violence (they get weird - Holidayland is Gullivers Travels with an added baby factory and a dog being turned into a hose feature).
Republic Pictures' cartoons seem to trade in racial stereotypes with their Jerky Journeys though The Three Minutes look like a living western paperback cover.
The Cuckoo IQ from Columbia is educational, teaching us trivia that the peanut is not a nut, while their Carpenters is a typical slapstick exercise involving three idiots. Columbia's Pickled Puss on the other hand is the more barefaced 40s Tom and Jerry knockoff imaginable.

Terrytoon's Dead End Cats (1947) seems to be a typical Tom and Jerry knockoff until Mighty Mouse appears. Terrytoons are very funny animal-heavy, and I find funny animals on their own annoying. You need jokes or genius to make them work. Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck work because they are characters, not animals. 60s Terrytoons like Flebus or Gadmouse seem to be trying to create new characters, who just don't register. Then again, some characters who annoy have huge fanbases - look at Woody Woodpecker. But their more experimental Terrytoons like the Karloff-narrated minimalist monastery Juggler of Our Lady are very experimental - almost on a  National Film Boardf Canada level, and they're in Cinemascope, so they are very minimalist and wide-shot.

Gag and Baggage (1952) is a Harveytoon (I haven't seen much Harveytoons bar the odd Casper, obviously)   it's very subDisney, singing trains and funny animals. Famous/Harveytoons from what I know are sub-par, anyway, an attempt to fill the gap left by Fleischer.

Marty the Monk (1931) - an ultra-obscure storybook monkey character. Mixes some live-action artists a la Gertie the Dinosaur. Music by a pseudonymous Carl Stalling, of Looney Tunes fame. Very one-note.

Petroushka(1956) - Paul Frees-narrated Stravinsky ballet short/proto music video, a passable imitation of UPA by UPA's own John Wilson, who did the animation for Grease, despite being based in Lancashire.

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