Sunday, November 27, 2005

Of Mincing Kings and Ghoulish Dolls...

Bill Sherman has posted a review of H. G. Lewis's Santa Visits the Magic Land Of Mother Goose (1967). Despite Santa's token appearance, this film has been on my annual Christmas movie short-list alongside the Mexican Santa Claus, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, and Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny for several years now. I clearly belong to a very select group of individuals; people who have not only sat through SVTMLOMG, but have sat through it dozens of times. Call me sick, but this non-film is one of my favorite movies for reasons even I don't clearly understand. Maybe it's the hilarious Tony Randall-ish Old King Cole, or the Raggedy Ann character that was clearly intended to be cute but ends up being simply terrifying.. or maybe it's the Wicked Witch, played over-the-top even for a Wicked Witch, who is burned to death in a cabinet by Merlin, the magical wizard who speaks only over an off-camera tape recorder. It's right up there with Psyched By the 4-D Witch and The Shaggs in my book as a mind-altering/expanding experience (I like to think that Frank Zappa would have agreed with me on this one). Devoid of any of the signposts of traditional film language or narrative, your brain is forced to fill in the gaps, and suddenly your windows of perception are blown wide open! You may even deduce the very nature of God while watching Santa Visits the Magic Land of Mother Goose, but don't bother writing it down; it'll all just seem like gibberish after the movie is over.

Music Is Coming!

December is always Music Month at 12/1/05 will mark the official debut of Yes, Sonic Ted?, the latest (and hopefully not the last) mini-album from Josh Foster and myself as Society's End. Closer to Christmas, I'll be unveiling I Don't Want to Skate Alone, my traditional annual holiday tune. Why do I do it? WHO KNOWS?? All of this tuneful folderol will appear on my site's music page, my/our Christmas gift to all you lucky, lucky people.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Fiddlesticks and the Colorful Mediocrity of Ub Iwerks

Just happened across Ub Iwerks' 1930 cartoon Fiddlesticks on this evening. What a mess. Even the worst early sound cartoons usually have something to offer, from the rubbery animation to the hot jazz it seems they were all scored with. But Fiddlesticks is another matter entirely. This is the debut of Iwerks' character Flip the Frog, which he developed in secret during his last few months working for Walt Disney. At the time, it was generally accepted among industry insiders that Ub was the brains behind Disney's success. Despite whatever the Disney Corporation may say, Ub created Mickey Mouse, a not particularly impressive feat considering that the earliest Mickey was a cipher, indistinguishable, save for synchronized sound, from most of the other glorified inkblots that populated late-20s cartoons. Fiddlesticks dispels any notions whatever about Iwerks having been the 'brains' of the Disney Studios. It is so utterly, profoundly awful that I find it nothing short of a miracle that MGM decided to pick it up as a series (they were no doubt so dazzled by Iwerks' reputation that they were blind to the flaws of the thing). Fiddlesticks has no story, few gags, and Flip the Frog does not qualify as a character. What Fiddlesticks does boast are the two elements that Iwerks clearly felt were more important than character, gags, and story; synchronized sound and color. It has plenty of both, but even contemporary audiences, for whom sound alone was still a novelty, must have found it crushingly boring. It is remarkable that Iwerks could have been so myopic about the appeal of cartoons after having worked alongside Disney for so many years, but Fiddlesticks indicates Iwerks was blind to anything but technique, apparently assuming that novelty alone was enough to carry a short. A technical man at heart, Iwerks did develop a number of impressive mechanical innovations while head of his own studio including an early multiplane camera, but as attractive as his cartoons were, they were uniformly devoid of wit and interest (no one made worse in the 1930s). Ultimately, MGM dropped the Flip series (theater managers complained bitterly about the quality of the Iwerks cartoons), and Iwerks chugged along for a few more years, distributing ComiColor one-shot cartoons through Pat Powers' Celebrity Productions. Fiddlesticks is proof positive that, on his own, Iwerks was heading nowhere before he even started.