There’s a fascinating article in the New York Times, That Noisy Woodpecker Had an Animated Secret, about Shamus Culhane, a pioneer of modern animation, who slipped homages to avant-garde artists into several Woody Woodpecker cartoons in the 1940s.
Sixteen years ago Tom Klein was staring at a Woody Woodpecker cartoon, The Loose Nut, when he started seeing things. Specifically, Mr. Klein watched that maniacal red-topped bird smash a steamroller through the door of a shed. The screen then exploded into images that looked less like the stuff of a Walter Lantz cartoon than like something Willem de Kooning might have hung on a wall.
“What was that?” Mr. Klein, now an animation professor at Loyola Marymount University, recalled thinking. Only later, after years of scholarly detective work, did he decide that he had been looking at genuine art that was cleverly concealed by an ambitious and slightly frustrated animation director named Shamus Culhane.”
Culhane was an admirer of experimental film makers, Eisenstein in particular, as well as abstract painters and managed to work some of his artistic obsessions into his commercial work.
High art meets popular art inThe Loose Nut when Woody “is blown into an abstract configuration…a convergence of animation and Soviet montage.”
In lowbrow mode, Culhane enjoyed pranking Universal Studios and Walt Lantz by throwing not-so-subtle sexual imagery into his cartoons. In The Greatest Man In Siam, Culhane’s libido goes nuts in a veritable onslaught of genitalia. You don’t need to be Freud to notice the erect phalluses and vaginal doorways. At the 4:36 point in the clip, there’s a glimpse of a pink passageway that incorporates both yin and yang.
Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne (1968) was written, scored and directed by Satyajit Ray. It is Ray’s most commercially successful film and to this day is hugely popular in India.
The cinematography by Shoumendu Roy and choreography by Sambhunath Bhattacharya is particularly enchanting in this fantasy sequence combining live action, shadow puppets and Indian percussion instruments.
Our comic heroes Goopy and Bagha meet the King Of Ghosts in the jungle and he grants them three wishes (boons): they will get food whenever they want, the second: they can go anywhere they want and the third: they will master art of music and everybody will be spell bound and motionless while they sing.
Trippier than E.T. and every bit as weirdly wonderful as anything in Eraserhead, Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne is a ‘head” film for all ages.
Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne is one of 17 Ray films restored by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, but the restored version is still unavailable on DVD. According to Film Threat magazine…
[...] the restored print is still in the AMPAS vaults – there is no temperature-controlled film vault in India that could hold the restored version. Since the restored version is not available, older worn-out prints are still circulating. But these prints have clearly seen better days – they are so drained that even the surprise color shot at the film’s end look monochromatic.”
There’s no absolute proof but brilliant Los Angeles pop culture historian Domenic Priore believes this 1966 commercial to be the work of a young pre-Monty Python Terry Gilliam. I say it’s true. (Oops, it’s not. See below…) Gilliam did after all attend high school in my beloved San Fernando Valley and worked at Carson Roberts advertising agency (along with Pet Sounds lyricist Tony Asher) in Los Angeles before finding his ultimate destiny in the U.K. There is unfortunately no official record or listing of Gilliam’s early TV commercial work, though there are doubtless many more such examples out there.
Update: Terry Gilliam’s co-worker at Carson Roberts, one Mike Salisbury has claimed creator-ship of this clip. He says: ”...Ed Ruscha worked there also. One of the first TV spots I did was there, for Baskin Robbins ice cream . Terry Gilliam and I worked on some things together but this one I created, wrote and animated. They gave us a lot of freedom. (it was a fun place to work—the in-house producer was the model for Mr. Magoo.)...” Also this from DM facebook friend Susan Pile: This direct from my pal TG: “...I had nothing to do with the commercial. And no idea who might have been the clever bastard. I’m up to my neck in my first opera: Berlioz’s The Damnation of Faust. All foolishly backed by the English National Opera. Luckily I’m surrounded by real pros that are keeping me from drowning….” So there ya go !
The sad demise of a Uher reel to reel tape recorder is told in this short stop motion animated film by Tom McDermott. Mechanical Sympathy uses over 6500 still photos and tremendous craftsmanship to bring an inanimate object to life only to kill it. I was actually sad to see that tape deck die.
Steppin’ Out - Electric Light Orchestra
Wedding March - Mendelssohn
Lullaby - Fisher-Price Lullaby Baby
Lovesick Blues - Hank Williams
Two sixty-second versions of David Lynch’s Eraserhead: one by Lee Hardcastle; the other by Martin Funke, which was made for the Jameson Empire Done in 60 Seconds competition.
It takes Lee Hardcastle 10 days to make one of his 60-second claymations, as he told Don’t Panic magazine:
I have some shortcuts, biggest ones are within the story – keep characters/locations down to a minimum because that stuff takes the most time to create. Something I learned over time is that whatever you do, do not skip out on the animation. People watch a video for animation, not a static image or boring moving graphics.
I re-use materials like cards & clay. Once in a blue moon, I’ll invest in something, last year I bought & made three armatures at £70 a pop. If I need something, I’ll search the apartment for props/materials. Check out my Eraserhead claymation, the bed sheet they’re sleeping in are in fact the underpants am wearing right now. It’s just the rent I have to worry about.
Lee has made a variety of other great 60 seconds films, including Evil Dead and The Exorcist, all of which can be found here.
Martin’s Eraserhead was one of the 10 shortlisted finalists, and more of his work can be found here.