Thursday, February 28, 2008

Beam Me Up!: Vulcan Entertains Pt.1

It wasn't until a few years ago that  I discovered that a complete black and white print of the 1934 Willie Whopper film 'Hell's Fire' was issued on 16mm for the home market under the title 'Vulcan Entertains'. Evidently they were trying to skirt mention of Hell for the southern states. Similarly, the  16mm color version was entitled 'Masquerade Holiday' again probably to minimize the  infernal setting and  perhaps to draw attention away from the fact that Willie Whopper goes to Hell and likes it! * As I'm sure you are all aware an incomplete version of 'Masquerade Holiday' was issued as part of the 'Cartoons That Time Forgot' DVD series and for years I thought this was the only version! Here, for those interested, I will attempt to roughly reconstruct the missing sections using grabs from both 'Vulcan Entertains' (from a rather ropey copy I'm afraid but I'm glad to have anything) and 'Masquerade Holiday' AKA 'Hell's Fire'

*note - I read on a GAC thread that 'Vulcan Entertains' may have been produced for the British market. Either way they were avoiding The Devil in the title.

generic 16mm banner.

stock opening: curtains part.

Willie is at the piano playing his theme song.

"Hey, did I ever tell you this one?"

The dialog here is a little hard for me to make out. Think it's: "Well, it was a kick!"

Iris out on the volcano. This is where "Masquerade Holiday' begins. VO - "Me and my dog were climbing the world's most dangerous volcano etc." 

Once atop the volcano, and after Willie wipes the soot from his face (from the smoke) there is a jump cut in 'Masquerade Holiday'. Here is what was missing.

The source of the volcano's smoke ...

...and the source of the smoke rings. 

Willie, anarchist that he is,  throws a rock into the opening of the volcano followed by another jump cut.

The missing footage: the devil is minding his own business. Bats fly around his head.

His head is squished by Willie's rock.

He's pissed.

He shakes a fist as he sends a torrent of flame skyward.

Back at the surface, Willie is inspecting any potential damage. There are two rushes of flames. The second rush forms into hands which grab our heros pulling them into the mouth of the volcano.  At this point, in 'Masquerade Holiday',  there is a massive jump cut to Napoleon (leading a parade of damned souls) twirling his baton. Here's what actually comes next.

The flames lower Willie and his dog.

They arrive in Hell.

Willie says: "Hello, Mr. Devil". Perhaps he meant to say: "Hello, Mr. Vulcan". 


Coming Soon (possibly): Sound-O-Gram!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Explosive Chaw Cont'd: Cause Revealed!

By the early 30's deaths by explosive chaw had skyrocketed. With public outrage mounting a special committee was formed to find evidence, if any, as to the root cause of the problem. This was known as The Committee of Explosive Chaw Research and Universal Understanding or The CECRUU. The evidence came from an unlikely source. In late 1932 a gorilla, claiming he had captured a possible chaw explosion on film, walked into the offices  of the CECRUU with a somewhat decomposed film canister under his arm. After issuing a short statement it was revealed that the gorilla, while working as a waiter at a saloon in the South West, had perhaps inadvertently supplied the ignition for the tragic accident which killed one horse and left a piano-playing dog severely injured. This is what was seen that day ... 

While it had been already common knowledge that bootleg liquors were known to cause animals to spontaneously combust,  and that the hullucinations which preceded often revolved around pacifism in some way,  the two problems were considered seperate and therefore the film was considered of no use in the committee's investigation. It was not until six months later that close examination of the individual frames revealed a fascinating detail missed on the first viewing

On the bottom ridge of teeth could be very faintly seen a chaw stain. It was at that time that the pieces fell into place: that chaw was being ignited across the country by bootleg liquors! The mystery had been solved and immediately a recall was implemented for 'Explodo', 'Golden Carnage' and 'Ghandi' brand chewing tobaccos. By fall 1933 the recall was complete and the nation could sleep easy knowing all they had to fear from chewing tobacco was horrible mouth cancer. 

"So long, Folks!"

Monday, February 25, 2008

Skeleton Dance VS. Skeleton Frolic

In animation history there seems to always be a tendency to relate the un-relatable. One such case is the film 'Skeleton Frolic' which was produced by the Ub Iwerks' studio for Columbia's Color Rhapsodies series and released in 1937. Revisiting a subject which had already been done with great success eight years earlier was probably the first mistake. The second was it's place as part of the Color Rhapsodies series which, with notable exceptions, had become woefully dreary by the late 30's. The third, I believe as many historians have seen it, is the year in which it was released - 1937. By that time most accounts have animation divided into two camps: Warner Brothers for comedy and Disney for beauty.  Since 'Skeleton Frolic' was a film which didn't produce  the earth shattering influence of Bob Clampett, 'Snow White' or even the original 'Skeleton Dance' it must be "just a faint reminder of the first's originality and charm".
Personally, I like both films but I think 'Frolic' has taken many undeserved brick bats over the years. To look at the film you can see that it wasn't so much of a re-do as it was an upgrade. Things which might have been a little flat and perhaps not possible in 1929 are flushed out with greater atmosphere and more dynamic posing. For instance, in 'Skeleton Dance' the action is fairly lateral moving - going from right to left, left to right and so forth. Perspective is used but sparingly. 'Frolic' on the other hand gives us shots like this with diminishing perspective and perhaps a certain melevolance  lacking in the original.

And I doubt an upshot such as this would have been attempted in 1929. Note also the background which conveys a far clearer impression of mood than the cloudless skies of 'Skeleton Dance'.

Since most histories of animation virtually write off the Iwerks' Pat Powers/Celebrity Productions output , any connection to those films and their graphic strengths is seen as irrelevant. Ub didn't have Walt - that's all that mattered.
In later years, comments made by Shamus Culhane (who seemed to like only three other people besides himself - Walt Disney, Don Graham and Norm Ferguson) didn't help much. However,  for those of us who love the Iwerks' Studio films,  a strong stylistic connection can be made between 'Frolic' and those earlier cartoons.  One such example, I think,  is the Skeleton from 'Spooks': a Flip the Frog cartoon released in 1932. 

Here too is a strong upgrade, in 'Frolic',  of a rather flatly animated scene (one skeleton playing another's rib cage like a xylophone)  from 'Skeleton Dance'. Perhaps Les Clark's achievements following 'Skeleton Dance' is one of the reasons this scene is seldom criticized
Even at the close of both pictures one can see quite a difference not just in the posing, which is more dynamic in 'Skeleton Frolic', but in the backgrounds which clearly delineate the change in mood. The transition from night to dawn is harder to read in 'Skeleton Dance' though that could be due to it being a B&W film and by the quality of printing which was not quite  up to standard in early sound films.

'Skeleton Frolic' does have it's share of problems: most notably in the beginning of the film where the animation is extremely choppy and lacking the evocative light and shadow of 'Skeleton Dance'. Comparing the two is, I think, perhaps a little unfair. Kind of like saying 'Skeleton Frolic' is no 'Porky in Wackyland'. It's apples and oranges.  It's likely the film was chosen by Columbia in an attempt to make 'lightning strike twice' - a classic showbiz mistake. I just wanted to point out what I thought the strengths were of  a misunderstood film.