Sunday, October 02, 2011

Newman Laugh-o-Grams (Sample reel)

(US 1921) D, anim: Walt Disney; filmed: Disney garage, 3028 Bellefontaine Ave., Kansas City; première: 20.3.1921, Newman Theater, Kansas City (with Mama’s Affair [First National]); 35 mm, 271.5 ft, 3'17" (20 fps); print source: The Walt Disney Company. English intertitles. Viewed at Teatro Verdi, Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone, with e-subtitles in Italian, grand piano: Mie Yanashita, 2 Oct 2011.

Russell Merritt & J.B. Kaufman (GCM Catalogue): "This short film, variously labeled a test reel, sample reel, or the series pilot, was made as a filler for Frank Newman’s local Kansas City theater chain, and is the only Newman Laugh-O-gram known to survive. It could scarcely be simpler. But the opening image of Disney himself, the portrait of the artist as a young impresario, has an uncanny feel to it. Disney begins his animation career with multiple pictures of himself, the live image sandwiched between two self-caricatures. We see him first as part of the comic title card, a wide-eyed innocent at his desk, his sleeves rolled up and papers flying from his pen. Then, the live-action Disney puts the title card into motion, scratching his head, lighting his pipe, and applying pen to paper. Meanwhile, over his right shoulder we notice another drawing of him (a jumbo version of his actual business card), a third version of Disney the hard-pressed cartoonist working at his office desk, while we see the results of all his work hanging over his left shoulder – four sequential drawings of a figure we’ll see animated at the end of the reel."

"Seldom has a major filmmaker gone to such lengths to introduce himself as a go-getter. Gone is any vestige of the animator as a magician or trickster, the traditional image of the lightning-sketch artist. Nor, despite his youth (he was 19 years old), is he to be seen as an inspired prodigy working in an art studio. Rather, he is a down-to-earth office worker, like a newspaper cartoonist, ready to comment on the news and foibles of the day. The office is a fake, no more than a desk and a blanket tacked up somewhere outdoors, made to represent the office wall. He’s starting his animation career in his family’s garage."

"In part, Disney’s self-portrait is a witty transition from the documentary atmospherics of the newsreel that preceded this Laugh-O-gram on Newman’s one-reeler to the live-action comedy that followed. The cartoon we are watching Disney make is part of a program of newsreels, comedy shorts, and vaudeville acts that accompanied the feature film of the week. Disney is both the editorial cartoonist at the news desk and the humorist delivering the first gags in the program. But what is remarkable are the lengths to which he has gone to distance himself from any idea of the filmmaker as a popular artist."

"Two years later Disney started his final film in Kansas City with another live-action portrait of himself. In Alice’s Wonderland he is again in his office, but now he is surrounded by his staff. They are the ones working at their desks – actually, not working as much as goofing off, interacting with a cartoon character they’ve created, entertaining the little girl who has come to visit. Disney has become the benign studio head, the likeable go-getter who has made good. Now the office is real. The energetic go-getter may be on the verge of bankruptcy, but he’s on his way."

"Like all the Laugh-O-gram films made for Newman, this one was made by Disney single-handedly, and so provides a rare chance to see Disney’s own early animation style. This would change quickly, as Disney recruited friends to share the work. Here, though, completing each drawing on paper fully by hand (he had yet to learn the labor-saving techniques associated with cel animation), he in fact animates only the final sequence. If he tries to separate himself from the traditions of the lightning-sketch artist in his self-portrait, he immerses himself in them in the opening scenes, including the convention of showing his hand rapidly creating the drawings. In fact, it is a photograph of his hand, the hyperactivity of the artist recreated one last time through the magic of stop-motion." – Russell Merritt & J.B. Kaufman

AA: Revisited Walt Disney's first film, his promo reel, in the very beginning, working single-handedly at the age of 19. It's rudimentary, but the sense of humour and the joy of animation are already there. There are commercials (women's wear) and news parodies (the police's spring clean-up). The self-confidence is impressive.

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