Great collection with the best liner notes, borrowed from a coworker and watched piecemeal.

The Original Movie (1922, Tony Sarg)

Silhouette animation imagining what moviemaking was like in early days (a mashup of eras from the dinosaur age forward). Nice use of Flintstonian animals as machines (like a long-necked dinosaur as camera crane), but Lotte Reineger it ain’t. Seems an in-joke gag about how producers have always ruined the work of screenwriters. Nice Muybridge reference. The notes say Sarg was a famous puppeteer who created the first Macy’s parade floats.

Producer (left) with his editing goat, receiving a pitch:

It’s a mark of how quickly the division-of-labor production system overtook Hollywood that already in 1922 The Original Movie can find its satiric “moral” in the inability of writers to recognize their work by the time it reaches the screen. The puritan-cloaked censors who contribute to the caveman filmmaker’s breakdown would have been on everyone’s mind. Nineteen twenty-one witnessed the Fatty Arbuckle scandal and brought New York’s new censor board as well as a hundred bills in state legislatures to curb perceived Hollywood excess.

The Confederate Ironclad (1912, Kenean Buel)

I guess an ironclad was a hideous, armored boat. Fifteen-minute action flick about confederate soldier Yancey, the Southern girl who loves him, and beautiful Union spy Elinor who easily cons ol’ Yancey into giving up military information. I didn’t realize the movie would take the confederate side, though – their gunboat rips up the union army, and noble Yancey allows Elinor to escape. Unusually, the original music score has survived, and was used in this restoration.

Wounded Yancey with his Southern Rose:

Yancey was married to the spy, Anna Q., who was a superstar in the 1920’s. Rose was Miriam Cooper, who had a lead role (“the friendless one”) in Intolerance.

Early Films from the Edison Company

Blacksmithing Scene (1893) – blacksmiths take turns banging on iron, drinking, banging on iron… sure enough, this is the original film the Lumieres remade.

The Gay Shoe Clerk (1903) – a decidedly not-gay shoe clerk kisses a flirty female customer.

Three American Beauties (1906) – a rose, a girl, a U.S. flag, all hand-tinted.

The liners on the first two films:

Because the three “blacksmiths” are impersonated by Edison employees, this is not a documentary but the first instance of screen acting. It is also the earliest surviving complete motion picture on film … Of course, at the time “gay” referred only to his devil-may-care impetuousness. The modern meaning gives unintended irony to The Gay Shoe Clerk, whose “young woman” was played by one of Edison’s male employees.

Spies (1943, Chuck Jones)

The Looney Tunes staff with writer Dr. Seuss illustrate a “loose lips sink ships” scenario, as Snafu thinks he’s keeping his mission secret but lets enough pieces of information slip for the enemy to put it all together. I thought Snafu had a rather Bugs Bunny voice, though Mel Blanc says he meant for him to sound like Porky. Amazing work, need to find and watch all of these.

OffOn (1968, Scott Bartlett)

Like the 2001: A Space Odyssey eyeball voyage scene, but homemade with newfangled late-1960’s video technology. Some other indescribable weirdness ensues, funhouse-mirroring and Rainbow Dance techniques. Impressive. Features the kind of grating horror soundtrack in fashion with the avant-garde, though it chills out into some pulsing tones at times.

Speaking in the 1960s at the time he made OffOn, his second film, he saw a technology on the horizon that would make his innovations simpler for future media artists: “With video plus computers you could do it even better,” he said of his imagery of metamorphosis.

Still watching the nice HD collection of Looney Tunes

Duck! Rabbit, Duck! (1953, Chuck Jones)

The duck season/rabbit season short in which Daffy gets blown to bits a hundred times and Bugs causes chaos and confusion. Murderous fun. “I hope I didn’t hurt you too much when I killed you.” IMDB calls it the end of a Hunting Trilogy with Rabbit Fire and Rabbit Seasoning.

I Love To Singa (1936, Tex Avery)

“Enough is too much! Out of my house!” Forgot that Owl Jolson’s parents have heavy German accents… also forgot an excellent scene combining telegram lingo with sexual harassment.

A Tale of Two Kitties (1942, Robert Clampett)

Abbot & Costello cats try to steal a pink, featherless, smartass bird from its nest. Very quippy and gaggy, only loosely a story. Explicit Hays Office reference! “Lemme at him Babbit, I’ll moydalize him.” Pre-Tweety premiere of “I tawt I taw a putty tat”?

The Old Grey Hare (1944, Robert Clampett)

God listens to Elmer for some reason, and sends him to the year 2000, which has futuristic weapons and newspapers full of 1940’s references. Then we get a flashback within the flash-forward, so both elderly and baby versions of Elmer & Bugs.

Hare Tonic (1945, Chuck Jones)

In which Bugs convinces Elmer that he’s caught Rabbititis. I thought this was an old-model Elmer, but it’s made a year after the modern-Elmer Old Grey Hare, so what’s going on? The Elmer-torture is prompted not by hunting this time but by Elmer trying to buy fresh rabbit at the meat market, which at least proves that he intends to eat rabbits and isn’t just hunting them for the sport of it.

Fast and Furry-ous (1949, Chuck Jones)

Coyote and Road Runner origin story, setting up the template for many to come – and arguably never surpassed. I like that Road Runner doesn’t just zoom past the traps, but actively fucks with the coyote. I also like that there are complicated cloverleaf interchanges in the middle of the desert. My birds responded to the “meep meep”

My favorite invention, very Silver Surfer:

The Scarlet Pumpernickel (1950, Chuck Jones

Daffy begs his movie producer J.L. to give him a dramatic role for once, which is enacted by an all-star cast: Porky, Sylvester, Elmer, Chicken Hawk. Rated R for snuff usage and suicide.

Chow Hound (1951, Chuck Jones)

Red kitty has a whole string of “owners”, who all feed him, but the food is stolen by a bully dog, who finally overeats his way into the hospital.

Bewitched Bunny (1954, Chuck Jones)

Bugs is reading Hansel and Gretel when he runs into the kids themselves, with ridiculous German accents, and ends up being chased by the witch through her hilariously designed house, and nearly saved by Prince Charming, who got the wrong fairy tale. “Thanks large, mac.” Ends with maybe the rudest punchline ever.

After a Thanksgiving feast I brought out a bunch of Looney Tunes in shiny HD. “Who doesn’t love Looney Tunes,” I thought. Turns out it’s everyone but me. That’s who doesn’t love Looney Tunes.

Book Revue (1964, Robert Clampett)

Bunch of book puns, most of which flew over our heads, then Daffy Duck shows up as “Danny Boy”. He saves Red Riding Hood from the wolf. Everyone is impressed with Frank Sinatra. It’s quite confusing. Love the use of random newspaper articles as backgrounds.

Devil May Hare (1954, Robert McKimson)

Introduction of the Tazmanian Devil character, whom Bugs torments then finally defeats by hooking him up with a lady devil.

Duck Dodgers in the 24 1/2th Century (1953, Chuck Jones)

Great one, full of disintegration-ray jokes. Daffy is Duck Dodgers, Porky his trusty assistant, and they fight Marvin for control over Planet X.

Feed the Kitty (1952, Chuck Jones)

One of my faves. Wasn’t appreciated by my menagerie.
Dog enamored with cute kitten, takes him home, thinks his owner has baked the kitten into a batch of cookies, cries, is reunited with kitten.

Rabbit Hood (1949, Chuck Jones)

Bugs is caught stealing the king’s carrots by the sheriff of Nottingham, messes with him relentlessly, occasionally interrupted by a dim-witted Little John. There’s no actual Robin Hood until the very end when Errol Flynn appears via a clip from The Adventures of Robin Hood.

Rabbit of Seville (1950, Chuck Jones)

On a theater stage by accident, Bugs torments Elmer while pretending to enact the Barber of Seville. Quite excellent, but only a prelude to the even greater What’s Opera, Doc.

And a couple I’ve written up before:

One Froggy Evening (1955, Chuck Jones)

Influenced by a Cary Grant movie called Once Upon a Time, according to wikipedia.

What’s Opera, Doc (1956, Chuck Jones)

Voted the greatest cartoon of all time, a more stylized opera rendition than Seville, Elmer with his spear and magic hellllmet.

Allegretto (1943, Oskar Fischinger)
All colored diamonds and circles, so lovely. In close sync with the music, where in Motion Painting #1 the music seems an afterthought.

Motion Painting No. 1 (1947, Oskar Fischinger)
Like it says, a motion painting – oil on glass, all small rectangles and big spirals. In The Mystery of Picasso the tension was in figuring how the painting would be finished, where he was heading, but in this the fun is in getting from one intermediate step to another. The process is the destination. There should be more of these!

Franz Kafka (1992, Piotr Dumala)
Is the movie supposed to be making that sound of a cat in heat beneath the music, or is my laptop freaking out? Dark and scratchy and slow-moving, nothing actually happening. Oh wait, there’s some sex. Fulfills almost all of the Robyn Hitchcock holy keywords: sex, food and insects (what, no death?). I’m sure it’s very technically accomplished but I found it dreary and ponderous. The filmmaker made a plaster-scratch version of Crime and Punishment eight years later (or more likely he worked on it for all eight years).

Tales from the Far Side (1994, Marv Newland)
Very inessential, slow-paced animated half-hour of Far Side cartoons. Really the most interesting bit is seeing Marv Newland’s name, 25 years after his seminal Bambi Meets Godzilla. Either he’s no longer a master of timing, or there was too much Gary Larson interference… or maybe you just can’t turn a single-panel comic strip into a 30-minute TV special. Doonesbury worked out, but that was talky and story-driven to begin with.

Mr. Prokouk Shoots a Movie (1948, Karel Zeman)
Czech short, part of a whole series of Mr. Prokouk adventures.

Prokouk is pointing at us, telling us to get off our asses and join the workforce!

The Monkey’s Teeth (1960, Rene Laloux)
Intro is a three-minute doc of a group-therapy institution for depressed people, what follows is an animation of the film they wrote together. Sad man has a toothache, goes to a dentist who steals his teeth to sell to rich people (I wouldn’t think the teeth of the poor would be worth much, but maybe in France everyone practices excellent dental care). When the monkey wizard bicycles by, I figured the dentist would be put in his place and the stolen teeth returned, and that’s just what happens but first the sad man gets chased into a high school by some cops who get turned into children. Hmmm.

Dimensions of Dialogue (1982, Jan Svankmajer)
It’s been too long since I’ve watched my Svankmajer shorts. This is an all-time fave. Faces made of identifiable objects consume each other, becoming smoother until they resemble human heads. Two clay humans make love, create an unwanted clay baby then destroy each other. And so on. Not one for brevity, J.S. takes everything to its conclusion and explores all permutations of his object manipulations – this is what makes his features seem so tedious, but his shorts seem so excellently complicated.

Flora (1989, Jan Svankmajer)
A clay person tied to a bed and covered in rotting fruit and veg tries to reach a glass of water. Only a few seconds long, made for MTV (that’s czech for WTF).

Food (1992, Jan Svankmajer)
Oooh I love stop-motion using live actors. Guy enters a room facing a paralysed robot guy, reads instructions hanging on his neck (which are actually an MTV entry form: “Entrant must send a VHS or U-Matic, etc.”), manipulates the guy (puts money in his mouth, receives a sausage and mustard from chest, utensils from ears), then the robot guy leaves and the eater takes his place. Two guys sit at a restaurant, can’t get service so they eat their own clothes and the table. Finally, people are made gourmet meals of their own severed body parts. A classic, obviously.

I Love To Singa (1936, Tex Avery)
“Enough is too much!” An old favorite. Owl Jolson is of course a parody of The Jazz Singer, which I’ve still never seen. Jazz and owls: a combination you don’t see often enough.

Point Rationing of Foods (1943, Chuck Jones)
An extra tucked away on a Looney Tunes DVD, explaining the wartime canned food rationing system to the public through cheap quickie animation. Helpful to me, since I never bothered to learn how rationing worked before. Also tucked away is the Tashlin-penned The Bear That Wasn’t, probably not because of its unworthiness but because it was made at a different studio.

I Haven’t Got a Hat (1935, Friz Freling)
A variety show of children performers, with hijinks. Porky’s first appearance – the studio intended for a more generic troublemaker character (below, right) to take over, but the public demanded a shy stutterer instead. The title song is catchy, anyway.

Roof Sex (2003, PES)
Stop-motion of chairs having sex. The cat is blamed.

Bunch of Chuck Jones movies on TCM accompanied their new documentary Chuck Jones: Memories of Childhood by Peggy Stern, partially animated by John Canemaker, the duo who made The Moon and the Son. I’m not a huge fan of the TM&TS approach, and they take a similar animated-documentary-reminiscence approach here, but it’s lovely to hear Mr. Jones talk about his youth and how different events and memories shaped his life and the characters in his cartoons.

Haredevil Hare (1948), already a decade into CJ’s directing career, sent Bugs to the moon and introduced Marvin the Martian. A silly episode, ends with them blowing up the moon and me unavoidably obsessing over that Mr. Show episode. Marvin has a different, less distinctive voice, but his character was supposed to be a one-off, so I guess Mel didn’t worry about coming up with a brand new one until Marvin became a recurring thing.

Duck Amuck (1953), supposedly one of the most groundbreaking, original WB shorts with Bugs as Daffy’s animator, tormenting him with pen and eraser, and lines like “It may come as a complete surprise to you to find that this… is an animated cartoon.” It is an outrageous conceit, and there’s nothing more fun than pushing Daffy until he flies into a rage, but maybe I’ve seen this too many times because I find it kinda unsatisfying these days. Would rather see all those wild effects going into something with a story. I’m sure I’m just being a negative nelly… it’d probably still rank in my top ten CJ shorts, but whatever… I was anxious to get through it tonight. Most outstanding Daffy line: “Thanks for the sour persimmons, cousin.”

One Froggy Evening (1955) – one of my all-time fave shorts, and from Robert Osbourne’s loving introduction, it seems like it’s a lotta people’s favorite. A construction worker finds a singing frog in the cornerstone of a 100-year-old building and thinks he’ll get rich exploiting it, but finds the frog will only sing for him. Ruined, he buries the frog again, where it’s discovered in 2056 A.D. by a space-construction-worker. No spoken dialogue except by the frog, who has about ten wonderful old-timey songs.

What’s Opera, Doc? (1956) – Maybe it’s the musical ones that grab me, because I could sit through this one and the last three times in a row. Tells the same story as Fritz Lang’s Nibelungen but this is way shorter. Also the only movie in which Elmer actually kills the wabbit. I suppose operas can’t have happy endings. Some credit should finally be given to Michael Maltese, who wrote the last four shorts.

The Dot and the Line (1965), ahh, finally something new. By now, Bugs’ heyday is over and Chuck is working at MGM doing more independent work but with much lower budgets. Writer of The Phantom Tollbooth contributed this story of a line (not just a line segment – he always extends past the screen in both directions) in love with a free-spirited dot, who in turn is enamored with a wild squiggle. Seems awfully 60’s, and not as much fun as its oscar-winning cannes-nominated reputation would imply, but it’s cute… and short. The line learns to impress by forming shapes and super-complex patterns and formulas, and all the squiggle can do in response is freak out and wriggle about, so the faithless dot hooks up with the line for our happy ending. My favorite bit was near the start, trying to convince the dot verbally rather than through shape-shifting physical prowess, the line tries telling her “I know where I’m going!

The Bear That Wasn’t (1967), based on the story by the great Frank Tashlin, and just in time – R.O. says it was the last-ever MGM theatrical animated short. The premise is super, and typical of Tashlin’s cynicism and distrust of “progress” and technology: while a bear hibernates, a giant factory is built over his cave, and when he wakes up nobody believes he’s a bear. If he’s in the factory, he must be an employee, or as they call him, “a silly man who needs a shave and wears a fur coat.” Finally the factory chain-of-command’s pigheaded insistence convinces the bear that he isn’t a bear, and he goes to work… but when winter comes, he returns to the cave (through a maintenance closet) to hibernate again, a cautiously optimistic ending. Unfortunately the movie itself is repetitive (probably the book too – children’s books sure can be), harping on the “silly man” line, and watching the bear’s spirit get crushed is surely less satisfying than watching Daffy get poked and prodded into a rage, and the happenin’ title song is played too often, but I still liked it more than The Dot and the Line. Maybe I’m a sucker for talking animal cartoons, or abstract math stories are too high-class for the likes of me.

Finally I tried to watch the feature-length The Phantom Tollbooth (1970). It seems cute enough, but perhaps too much of a kids movie for me to completely enjoy. After a live-action intro with some famous child actor it goes all animation. Our kid, who keeps learning slow and pointed Valuable Lessons about things, ends up in a swamp called The Doldrums at which point the sludgy narcoleptic music put our hero to sleep, and me with him.