SIGNE BAUMANE: WOMAN

“When I don’t think about film, I think about sex.  Every 10 seconds.  I have the sense that my head is very close to my genitals.”  So speaks Latvian animator Signe Baumane in the documentary Signe and…. It’s part of an indispensable and unique collection of Baumane’s animated shorts called Ten Animated Films by Signe Baumane.

True to her word, there is sex aplenty in most of the films in this collection, including her  Teat Beat of Sex, and Baumane goes a long way to prove obsession in art is indeed a good thing.

In Natasha, a lonely housewife finds a vacuum cleaner is just as effective as any man.  In Five F___king Fables the head of a decapitated princess gives a man oral while a dog performs cunnilingus on her, penises do indeed come in every shape, size, color and form, and Georgia O’Keefe’s erotic flowers are taken to a whole new level. These are just a few of  the repeated erotic images and themes that make up Baumane’s world.

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DIRECTOR RETROSPECTIVE: RALPH BAKSHI

Fritz The Cat (Ralph Bakshi)

Coming out of the Warner Brothers cartoon factory, Ralph Bakshi emerged as one of America’s unheralded surrealists. He is as authentic in his way as Ken Rusell was. Both share a related aesthetic, which is closely linked to avant-garde cinema tradition, but grounded in the stylistic tenets of Surrealism. Russell, unquestionably flamboyant, probably has the more secured reputation with aficionados, while Bakshi too often is summarily dismissed as a cult animation specialist. Yet, as Paul Klee, Max Ernst, and Luis Bunuel have proven aesthetically more consistent (and infinitely more interesting) than that hero of male teenage angst, Savlador Dali, so too Bakshi likewise may come to be seen as the part of the pulse of Western Surrealism.

Fritz The Cat (Ralph Bakshi)

Bakshi’s debut, Fritz the Cat (1972), is delightfully of its period and  could probably only have been made in the 1970s (although work on it actually began in 1969). It was a first on numerous fronts: The first X-Rated cartoon, Bakshi’s first feature (his previous work include a number of shorts and the television cult classic animated “Spiderman” 1967-1970), and the first cinematic adaptation of the work of Robert Crumb. Crumb himself thought Bakshi’s adaptation too subdued and hated it (it does lack the original’s bite), as did the cartoonist’s loyal fan base. Critics were divided over it then, and they’re still split on it, which sets the pattern for the whole of Bakshi’s work.

Fritz The Cat (Ralph Bakshi)

The critics of Fritz The Cat accuse it of blatant racism and sexism. Its defenders proclaim it as brutally honest and immune to political correctness. However, few dispute that Bakshi’s animation style is a highly original, handsomely mounted one.
It is set in the late 60s, as we follow the pot smoking, Candide-like protagonist Fritz out of college, into a Harlem ghetto filled with barroom brawls, riots, unbridled sexual escapades, drug abuse (which includes a heroin addled rabbit), cynicism, graphic anti-establishment violence (the police are literally portrayed as inept pigs), and revolutionary spirit.

Fritz The Cat (Ralph Bakshi)

Despite budgetary limitations and Crumb’s refusal to endorse the film, Fritz The Cat proved a success, even inspiring a sequel—The Nine Lives Of Fritz The Cat ( 1974)—which Bakshi was not associated with. Predictably, the sequel flopped, making the original look like a masterpiece.

HEAVY TRAFFIC (Ralph Bakshi)

Heavy Traffic (1973) is Bakshi’s most personal film. Essentially, it is an animated autobiography about the shy, sexually frustrated, pinball-playing aspiring underground cartoonist Michael Corelone (yes, it’s one of many references to Francis Ford Coppola‘s The Godfather). Michael attempts to make his way out of his warring parents’ Bronx home. As his much put upon Jewish mother and philandering Italian Mafioso father play out an urban “Taming of the Shrew,” Michael ambitiously sticks to plying his trade. Heavy Traffic is a paradoxical, heartbreaking, harrowing love letter to counter-culture urban freaks; replete with transvestites, amputees, interracial relationships, construction worker thugs, and God as a rapist. Bakshi is deep into Herbert Selby, Jr. territory here,leaving no demographic unoffended. Within this literal black comedy, the city streets are squalid and awash in Edward Hopper despair.

HEAVY TRAFFIC (Ralph Bakshi)

A beautiful scene depicts Michael in a dilapidated theater watching 1932’s Red Dust (probably the best film of both Clark Gable and Jean Harlow). Bakshi elevates stereotypes to sublime tragedy, reminding  us that often, we choose to live up to those stereotypes. Artistically and emotionally, Heavy Traffic is arguably Bakshi’s greatest, most surreal accomplishment, which validates the argument that art is at its most significant, potent, and powerful when the artist depicts what he (or she) knows.

HEAVY TRAFFIC (Ralph Bakshi)

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BETTY BOOP, THE ESSENTIAL COLLECTION: VOL 1& 2 (2013)

Pre-code Betty Boop.

Hands down, the most indispensable DVD/Blu -ray collections released in 2013 are the two volumes of the Fleischer original Betty Boop cartoons from Olive films. Betty Boop, The Essential Collections, Vols 1 & 2 (2013) are long overdue. Although Volume 1 is not perfect (more on that later), it is the best Boop collection we have seen since the eight volume Definitive Collection distributed by Republic on VHS in 1996. (Earlier this year, Legend Films released The Uncensored Betty Boop, which is exactly what it says it is: pre-Hays Code Betty, but of fairly low-grade quality).

Betty Boop The Definitive Edition. Pre-CodeBETTY BOOP The Essential Collection

The Definitive Collection conceptually broke the Fleischer shorts into “the Birth of Betty”  (she debuted in 1930), “pre-Code,” “Surrealism,” and “Musical Madness.” However, the collection also featured the later, watered down, post-Code Betty, complete with her Promise Keeper-styled housedress and a boyfriend (to keep her monogamously domesticated). Since Republic strove to release a complete collection, this inclusion was necessary, but it’s certainly not Betty at her best. Indeed, it is the post-Code Betty which is indirectly responsible for the bland fridge magnets and license plates we have been saturated with by companies and persons who have probably never seen Betty in in her original incarnation.

pre-code Betty Boop

The basic rule with Betty Boop is that the shorts are best up through 1934. In Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) Betty (making her first on-screen appearance in 49 years) tells Bob Hoskins that she was ruined by color. Actually, Betty Boop was spayed and destroyed by the Legion of Decency and by Will Hays. The proof of pudding is in shorts like The Foxy Hunter (1937) from Volume One, in which Betty is anything but foxy. Stuck in a servile, matronly role, she plays second banana to man’s best friend. Her trademark garter is long gone; remnants of a past sex life. In its place is Betty, stuck in a Dan Cathy-approved dress and relegated to June Cleaver’s kitchen. (Most, if not all, the Betty shorts featuring Pudgy the dog are painful to watch, especially after seeing Betty in her prime. Fortunately, her prime makes up most of Volumes 1 & 2).

Betty Boop

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SATURDAY MORNING WITH SID AND MARTY KROFFT

Saturday morning With Sid and Marty KrofftSid and Marty Krofft Productions

Some may count the 1980s as the last great decade of pop culture. I disagree. The first half of the 80s was undoubtedly influential, but it was a continuation of the individuality of the previous decade. Around the halfway mark, the 80s gave way to the lack of personality blandness that saturated the 1990s (and beyond, to today). Rather, the 1970s was the last decade of pop heaven, and Saturday Morning With Sid and Marty Krofft serves well as the Calgon to take us away to that Neverland time capsule.

H.R.Pufnstuf lunchbox

This Rhino DVD collection of pilot episodes will probably be best enjoyed with a bowl of Quisp cereal and some full blown Vitamin D milk. None of that wimpy 2 % or skim crap (you might also enjoy a bowl of Quake, if you can find it). Now, slip into a plaid robe, a pair of fuzzy house slippers, kick all those boring hyper-realists out of the house. Then, turn on the TV and hit play. DO NOT fall into the temptation of using the remote control (yes, it’s a DVD, but let’s try to get as close to the genuine experience as we can). Throw the pillows on the shag rug carpet and let the cartoons begin.

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THE WILD AND ZANY WORLD OF TODD M. COE

Todd M. Coe is one of those secret finds that is all too tempting to keep secret.

Todd’s animated shorts evoke the decade of the 1970’s, which  he is hopelessly in love with.  Drive-in commercials, exploitation, cheesy horror, 70’s adult  posters, variety show television specials, low budget spaghetti westerns, robots, the rock group Kiss, Aaron Spelling cop shows, feathered hair, plaid bell bottoms, and, of course animation are all manna from pop culture heaven for him.

From Todd on Carl the Mountain: “This is my friend, Carl… and he’s a mountain. He’s really cool too! But he’s got a slight problem that annoys him.
Anyways, since the eBook market is growing and I’m an illustrator/animator, why not embrace this new technology and have fun with it?”

TODD M COE %22888%22 FOR %22STATIONS%22

Todd could undoubtedly add a few thousand items from that decade to the list, such as one of his favorites (and the delightfully of it’s period) Paul Lynde Halloween Special ,with Donnie and Marie Osmond, Mrs. Brady, Witchie Poo and Billy Barty all trading groan worthy barbs with the inimitable and much missed Mr. Lynde. Todd discussed this perennial favorite in a series of emails and his enthusiasm was admittedly infectious.

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REV. DONALD WILDMON: MIGHTY MOUSE IS BACK TO SAVE THE DAY (FROM THE LIKES OF YOU)

The New Adventures Of Mighty Mouse- The Complete Series

Rev. Donald Wildmon is, thankfully a dinosaur, a dying breed of self-appointed “moral crusader” bullies who blasphemously oppresses in the name of a peasant Jew who hung out with hookers and derelicts, talked a theology of love, understanding, and peace, and was brutally butchered by Wildmon’s own type some two thousand years ago.  Wildmon bullies in the name of this Jew to masquerade his own ignorance.  Each year that passes it becomes increasingly apparent that the world will be better off when he and his type are extinct.

Rev. Donald WildmonMighty Mouse (endorsing crack?)

In 1988, Rev. Wildmon saw an episode of Ralph Bakshi’s “The New Adventures of Mighty Mouse.”  The show was imaginative, colorful, and witty.  Wildmon’s Methodist toupee did a double take and he screamed “The Devil” when he saw something he could not understand, let alone appreciate.  (Specifically, Wildmon saw Mighty Mouse happily sniffing a crushed flower, and presumed the scene promoted cocaine use).  So Wildmon cocked up his triple chin and let out a Tarzan styled yell to his fellow Neo-Nazi thugs.  Wildmon and the brown shirts started their march, taking it all the way to the faceless sponsors of “Mighty Mouse.”  It’s not surprising that Wildmon bedded with money to attack an imaginative kids show.  After all, that peasant Jew was killed because he messed with the money system.

Mighty Mouse Night Of The Bat-Bat The New Adventures Of Mighty Mouse

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FELIX THE CAT 1919-1930

Felix the Cat %22Felix Saves The Day%22 (1922)

In 1999 Image Entertainment released a DVD compilation of “Felix the Cat” cartoons, from the character’s debut in 1919 to 1924. Inexplicably, Image never followed up with a second collection, and allowed Presenting Felix the Cat to go out of print. Naturally, used copies now fetch high prices. This leaves us with another, briefer collection from Slingshot Entertainment, also from 1999, to take up the slack. The Slingshot release can be purchased for slightly less than a McDonalds Happy Meal, and it will not clog your arteries. The presentation is not as extensive as that from Image, but neither edition is ideal.

Felix In Hollywood 1923

Felix the Cat predates Mickey Mouse by a decade but was just as popular in the 20s as Walt’s rodent was in the 30s. There is a longstanding dispute over who exactly created Felix, but he was born in the studio of Pat Sullivan. Sullivan’s animator, Otto Messmer, usually (and probably rightfully) receives the bulk of the credit. Felix shot to stardom rapidly, but faded in the 30s when Sullivan was reluctant to make the move to sound, thus paving the way for Mickey’s meteoric ascent. The Felix character was revived in a weak, imitative TV series in the 1950s, and has appeared in two execrable feature films.

%22Felix In Hollywood%22

Although the quintessential compilation of Felix at his earliest (and best) remains to be released, the still-available Felix The Cat 1919-1930 will have to suffice until then.

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MAD MONSTER PARTY (1967) ON BLU-RAY

MAD MONSTER PARTY (1967) news adArthur Rankin and Jules Bass may just be the weirdest animation team in history. Most of their stop-motion Christmas toons have become perennial classics, despite such bizarre characters as a carrot-topped roly poly dancing demon in hell; a misfit-among-misfits Arctic explorer; a dentist elf; a flying lion; a bitchy, bigoted Saint Nicholas; a winter warlock; a toothless, abominable Bumble; and a Charlie-in-the-Box. One wonders if the duo realized how off-kilter their formula was. When it came to their Halloween special, Rankin and Bass used the 1940s’ studio bound monster-mashes as their blueprint. Oddly, their Mad Monster Party (1967) was considerably better than those late, fatigued Universal extravaganzas. Helping tremendously was the voice work of Boris Karloff as Baron Frankenstein and Allen Swift as Felix Flankin, the Monster, Dracula, Dr. Jekyll, and the Invisible Man.

MAD MONSTER PARTY (1967) bride of frankenstein posterMAD MONSTER PARTY (1967) Karloff

Harvey Kurtzman of “Mad Magazine” and Forrest J. Ackerman, the celebrated founder and editor of “Famous Monsters of Filmland,” worked (uncredited) on the script. It shows. Mad Monster Party is a loving homage to Gothic cinema, replete with trademark campy puns, which equally inspire nostalgic smiles and pained groans. The special serves as a precursor of sorts to Henry Selick‘s Nightmare Before Christmas (1993). Rankin and Bass approach their theme with far less originality than Selick, but the earlier film does have a pronounced sense of adolescent charm. Continue reading “MAD MONSTER PARTY (1967) ON BLU-RAY”

THE ADVENTURES OF PRINCE ACHMED (1926)

Historians, film buffs, and Disney fanatics all cite Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) as the first animated feature. While it is the first animated feature as we Americans tend to think of animation, actually that “first” honor goes to a little known, innovative oddity from eleven years earlier. The Adventures Of Prince Achmed (1926) is a labor of love from the pioneering female German filmmaker Lotte Reiniger and her husband, Carl Koch. What makes Achmed still unique 88 years later is animation entirely composed of cutout silhouettes. The result  was one of the silent era’s most enchanting and captivating films. It is also a lucid reminder that … Continue reading THE ADVENTURES OF PRINCE ACHMED (1926)

WALT DISNEY’S FANTASIA (1940)

Over a thirty year period I have seen Fantasia (1940) in theaters on a few occasions. During each showing I witnessed several members of the audience walk out. That is usually a good sign. There is little doubt that this experimental film (yes, Disney once was innovative) has unmitigated moments of lurid kitsch, with equal parts cinematic magic. It’s a flawed masterpiece, which begs the questions: does an infallible masterpiece actually exist? Fantasia represents it’s creator, Walt Disney, as utterly possessed by obsessive, artistic, and innovative ambition. It may be one of the most stand apart films ever crafted, which is why, seventy plus years … Continue reading WALT DISNEY’S FANTASIA (1940)