I just got back from transferring this week’s film…
…and it’s my new favorite bizarre obscure animated short.
My friend Ken Preibe had wanted to see this short for years (as did I). I knew of one print in existence – I hope that maybe there is another somewhere. I managed to borrow it finally from a collector friend recently. On pulling the
print from storage he discovered the print was on it’s way to leaving the planet.
It was good that it was the last thing we transferred tonight since the print barely made it through Telecine and smelled the whole place up. Buzz Saws and Dynamite is in an advanced stage of acetate disintegration… it’s curling and smelling worse than any nearly any print I’ve ever seen… and that is saying something. The film community calls this condition ‘Vinegar Syndrome’ (VS). Collectors joke about the smell of salad dressing.
Certain years of film stock seem to be more likely to disintegrate faster than others. The condition and treatments the print has had also often causes the film to start to degass, like an old acetate toy or purse. Since acetate film is made of organic materials, it needs to breathe. Heat and humidity seem to bring it on faster. So does a process called ‘rejuvenation’ that involved coating prints with a layer of plastic, sealing it. This was used to improve rental prints that had seen their share of wear, and sometimes new prints. It made the print look better at the time, but leads to the demise of the print. Disney treated their 35mm Technicolor theatrical prints this way for reissue, dooming many of them. An untreated print is highly valued.
I guess the sad fact is that film materials are all imperfect- and in many ways we’re lucky these things have lasted even THIS long.
This brings us back to Charles Bennes and Mugzee. My guess is that this film dates from around 1935. This bizarre tour-de-force is easily the most lavish of Mugzee’s usually silent adventures, with improvements in animation and especially in the sets and some really impressive camera work. One wonders what he would have made had there been more success with these sound films.
The story plays more like a serial chapter than a cartoon. Be warned: The usual “stereotype” character makes an appearance, without much fanfare. Female characters are oddly ugly.
I especially like seeing Mugzee get knocked out and thrown onto the buzz saw. The voice work is more like a radio play than animation, with the organ soundtrack reminding me of recordings of local children’s radio programs. All of that said, I find this film charming and ambitious. There’s a ‘Robot Chicken’ quality to some of it, especially the horse. I have to wonder if this is the last film made by Bennes, or if others will materialize.
I wonder if this ever saw any kind of theatrical release. It does appear to have been released in 16mm as this print is, with the ‘Comedy House production’ end title. But enough talk. Prepare yourself for greatness! Ladies and Gentlemen, I hereby present Buzz Saws and Dynamite: