Note: I wanted to start today’s article with an apology to the cover artist on Van Beuren Classics, Milton Knight. In designing the cover for the set, we altered the background colors and added shadows to Mr. Knight’s work. These changes were not to his liking, understandably, and we should have run them by him in advance of showing our advance cover. We changed the cover back to his original color design the next day, but wanted to make an apology for it appearing here. It’s not beyond any of us to make mistakes, but I do hope we’ve learned from this one and will make wiser choices in the future.
This site, Cartoon Research, would have been impossible to imagine in the days I was first collecting cartoons, and I can imagine the folks that are older than me having a similar thought. Nearly every day there’s an article here covering something I would never have imagined… I feel like it’s filled in large pieces of the hidden or forgotten history of the medium, with lots of information never covered in any books.
The internet (and home video) have helped to fill in some of the gaps left by the lack of smaller venues running old films. There are still some theaters here and there that will have cartoon showings, but many places don’t have such luxuries. There is something magical about having a showing in a old theatre, or even on a campus where younger people haven’t seen many of the films before. To me, keeping those sorts of venues alive and supporting small showings around the country (like Tom’s Stathes’ programs in New York or the shows at Cinefamily in LA) keeps these films alive, especially the films that otherwise wouldn’t be shown. As many of you are reading these posts on Thursday mornings, I’m running films in the animation history class at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, Michigan.
It seems like it’s time for more of the less-than-seen films to come out of the woodwork. I’ve recently had conversations with many people about what is important to concentrate on in this particular period related to the preservation of animated films. Some of these films are owned by large companies, some by small ones, and some still by family members of the filmmakers. There is some irony in that there are so many treasures sitting well preserved and ‘saved’, yet not available to view by the very people who have wanted to see them for ages. Some of these people (maybe you) are the baby boomers who loved some of these as children growing up watching TV, others are younger fans who have only heard of or seen a limited amount of a sought-after series. What series can you think of that you’ve always wanted to see, animated or otherwise?
This period seems to hold more promise for smaller labels, especially as some of those companies consider licensing materials to the smaller companies. The ‘niche’ products really can find their audiences now much better than in the old days, and if sales continue to be ok, a small company like Thunderbean can do well enough to be able to continue to produce sets that do well enough to allow productions of other sets.
For us here, even the developments in the past few weeks are quite promising, and as each thing happens, one of the first things I think about is this blog; I’m always look forward to the day when I can talk about the various things happening. Having been able to find some of the ‘Holy Grails’ in the last few years keep me searching for more of my own as well as those of other people. Some of those searches have led to ‘Dead Ends’ in recent times, while others are in the waiting period, while others are full steam ahead.
I really love the ‘sleuthing’ involved in finding many of these, and find that while there are lots of place to look, there’s a few ‘hero’ places that have so many of the things that help to fill in the missing pieces. First, I always have to applaud the handful of ‘super-collectors’ that collect films. They really have saved more history than could ever be stated. Often as a collector you don’t know just HOW rare a film is – sometimes it ends up being the only known copy. Secondly, I always have to thank the archives – they provide a safe place for the preservation of these films until the time they can be seen.
One of the sets we’ve been working on is on hold at the moment, but materials for it have literally come from all over the world, even though the cartoons were all produced here. Chances are it will at some point be either a really big set, or three sets of three discs- there are that many films! I don’t think I know of another series where so many of the films only seem to exist in one unique print in one collector’s or archives holdings.
When a property is only owned by one entity, sometimes even their materials are not complete, or spread out over distances. I got a note yesterday from one of the archives, stating they had lost one of the films we requested to deterioration. The had made a preservation element of the reel’s picture, but not the sound. Happily, another archive had already lent us the soundtrack for that particular film, so we have the film between the two elements at different archives. This is one of those cases where two archives did their best to preserve elements, leading to these being available many, many years later for us to see.
Working with master materials including original negatives on a series has always been a dream, and we’re hoping this year yields even more of these types of projects.
It’s still amazing to me that some things are not available. Terrytoons are some of the absolute hardest cartoons to see in original versions. We hope at some point the original Mighty Mouse and other Terrytoon cartoons will be available, restored with their original titles in beautiful color versions. Until then, we’ll have to only have a peek at them here or there. In honor of ‘Dead Ends’, here is an old BlueTrack IB Technicolor print of Dead End Cats (1947) with the original titles and end titles intact. I really love Blu-track Technicolor prints, even though they smell like ‘Banana Baby Vomit’ as one collector said. They smell worse when they are going ‘Vinegar’ as many do.
The “Edward G. Robinson” cat (voiced by Sid Raymond) is especially mean to one of the cats, shooting him in cold blood (but without blood!) near the beginning of the picture, just for questioning him! The color use on this film is especially good. I every much enjoy the shadow use in Mighty Mouse’s bedroom. He must have been living in New York into the early 50’s, and then moved into the moon at some point before Mother Goose’s Birthday Party.
This somewhat battered 16mm print has was found in a box of films at Cinevent in the early 80s. It has that beautiful Technicolor look that is missing from most prints of the Terrytoons. Perhaps some day we’ll be lucky enough to see more! I keep hope, because it wasn’t too long ago that the Fleischer Popeyes were not available on DVD….