Sunday, July 19, 2009

Out of the Inkwell...Onto Shockwave Flash Player

Max Fliescher was born today in 1883, he would have been 126 years old.

There's a lot I could tell you about the personal life of Max Fleischer, but since today is Sunday and a good day to sit and watch cartoons, I thought I'd let his work speak for itself. A kind of celebration through appreciation.

The Fleischer's began their work in the early 1920's, making silent cartoons. Most of these were about the adventures of a clown named "Ko-Ko" and his creator, Max. These were surreal stories that seemed to offer a new technical innovation with every cartoon. They invented the "Rotoscope" which allowed them to kind of "trace over" live action. Dave Fleischer would dress in a clown suit, then they would trace a cartoon figure over him. This made for a realistic movement and it's a device still used today occasionally, but the Fleischers themselves soon abandoned strict use of this, as it limited the real magic, the ability of an animator to add personality to the character..and truthfully, allow the character to be a cartoon.

They also experimented with the combination of live action and animation together, and every cartoon seemed to find a new way to innovate, poke fun at the innovation, and comment on the unique art form they were making.

Another first for the Fleischers? They were the first to put sound on film. "The Jazz Singer" with Al Jolson and even "Steamboat Willie" with Mickey Mouse were films shown with recorded accompaniment with a record playing along with the movie. The Fleischers actually printed the sound track right on the film, the way we do it right up to today.

Once sound was here to stay, they made full advantage of it with their "Famous Bouncing Ball" series. Folks in the theater would sing along with a popular song of the day while watching cartoons dramatizing the action.

The music in Fleischer Brothers cartoons was great too. Disney and Warner cartoons had top 40 pop tunes and show-type tunes, which were great...but the Fleischer's were based in New York rather than Hollywood and had access to Broadway performers and the music acts around Harlem. Check this great Betty Boop cartoon featuring the first screen appearance ever by the great Louis Armstrong.

They brought us Popeye and Betty Boop of course, but they also did the first film version of Superman. Coming just 3 years after Superman's first appearance, these cartoons are amazing. Here's the first.

They did more than I can fit into a single post. The first 2-reel cartoon, "Popeye Meets Sindbad the Sailor" a couple of feature length cartoons, "Gulliver's Travels" and "Mr. Bug Goes to Town".

The thing that really separated the Fleischers from other studios of the time is they were true cartoons. While Disney was striving for technical achievements in animation and smooth natural movement, Warner was just feeling it's way through and selling Warner's songs, Paul Terry, Walter Lantz and the rest were just churning out product...Max and Dave were making CARTOONS! Made for laughs, made for making you feel good.

Boop-Oop-A-Doop is all I can say.

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