Animated cartoons were a regular attraction at movie theaters in the silent era, yet they were appreciated for the most part as disposable novelty items of little artistic value. The vast majority of animated films produced in the first 30 years of the 20th century have been lost because of deterioration and neglect. In an effort to promote greater awareness of silent animation as a unique art form in need of preservation and exhibition, the San Francisco Silent Film Festival is proud to present a selection of animated short subjects featuring the work of familiar names such as Walt Disney, Friz Freleng, and the Fleischer brothers, along with films by lesser-known artists Tony Sarg, Segundo de Chomón, and Harry S. Palmer. Films are listed in order of appearance.
I’M INSURED (1916) from the Kartoon Komics series produced, directed, written, and animated by Harry S. Palmer and released by Gaumont Studios in 1916. Gaumont terminated the series the following year when Palmer left to produce patriotic-themed cartoons for Educational Pictures.
SCRAMBLED EAGLES (1921), a Jerry on the Job cartoon produced by John R. Bray and directed by Vernon Stallings for International Film Service. The Jerry on the Job series was derived from a daily cartoon by Walter Hoban that appeared in the New York Journal. The series is notable for the debut of Walter Lantz, who attained renown as the creator of Woody Woodpecker.
MARVELS OF MOTION Issue J (1926), the only surviving episode in the series, produced by Max and Dave Fleischer for Inkwell Films. The Fleischer brothers are particularly remembered for the cartoons they produced featuring Betty Boop and Popeye the Sailor. The Marvels of Motion series used reverse photography, freeze frames, and a special slow-motion process developed by the Novagraph Company to explore aspects of movement.
ANIMATED HAIR (1925) written, directed, and animated by Marcus and produced by Max Fleischer for Inkwell Films. Marcus was the pen name for a cartoonist whose work regularly appeared in Life magazine, and Animated Hair is an excellent example of the offbeat experimentation that went on in the silent era. Funding for the preservation of Animated Hair was provided in part by the San Francisco Silent Film Festival.
BOB’S ELECTRIC THEATRE Le petit theatre du Bob (circa 1906) produced, directed, and animated by Segundo de Chomón, Ferdinand Zecca, and Gaston Velle for Pathé Frères. Chomón invented a camera mechanism for exposing film one frame at a time, thus paving the way for the development of the animated film. Bob’s Electric Theatre uses a combination of live action and stop-motion photography to tell the story of a little boy and his puppet theatre.
BARON BRAGG & THE DEVILISH DRAGON (1922) produced by Herbert M. Dawley, directed by Tony Sarg and Herbert M. Dawley for Tony Sarg’s Almanac series. Between 1920 and 1926, Tony Sarg created 18 silhouette animation films for his Almanac programs. Based in part on Chinese shadow puppetry, Sarg used stop-motion animation and marionettes to create his intricate and colorful shadowgraphs.
LES MÉTAMORPHOSES COMIQUES (1912) a rediscovered film by Emil Cohl, generally considered the founding father of the animated cartoon. Long considered lost, Les métamorphoses comiques has been found and preserved by the UCLA Film and Television Archive because of the detective work of Jere Guldin, UCLA film preservationist and director of the Animation Preservation Project at ASIFA-Hollywood.
ALICE’S WILD WEST SHOW (1924) produced by Walt Disney and Roy Disney, directed by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks, and starring Virginia Davis. In 1923, Walt Disney was making cartoons for Laugh-O-gram Productions in Kansas City, Missouri. Having seen the popular Fleischer brothers’ Koko the Clown cartoons, in which an animated clown inhabits a live-action world, Disney decided to produce a series with a live-action girl in a cartoon world. Alice’s Wild West Show is the fourth film in the series.
HOMELESS HOMER (1928) produced by Margaret Winkler, directed by Rudolf Ising and Isadore “Friz” Freleng. Before the creation of Mickey Mouse, Walt Disney received great acclaim with a series of cartoons featuring Oswald the Lucky Rabbit for Universal Pictures. After Disney left Universal over a salary dispute, the series was continued by Rudolf Ising and “Friz” Freleng, who soon achieved fame producing Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies for Warner Bros.
A BUGGY RIDE (1926) is from the popular Aesop’s Fables series created by Paul Terry in 1923. The series proved so successful that it continued into the 1930s — one of the few cartoon series to survive the transition to sound. Paul Terry went on to produce the long-running Terrytoons series and is best remembered as the creator of Mighty Mouse.
KOKO’S EARTH CONTROL (1928) an Inkwell Imps cartoon produced by Max Fleischer and Alfred Weiss and directed by Dave Fleischer. When the idea of placing a cartoon clown in the real world first occurred to the Fleischer brothers, they began by imitating real life. Dave put on a clown suit and traditional clown makeup and Max sketched him. Koko’s Earth Control is one of the most famous — and apocalyptic — episodes in the series, featuring a memorable performance by Fitz the Dog.
Presented at SFSFF 1999 with live music by Michael Mortilla