Tag Archives: Flatpack

Richard Squires and Abigail Addison on ‘Doozy’ at Flatpack

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Chuck Jones dismissed Hanna-Barbera cartoons as illustrated radio. But in a wonderful video essay , Sound in Hanna-BarberaPatrick Sullivan demonstrates how the fluidity of the plot of Hannah-Barbera cartoons made up for the static imagery; how plot elements like crashes were relegated off-screen and conveyed through sound accompanied by a jerking image; and how sound in general and voice in particular where the main vehicle through which action, meaning and feeling were conveyed.

I had occasion to reflect on this once more when seeing Richard Squires’ Doozy which takes Paul Lynde´s voicing of villains in Hanna-Barbera cartoons (The Hooded Claw in The Perils of Penelope Pitstop; Mildew Wolf  in It’s the Wolf; Claude Pertwee in Where´s Huddles?) as a jump start to an exploration of queer villainy, hysterical masculinity, animation — the film has conceived and designed its own villain ´Clovis´in that very distinctive Hanna-Barbera style —  and the inter-connectedness of voice, characterisation and star persona. ´Where does the character end and the actor begin?’

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Richard Squires and Clovis at Vivid Projects

In an interview with Alt Kino, Squires recounts that the character of Claude Pertwee in Where´s Huddles was this, ‘archetypical confirmed bachelor type who seemed like the first closeted gay Hanna-Barbera cartoon villain, really. So when I started researching Where’s Huddles a little bit more, I realised it was this actor Paul Lynde who had voiced all of these cartoon villains and then I started to research him a little bit, having been vaguely aware of him in Bewitched´.

Lynde is perhaps less well-known in the UK than in the US. I grew up watching him on TV in re-runs of films like Bye-Bye Birdie or his recurring appearances in supporting parts in some of the biggest television hits of the sixties: The MunstersBetwitchedI Dream of Jeannie, Love American Style. He had his own TV show for a while, The Paul Lynde Show, but that only ran for a season. He usually played supporting parts but was nonetheless one of the most famous faces and voices in America at that time, partly due no doubt to his being the central square in the popular game show, Hollywood Squares. 

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The way Lynde walked, talked, his mannerisms, his double-takes, his acidity and bitchyness, all-evoked queerness at a time when sexual relations between people of the same sex were forbidden, illegal and where being found out could have cataclysmic consequences. Yet, it was almost as if he couldn´t help himself, his ripostes in Hollywood Squares often crossing boundaries and effectively outing himself over and over again. I suppose  Kenneth Williams is a similar figure occupying a similar role in Britian. That combination of evoking queerness, the conflict between hiding and asserting it, the treatment he suffered as a result of it, are all evoked in the film, often building up from little moments, asides.

Doozy is not a biopic of Lynde but it is very brilliant at evoking how a homophobic culture both deploys and destroys that type of figure and that particular person in that particular time. Megan Christopher has written that, ‘the campy villain is undoubtedly one of the biggest staples of traditional animation; this trope runs through film and television alike, regardless of audience and story. From The Lion King to The Powerpuff Girls, Gravity Falls to Wreck-it-Ralph, the comedically limp-wristed bad guy is an intrinsic part of American society’s casually homophobic output, setting up an environment where these behaviours are automatically associated with social ills´. 

One of the things that make Doozy so interesting is that it´s hard to categorise. Part essay film, part documentary, with many sections of animated characters foregrounded on documentary backgrounds interspersed throughout, the film uses Paul Lynde´s voicing of three characters in Hannah-Barbera cartoons as a means to explore masculinity, queerness, social convention, what a voice can express and what a society can at first repress and then destroy. How a society can make that queerness part of the very fabric of children´s television whilst nonetheless slowly poisoning the person conveying it. These topics and more are discussed in the podcast below which is made up of two parts: the first a conversation in a pub with director Richard Squires and producer Abigail Addison just before the Flatpack screening at Vivid Projects; the second is the Q&A session following the screening. It can be listened to by clicking on the play button below:

Richard Squires and Abigail Addison will present Doozy at the Department of Film and Television, The University of Warwick, on May 7th at 4.30 and participate in a conversation with Dr. Julie Lobalzo Wright on the film.

 

José Arroyo

 

In Conversation with Richard Dyer at Flatpack

14-_eagle-tun600x400mm.jpegA conversation with Richard Dyer to mark the 50th anniversary of his move to Birmingham, where he lived for most of his adult life and where he produced much of his celebrated work. Many thanks to Ian Francis and Flatpack for their foresight in marking the occasion. I too had the foresight to ask whether the conversation could be recorded so that those of you who could not attend the event might nonetheless be able to listen in. However,  I then lacked the wit to press the record button on time, so the first five minutes or so of the conversation are missing. In the end you did have to be there I guess, although it´s not a great loss: what´s missing is mainly my fulsome introduction, which he has no need of, and which merely expressed what everyone else feels about him and his work. The conversation is all too brief but touches on his activism at the GLF, the Arts Lab in Birmingham, his arrival the Birmingham Centre for Cultural Studies, his early work on Gays and Film with Jack Babuscio, Stars and White, with some commentary on entertainment, musicals, ‘In Defence of Disco’, filmgoing in Birmingham in the 70s and an introduction to Mai Zetterling´s Loving Couples (Sweden 1964)

The conversation can be listened to here:

Thanks to Ian Sanderson for the photo.

José Arroyo

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 116 – The Marvellous Mabel Normand

Flatpack’s Silent Night series continues with a screening, at Birmingham Cathedral, of The Marvellous Mabel Normand, a programme of four silent comedy shorts from the BFI National Archive. Normand was the leading silent comedienne of her day but neither Mike nor José was familiar with her, and the programme provides a great introduction to her work, as not just a star but also a director.

We saw Mabel’s Blunder (1914), which she directed, Mabel’s Dramatic Career (1913), His Trysting Place (1914) and Should Men Walk Home? (1927). Each stars Normand, and alongside her are such names as Mack Sennett, Oliver Hardy, Eugene Pallette and one Charlie Chaplin.

José finds himself in thrall to Normand’s magnetism and emotional openness, finding her incandescent with screen presence. The nuances she brings to her physical and facial performances, the way she types or jumps out of the way of an onrushing car, light up the screen and make her memorable.

Mike, it must be said, is less impressed, suggesting that she doesn’t elevate some weak material as a better actor might, though that’s not to say he sees nothing to appreciate about her performances. But what he takes away above all else is how seeing one Chaplin film amongst other silent shorts provides incontrovertible proof of his comedic genius, His Trysting Place a geyser of creativity and comic charm.

We also consider how key figures of silent comedy are remembered or not, particularly thinking of the disparity between Mack Sennett’s importance and name recognition, and how Chaplin remains a worldwide icon perhaps to an extent comparable only to religious figures. José holds forth on the talents and career of Leo McCarey, director of Should Men Walk Home?, and we discuss the programme’s newly commissioned score by The Meg Morley Trio, who performed it live during the screening.

The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

 

The Adventures of Prince Achmed/ Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed (Lotte Reiniger, Germany, 1926)

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Paul Shallcross, who today played the lovely score he composed for the film, gave an excellent introduction as to why the film has historically been revered as a landmark: the youth of the director, the painstaking mode of animation involving cardboard silhouettes and thin sheets of lead which took three years to complete, how each frame was lit from below and photographed from above using layered backgrounds one painstaking frame after another, how famous avant-garde figures such as Walter Ruttmann, Berthold Bartosch and Carl Koch worked on the film etc. But personally, I always thought there was a reason why silhouette films never took off. It always felt too much like a successful attempt in gaining maximum expressivity from a limited vocabulary; and why bother? The images are delicate and pretty. The story, from the Arabian nights and featuring Aladdin, his lamp, witches, sorcerers, dragons, warriors and princesses — and a setting ranging from the Middle East to China — is exciting and involving. But why not tell the same story using a greater visual vocabulary that allowed more movement and a greater range of expression? Today I got my answer.

I had ever seen the film on a big screen before, and it made a difference. I had never seen it with a mixed race audience, and it made a difference. I had never seen it in a room full of kids accompanied by their parents, and that was the biggest difference of all: they were involved, they understood, they appreciated it. They couldn’t understand the sub-titles but they kept asking their parents what was happening and why (one insistent kid, who obviously couldn’t speak English, had a whole exciting line of questioning for his parents in Spanish from beginning to end). On one level the children understood much less than I; on another they made me see what I hadn’t been able to see before; that a limited vocabulary might not be a bad way of communicating with an audience who doesn’t have a greater one at its disposal.

That’s not the whole story of course; the film has ever been beautiful to look at; the delicate filigree curlicues of the cutouts, the shape of the figures, the rendering of ‘The Orient’, the romantic fantasy of the world created for the film. All have many pleasures (and some dilemmas) to offer any audience.

The event was another success for Flatpack, an achievement best resumed as way of involving local artists with some of the greatest artworks in film history and engaging a wide range of local communities with that work in a landmark location worth discovering or re-discovering, in this case the new Library. May such efforts long continue.

 

Seen at the Birmingham Central Library, 8th June 2014

Birmingham Central Library 8th of June 2014
Birmingham Central Library 8th of June 2014

 

PS:

There’s an excellent piece on Reinger here: https://www.fantasy-animation.org/blog/2018/9/7/the-trouble-with-reiniger