Saturday, April 11, 2009

Explorations in Stop-Motion History

I've had stop-motion on the brain these days for various reasons. One of them, besides my course-building and other projects brewing, is due to recent talks with Steve Stanchfield about an upcoming stop-motion DVD for Thunderbean I'm helping him with. As part of our research and planning, I ended up contacting L.A. puppeteer Bob Baker, who was an animator on George Pal's Puppetoons in the 1940s. I was delighted and suprised that he left a message on my cel (which happened to be off & charging) very shortly after I e-mailed him. Upon calling him back, I found him to be a really nice guy and we had a great chat about the Puppetoon studio. He said he's still helping author Mike Hankin with his forthcoming book on the subject, which I've heard about before and very much looking forward to. I asked Bob about something I had noticed & wondered about the Puppetoon films, in that their style definitely began a gradual shift from abstract stylization (of a very tubular variety)... more natural, realistic caricatures after moving to America.

Bob confirmed that and explained some of the reasons for this. It partly had to do with what the public was willing to buy, which was the more naturalistic style made popular by Disney. There were also very few wood-workers in America who could create the same kinds of puppets Pal had been able to create in Europe. Pal became less involved with drawing the designs for his puppets, needing to rely on other artists who joined the studio, who drew in a style closer to the modern American cartoons. Additionally, Pal's friendship with Walter Lantz had an influence...Lantz actually encouraged him to make his puppets less tubular and stylized, to make them more appealing to what the American public was used to.

And here is a summary of another piece of research I had been looking into awhile ago, regarding the Mo-Toy Comedies by Howard S. Moss from 1917, and a little film re-packaged by Stirling Films in the 1940s called Toyland Ice Capades: The Adventures of Mugsy. Steve gave me a copy of this film many years ago, and it's also on YouTube courtesy of silent film guru Tom Stathes...

Another film recently un-earthed by Steve is a Vitagraph film with title Dolly Daisy in Hearts and Flowers, directed by Howard Moss and animated by Charles Bennes. It's undated, but has the same 'Mugsy' puppet.

Now, a few accounts of the Howard Moss films refer to a film called Cracked Ice in 1917, which fits the story of the Toyland Ice Capades film. (All of his films, except for Mary & Gretel a year earlier, are dated in 1917, which is also strange.)

A little Google searching reveals the following...

1) Howard S Moss on IMDB (mentions Cracked Ice in 1922 and a few other films)

2) ...and the Peter Pan Film Company on IMDB (mentions tons of other titles)

3) And a longer Filmography for Howard S Moss, which is very similar to the IMDB one...

4) 'Before Mickey' (page 265) lists 'Cracked Ice' as being an undated print in the archives of the Film Center of the Art Institute of Chicago, by Howard S Moss as a MoToy Comedy for Peter Pan Film Co., describing the hero as a caricature of Ben Turpin.

Silent Film star Ben Turpin

5) But this website clearly describes 'Cracked Ice' (1924) as the 'Mugsy' film by Edwin Miles Fadman.

6) and this site lists 'Cracked Ice' twice, once in 1917 by Howard S Moss, and again by Fadman in 1924.

7) A list for Funny Face Comedies on the IMDB (pointed out to me by Tom Stathes) has some similar titles to the Peter Pan list (Jimmy the Soldier Boy > Soldiers of Fortune, for example)

My guess is that Howard S Moss created the film Cracked Ice in 1917 or later, and then Edwin Miles Fadman either stole or bought the film and released it in 1924 as a "Funny Face Comedy". The only other film Fadman supposedly made was called Mose and Funny Face make Angel Cake (also in 1924) according to one of the websites above and also in Bruce Holman's book Puppet Animation in the Cinema (which also attributes 'Cracked Ice' to Fadman.) And IMDB refers to a film called Angel Food. Perhaps, based on the title, this was his version of Moss' film A Kitchen Romance? Fadman's name also comes up in Google searches as a book publisher for Einstein's 'Theory of Relativity' in the early 1920s. He sounds more like a businessman or producer than a filmmaker or animator.

Hearts and Flowers as a title doesn't show up on any of these lists, so I'm not sure which of them was the original title, but the fact it has the Mugsy Puppet in it along with Howard Moss' name at least confirms that Moss indeed made the "Adventures of Mugsy" film under the original title "Cracked Ice" and some historical wires got crossed over the years.

Animation history is like detective work sometimes. It's fun.

1 comment:

eLmULiX said...

I dont not why but, tonight I remembering a film with kitchen utensils, eggs, knifes, etc in stop motion, I have see that over 80's years, you remember something like that??

I cant find it...

regards from Mexico...