The Explanation
(for those who require one)

And, of course, that is what all of this is -- all of this: the one song, ever changing, ever reincarnated, that speaks somehow from and to and for that which is ineffable within us and without us, that is both prayer and deliverance, folly and wisdom, that inspires us to dance or smile or simply to go on, senselessly, incomprehensibly, beatifically, in the face of mortality and the truth that our lives are more ill-writ, ill-rhymed and fleeting than any song, except perhaps those songs -- that song, endlesly reincarnated -- born of that truth, be it the moon and June of that truth, or the wordless blue moan, or the rotgut or the elegant poetry of it. That nameless black-hulled ship of Ulysses, that long black train, that Terraplane, that mystery train, that Rocket '88', that Buick 6 -- same journey, same miracle, same end and endlessness."
-- Nick Tosches, Where Dead Voices Gather

Movie of the Week #5


Bimbo's Initiation
(Dave Fleischer; 1931)

With the release of Richard Linklatter's feature-length cartoon version of a Philip K. Dick novel, I thought it a good opportunity to turn, however briefly, to what is still, to me, the gold standard in animated cinema.

People who apply the term 'Surreal' to films produced in the early 30s by Max and Dave Fleischer are really missing the point. Indeed there are elements that correspond to that swell in the tidepool of European formalism, but to say that it's a defining characteristic (or even an important one) is to, in the same breath, dismiss everything that made their work so unique.

As is plain in even a gem as dark as their 1931 film Bimbo's Initiation, the Fleischers were not following the aesthetic footprints of Old World models, they were running on the freedom granted them by the knowledge that the only restraint on their vision was the limits of their ability. Nothing else accounts for the exhilaration in the center of their finest work. This was a time when popular art accomodated the strange and the unkempt and the lurid and the beautiful far more easily than any point since, a circumstance that brought forth the wild ether in which something like Bimbo's Initiation could be created.

There's more joy and horror in these seven minutes than in all the latter-day cartoon emanations of the last quarter-century.

11 comments :

Richard Gibson said...

Wow, I´d ñever seeñ that, could give you ñightmares....
Ñice summary Tom.

swac said...

It fits in well with the whole Bohemian Grove vibe.

Have you ever seen the Fleischer's silent Koko's World Control? Now that's a wild short.

Andy said...

I remember seeing this at a film convention in London 10 ro 15 years back and beeing so completely blown away. Before then I hadn't realised how of the straight and narrow animation could wander. Fantastic - thanks for the reminder!

peteski said...

nominee for MotW #6
Towers Open Fire, W S Burroughs-Anthony Balch, 1963


do you have a contact email address?

Tom Sutpen said...

Okay . . . my first attempt at catching up with several comments at once, instead of letting them lie fallow (I'm a rotten host, I'll confess):

Richard:

Indeed. Many of the other Fleischers from this period are just as (should I be using this word?) surreal, but none have quite the quality of nightmare about them as this.

Stephen:

You know, I never though of the BG parallel, but it sure enough fits, don't it.

I haven't seen that Koko, however. Is that available?

Andy:

You is welcome!

The Fleischers were recidivist wanderers off the mainstream (which in those days wasn't all that straight or narrow . . . even Disney's films of the period had darker elements to them). I just find it apalling no one has mounted a restoration project on these films.

I remember in Terry Zwigoff's film about Robert Cumb there was a point where the artist says that there hasn't been a decent animated film made since 1940. This and several other Fleischers I could name almost make Crumb's statement sound like an eternal verity.

Peteski:

Hadn't thought of that or any of the other Balch/Burroughs thingmajigs. Thanks for the suggestion!

My email is on me profile.

Mike D said...

amazing stuff - reminds me of an Escher print with its warping of space and perspective.

proof once again that the idea is all-important when it comes to film - not budget and veneer

swac said...

Other Fleischer/Boops have this nightmarish quality, Is My Palm Red?, Snow White and Minnie the Moocher come to mind, but this is certainly a stunner.

Koko's Earth Control isn't on the Koko collection that I have, but it was on a Fleischer retrospective compilation that was hosted by Leonard Maltin. I might have it on VHS somewhere (I think I taped it off an airing on A&E).

Maxim de Winter said...

What an extraordinary... thing. It reminds me of so many other artefacts from the Old Weird America - Laurel and Hardy for one (the peculiar omnipresence of menacing secret societies, like the Sons of the Desert), or Little Nemo comic strips with their flexible Escheresque geometries. Primal and nightmarish with a rubbery sexuality that's most disturbing. I never really got the Fleischer cartoons before so thanks for putting this up!

Professor Batty said...

...I wanna be a member!

werenotdeep said...

I hear Tiger Rag in there.

werenotdeep said...
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