Sunday, February 20, 2011

THE UNUSUAL SUSPECTS: NATIONAL FILM BOARD OF CANADA

There are certain cartoons, studios and creators that are so universally beloved that to merely mention them in a blogpost insures a zillion hits. Last week I referred to them as 'The Usual Suspects' and although I appreciate them as much as anybody, as time goes by I find less and less to say about them that hasn't already been said, and often more astutely than I could say it.

Instead, here's a salute to a some cartoons that I feel are too often overlooked and under-appreciated; many are from the NFBC, aka the National Film Board of Canada. I was lucky enough to snap up a couple DVDs worth a dozen years or so ago, none of which seem to be widely available any more. Happily, YOU TUBE users step in to fill the gap and provide uploads of some of them.

First up is GET A JOB, by Brad Caslor. This came out around 1985, well before ROGER RABBIT, and it pays a sterling tribute to the golden age of LOONEY TUNES, (particularly Bob Clampett) with impeccable style, clever writing, and drop-dead perfect timing and posing. There's a segment around 6:20
where 'Bob Dog' more than triples in size and it is done with amazingly sophisticated camera work, layout and staging. The 'old-timey' homages are noticeable but lovingly done, and more than made up for with original ideas. Ostensibly an "educational" film, it makes its point with great humor, hectic energy and non-stop kinetic buoyancy. I love this cartoon.


Next is THE BIG SNIT (also mid-1980's), probably my favorite NFBC cartoon. Daft, unpredictable, dark and silly all at the same time, the Scrabble opening even inspired the opening scene of one of the first SIMPSONS (according to my recollection of Matt Greoning's commentary). I suspect the wife character's hairdo might have influenced Marge's coiffure, (though hers also suggests Dr. Seuss as well). Directed by Richard Condie.


SNIT's yelling couple put me in mind of HOT STUFF, by Zlatko Grgic, another "educational" short ostensibly about fire safety from the early 1970's. This one used to show on Chuck Jones' CURIOSTY SHOP (ABC Saturday Morning answer to SESAME STREET) and I met the author and voice star Don Aroli many years later when Chuck Jones was making CHARIOTS OF FUR. The timing and acting (both voice and animation) are quite funny without owing much of anything to previously made cartoons. That alone makes it worth watching. The embed code was disabled, so please copy & paste this link:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ht6lRb8y_AQ

Cartoonists and animators in my age group will recall these films both fondly and readily, but I am surprised how many younger artists I meet have never heard of them. If you haven't--give them a look--it looks like they were done with a lot of talent and love.

UPDATE 2/22/11: YOWP directs us to the NFB online database, which has added many animated titles since I last visited a few years back--check it out for more Canadian wonders... (Thanks YOWP! and Amir...)

20 comments:

Jason Lethcoe said...

These were a big treat for me, having heard about them for years and never sitting down to watch them. Thanks, Will! I feel inspired!

Eric Noble said...

I really enjoyed the Big Snit. That was such a funny and sweet cartoon. I really should find more from The National Film Board of Canada. THank you for sharing these with us Mr. Finn.

Will Finn said...

Glad you liked... I have these on DVD and we watch them A LOT along with several other NFBC favorites on the discs. GET A JOB in particular is very easy to take for granted because it is so antic and silly but I get absorbed by the direction more and more every time--it's a "long" short (10 minutes!!!) but there's not a single wasted frame and it's a sure-footed as the best old studio shorts...

So many unorthodox choices that I love in these: the cat's "man holler" voice in BIG SNIT; the absolute mastery of shifting "space" in GET A JOB and the crisp voices and timing of HOT STUFF...

EVOLUTION (1971) and BLACK FLY (my 6-year old's favorite) are also very good.

Michael J. Ruocco said...

Coincidentally, I sat in on Howard Beckerman's History of Animation class for his first year students last week, and he screened 'The Big Snit'. Got huge laughs from them. I always got a big kick out of that short, and it's really fun to watch it with an audience (especially a fresh one full of people that never saw it before).

NFB shorts are always great to watch. Diverse as they are stylistically or narratively, they all seem to have the same unique charm to them. I guess it's the Canadian sensibility of them.

Brubaker said...

Years ago Cartoon Network used to air something called "O Canada", which was a half-hour block of NFB cartoons. I remember enjoying them, particularly "Get a Job", "Big Snit", "The Cat Came Back", "The Cruise" (directed by John Hubley), and "Bob's Birthday" ('tho CN censored the nudity).

Ah, good times. I have "Get a Job" and "Big Snit" on 16mm film somewhere...

Mike said...

I'd seen the other two previously, and loved them of course. But "Hot Stuff" was entirely new to me. And you're right, it's very entertaining and a great model for timing. Thanks for sharing these!

Amir Avni said...

Great post, Will!

Here's an NFB film that Kaj showed in class, Balablok, about war between balls and cubes: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p5bF0tKwAVU

Just recently watched Chariots of Fur, after I saw clips from it on your reel. Great animation!

Will Finn said...

Thanks Michael, Mike and Charles, and thanks Amir for the link! I don't recall seeing that one before but it's very enjoyable!

Joe Grant once showed me something very similar that he and Dick Heumer proposed at Disney in the late 1940's--warring societies of simple shape people...but it was never produced...

Yowp said...

Will, people can go right to the NFB site and check out what they have. The animation stuff is HERE.

The NFB has also posted the great Keaton short The Railrodder they used to show when I was in school.

Will Finn said...

Thanks YOWP! I'll be adding that to the links list in due time...

I remember when NFB started this database a few years back--the Keaton short was the first thing I watched after hearing about if for decades! Cool!

Perica and Toshke said...

I adore all things by Zlatko Grgic
especially this
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nb5p9QXKNgM

Unfortunately I have no translation

Tim Rauch said...

Thanks for posting, Will. "Get a Job" is new to me - I'd seen clips in 'highlight' reels before but didn't know about the film. Love it! As you said, tight direction and ofcourse mind-bendingly sweet cartoon animation.

Will Finn said...

Perica & Toshke: I love Grgic's BALTHAZAR--these ran on American TV via the aforementioned CURIOSITY SHOP show in the early 1970's. The narration was re-written in the first person and I suspect Mr. Aroli had a hand in the writing...i remember they were very witty. They dubbed his inventing machine 'Regus Patoff", a pun on the US Trade Mark emblem "Reg. US Pat. Off." ('Registered with the US Patent Office"). The cartoon was "hosted" by a faithfully reproduced puppet of the Baron built by L.A. puppeteering legend Bob Baker and voiced (I believe) by the late Bob Holt ("Avatar" in Bakshi's WIZARDS). Unfortunately I don't think any copies of this US version exists any more... Thanks for this link...

According to a friend of mine who went to Sheridan Animation school in the 1980's, Mr. Grgic taught there and was well liked...

Tim Rauch-- glad to know you liked GET A JOB as much as I do: the familiar "Hollywood" style of the cartoon is deceptive indeed because the sense of momentum and invention are leagues above typical comedy direction...

Ryan said...

Great post. I really love those NFB cartoons. Seeing them as a kid really opened my eyes to the possibilites of animation.

The Cat Came Back was always my favorite. It's such a simple, one-joke film, but it cracks me up every time I see it. The Big Snit is a favorite as well.

warren said...

Hey Will!

Check it out - all the info I could piece together on Brad Caslor - still working up the nerve to call someone who may or may not be him for an interview:

showcase: Brad Caslor

warren said...

Oh, and Zlatko's a favourite director of mine, too! And Don Arioli a favourite writer/storyman...

I think you might like this post.

Will Finn said...

Thanks Warren! My blog runneth over!

Chris Sobieniak said...

Here's me spilling the blog over the kitchen floor!

Perica & Toshke: I love Grgic's BALTHAZAR--these ran on American TV via the aforementioned CURIOSITY SHOP show in the early 1970's. The narration was re-written in the first person and I suspect Mr. Aroli had a hand in the writing...i remember they were very witty. They dubbed his inventing machine 'Regus Patoff", a pun on the US Trade Mark emblem "Reg. US Pat. Off." ('Registered with the US Patent Office"). The cartoon was "hosted" by a faithfully reproduced puppet of the Baron built by L.A. puppeteering legend Bob Baker and voiced (I believe) by the late Bob Holt ("Avatar" in Bakshi's WIZARDS). Unfortunately I don't think any copies of this US version exists any more... Thanks for this link...

While that may be true, a different English version exists that I remember seeing in the early 80's on Nickelodeon's "Pinwheel" series (which was also a treasure trove for a lot of Euro-trash toons). I have several episodes of this on 16mm myself, though I had gotten word from a video company in Italy that had painstakingly restored the series for a DVD release I thought looked pretty OK from an example you can see here...
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QEAsY2Cgefw
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fMZKky5LZl4
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ORmG6alamDk

God, what wonderful creativity.

Some years later subsequent Balthazar episodes were made, though they tend to not use narration at all as in previous episodes like these...
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4rmGlApjMKs
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iUVUCemKcg8
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OZHvfc9iknQ

According to a friend of mine who went to Sheridan Animation school in the 1980's, Mr. Grgic taught there and was well liked...

I know an animator who had him as his teacher too.

Too bad I didn't came here earlier to remind you of NFB's site as well, watched a few like Hot Stuff up there already. They're at least continuing to add more periodically. Here's a few faves of mine!
http://www.nfb.ca/film/blowhard
http://www.nfb.ca/film/what_on_earth
http://www.nfb.ca/film/the_house_that_jack_built
http://www.nfb.ca/film/spinnolio

SCOTT CAPLE said...

Us humble canandians love it when you Americans discover a bit of our culture. s'ok, will, you are an honorary canadian in my book, you got the humble just right... NFB has been putting out stuff for donkey's years, in fact, i've forgotten most of it, so great to see some old friends here....ok, now how about What On Earth, Great Toy Robbery, or the Why Wait for Spring Do It Now ads....

Landon Kemp said...

My brother and I LOVE The Big Snit, and I also really enjoyed Get A Job, though I definitely need to watch it again at some point, as well as Hot Stuff, which I do need to see at some point. However, my personal favorite NFB film would probably have to be Cordell Barker's The Cat Came Back. The timing, energy, and brisk pacing of that short still floors me.

Great post, by the way. The National Film Board of Canada's animated shorts are creative and inspiring works that deserve the love they get.