Fleischer Studios (1936)

Training Pigeons is a 1936 Fleischer Studios animated short film featuring Betty Boop and Pudgy the Pup.

Betty and Pudgy are on the roof of their tenement building, trying to get her pet pigeons back in their cage. One stubborn bird refuses to return to the roost, despite Betty’s pleas. Pudgy, imagining himself a might hunting dog, attempts to catch the bird, with little success (at one point, Pudgy spots the pigeon on top of a flag pole, and as he tries to climb up the pole, the flag spanks Pudgy). When the pigeon gives Pudgy the slip, the little dog eventually wanders into the forest, where he falls asleep from exhaustion. The pigeon takes pity on Pudgy, and flies him back to Betty’s home. When Pudgy wakes up on the roof, he tears up the picture of the hunting dog in frustration.

Animated by Myron Waldman and Edward Nolan

Mae Questel as Betty Boop

“You come on down! I said come on down, you nutsy-doopsy!”

Betty Boop

Unlike other studios, whose characters were anthropomorphic animals, the Fleischers’ most successful characters were humans. The cartoons of the Fleischer Studio were very different from those of Disney, both in concept and in execution. As a result, they were rough rather than refined and consciously artistic rather than commercial, but in their unique way, their artistry was expressed through a culmination of the arts and sciences. This approach focused on surrealism, dark humor, adult psychological elements, and sexuality. Furthermore, the environments were grittier and urban, often set in squalid surroundings, reflecting the Great Depression as well as German Expressionism.

Salvador Dalí & Luis Buñuel (1929)

Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí present 16 minutes of bizarre, surreal imagery.

Un Chien Andalou is an early surrealist film in which Salvador DalĂ­ and Louis Buñuel collaborated on in order to create a collision of their combined dreams. The Title “Once upon a time” comes across the screen giving us the impression that this will perhaps be just another traditional Hollywood movie, but DalĂ­ and Buñuel are playing with us. They know what the audience expects, but instead of giving us a movie that follows a traditional narrative structure they give us something much more visual and much more stimulating. They make us look and watch with a fascinated mind, and meanwhile the movie itself is making us think. Perhaps the film is a distant reminder of a memory from a past life or forgotten dream locked deep within our psyche. At first glance we are unsure of what exactly we are watching and perhaps many people, particularly in the late 1920s, were highly disgusted by the piece. However, those that found some inspiration in the work of art would use the film as a basis for their own experimental films. Ten to twenty years after the release of Un Chien Andalou, it seems that the film has paved the way for a new generation of experimental filmmakers, such as Maya Deren, Kenneth Anger, and Stan Brakhage, and has influenced many other filmmakers working in the realm of Avent Garde, trance, and other experimental films.

The film begins with the classic eye slicing scene. Instantly we are shown that this is definitely not a traditional film at all. This scene is shown in sequence with a shot of a cloud slicing the moon in half, to which Jean Vigo had said, “Can there be any spectacle more terrible than the sight of a cloud obscuring the moon at its full? The prologue can hardly have one indifferent. It tells us that in this film we must see with a different eye.” I find this interesting because what I get from this is that the night cuts up our waking life. The night is a time when the world falls asleep, but our dreams awaken and become a new reality. In our dreams we do look at the world, ourselves, and others from our minds eye, and we see things as they truly are in relation to our inner selves. The filmmakers grab hold of our attention, and our entire being is glued to the screen. We want to see what happens next. Just then the title reads, “eight years later”. The artistic filmmakers are clearly messing with us now.

For individuals who lack an imagination, this film may seem like an nonsensical rambling of sorts. However, to me the film seems to follow some type of narrative. DalĂ­ had mentioned of the film that, “the pure and correct line of conduct of a human who pursues love through wretched humanitarian, patriotic ideals and the other miserable workings of reality.” So, I guess to me this would mean that throughout life we are in constant search to find our true selves and to find a love that is supportive of that self, but all the while we are bombarded by the issues of the real world, of patriotism, and so forth that we often lose ourselves in a cold and uncaring world. However, on the other hand, Buñuel had this to say about the film, “Our only rule was very simple: No idea or image that might lend itself to a rational explanation of any kind would be accepted. We had to open all doors to the irrational and keep only those images that surprised us, without trying to explain why.” I find this to be a very interesting point of view and believe this is why the film has such a dreamlike quality. This is still true today, but this was something brand new that people had never seen before. Suddenly, people are being shown the inner workings of someone else’s thoughts and dreams. Something that had never been done before.

Perhaps this film was intended to shock audiences, but I feel that it has been a very important and influential work of art. It introduced a new way of filmmaking and it encouraged others to push the boundaries of traditional Hollywood movies. It has also pushed filmmakers and other artists to explore themselves, their thoughts, their dreams, their desires, etc. so that we are able to awaken and inspire others around us. To encourage them to open their eyes and think for themselves. To create the vision we see within ourselves.

– Film analysis written by Tavis Moon (2016)

Wolfgang & Christoph Lauenstein (1989)

Balance is a German surrealist stop-motion animated film, released in 1989.
It was directed and produced by twin brothers Wolfgang and Christoph Lauenstein.

A group of fishermen on a precariously balanced platform fight over a trunk.

The setting is on a floating platform where a group of evenly and carefully placed men live. Each man is aware that the platform is not stable and in order not to fall to their deaths, they maintain a careful balance of weight to prevent the platform from tipping too far and cause them all to fall. This reasonably harmonious understanding is lost when one man pulls up a heavy trunk. In the ensuing struggle, balance is lost in more than one sense.

Fleischer Studios (1930)

Seymour Kneitel along with Dave Fleischer directed this animated short film, but was uncredited.

Screen Songs are animated cartoons featuring the famous “bouncing ball” produced by Max Fleischer and distributed by Paramount Pictures between 1929 and 1938. The cartoons are sing-alongs featuring popular song hits of the day along with the ethnic stereotypes and humor typical of the era in which they were produced. In the 1930s, the series began to feature current popular musical guest stars such as Cab Calloway, Rudy Vallee, and Ethel Merman.

Fleischer Studios was an American corporation that originated as an animation studio located at 1600 Broadway, New York City, New York. It was founded in 1921 as Inkwell Studios, Inc. and Out of the Inkwell Films by brothers Max Fleischer and Dave Fleischer who ran the pioneering company from its inception until Paramount Pictures, the studio’s parent company and the distributor of its films, acquired ownership. In its prime, Fleischer Studios was a premier producer of animated cartoons for theaters, with Walt Disney Productions becoming its chief competitor in the 1930s.

Fleischer Studios characters included Koko the Clown, Betty Boop, Bimbo, Popeye the Sailor, and Superman. Unlike other studios, whose characters were anthropomorphic animals, the Fleischers’ most successful characters were humans (with the exception of Bimbo, who was a black-and-white cartoon dog). The cartoons of the Fleischer Studio were very different from the Disney product, both in concept and in execution. As a result, the Fleischer cartoons were rough rather than refined, consciously artistic rather than commercial. But in their unique way, their artistry was expressed through a culmination of the arts and sciences. This approach focused on surrealism, dark humor, adult psychological elements, and sexuality. Furthermore, the environments were grittier and urban, often set in squalid surroundings, reflecting the Great Depression as well as German Expressionism.

Pete Beard (2020)

This video takes a look at the life and work of British illustrator and author Mervyn Peake.
He was one of the most unusual and distinctive 20th century British illustrators, and although he could be considered more of an acquired taste than others I’ve featured I hope this will create some new enthusiasts among those who’ve never heard of him.

Mervyn Peake was an English writer, artist, poet, and illustrator. He is best known for what are usually referred to as the Gormenghast books. The three works were part of what Peake conceived as a lengthy cycle, the completion of which was prevented by his death.

Jan Ć vankmajer (1982)

Three surreal depictions of failures of communication that occur on all levels of human society.

Dimensions of Dialogue is a 1983 Czechoslovak animated short film directed by Jan Ć vankmajer. It is 14 minutes long and created with stop motion.

Terry Gilliam selected the film as one of the ten best animated films of all time.

Brothers Quay (1984)

The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer is a 1984 British surreal short stop-motion film by the Quay Brothers, an homage to the influential short filmmaker Jan Ơvankmajer.

This early film by renowned animators the Quay Brothers is structured as a series of little lessons in perception, taught by a puppet simulacrum of Jan Svankmajer, whose head is an opened book, to a doll whose head the master empties of dross and refills with a similar open book. Each of the nine segments or chapters “refers variously to the importance of objects in Svankmajer’s work, their transformation and bizarre combination through specifically cinematic techniques, the extraordinary power of the camera to ‘make strange’, the influence of Surrealism on Svankmajer’s work, and the subversive and radical role of humor. Taken out of the context of the original Visions television documentary on Svankmajer, for which they served as illustration/commentary, these vignettes might at first sight seem a trifle bewildering. They ideally need to be viewed more than once before they begin to work effectively as quirky introductions to the Svankmajer universe. Then, however, they emerge as surprisingly charming and delightful excursions into this astonishing (and often deeply disturbing) directors work.” –Julian Petley