Betty Boop: Goodbye, Freddie, nice knowing you


I decided to look at another Fearless Fred Betty Boop cartoon this week. I might do one more, at the risk of exhausting his catalogue. This week’s is also Freddy’s last outing, No! No! A Thousand Times No!, originally released the 24th of May, 1935. How could I resist something so close to its 80th anniversary?

As with his debut, She Wronged Him Right, this is a story set in the frame of a theater. It’s not the same theater as in that cartoon, nor in Betty Boop’s Prize Show. So the Fleischers might be recycling general ideas, but not swiping old animation for new cartoons yet.

The cartoon is enjoyable but also confusing. The animation is merry, the story strong and funny. The framing of the stage allows for neat optical illusions and ingenious tricks to suggest how the show might be done on an actual stage. But why have the stage?

The plot is fairly strong and linear. There’s room for a few of the classic Fleischer-y flights of fancy, though, such as the Dick Dastardly-esque villain’s morphing into a wolf, and topping that by putting on a sheep costume. So why did the Fleischers bother with the framing? Why not just declare in the title that it was set in the era of the Spoof Melodrama? There’s some fun in the convention that all this is happening on stage, but several of the jokes, like the inset shots of the diamond ring or the plate of pearl-carrying oysters, would not be visible on stage. They only make sense as inset shots on screen.

I wonder if the Fleischers supposed that Betty Boop was necessarily a contemporary character who couldn’t be tossed into an arbitrary background. Popeye and, to the best of my knowledge, Koko the Clown similarly were almost always set in a contemporary world. If they were to go to medieval times there would be some explicit in-cartoon reason for the diversion. Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves is explicitly set in the contemporary world, and the Popeye cartoon Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp is framed as a screenplay.

Yet this cartoon was released almost a year after Poor Cinderella, in which Betty explicitly plays a character and successfully so. Perhaps, having experimented with the Spoof Victorian Melodrama and this framing device before, they felt the need to stick with it.

It’s a shame because at least part of the dullness of later Betty Boop cartoons is that they got too similar and too routine. Betty could have played a character in a strange setting, especially in fairy tale or spoofs. Why not do more like this?

Hans Richter: Ghosts Before Breakfast


If I speak of that German sense of whimsy it mostly sounds like I’m making a mild ethnic joke. But there is such a thing and for today’s movie I’d like to offer Hans Richter’s 1928 dadaist piece Ghosts Before Breakfast. He directed a series of pieces like this — they turn up on Turner Classic Movies now and then — and they’re just magnificent.

It’s vey easy to do dadaist comedy badly because superficially you’d think it’s just a matter of throwing a lot of nonsense together. This is funny the first time you encounter it and boring ever after. If you put together elements that suggest a narrative — even if they don’t deliver — if they tease the audience by being obviously carefully planned and selected to start sharing a story, though, you can get a great piece like this. It’s whimsical, it’s funny, it’s difficult to summarize without just describing the sequence of images presented. It has hats.

Fleeting Popularities


Well, that was a wasted afternoon. I was looking through the used DVD section in the store and they had 1999’s The Mod Squad under Popular Movies. The staff must get asked about it a lot because they told me to go ahead and put it where I thought it fit. Two ours later I was almost satisfied to just slip it into the Wii Games section, wrapped inside the cover for Nerf N-Strike Elite, but I did feel like that might have been cheating. Finally I went to the candy shelves, arranged it on top of some bags of microwave popcorn and underneath a carton of Milk Duds, asked the lead cashier to unlock the bathroom for me, and snuck out while she was walking through Horror. I just know this will come back to haunt me.

Georges Melies: Going to Bed under Difficulties


The film pioneer Georges Méliès is credited for many things, most prominently, for making astounding films by the simple use of stopping the camera and changing what was on set, and for creating illusions that are still rather jaw-dropping just by exposing the film twice. He’d do this, incredibly, with a hand-cranked camera and simply turned the film back the correct number of cranks before filming the second round of whatever the stunt was. And you can’t even start writing anything about space travel in popular culture without referring to his 1902 A Trip To The Moon.

What he doesn’t get much credit for, despite the awe and wonder and dreamlike enchantment so many of his films inspire, is being funny, so I want to share a two-minute-long short from 1900: Déshabillage Impossible, or, Going To Bed With Difficulties. The premise is simple: the traveller wants to undress for bed. It’s quite simple, and funny in a way that doesn’t show a hundred-plus years of age.

Méliès did pretty much the same film again in 1900 — I believe later in the film, based on the Star Film numbers — to similarly good effect, although I don’t think it’s quite as good. Still, that take, Le Réveil D’un Monsieur Pressé or if you prefer How He Missed His Train, is also fun and only a minute long, so it isn’t asking much of you.