TCM is showing a bunch of Fleischer Cartoons Saturday


I apologize for not providing more notice, but I only learned about this today. A few months ago TCM redesigned their web site so it’s harder to find stuff on the schedule, and it takes longer to load, and you need to do more clicks to find any information, and less of it is on-screen at once. I’m sure it is helping them drive engagement, though not with me.

The important thing, however, is that on Saturday the 2nd of October, from 8 pm through Midnight, Eastern/Pacific, they’re showing some Fleischer Studios work. They have listed the “Cartoon Carnival”, “100th Anniversary of Fleischer Animation – Part 1: The Silent Era”, and “100th Anniversary of Fleischer Animation – Part 1: The Silent Era”. (This on the United States feed.) The pages offer no specifics about what they’re showing. I assume the first is a documentary and then it’s a selection of cartoons from the 20s and 30s respectively. The Fleischers were a wild studio, reliably on the leading edge of technical ability. They were usually in the forefront of, if not character, at least having funny incidents. I’ve got the DVR set.

In which I’m just having a hard time keeping up with it all


Again, I’m sorry. It’s just that WordPress has decided to force me to use some new, “Bad” model editor to enter these posts instead of letting me carry on using the Classic or “good” editor. And if that weren’t enough strain, TCM went and changed their web site so now it shows much less information, but is also slower about it. I haven’t wanted the new version of any web site since 2004 and I have never met anyone who did.

There are many small things to watch on TCM tonight


I apologize for the late notice; I only learned myself a couple hours ago. TCM (United States feed) is spending tonight showing “Leonard Maltin’s Short Film Showcase”. It’s a bunch of short films, as you’d think. Some of them I’ve seen; some are new to me. Many of them are comedies. There are a handful of travelogues, musical shorts, and dramas too.

Robert Benchley gets a couple entries, with “A Night At The Movies” right around … now, Eastern time. Three hours from now, less about ten minutes, Pacific time. Or, “How To Sleep”, sometime after 5 am Eastern and Pacific. Thelma Todd gets four entries, two of them with ZaSu Pitts. I’d recommend any Thelma Todd or ZaSu Pitts piece sight unseen. Some of the shorts, including at least one Thelma Todd one, star Charley Chase. Chase is an interesting person. In the silent era he was one of the second-tier comedians who kept edging his way up into the first tier, right up until he attempted a movie adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and made basically every choice wrong. That’s not on tonight and you’ll think better of Chase for that. There’s also, somewhere around 12:45 am, “Buzzing Around”, starring Roscoe Arbuckle, about inventing a magic rubber coating that makes things unbreakable. Other miscellaneous things include a bunch of Pete Smith specialties. Pete Smith made a lot of short films, mostly comedy documentaries, all with a reliable American Cornball tone. You’ll either kinda like it or not.

As I say, I don’t know how much of any of this I’ll watch. It is probably good for dipping into as you have ten minutes. One I am warily curious about, and that’s running sometime around 5:20 am, is titled “The Black Network”. The summary: “In this short film, the owner of a shoe polish company sponsors a radio show that showcases black performers”. So this does sound like a chance to see people whose talents were discarded. But, ooh, that mention of shoe polish does not sit well at all. Mm.

Meanwhile On TV


Turner Classic Movies has sometimes been showing cartoons before the Tarzan movies on Saturday mornings. Whoever writes the cable guide summaries described one, airing before Tarzan Putters Around In Manhattan For Some Reason, like this:

Wild Elephinks

In this early-1930s precursor to the cult tv series Lost, Popeye and Olive Oyl find themselves shipwrecked on a… New.

So, Wild Elephinks is not a good cartoon. It’s from early on, before the Fleischers realized that Popeye had a personality. It’s also one of the surprisingly many cartoons that start with Popeye shipwrecked, one of those little recurring things that make you wonder exactly how good a sailor he is. He and Olive Oyl wash up on an island with a bunch of animals on it, all of which Popeye beats up, because what’s more attractive in your hero than punching a mink to death?

I appreciate whoever wrote this caption having a bit of fun given how much nothingness the cartoon’s real premise had. But why do they have to cut off all the TV show summaries that early? Has anyone told the summary writers that they have, like, 130 characters to work with? If they haven’t, why haven’t they? Don’t these summarizers ever go home, check on their work, and realize that everything after the first twenty words was cut off? Does that make them angry? Does that make them sail to a remote island and punch every animal? These are all questions I feel I cannot answer.

Handwriting And How To Cure It


Handwriting was a once-popular way of committing stuff to a written record. For centuries it ranked just ahead of “chiseled into Stonehenge blocks”. But it was slightly behind “made in dry macaroni glued to construction paper” as an informal record-keeping method. It began falling off in popularity with the rise of personal computers, which having risen up to about arm-height were easier to reach. It was lost entirely in 2013 when the new model Glossy Black Rectangle came out.

But handwriting has been lost before. Nothing got written by hand for the two centuries before Charlemagne. The Carolingian Renaissance began when he got people not to stick their hands out the bus window where they might get lopped off. Handwriting also got lost during the Age of Exploration, when it was washed overboard near the Bay of Bengal. And in 1943 handwriting was accidentally left in an unlatched briefcase on the Sixth Avenue El train in New York City. Police and FBI agents were able to recover it, except for the cursive capital Q. The War Production Board immediately issued a “Victory Q”, made of chicory and surplus Z’s. This was extremely popular except that nobody liked it. The prewar Q went back into production in 1954, but old-timers still complain that the new version doesn’t taste anything like the old. What does?

To revive handwriting you need only a few things. Other people can do with more, because they lack self-confidence. First you need a hand. Second you need a write to get written by whoever is in control of the hand. Next you need a writing surface. Third you need a writing implement. You can organize these pieces in any order. The trick comes in the final step. Using the writing surface and writing tool use your hand to write whatever it was that’ll be written at the end. Now that you’ve tried put it aside until you’ve got enough emotional distance to review what might have gone wrong. Here are a couple common handwriting problems:

A big old scribble that turns into the Turner Classic Movies logo.
Figure 1. Actually better than my usual notes. It also made me realize the TCM logo would look a little better if it bowed outward the way Cinerama movie screens did.

Wandering Baseline. In this case there’s no attention given to the lower edges of the letters. They’re allowed to just drift up and down and around and over to the living room to watch Turner Classic Movies’s “Underground” non-classic movies. This can be well-handled by a stronger drum beat. If we hadn’t replaced all drummers with percussion machines. The machines have good rhythm but nothing interesting to write about.

Another big old scribble that turns into a lightning bolt and a 'boom!' and 'Zap!'
Figure 2. Every slinky I’ve ever had, day four. Actually I like how the lightning bolt turns out.

Capital G. Under no circumstance should you attempt to write a cursive G. The last person who knew how to make it has been in hiding since 1998, when she met up with the last person who knew how to make a capital Z. If you need either of these letters you should do as on the right and make a little lightning bolt figure. This will add some vital force to your writing. After coming to life it can stomp around the German countryside. Then it makes its way somehow to the Orkey Islands and the North Pole in a framing narrative everybody forgets about. Most of us will not see such impressive results.

It looks like a bunch of vertical squiggles but there's clearly a + and maybe some kind of 'z' in there.
Figure 3. Baseball lost in the tall weeds.

Kerning. Kerning is the act of making sequences of letters kern. They are best kerned when, in the words of grammar maven E B White, “that’s all they ken kern and kan’t kern no more”. This means something.

It looks like every other Gemini capsule, admittedly.
Figure 4. Gemini IX capsule as photographed by astronaut Gene Cernan during his spacewalk.

Gemini IX. Gene Cernan’s physically demanding 1966 “walk around the world” spacewalk was an ambitious project. It was undertaken without the underwater training experience later flights used. The shortage of handholds and grips made the Manned Maneuvering Unit impossible to test. Furthermore his spacesuit visor kept fogging up. This made for a most frustrating expedition. But it was only the second spacewalk the United States had attempted, and only the world’s third ever. One shouldn’t be surprised by the discovery of operational difficulties.

Bunch of waves that tie onto a dog's foot.
Figure 5. Dog recklessly let outside without a collar and identifying tag on.

Spacing. Here the pleasant, uniform spacing of letters breaks up and descends into a sketch that’s a cute little doggy. This disrupts the flow of writing as the reader will want to toss a ball at it, or maybe just think about dogs instead of the world, for which you can’t blame it. This one handles by adding a little doghouse, so the doggy has somewhere to go while the reader works.

Like before only with a cute little doghouse.
Figure 5A. The dog has a house that itself has satellite TV reception so she’s not doing too badly. Still needs a collar.

This is not all of the common handwriting problems. There are three more of them. If you spot any do send a note to Handwriting Master Command, which accepts text messages. They will be happy to explain how it is all someone else’s fault.

Movie Based On Comic Strip To Be On TV


I’ve mentioned Percy Crosby’s comic strip Skippy in the past. It’s one of the all-time great comic strips. It’s also deeply influential. It was one of the first “thoughtful child” comic strips. It was a model for Charles Schulz, and through Schulz, every other comic strip that tries to be about kids since then. It’s also a rather modern comic strip. It’s funny in the ways that comic strips made after 1950 are funny. It’s curiously like Robert Benchley, whose essays are a touch dated but come from a style of humor that’s still current. It was ripped off by a renowned manufacturer of buttered peanuts.

'Don't ya hate to wash ya teeth every night?' 'Yeh. But I don't mind it so much now, 'cause I had one pulled out.'
Percy Crosby’s Skippy rerun the 13th of January, 2016. The strip originally ran, I believe, the 14th of November, 2014, based on the image date information. (Well, what would you make of “skippy281114” then?)

Why mention all this? Besides that the strip is available and rerunning on gocomics.com, I mention because Turner Classic Movies (United States feed) is scheduled to run it this weekend. Saturday at 7:45 am, Eastern Time, it’s to run the 1931 movie Skippy. The movie stars Jackie Cooper. And in a fair trade, the movie made a star of Cooper. It was directed by Norman Taurog, who’s also renowned for directing The Adventures of Young Tom Sawyer, Boys Town, Young Tom Edison, It Happened At The World’s Fair, and Doctor Goldfoot And The Bikini Machine, because it was 1965 and who even knows from movies anymore.

I can’t say much about the movie’s quality; I’ve never seen it. According to the (sad; meanness to animals involved) article TCM.com has on the making of the movie, it was successful at the time, though the sequel was not. That I could never find a copy to watch before doesn’t necessarily mean much. Early-sound-era films are almost as hard to find as they are to listen to. I mean, there’s bits of The Cocoanuts where it seems sure Groucho Marx and company are saying funny stuff, but who could guess what?

TCM does have a couple of scenes from the movie — three to four minutes each! — online, and I do like what I’ve seen. So, if you read this in time, I recommend setting the video recorder. There’s no guessing when the chance to see this will come again.

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