Watch Tom Waits For No One, the Pioneering Animated Music Video from 1979

Tom Waits For No One, above, is sure­ly the only film in his­to­ry to have won an Oscar for Sci­en­tif­ic and Tech­ni­cal Achieve­ment for its cre­ator and a first place award at the Hol­ly­wood Erot­ic Film and Video Fes­ti­val.

Direc­tor John Lamb and his part­ner, Bruce Lyon also deserve recog­ni­tion for their taste in source mate­r­i­al. Singer Tom Waits’ “The One That Got Away” is about as cool as it gets, and the ani­mat­ed Waits is a dead ringer for his then-28-year-old coun­ter­part, with eyes and chop­pers slight­ly exag­ger­at­ed for max­i­mum effect.

The short was con­ceived as a demo mod­el. Lyon and Lamb hoped to con­vince Ralph Bak­shi, direc­tor of the fea­ture-length, X‑rated, car­toon adap­ta­tion of R Crumb’s Fritz the Cat, to use their new­ly patent­ed “pen­cil pre­view” tech­nique on an upcom­ing project. The result is def­i­nite­ly more provoca­tive than the non-nar­ra­tive bounc­ing ball videos devel­op­ers would use to show off fledg­ling CGI tech­niques a decade or so lat­er.

A por­tion of raw footage shows Waits and exot­ic dancer Don­na Gordon—who had pre­vi­ous­ly appeared in John Cas­savetes’ The Killing of a Chi­nese Book­ie—slink­ing around a large­ly bare sound­stage. The crew amassed 13 hours of video that were whit­tled down to 5,500 Roto­scoped frames. These were indi­vid­u­al­ly re-drawn, inked, and hand-paint­ed onto cel­lu­loid acetate.

Gor­don, whose ani­mat­ed look appears to have exert­ed quite an influ­ence on the fol­low­ing decade’s car­toon femme fatale, Jes­si­ca Rab­bit, rec­ol­lect­ed that her co-star was “very nice, shy and qui­et” and that he smelled strong­ly of cig­a­rettes and booze.

Just as Gordon’s fan­ta­sy strip­per elud­ed the ani­mat­ed Waits, this inno­v­a­tive film failed to find dis­tri­b­u­tion, and with­out com­mer­cial release, it sank into obscu­ri­ty.

(I invite Waits fans to join me in imag­in­ing an alter­nate uni­verse, in which it becomes the great­est Sat­ur­day morn­ing car­toon ever, pro­vid­ing morn­ing-after com­fort to a very par­tic­u­lar breed of hun­gover ear­ly-80s nighthawks.)

Relat­ed Con­tent:

A Fan-Made Film Recon­structs an Entire Tom Waits Con­cert from His “Glit­ter and Doom Tour” (2008)

Tom Waits’ Many Appear­ances on David Let­ter­man, From 1983 to 2015

Tom Waits Names 14 of His Favorite Art Films

Tom Waits Makes a List of His Top 20 Favorite Albums of All Time

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday

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