4 Franz Kafka Animations: Watch Creative Animated Shorts from Poland, Japan, Russia & Canada

Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guat­tari thought of Kaf­ka as an inter­na­tion­al writer, in sol­i­dar­i­ty with minor­i­ty groups world­wide. Oth­er schol­ars have char­ac­ter­ized his work—and Kaf­ka him­self wrote as much—as lit­er­a­ture con­cerned with nation­al iden­ti­ty. Aca­d­e­m­ic debates, how­ev­er, have no bear­ing on how ordi­nary read­ers, and writ­ers, around the world take in Kafka’s nov­els and short sto­ries. Writ­ers with both nation­al and inter­na­tion­al pedi­grees such as Borges, Muraka­mi, Mar­quez, and Nabokov have drawn much inspi­ra­tion from the Czech-Jew­ish writer, as have film­mak­ers and ani­ma­tors. Today we revis­it sev­er­al inter­na­tion­al ani­ma­tions inspired by Kaf­ka, the first, above by Pol­ish ani­ma­tor Piotr Dumala.

Trained a sculp­tor, Dumala’s tex­tur­al brand of “destruc­tive ani­ma­tion” cre­ates chill­ing, high con­trast images that appro­pri­ate­ly cap­ture the eerie and unre­solved play of light and dark in Kafka’s work. The Pol­ish artist’s Franz Kaf­ka (1992) draws on scenes from the author’s life, as told in his diaries.

Next, watch a very dis­ori­ent­ing 2007 Japan­ese adap­ta­tion of Kafka’s “A Coun­try Doc­tor” by ani­ma­tor Koji Yama­mu­ra. The sound­track and monot­o­ne Japan­ese dia­logue (with sub­ti­tles) effec­tive­ly con­veys the tone of the sto­ry, which John Updike described as “a sen­sa­tion of anx­i­ety and shame whose cen­ter can­not be locat­ed and there­fore can­not be pla­cat­ed; a sense of an infi­nite dif­fi­cul­ty with things, imped­ing every step.” Read the orig­i­nal sto­ry here.

Russ­ian-Amer­i­can team Alexan­der Alex­eieff and Claire Park­er cre­at­ed the 1963 ani­ma­tion above using a “pin­screen” tech­nique, which pho­tographs the three-dimen­sion­al move­ment of hun­dreds of pins, mak­ing images from real light and shad­ow. We’ve pre­vi­ous­ly writ­ten on just “how demand­ing and painstak­ing an effort” the ani­ma­tors made to cre­ate their work. Their pre­vi­ous efforts got the atten­tion of Orson Welles, who com­mis­sioned the above short as a pro­logue for his Antho­ny Perkins-star­ring film ver­sion of The Tri­al. And yes, that voice you hear nar­rat­ing the para­ble “Before the Law,” an excerpt from Kafka’s nov­el, is Welles him­self.

Kafka’s most famous sto­ry, The Meta­mor­pho­sis, inspired Cana­di­an ani­ma­tor Car­o­line Leaf’s 1977 film above. Leaf’s Kaf­ka ani­ma­tion also takes a sculp­tur­al approach to the author’s work, this time sculpt­ing in sand, a medi­um Leaf her­self says cre­at­ed “black and white sand images” with “the poten­tial to have a Kaf­ka-esque feel—dark and mys­te­ri­ous.” How­ev­er we inter­pret the con­tent of Kafka’s work, the feel of his sto­ries is unmis­tak­able to read­ers and inter­preters across con­ti­nents. It’s one that con­sis­tent­ly inspires artists to use a spare, high con­trast style in adapt­ing him.

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Relat­ed Con­tent:

Vladimir Nabokov (Chan­nelled by Christo­pher Plum­mer) Teach­es Kaf­ka at Cor­nell

Hunter S. Thomp­son and Franz Kaf­ka Inspire Ani­ma­tion for a Book­store Ben­e­fit­ing Oxfam

Kafka’s Famous Char­ac­ter Gre­gor Sam­sa Meets Dr. Seuss in a Great Radio Play

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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The Origins of Anime: Watch Early Japanese Animations (1917 to 1931)

Japan­ese ani­ma­tion, AKA ani­me, might be filled with large-eyed maid­ens, way cool robots, and large-eyed, way cool maiden/robot hybrids, but it often shows a lev­el of dar­ing, com­plex­i­ty and cre­ativ­i­ty not typ­i­cal­ly found in Amer­i­can main­stream ani­ma­tion. And the form has spawned some clear mas­ter­pieces from Kat­suhi­ro Otomo’s Aki­ra to Mamoru Oishii’s Ghost in the Shell to pret­ty much every­thing that Hayao Miyaza­ki has ever done.

Ani­me has a far longer his­to­ry than you might think; in fact, it was at the van­guard of Japan’s furi­ous attempts to mod­ern­ize in the ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry. The old­est sur­viv­ing exam­ple of Japan­ese ani­ma­tion, Namaku­ra Gatana (Blunt Sword), dates back to 1917, though much of the ear­li­est ani­mat­ed movies were lost fol­low­ing a mas­sive earth­quake in Tokyo in 1923. As with much of Japan’s cul­tur­al out­put in the first decades of the 20th Cen­tu­ry, ani­ma­tion from this time shows artists try­ing to incor­po­rate tra­di­tion­al sto­ries and motifs in a new mod­ern form.

Above is Oira no Yaku (Our Base­ball Game) from 1931, which shows rab­bits squar­ing off against tanukis (rac­coon dogs) in a game of base­ball. The short is a basic slap­stick com­e­dy ele­gant­ly told with clean, sim­ple lines. Rab­bits and tanukis are main­stays of Japan­ese folk­lore, though they are seen here play­ing a sport that was intro­duced to the coun­try in the 1870s. Like most silent Japan­ese movies, this film made use of a ben­shi – a per­former who would stand by the movie screen and nar­rate the movie. In the old days, audi­ences were drawn to the ben­shi, not the movie. Aki­ra Kurosawa’s elder broth­er was a pop­u­lar ben­shi who, like a num­ber of despon­dent ben­shis, com­mit­ted sui­cide when the pop­u­lar­i­ty of sound cin­e­ma ren­dered his job obso­lete.

Then there’s this ver­sion of the Japan­ese folk­tale Kobu-tori from 1929, about a woods­man with a mas­sive growth on his jaw who finds him­self sur­round­ed by mag­i­cal crea­tures. When they remove the lump, he finds that not every­one is pleased. Notice how detailed and uncar­toony the char­ac­ters are.

Anoth­er ear­ly exam­ple of ear­ly ani­me is Ugok­ie Kori no Tate­hi­ki (1931), which rough­ly trans­lates into “The Mov­ing Pic­ture Fight of the Fox and the Pos­sum.” The 11-minute short by Ikuo Oishi is about a fox who dis­guis­es him­self as a samu­rai and spends the night in an aban­doned tem­ple inhab­it­ed by a bunch of tanukis (those guys again). The movie brings all the won­der­ful grotes­queries of Japan­ese folk­lore to the screen, drawn in a style rem­i­nis­cent of Max Fleis­ch­er and Otto Mess­mer.

And final­ly, there is this curi­ous piece of ear­ly anti-Amer­i­can pro­pa­gan­da from 1936 that fea­tures a pha­lanx of fly­ing Mick­ey Mous­es (Mick­ey Mice?) attack­ing an island filled with Felix the Cat and a host of oth­er poor­ly-ren­dered car­toon char­ac­ters. Think Toon­town drawn by Hen­ry Darg­er. All seems lost until they are res­cued by fig­ures from Japan­ese his­to­ry and leg­end. Dur­ing its slide into mil­i­tarism and its inva­sion of Asia, Japan argued that it was free­ing the con­ti­nent from the grip of West­ern colo­nial­ism. In its queasy, weird sort of way, the short argues pre­cise­ly this. Of course, many in Korea and Chi­na, which received the brunt of Japan­ese impe­ri­al­ism, would vio­lent­ly dis­agree with that ver­sion of events.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Art of Hand-Drawn Japan­ese Ani­me: A Deep Study of How Kat­suhi­ro Otomo’s Aki­ra Uses Light

The Aes­thet­ic of Ani­me: A New Video Essay Explores a Rich Tra­di­tion of Japan­ese Ani­ma­tion

How Mas­ter Japan­ese Ani­ma­tor Satoshi Kon Puhed the Bound­aries of Mak­ing Ani­me: A Video Essay

“Evil Mick­ey Mouse” Invades Japan in a 1934 Japan­ese Ani­me Pro­pa­gan­da Film

Watch the Old­est Japan­ese Ani­me Film, Jun’ichi Kōuchi’s The Dull Sword (1917)

Jonathan Crow is a Los Ange­les-based writer and film­mak­er whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hol­ly­wood Reporter, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. You can fol­low him at @jonccrow.


Studio Ghibli Lets You Download Free Images from Hayao Miyazaki’s “Final” Film, The Boy and the Heron

Stu­dio Ghi­b­li fans are still pon­der­ing the mean­ing of Hayao Miyaza­k­i’s The Boy and the Heron, which came out last year. Though by some mea­sure the stu­dio’s most lav­ish fea­ture yet — not least by the mea­sure of it being the most expen­sive film yet pro­duced in Japan — it’s also the one least amenable to sim­ple inter­pre­ta­tion. Even more so than in his pre­vi­ous work, Miyaza­ki seems to have intend­ed to make a movie less to be explained than to be expe­ri­enced. Just as the tit­u­lar young pro­tag­o­nist descends into a bizarre but cap­ti­vat­ing under­world and returns, changed, to real­i­ty, so does the view­er.

If you’ve seen The Boy and the Heron, hear­ing its very title (which in Japan is 君たちはどう生きるか, or How Do You Live?) will bring back to mind a host of vivid images: the rov­ing back of bul­bous-fea­tured grannies obsessed with non-per­ish­able food­stuffs; the pos­tur­ing of the mid­dle-age Bird­man, stuffed into his avian flight suit; the pyrotech­nic feats of the young Lady Himi; and above all, per­haps, the float­ing cas­cades of Warawara, those adorably round spir­its who — in painstak­ing Ghi­b­li fash­ion — appear to have been ani­mat­ed indi­vid­u­al­ly, each with its own per­son­al­i­ty. Now, you can down­load stills from these and oth­er scenes at Stu­dio Ghi­b­li’s offi­cial web site.

These come as an expan­sion to Ghi­b­li’s exist­ing col­lec­tion, pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture, of free-to-down­load images from their library of titles. They’re offered, the site explains, “sole­ly for per­son­al use by indi­vid­ual fans to fur­ther enjoy Stu­dio Ghi­b­li films.” And indeed, they may have no effect stronger than mak­ing you want to watch The Boy and the Heron again, the more deeply to feel what Miyaza­ki intend­ed with his “final” pic­ture. Not that the lat­est of his retire­ments has stuck: last fall, Ghi­b­li pres­i­dent Toshio Suzu­ki report­ed that the octo­ge­nar­i­an Miyaza­ki was back in the office, plan­ning his next film. If he has more realms yet to explore, ani­ma­tion-lovers around the world will sure­ly fol­low him. Find the images from The Boy and the Heron here.

via My Mod­ern Met

Relat­ed con­tent:

Stu­dio Ghi­b­li Makes 1,178 Images Free to Down­load from My Neigh­bor Totoro, Spir­it­ed Away & Oth­er Beloved Ani­mat­ed Films

Hayao Miyazaki’s Stu­dio Ghi­b­li Releas­es Free Back­grounds for Vir­tu­al Meet­ings: Princess Mononoke, Spir­it­ed Away & More

Stu­dio Ghi­b­li Pro­duc­er Toshio Suzu­ki Teach­es You How to Draw Totoro in Two Min­utes

Soft­ware Used by Hayao Miyazaki’s Ani­ma­tion Stu­dio Becomes Open Source & Free to Down­load

Hayao Miyaza­ki, The Mind of a Mas­ter: A Thought­ful Video Essay Reveals the Dri­ving Forces Behind the Animator’s Incred­i­ble Body of Work

Stream Hun­dreds of Hours of Stu­dio Ghi­b­li Movie Music That Will Help You Study, Work, or Sim­ply Relax: My Neigh­bor Totoro, Spir­it­ed Away & More

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

The Evolution of Animation, 1833–2017: From the Phenakistiscope to Pixar

This year has giv­en us occa­sion to revis­it the 1928 Dis­ney car­toon Steam­boat Willie, what with its entry — and thus, that of an ear­ly ver­sion of a cer­tain Mick­ey Mouse — into the pub­lic domain. Though it may look com­par­a­tive­ly prim­i­tive today, that eight-minute black-and-white film actu­al­ly rep­re­sents a great many advance­ments in the art and tech­nol­o­gy of ani­ma­tion since its incep­tion. You can get a sense of that entire process, just about, from the video above, “The Evo­lu­tion of Ani­ma­tion 1833–2017,” which ends up at The LEGO Bat­man Movie but begins with the hum­ble phenakistis­cope.

First intro­duced to the pub­lic in 1833, the phenakistis­cope is an illus­trat­ed disc that, when spun, cre­ates the illu­sion of motion. Essen­tial­ly a nov­el­ty designed to cre­ate an opti­cal illu­sion (the Greek roots of its name being phenakizein, or “deceiv­ing,” and óps, or “eye”), it seems to have attained great pop­u­lar­i­ty as a chil­dren’s toy in the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry, and it lat­er became capa­ble of pro­jec­tion and gained util­i­ty in sci­en­tif­ic research. Pio­neer­ing motion pho­tog­ra­ph­er Ead­weard Muy­bridge’s Zooprax­is­cope, now immor­tal­ized in cin­e­ma his­to­ry as a pre­de­ces­sor of the movie pro­jec­tor, was based on the phenakistis­cope.

The first moments of “The Evo­lu­tion of Ani­ma­tion” include a cou­ple of phenakistis­copes, but soon the com­pi­la­tion moves on to clips star­ring some­what bet­ter-known fig­ures from the ear­ly twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry like Lit­tle Nemo and Ger­tie the Dinosaur. But it’s only after Steam­boat Willie that ani­ma­tion under­goes its real cre­ative explo­sion, bring­ing to whim­si­cal and hyper­ki­net­ic life not just human char­ac­ters but a host of ani­mals, trees, and non-liv­ing objects besides. After releas­ing the mon­u­men­tal Snow White in 1937, Dis­ney dom­i­nat­ed the form both tech­no­log­i­cal­ly and artis­ti­cal­ly for at least three decades. Though this video does con­tain plen­ty of Dis­ney, it also includes the work of oth­er stu­dios that have explored quite dif­fer­ent areas of the vast field of pos­si­bil­i­ty in ani­ma­tion.

Take, for exam­ple, the psy­che­del­ic Bea­t­les movie Yel­low Sub­ma­rine, the French-Czech sur­re­al­ist sci­ence-fic­tion fable Fan­tas­tic Plan­et, the stop-motion between-hol­i­days spec­ta­cle of The Night­mare Before Christ­mas, and of course, the depth and refine­ment of Hayao Miyaza­ki’s Stu­dio Ghi­b­li, begin­ning with Nau­si­caä of the Val­ley of the Wind (which came before the for­ma­tion of the stu­dio itself). From the mid-nineties — with cer­tain notable excep­tions, like Wal­lace & Gromit: The Movie and Char­lie Kauf­man’s Anom­aL­isa — com­put­er-gen­er­at­ed 3D ani­ma­tion more or less takes over from the tra­di­tion­al vari­eties. This has pro­duced a num­ber of fea­tures wide­ly con­sid­ered mas­ter­pieces, most of them from the now-Dis­ney-owned Pixar. But after expe­ri­enc­ing the his­to­ry of the form in minia­ture, it’s tempt­ing to hope that the next stage of the ani­ma­tion’s evo­lu­tion will involve the redis­cov­ery of its past.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Behold the World’s Old­est Ani­ma­tion Made on a Vase in Iran 5,200 Years Ago

Ger­tie the Dinosaur: The Moth­er of all Car­toon Char­ac­ters (1914)

Ear­ly Japan­ese Ani­ma­tions: The Ori­gins of Ani­me (1917–1931)

The Ani­ma­tions That Changed Cin­e­ma: The Ground­break­ing Lega­cies of Prince Achmed, Aki­ra, The Iron Giant & More

The Beau­ti­ful Anar­chy of the Ear­li­est Ani­mat­ed Car­toons: Explore an Archive with 200+ Ear­ly Ani­ma­tions

Ead­weard Muybridge’s Motion Pho­tog­ra­phy Exper­i­ments from the 1870s Pre­sent­ed in 93 Ani­mat­ed Gifs

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Behold Soviet Animations of Ray Bradbury Stories

Sergei Bon­darchuk direct­ed an 8‑hour film adap­ta­tion of War and Peace (1966–67), which end­ed up win­ning an Oscar for Best For­eign Pic­ture. When he was in Los Ange­les as a guest of hon­or at a par­ty, Hol­ly­wood roy­al­ty like John Wayne, John Ford, and Bil­ly Wilder lined up to meet the Russ­ian film­mak­er. But the only per­son that Bon­darchuk was tru­ly excit­ed to meet was Ray Brad­bury. Bon­darchuk intro­duced the author to the crowd of bemused A‑listers as “your great­est genius, your great­est writer!”

Ray Brad­bury spent a life­time craft­ing sto­ries about robots, Mar­tians, space trav­el and nuclear doom and, in the process, turned the for­mer­ly dis­rep­utable genre of Sci-Fi/­Fan­ta­sy into some­thing respectable. He influ­enced legions of writ­ers and film­mak­ers on both sides of the Atlantic from Stephen King to Neil Gaiman to Fran­cois Truf­faut, who adapt­ed his most famous nov­el, Fahren­heit 451, into a movie.

That film wasn’t the only adap­ta­tion of Bradbury’s work, of course. His writ­ings have been turned into fea­ture films, TV movies, radio shows and even a video game for the Com­modore 64. Dur­ing the wan­ing days of the Cold War, a hand­ful of Sovi­et ani­ma­tors demon­strat­ed their esteem for the author by adapt­ing his short sto­ries.

Vladimir Sam­sonov direct­ed Bradbury’s Here There Be Tygers, which you can see above. A space­ship lands on an Eden-like plan­et. The humans inside are on a mis­sion to extract all the nat­ur­al resources pos­si­ble from the plan­et, but they quick­ly real­ize that this isn’t your ordi­nary rock. “This plan­et is alive,” declares one of the char­ac­ters. Indeed, not only is it alive but it also has the abil­i­ty to grant wish­es. Want to fly? Fine. Want to make streams flow with wine? Sure. Want to sum­mon a nubile maid­en from the earth? No prob­lem. Every­one seems enchant­ed by the plan­et except one dark-heart­ed jerk who seems hell-bent on com­plet­ing the mis­sion.

Samsonov’s movie is styl­ized, spooky and rather beau­ti­ful – a bit like as if Andrei Tarkovsky had direct­ed Avatar.

Anoth­er one of Bradbury’s shorts, There Will Come Soft Rain, has been adapt­ed by Uzbek direc­tor Naz­im Tyuh­ladziev (also spelled Noz­im To’laho’jayev). The sto­ry is about an auto­mat­ed house that con­tin­ues to cook and clean for a fam­i­ly of four unaware that they all per­ished in a nuclear explo­sion. While Bradbury’s ver­sion works as a com­ment on both Amer­i­can con­sumerism and gen­er­al Cold War dread, Tyuhladziev’s ver­sion goes for a more reli­gious tact. The robot that runs the house looks like a mechan­i­cal snake (Gar­den of Eden, any­one?). The robot and the house become undone by an errant white dove. The ani­ma­tion might not have the pol­ish of a Dis­ney movie, but it is sur­pris­ing­ly creepy and poignant.

Note: An ear­li­er ver­sion of this post appeared on our site in 2014.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Beau­ti­ful, Inno­v­a­tive & Some­times Dark World of Ani­mat­ed Sovi­et Pro­pa­gan­da (1925–1984)

Enjoy 15+ Hours of the Weird and Won­der­ful World of Post Sovi­et Russ­ian Ani­ma­tion

Watch Dzi­ga Vertov’s Unset­tling Sovi­et Toys: The First Sovi­et Ani­mat­ed Movie Ever (1924)

Watch the Sur­re­al­ist Glass Har­mon­i­ca, the Only Ani­mat­ed Film Ever Banned by Sovi­et Cen­sors (1968)

Jonathan Crow is a Los Ange­les-based writer and film­mak­er whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hol­ly­wood Reporter, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. You can fol­low him at @jonccrow.

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Behold a Surreal 1933 Animation of Snow White, Featuring Cab Calloway & Betty Boop: It’s Ranked as the 19th Greatest Cartoon of All Time

Of the three col­lab­o­ra­tions jazz singer Cab Cal­loway made with cute car­toon leg­end Bet­ty Boop, this 1933 Dave Fleis­ch­er-direct­ed “Snow White” is prob­a­bly the most suc­cess­ful. It cer­tain­ly is the most strange—more hal­lu­ci­na­to­ry than the first in the series “Min­nie the Moocher”, and less slap­stick-dri­ven than “The Old Man of the Moun­tain.” It is a sin­gu­lar mar­vel and right­ly deserves being deemed “cul­tur­al­ly sig­nif­i­cant” by the Unit­ed States Library of Con­gress and select­ed for preser­va­tion in the Nation­al Film Reg­istry in 1994. It was also vot­ed #19 of the 50 Great­est Car­toons of all time in a poll of lead­ing ani­ma­tors.

When she made her debut in 1930, Bet­ty Boop would have been rec­og­niz­able to audi­ences as the embod­i­ment of the flap­per and the sex­u­al free­dom of the Jazz Age that was cur­rent­ly in free-fall after the Wall Street crash of 1929. Only a few years before her pre­miere, Boop would have been the mas­cot of the age; now she was a bit­ter­sweet reminder of a time that had already passed. With a cham­pagne bub­ble of a voice, kiss curls, dar­ing hem­line, plung­ing neck­line, and the ever present garter belt, she was a car­toon char­ac­ter def­i­nite­ly not designed for kids. That her best films are col­lab­o­ra­tions with Cab Cal­loway attest to that. Cal­loway would make sure his Bet­ty Boop car­toons would screen in a city a week or two before he would play a gig. His “advance woman” as he called her helped sell more tick­ets.

Accom­pa­ny­ing her in this film are the Fleischer’s orig­i­nal char­ac­ter Koko the Clown and Bim­bo the Pup, which for this film are sort of emp­ty ves­sels: they pro­tect Bet­ty, they get knocked out, and Koko gets inhab­it­ed by the spir­it of Cab Cal­loway, who then turns into a ghost, all legs and head, no tor­so. (The ghost is ani­mat­ed through roto­scop­ing over Cal­loway’s own film footage.) The Queen, whose talk­ing mir­ror changes his mind over “the fairest in the land” once see­ing Bet­ty Boop, sen­tences her to death, and then chas­es her through the under­world before turn­ing into a drag­on. At the end, Boop and her gang turn the drag­on inside out like a sock, a gross gag not seen again (I’m going to guess) until one of the Simp­sons’ Hal­loween Spe­cials.

In the mid­dle of all this boun­cy, sur­re­al may­hem is Calloway’s ghost singing “St. James Infir­mary Blues,” a mourn­ful tale of a dead girl­friend and the singers plans for the funer­al. The ori­gin of the song is shroud­ed in mys­tery, pos­si­bly a folk bal­lad by way of New Orleans jazz. What­ev­er the source, Koko/Cab sings it to the now frozen and entombed Bet­ty Boop, with the sev­en dwarves as pall­bear­ers. Koko/Cab turns into a num­ber of objects dur­ing his dance, includ­ing a bot­tle of booze and a coin on a chain.

This Snow White does in fact take place dur­ing win­ter and writer Anne Blake­ley makes the case that the flap­per, the snow, the ice, the pas­sage through the under­world, and Calloway’s song allude to a fall from grace, inno­cence to expe­ri­ence, through drug abuse—in par­tic­u­lar the very snowy cocaine. (I mean, could be! But the film is so odd as to refute any defin­i­tive read­ing.)

The ani­ma­tion was designed and com­plet­ed by one man: Roland Cran­dall, pos­si­bly as a reward from Fleis­ch­er for not leav­ing for the sun­ny west coast and the more prof­itable Dis­ney. Cran­dall worked half a year on the project and that’s real­ly what gives it its one of a kind nature. Every ele­ment, whether ani­mat­ed or in the back­ground, has been lov­ing­ly ren­dered. Fore­ground and back­ground fight for your atten­tion, and when the film fin­ish­es, you want to start all over again to see what you missed.

Last­ly, let’s praise the vibe of this film, which places its “star” on ice for half the film, and seems none the worse for it. “Snow White”—four years before Disney’s fea­ture version—is a hypno­gog­ic vision, a half-remem­bered day­dream that takes place while the radio is turned down imper­cep­ti­bly low.

The ani­ma­tion will be added to our col­lec­tion, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More.

Note: An ear­li­er ver­sion of this post appeared on our site in 2020.

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the Notes from the Shed pod­cast and is the pro­duc­er of KCR­W’s Curi­ous Coast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, and/or watch his films here.

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Beethoven’s 5th: Watch an Animated Graphical Score

Stephen Mali­nows­ki is a self-described “Music Ani­ma­tion Machine,” with a pen­chant for cre­at­ing ani­mat­ed graph­i­cal scores. Above, he does his thing with the first move­ment of Beethoven’s Sym­pho­ny 5.

How does he make this mag­ic? Mali­nows­ki writes: “There were a lot of steps; here’s a short sum­ma­ry. I found a record­ing I could license and made the arrange­ments to use it. I found a MIDI file that was fair­ly com­plete, and import­ed that into the nota­tion pro­gram Sibelius. I com­pared it to a print­ed copy of the score from my library and fixed things that were wrong… Then, I lis­tened to the record­ing and com­pared that to the score, and mod­i­fied the score so that the tim­ings were more like what the orches­tra was actu­al­ly play­ing. I export­ed this as a MIDI file and ran it through my cus­tom frame-ren­der­ing soft­ware. Then, I made a “reduc­tion” of the score and col­ored it to match the col­ors I was plan­ning to use in the bar-graph score. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, when I squished the bar-graph score enough to make room for the nota­tion score, too much detail was lost, so I end­ed up decid­ing not to use the nota­tion. Then I put all the pieces (ren­dered frames, audio, titles) togeth­er in Adobe Pre­miere and export­ed the movie as a Quick­Time file. Then, I used On2 Flix to con­vert the final file into Flash for­mat (so that YouTube’s con­ver­sion to their Flash for­mat would­n’t change it in unpre­dictable ways), and uploaded the result.”


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Watch Dziga Vertov’s Soviet Toys: The First Soviet Animated Movie Ever (1924)

Dzi­ga Ver­tov is best known for his daz­zling city sym­pho­ny A Man with a Movie Cam­era, which was ranked by Sight and Sound mag­a­zine as the 8th best movie ever made. Yet what you might not know is that Ver­tov also made the Sovi­et Union’s first ever ani­mat­ed movie, Sovi­et Toys.

Con­sist­ing large­ly of sim­ple line draw­ings, the film might lack the verve and visu­al sophis­ti­ca­tion that marked A Man with a Movie Cam­era, but Ver­tov still dis­plays his knack for mak­ing strik­ing, pun­gent images. Yet those who don’t have an inti­mate knowl­edge of Sovi­et pol­i­cy of the 1920s might find the movie — which is laden with Marx­ist alle­gories — real­ly odd.

Sovi­et Toys came out in 1924, dur­ing Lenin’s New Eco­nom­ic Pol­i­cy (NEP), which gave some mar­ket incen­tives to small farm­ers. Not sur­pris­ing­ly, the farm­ers start­ed pro­duc­ing a lot more food than before, and soon a whole new class of mid­dle­man traders formed — the reviled “NEP­men.”

The movie opens with a NEP­man — a bloat­ed car­i­ca­ture of a Cap­i­tal­ist (who coin­ci­den­tal­ly looks vague­ly like Niki­ta Khrushchev) — devour­ing a mas­sive heap of food. He’s so stuffed that he spends much of the rest of the movie sprawled out on the floor, much in the same way one might imag­ine Jamie Dimon after Thanks­giv­ing din­ner. Then he belch­es rich­es at a woman who is can-can­ning on his dis­tend­ed bel­ly. I said this film is odd.

Lat­er, as a cou­ple of squab­bling Russ­ian Ortho­dox priests look on, a work­er tries to extract mon­ey from the NEP­man by cut­ting his gut with a huge pair of scis­sors. When that fails, the work­er and a pass­ing peas­ant fuse bod­ies to cre­ate a two-head­ed being that stomps on the Capitalist’s bel­ly, which pops open like a piña­ta filled with cash. Then mem­bers of the Red Army pile togeth­er and form a sort of human pyra­mid before turn­ing into a giant tree. They hang the Cap­i­tal­ist along with the priests. The end.

Some of the ref­er­ences in this movie are clear: The work­er’s use of scis­sors points to the “Scis­sors Cri­sis” – an attempt by the Cen­tral Gov­ern­ment to cor­rect the price imbal­ance between agri­cul­ture and indus­tri­al goods. And the phys­i­cal meld­ing of the peas­antry and the pro­le­tari­at is a rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the nev­er quite real­ized dream of the Bol­she­viks. Oth­er images are as obscure as they are weird — the leer­ing close ups of the Cap­i­tal­ist, the NEP­man’s girl­friend who dis­ap­pears into his stom­ach, the rev­o­lu­tion­ary film­mak­er who has the eyes of a cam­era lens and the mouth of a cam­era shut­ter. They feel like some­thing out of a Marx­ist fever dream.

Sovi­et Toys can be found in the Ani­ma­tion sec­tion of our col­lec­tion of Free Movies Online.

Note: An ear­li­er ver­sion of this post appeared on our site in 2014.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch Dzi­ga Vertov’s A Man with a Movie Cam­era, Named the 8th Best Film Ever Made

Watch the Sur­re­al­ist Glass Har­mon­i­ca, the Only Ani­mat­ed Film Ever Banned by Sovi­et Cen­sors (1968)

A Sovi­et Ani­ma­tion of Stephen King’s Short Sto­ry “Bat­tle­ground” (1986)

Jonathan Crow is a Los Ange­les-based writer and film­mak­er whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hol­ly­wood Reporter, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. You can fol­low him at @jonccrow.

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