Tuesday, July 14, 2009

SFSFF: Oswald the Lucky Rabbit

The 14th Annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival
Oswald the Lucky Rabbit (1927, 1928)
Sunday July 12 10:30am
Castro Theatre

The morning after my late night with Aelita, I was back for this program of early Disney shorts featuring Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. The program was hosted by Leonard Maltin, clearly a festival favorite, & Leslie Iwerks, the granddaughter of animator Ub Iwerks. The evolution seems to be that Oswald was a rip-off of Felix the Cat, & then Mickey Mouse was a rip-off of Oswald, after Disney lost the rights for the character. Oswald fills a gap between the Alice comedies & Mickey, & I was interested to learn that Disney, under Robert Iger, has since bought back the Oswald series.

Despite their crudeness, these cartoons have a smart-alecky humor that is still pretty amusing. They even make self-referential jokes about being a cartoon. For example, a question mark might appear over a character's head to express surprise. The character can then grab it & use it as a prop for the next gag. It's also clear that the genre has evolved little over the decades. A clever & mischievous little guy triumphs over a bigger obstacle or foe, things end in a chase or rescue, & there's no point other than to have fun.

Donald Sosin accompanied on the piano. His playing evokes a kind of jaunty ragtime. His wife & son were also on hand to sing & provide vocal sound effects. I found their contributions to be distracting, though. These are silent cartoons, & the characters & gags have to express themselves visually. By adding so many explicit sound effects & even voices for the characters, they seemed to want to make these into sound cartoons, which they are not. Mr. Sosin also invited the audience to make its own sound effects, but I did not hear anyone take him up on the offer.

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