Saturday, July 16, 2011

SFSFF: Laugh-O-Grams from Disney

This morning I saw early Disney animated shorts at the SF Silent Film Festival in a program hosted by Disney historian J.B. Kaufman & film critic Leonard Maltin. The films came out of Disney's Laugh-O-Grams studio in the early 1920s. Though technically primitive, they have a rascally charm, & it is clear that the animators had fun making them. A little boy & his plucky cat are recurring characters. I like how the dialog appears in the air like comic strip word balloons. The Disney formula of recasting well-known fairy tales is there at the start. Walt Disney himself appears on screen at his drawing board in 2 of the films. The audience applauded him as well as 4-year-old Virginia Davis of Alice's Wonderland. This was an early experiment in combining live action with animation, & there is a delightful scene in which a cartoon mouse teases a real cat napping next to the drawing board. The Laugh-O-Grams films never get national distribution, & the studio went bankrupt, prompting Disney's move out West.

The shorts were accompanied jauntily by Donald Sosin on the piano & Mattias Olsson on percussion. Mr. Sosin informed us that the accompaniments would be entirely improvised, & he encouraged the audience to add its own sound effects. Two of Mr. Sosin's young students took over piano duties for 3 of the films. One of them looked like he was 12 years old.

Waiting to get into the theater, I stood in line in front of a lady with a festival pass. She reported that she walked out of the screening of Sunrise on Thursday night, finding the electric guitar accompaniment over-amplified & distracting. She enjoyed yesterday's Huckleberry Finn, with its location shots of Rio Vista standing in for the banks of the Mississippi.

§ Laugh-O-Grams from Disney
Accompanied By: Donald Sosin
San Francisco Silent Film Festival
Sat, Jul 16th 10:00am
Castro Theatre

Newman Laugh-O-Grams (1921)
The Four Musicians of Bremen (1922)
Puss in Boots (1922)
Cinderella (1922)
Jack the Giant Killer (1922)
Goldie Locks and the Three Bears (1922)
Alice's Wonderland (1923)

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