Sunday, 6 June 2010

Following up on Gifford: the 1910s

The second in a series of posts using Denis Gifford's book British Animated Films, 1895-1985: A Filmography to provide a decade-by-decade analysis of British animation's history.

Disclaimer: Although wide-ranging Gifford's book is not perfect. He missed out several films and sometimes provided incorrect dates or crew information. I have done my best to correct any errors which I have found myself repeating in these posts.

By the end of the last decade there were three directors working in British animation: stop-motion animator Arthur Melbourne Cooper, trickfilm director Walter R. Booth and silhouette animation pioneer Charles Armstrong. The 1910 films listed by Gifford are Armstrong's The Clown and his Donkey, Booth's The Toymaker's Dream, and a film from a newcomer - Cecil M. Hepworth's Embroidery Extraordinary, a trickfilm featuring an animated needle and cotton.

More new directors began cropping up in 1911. Stuart Kinder made A Merry Christmas to All Our Friends ("Animated letters from the title phrase as a greeting from the cinema manager to his patrons"), while J.H. Martin directed a complex-sounding film entitled The Little Artists. Gifford quotes a contemporary synopsis from Bioscope:
Two children are shown, one holding a teddy bear, while the other girl sketches on a blackboard, and then the latter is replaced by a frame of canvas to which a thread is attached, which by its own volition forms a star, and in closer view is then seen to take various other shapes - a child's photograph, a lighthouse, Humpty Dumpty before his fall, the Man in the Moon, a picture of a rabbit, and portraits of King George V and his consort, the thread finally tracing the legend 'Au Revoir' with which the film concludes.
The year also saw the release of Booth's Animated Putty, Cooper's Road Hogs in Toyland, and three films by Armstrong (the cinema message Ta-Ta! Come Again, the political satire Mr. Asquith and the Clown, and an advert entitled The Best Cigarette is a Jones).

British animation steadily increased in production early in this decade: Gifford lists three films for 1910, seven for 1911, and thirteen for 1912. In 1912 Booth and Cooper were still active, and there was a new director in F. Martin Thornton. He directed two films that year, In Gollywog Land and Santa Claus (the latter co-directed by R.H. Callum); Gifford identifies In Golliwog Land as the first animated film in colour. The synopses are intriguing:
The gollywog manages to dodge the apples but when the sough covers the basin, six little wogs break through. Then the gollywog gives a conjuring act with flowers, and later goes for a ride in his auto-boot, runs into a rival motorist, and has to amputate his leg. First aid with a vengeance! (taken from Bioscope)

live action/animated toy sequences. Elsie goes to sleep on Christmas Eve and dreams that Father Christmas arrives down the chimney and transforms her into a Tingaling, a fairy. They travel by reindeer sledge to his home at the North Pole where busy little gnomes are making toys for the children, and Santa enlists the aid of Father Neptune to help a sea captain return to his family. (Gifford's own synopsis)
Both films contain animation by Walter R. Booth and Edgar Rogers. 1912 also saw the release of Sports in Moggyland, a stop-motion film whose director is not known. "[I]t is quite impossible after seeing them to believe that these puppets are not endowed with an intelligence which enables them to fully appreciate and enjoy the antics they engage in," reads the Bioscope review. 1913 saw Thornton's assistant Edgar Rogers direct a film himself (The Nightmare of the Gladeye Twins; like Santa Claus it takes place in the dreams of a girl named Elsie, and may be a sequel to that film) but is chiefly notable for the first six films in Max J. Martin's Pathé Cartoons series. This is the first British animated series - unless, of course, you want to make a case for the Elsie films constituting a series...

Harry Furniss in 1912.

And so we come to 1914. Gifford, in the introduction to his book, says that British animation had a boost during World War I thanks to a demand for propaganda cartoons. The first such film listed in the book is Peace and War Pencillings by Harry Furniss, a throwback to the days of filmed lightning cartoonists; the film portrays cartoonist Furniss drawing a peaceful London scene which is disrupted when the dome of the National Gallery turns into the face of Kaiser Wilhelm.

Still from Lancelot Speed's Bully Boy No. 1, which combines live-action lightning cartooning with animation.

After this came War Cartoons by Dudley Tempest; something called Cine War Cartoons No. 1, of which little is known beyond the fact that it was released by R. Prieur; a second Furniss offering, titled simply War Cartoons; War Cartoons by Sidney Aldridge; The Voice of the Empire ("The longest cartoon to date, a full 1,000 foot reel running some 15 minutes" says Gifford; no director is credited); F. Baragwanath's The Kaiser's Nightmare; the first four entries in Lancelot Speed's Bully Boy series (Bully Boy No. 1, French's Contemptible Little Army, Sleepless and Sea Dreams); the five-part Wireless from the War Series, whose director is not named; Charles Urban's The Kineto War Map Series, which would last for 15 films, ending in 1916; Dudley Tempest's British War Sketches, Christmas War Sketches and Merry War Jottings; War Skits by Sidney Aldridge; Dudley Buxton's Proverbs and War Topics (AKA War Cartoons Series 1), War Cartoon Series 2 and War Cartoons Series 3; and finally Studdy's War Studies No. 1, from future Bonzo creator George E. Studdy. It is not entirely clear from the book's synopses how many of these contain true animation and how many are, like the earliest films listed in the book, simply live action films of cartoonists drawing still images.

Not all of the 1914 films were propaganda. Amongst the other offerings of the year were Isn't it Wonderful? (Charles Armstrong's return to animation after an apparent two-year break); films by new directors F. Gandolphi and Louis Nikola; more work from Stuart Kinder and Cecil M. Hepworth; more films from R. Prieur that lack directorial credits; Transformation, which Gifford uncertainly attributes to F. Percy Smith; and the remaining thirty-one films in the Pathé Cartoons series.

The remaining years of the war would see the continuation of Studdy's War Studies and Lancelot Speed's Bully Boy series, which were joined by other topical series: Anson Dyer and Dudley Buxton's John Bull's Animated Sketchbook; Topical Sketch, from the pseudonymous "Say"; Dicky Dee's Cartoons, by Anson Dyer again; Alick Ritchie's Frightful Sketches; Britainnia's Budget, brought to us by Ernest H. Mills of Kine Komedy Kartoons; Raemakers' Cartoons, Jack Dodsworth's films based on Louis Raemakers' illustrations; and Leslie Holland's John Bull Cartoons.

Other films from this period include non-series work from Speed, Buxton, Mills and others; Bruce Bairnsfather's autobiographical Bairnsfather Cartoons; Leonard Summers' Humours of... series (Humours of a Library, Humours of Football and Humours of Advertising); several propaganda films by E.P. Kinsella and Horace Morgan; The Golfing Cat and The Hunter and the Dog, two films by George Pearson made in collaboration with cat-loving illustrator Louis Wain; and some early work by Sidney Aldridge and Victor Hicks.

Slim and Pim.

By this time the American industry had began to create animated series with recurring stars, such as Colonel Heeza Liar and Mutt & Jeff. Towards the end of the war the UK had joined in with a similarly character-based series: Leslie Dawson's Adventures of Slim and Pim, starring two heroes whom Gifford describes as "England's somewhat feeble answer to Mutt and Jeff". In addition, newspaper cartoonist Tom Webster (who had made his animation debut with 1917's The History of a German Recruit) directed two 1918 cartoons starring an animated Charlie Chaplin.

Spick and Span with their creator Victor Hicks

Series films of one variety or another were the order of the day in the final year of the decade: 1919 gave us Dudley Buxton's three-part Cheerio Chums series (about the exploits of ex-servicemen finding work after the war); three Uncle Remus cartoons, directed by Anson Dyer; three Zig-Zags at the Zoo shorts, directed by Ernest H. Mills and based on J.A. Shepherd's illustrations; the three-part Poy Cartoon series, based on the work of caricaturist Percy "Poy" Fearon; and A Geni and a Genius by Victor Hicks, a two-part adventure starring Charlie Chaplin. All of these came from the prolific Kine Komedy Kartoons.

Hicks also made a short called Spick and Span, with two characters who apparently never appeared in any later shorts (Gifford confuses this with A Geni and a Genius in his book) and something called Twice Nightly, which I'm afraid I know nothing about.

The heroes of the Cheerio Chums series.

Two other companies released animated films that year. Lancelot Speed's Speed Cartoons returned to propaganda, apparently for the last time, with Britain's Honour. Bioscope describes the film:
In addition to the heroes who have fought, worked and died in the cause of humanity, we are shown the victims of child labour, bad housing, disease, and other evils, the dragon that preys on humanity and that can only be vanquished by justice, truth, and right, aided by science rightly applied.

The third company is Hepworth Picture Plays, which released four Shakespeare parodies by Anson Dyer: The Merchant of Venice, Romeo and Juliet, 'Amlet and Oh'Phelia. Dyer is the only animator who began work in this decade to have a biography on Screenonline (his Oh'Phelia is covered as well, as is his 1920 film Othello) and will, it seems, be remembered as the key figure of this decade.

A caricature of Anson Dyer, probably a self-portrait. The characters in the top right are, I'm assuming, from his Uncle Remus series.

The 1910s saw animation across the world rise in status from a novel offshoot of filmmaking to an industry. Looking at British output we can see a leap from the three films of 1910 to the multiple animated series being distributed in 1919.

In 1919 the American industry created Felix the Cat, almost certainly the earliest cartoon star to still be a part of popular culture; the next decade saw the debut of Mickey Mouse. How did British animators react to the changes around them? That will be the subject of the next post in this series.

Other posts in this series:
1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8 - 9

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