On the first Tuesday of every month, Jerry Beck– animation historian, producer and co-editor of the fantastic blog Cartoon Brew— takes over Cinefamily for Jerry Beck's Animation Tuesdays. Each installment typically centers around a theme. For August, that theme was dreams.
The main event of the evening was the screening of a 35 mm print of Paprika (subtitled), the pre-Inception anime about infiltrating dreams based on a novel by Yasutaka Tsutsui and directed by the late Satoshi Kon. We're big fans of Kon's work and, admittedly, Paprika was the reason why we made sure we got out of the office early enough to head over to the Fairfax Avenue theater. However, it was the shorts that screened before the feature that helped make the night feel complete. The “pre-show” included the silent film “Dreams of a Rarebit Fiend” (live action), a Little Nemo test film that would surely appeal to Hayao Miyazaki fans, Popeye “Wotta Nitemare,” Little Lulu “Musical Lulu,” Chuck Jones' “From A to Z-Z-Z-Z” and Bob Clampett's “The Big Snooze,” featuring Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd.
“They were really just gut reaction films, meaning ones that I knew were strong in my mind,” says Beck of the evening's selections.
Beck teaches Animation History at Woodbury University, where he says that he must “distill what [the] topic is to the absolute essential films.” With his blog and events like Cartoon Dump and the San Diego Comic-Con staple Worst Cartoons Ever, he will point to lesser-known works. With Animation Tuesdays, he finds a balance between the well-known and obscure.
Beck says that the audience may come to a dream-themed event expecting to see “The Big Snooze,” but he'll “zing” them by pairing the famed Clampett cartoon with something they might not know.
“Maybe you haven't seen that Little Lulu cartoon. A lot of people haven't seen that Popeye cartoon,” he says. “My specialty is to make it not what you think.”
What became quite clear throughout the night was that, regardless of the era in which the work was created and despite it's country of origin, there was a striking similarity in the way animators handled the subject of dreams.
“One thing and it is in relation to some of the films we saw tonight is being in clouds, dreams being in a cloud world and being able to float or fly or be weightless is part of the whole aspect of the dream,” says Beck. “When we sleep, a lot of it is that we think of flying or falling. Falling asleep they call it.”
Beck also mentioned the manner in which filmmakers differentiate daily life from the dream.
“Usually, dream films establish a norm which is very usually realistic, whether it's a silent film or an anime film, a real world, and obviously, the dream world is a contrast to that,” he says.
The idea of a “norm” goes beyond the story we watch on screen, though. Beck discussed this in reference to the “Wotta Nitemare.”
“Fleischer had, by that later period, the late 1930s, so established a norm for what the Popeye series was that they had to put him in a dream to do all the fun stuff that they used to do regularly in these cartoons, having characters heads would be gigantic or stretching their bodies,” he explains. “They used to do that normally, now you had to have an excuse for it.”
Next month, on September 6, Jerry Beck Animation Tuesdays will head back to school with a collection of educational films. Also that night, selections from Cartoon Brew's student film fest will screen.