"Thank God for film archivist Dennis Nyback. If not for his encyclopedic knowledge of rare films and his tenacity for acquiring them, we would never have the privilege to view some astounding works of cinema." Kim Morgan

Dennis Nyback takes his films around the world. Find out how to book a show, what programs are available, how to arrange for custom programming, and just about anything you would like to know about Dennis Nyback.

2003 South Korea

In 2003 I was a guest at the Pifan Film Fest in South Korea. I also showed films in Japan. Pifan was nice enough to fly me from America, having the flight land in Seoul for Pifan, and then fly me roundtrip to Japan, before coming back to Seoul, for my flight home. Before traveling to Korea I had shipped my three 16mm film programs forward. That was so they could put subtitles that would run on the screen beside my films so the patrons could understand the dialogue. I cannont fathom the cost of that task. Also before I flew to Seoul I prepared remarks that would be translated and included in materials given to those attending. Those remarks are below. I should also add that the only time I am sure I was mentioned in the International Herald Tribune, was in an article about Pifan.

Below is the requested general introduction for my three programs.  The titles for the three programs are:  Hillibillies in Hollywood;  The Blaxploitation Cartoon Special; and The Open Road. 

My three programs would seem to have no connecting theme, but oddly enough they do. They all deal with myth and reality. All of these films reflect beliefs. They reflect attitudes. Most of them are at least fifty, and some are nearly one hundred , years old. Most of the film makers were naive in their willingness to document their point of view, little thinking that fifty to a hundred years later we would be examining it. The three topics they examine from these films from the past are: Hillbillies, Black People, and The Open Road.

The Hillbilly is as much of a myth of Americana as the noble Redman, the shiftless darkie, Billy the Kid, Custer’s Last Stand, and other icons that started out based on certain beliefs, facts or events and grew up into out and out legends. Every American has a basic vision of a Hillbilly. They come from “the Hills” of Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, or who knows else where. They never went to school, live in shacks with no indoor plumbing, are missing teeth, in-bred, make their living by producing “moonshine” illegal liquor, and find no greater joy than killing their neighbors who they have been in a “feud” with for several generations. This vision was enhanced with the coming of motion pictures. Americans could see “real life” Hillbillies appearing on film. They could also see Hollywood actors portraying “real life” Hillbillies. They couldn’t tell the difference. They didn’t care either. In the 1960’s people in regions of the United States other than Appalachia started noticing Hillbilly tendencies in groups of people around them. Not living in the hills they needed a new term to describe the hillbilly like people among them. In different places these people were called Shit Kickers, Hayseeds, White Trash, and Red Necks.

During the 2000 American presidential campaign Karl Rove made the audacious decision to capitalize on George Bush’s mis-use of the English language. He recognized that in the minds of the average voter it would compare favorably with Al Gore’s erudite correctness. Could this have been the crucial act that led to the election of President George Bush? Karl Rove realized something that any huckster, con man or quack medicine purveyor knew: you can’t con the rubes by appearing smarter than they are. Karl Rove realized that by making George Bush appear as stupid as the average American he had the key to victory. Karl Rove clearly had his finger on the pulse of the Hillbillying of America.

Milton Bartok was a successful medicine show spieler. The medicine show flourished during the late 19th and early part of the 20th centuries. The medicine troup would come to town, put on a free show, and sell patent medicines to the hicks. They preyed on an uneducated public in small town America who thought they could buy good health in bottle. Bartok saw the danger in being too articulate before a crowd. He developed a hesitant style to avoid being labeled a confidence man. “The smooth talkers put the people on guard, ” he said. ” ‘He’s a sharpie; he’s a smooth talker’ — once you hear that you’re done.” It is doubtful that Karl Rove was aware of Milton Bartok. Millions of con men who came after him practiced the same con. Television upped the stakes. Instead of a horse and wagon medicine show arriving in a small town, the medicine show now arrived in every home in America that had a TV set. It was no longer Milton Bartok selling Kickapoo Joy Juice and Lydia Pinkham pills, it was Clem Kadiddlehopper selling Anicin, Ex-Lax and NoDoz.

Among the most famous Hillbillies in America were two Hollywood creations: Ma and Pa Kettle and The Beverly Hillbillies. Ma and Pa Kettle first appeared in the motion picture The Egg and I in 1946. They went on to appear in nine Ma and Pa Kettle films. The Beverly Hillbillies first appeared on TV in 1962. By market share it was the most popular television show of the 1960’s. It ran through 1971. At the same time Red Skelton could be seen once a week in the guise of his most popular creation, the hayseed hick, Clem Kadiddlehopper. The Red Skelton Show was a Tuesday night staple from 1954 to 1970. Eddie Albert tried to get in touch with the Hillbilly ethic by buying a farm in the popular Green Acres which lasted for six seasons from 1965 to 1971. Another show that was spun off Beverly Hillbillies was Petticoat Junction in which a country widow operated a down home hotel with her daughters in the aptly named town of Hooterville. Just to fill out the 1960’s obsession with the Hillbilly we also saw Mayberry R.F.D., The Jim Nabors Hour and Hee Haw. It is not even a reach to say that Archie Bunker, patriarch of the most watched family of the 70’s, was tainted with Hillbillyism in his unashamed bigotry. Motion pictures also got with the program by showing rednecks, hillbillies and rubes in Easy Rider, Deliverance, Midnight Cowboy and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Currently in the works at CBS is a new reality show based on the Beverly Hillbillies where we can see genuine yokels living among the rich folk. Fox TV reacted to that that by announcing a reality version of Green Acres.

Black People in America have long been the victim of discrimination. The discrimination was been based on stereotypical beliefs that had no basis on fact. Those beliefs included: lack of intelligence, lack of a work ethic and a lack of morals; they included a weakness for gambling, chicken stealing and watermelon eating; they included a gift for athletics, dancing and music. Films from the first half of the twentieth century document those stereotypical beliefs. You can see some of the greatest people of the century portrayed in degrading ways. Billie Holiday plays a maid in her only feature film. Louis Armstrong performs wearing a leopard skin in another. Ethel Waters appeared in the film “Rufus Jones For President” that is a compendium of racist beliefs. Bessie Smiths only film appearance is as the victim of a black gigolo. Bill Robinson plays an Uncle Tom to Shirley Temple. Paul Robeson plays an illiterate dock worker in Show Boat. Cartoons from the same era show all of the same stereotypes but do so in an even more exaggerated fashion.

The open road has long been, right up there with “The American Dream” , one of the greatest myths in the great big U S of A. It has been used to sell Automobiles to people who never drive them out of the city. It has been used to sell “high test” gasoline, all weather tires, and AAA memberships. It makes buyers add thousands of dollars in options for their new car such as four wheel drive, a trailer hitch, a heavy duty suspension trailer package, and a global positioning navigation system. This is all bought by people who havent taken more than a three day vacation in years. No matter how shitty your life can be the road offers you the chance to escape. Just get out on the high way and your cares are left behind. Everything is better. When you return from the road: you will magically have a better job, a better future, and a better life. You will meet colorful people who treat you like a friend. You will stay in quaint motels with real character and incredibly comfortable beds. You will taste the toothsome flavors of regional cuisine. You will discover two lane back roads through virginal forests or along mountain tops. You will see wondrous sights and new things.

What is the reality? You never get off the interstate. and you will see MacDonalds, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut where ever you go. You will use your credit cards exclusively and return home even more in debt than you started. Every motel you stay at looks the same and the ones that look different are too terrifying to approach. You will spend more time in your car driving than out of it experiencing life.

Here is a longer (350 word) introduction for the Blaxpo cartoons.  It can replace the shorter introduction I sent earlier.

Just as black people were marginalized in American society for most of the twentieth century their appearances in films were almost completely in stereotypical roles and in subservient positions. With rare exceptions the only roles available to black actors and actresses in 1930’s Hollywood were as chauffeurs, porters, toilet attentendants, maids, butlers, shoe shine boys, elevator operators and criminals. The history of blacks in narrative motion pictures has been discussed and documented at length in scores of books, articles and documentary films. The history of their appearances in cartoons has been largely ignored. There is no single book examining blacks in animation. There has been no documentary film or television special. The most interesting collection on film was at the end of Spike Lee’s feature film “”Bamboozled” where he assembled as many racist and stereotypical images as he could find and edited them into a dazzling collage of forbidden history. Much of the footage was from cartoons, several of which will be in my program. I use the word forbidden advisedly. Many of these examples of stereotypical racism are unseen by modern Americans. The most egregious scenes have been deleted from many narrative films. The situation is even more extreme with animation. Offensive images were removed from cartoons starting in the 1950’s. In 1968 Warner Brothers banned eleven of their own cartoons. They announced that they would no longer show them or allow them to be shown. Other studios followed suit. Oddly enough, the films were kept under copyright, probably to maintain control and to suppress them. During the last thirty years many more cartoons have been edited or suppressed completely. The suppression of these films and cartoons has two results. It does protect minority groups from being stigmatize and hurt. It also erases from history the truth about Americas attitudes about race. This program shows images of blacks in animation from the earliest days of the medium into the post war period of the late 1940’s. It is admittedly an arbitrary grouping, but it does include works by many of the most influential animators in the history of animation.

Professor Bonehead Shipwrecked  (1916) Emil Cohl

Emil Cohl was the first great animator.  He began his career in France and was brought to America in 1915 to teach animation techniques to Americans.  He produced this cartoon there.  It concerns an explorer whose ship sinks leaving him in Africa where he is confronted by African natives.

Mutt and Jeff in One Too Many  (1919)  Bud Fisher

Mutt and Jeff were comic strip stars at the turn of the twentieth century.  In the early teens their comic strip exploits were made into animated cartoons.  In this example Jeff discovers a potion that renders him invisible.  He is assisted by a black man.

Love in Black and White (aka Two Cupids,  Amour noir et amour blanc) (1928)  Wladislaw Starewicz

Starewicz is the all time master of stop motion animation.  He started his career in Russia and moved to France after the Russian revolution.  This cartoon concerns two cupids, one black and one white.  It also features caricatures of silent film stars including Charlie Chaplin and Tom Mix.

Mickey’s Man Friday (1935)  Walt Disney

Mickey Mouse is ship wrecked on an island inhabited by cannibals.  He is befriended by one of them and together they escape. This is a fanciful version of Daniel DeFoe’s novel “Robinson Crusoe” published in 1719.

Streamlined Robinson Crusoe (1938)  Paul Terry

Another version of the Crusoe story.  Paul Terry was an animation pioneer who created nearly one thousand cartoons in a career that started in 1915 and lasted until 1966.

The Rasslin Match  (1934)  Van Beuren

The two white actors Charles Correll and Freeman Gosden became famous in the late 1920’s with their radio show Amos and Andy.  They portrayed a white person’s view of black men in a broad stereotypical manner.  They were so popular that cartoons with Correll and Gosden supplying  the voices to go with  animated versions of their radio creation. The Amos and Andy radio lasted into the 1950s’ and then moved over to television with actual black actors playing the parts of Amos and Andy.  In this program there are examples of the works of most of the great animation studios of the 1930’s.  The least remembered of them in the studio of Amadee Van Beuren. His studio produced animation from 1928 until his death in 1937.

Toyland Broadcast  (1934)  Rudolf Ising

Rudolf Ising worked with Walt Disney in the early days of the Disney  company.  He and Hugh Harman split from Disney to make cartoons by themselves.  They called their company Harman and Ising.  This cartoon is about a little boy who falls asleep and dreams that his toys come to life as famous radio stars in his room.  Among the radio stars are black performers. 

The Old House  (1936)  Hugh Harman

After leaving Disney, Harman and Ising went to work for Warner Brothers, making that company’s first animated cartoons.  There they created the character of Bosko.  When Harman and Ising left Warner Brothers they retained the rights to the name Bosko but not the animated figure.  They created an all new Bosko, turning him into a black child.  In this cartoon he and his friend Honey venture into a haunted house.

Uncle Tom’s Cabana (1947) Tex Avery

Uncle Tom was created by Harriet Beecher Stowe in her 1852 novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  It is a  a seminal work of American literature.  The phrase “an uncle tom” became a derogative term for subservient black men.  Tex Avery made two cartoons lampooning the story.  The first was at Warner Brothers in 1937 as Uncle Tom’s Bungalow.  He left Warners in 1942 and moved over to MGM.  There in 1947 he revisited the story with this imaginative version.

Liza On The Ice  (1941)  Walter Lantz

In Uncle Tom’s Cabin there were other characters interacting with Uncle Tom.  Among them were Liza, Silas Legree and Little Eva.  This cartoon tells a story from the book featuring those characters in a shocking and imaginative manner.

Tin Pan Alley Cats (1943) Bob Clampett

In 1943 Bob Clampett was visited by the pioneering black choreographer Katherine Dunham.  She suggested that he make an all black character cartoon.  Black character cartoons had been common in the 1930’s but had been largely abandoned because of claims of racicsm.  That year he produced two all black cast cartoons.  This was one of them.  It uses a caricature of the piano player Fats Waller in the story of a jazz man who is blasted into a surreall world through hot jazz music.  For the surreal world Clampett reused footage from his 1937 cartoon Porky in Wackyland.

Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs (1943)  Bob Clampett

This is the other of Bob Clampett’s two 1943 race cartoons.  It is a parody of Disney’s Snow White set in Harlem.  It has been discussed at length in such books as The Fifty Greatest Cartoons and in various other places.  It has been touted as a work of genius and dismissed as racist trash.