After making my first tour of Europe with Bad Bugs Bunny in 1995, I was asked to come back with more animation programs in 1996. Jack Stevenson suggested I do a “Jazz, Sex and War” cartoon show. I was mystified how these topics would go together, but trusted Jack that there would be bookings for the program. He was right.
See notes at bottom including program notes by Jack Stevenson for the Trickfilm Festival in Stuttgart.
Artist unknown; 1928 Legendary porno cartoon with a boogie woogie piano soundtrack. Bimbo’s Initiation
Max and David Fleischer; 1931 Bimbo in existential Hell. He ends up playing S & M patty cake with Betty Boop.
You’re a Sap, Mister Jap
Max and David Fleischer; 1943 Popeye battles the Japs. Based on a popular WW II song.
Earl Duval; Warner Bros.; 1934 Newlyweds set a hotel afire with their torrid love making. Based on the song from Footlight Parade
Minnie the Moocher
Max and David Fleischer; 1932 Cab Calloway and the sexy Betty Boop.
Lovers In The Woods
Unknown, c1965 A pornographic telling of Hansel and Gretel. What makes it especially interesting is the soundtrack, Sleeping Beauty by Tchaikovsky, is recorded backwards to give it a way out free jazz effect.
Don’t Look Now
Tex Avery; Warner Bros.; 1936 A very funny look at young Satan battling cupid on Valentine’s day all to a snappy melody.
Red Hot Riding Hood
Tex Avery; MGM; 1943 The cartoon characters revolt against a sugary telling of Little Red Riding Hood. It is then changed to a jazzy, sexy version
The Stuttgart Trickfilm Festival flew me to Europe from New York and I continued my tour from there. The most interesting screening of Sex, Jazz and War was at a school in Denmark. It was away from any metropolitan area on an island. I arrived at the school in the late afternoon and was met my the principle. He took me to the campus. I was then taken to the auditorium where I set up the show by myself. I would be the projectionist. I was in the projection booth as the students filed in. I gave my introduction and then went back to start the show. As the first sexually explicit (in a cartoony way) image of “Buried Treasure” hit the screen I had a startling thought: These students were teenagers! I realized that in America if I showed that cartoon in a high school there would be hell to pay. I would probably be arrested and the faculty members who arranged for the screening would never teach again. It would covered on the nightly news and in the tabloids. No one stormed the projection booth demanding that I stop. I sat tight and let it run. At the end of the show I received a nice round of applause. The principle walked me from the theater to my sleeping accommodation. It was a beautiful spring evening with clear skys such as you never see in America. They were a deep blue with stars sprinkled around. It was also quiet, another thing rarely found in the states. I asked the principle if there was any problem showing an explicit sex cartoon to the kids. He gave me a puzzled look and said “No, should there be?”
Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, well before television, the cartoon was a popular supplement of feature films in almost all American movie theatres, and many of the legendary animators such as Bob Clampett and Tex Avery were in their prime. With musical scorings composed by masters like Carl Stallings, the cartoon was experiencing a golden age. These cartoons would continue to deliver joy and delight to young and old alike for decades to come. Many of these cartoons would also deliver something much darker, something much disturbing and insidious. Like the cultural time capsules they were, they would also deliver the hate, the ridicule and the callousness bound up in the racial, sexual and cultural stereotypes of the period – ugly stereotypes of blacks, women, “foreigners” and a host of other minorities which belied the patriotic myth of a “melting pot” society where a man’s race or color did not matter. Many cartoons employed these stereotypes in a lighthearted, jovial and cold-blooded manner, sending theater audiences into gales of laughter.
The onset on World War Two would provide a popular, patriotic and officially sanctioned excuse to target certain ethnic groups with renewed and vengeful vigor. Italians, Germans, and Japanese (and if fact all orientals in general) were viciously lampooned in theatrically-played cartoons that were watched and cheered by many millions of Americans. Japanese were targeted for particularly brutal treatment since in a society where successive waves of Germans and Italians had quietly assimilated, Japanese were always inscrutably “other”. Once the War was over and the wounds began to heal, these often vulgar Wartime cartoons were quietly and permanently shelved by the major studios that had produced them.
This cartoon culture of the 30s and 40s in its extreme incarnations has been shelved, buried, suppressed and willfully ignored by the anthropologists of cinema who have little desire to rerelease the toxic fumes of social hatred and inequity from another time. Yet many of these cartoons, tainted as they are by the mentality of their day, endure as masterpieces of animation from the golden age of Jazz. They are too good to remain buried but perhaps benefit from an introduction which contextualizes them. Other cartoons require stronger warnings, similar to the “talks” preceding screenings of “The Eternal Jew” (Der Ewige Jude). In America where black activists still and forcefully advocate the complete suppression of “Birth of a Nation”, this issue remains fraught with heated emotion as the country struggles to come to grips with its cultural past played out on the movie screen. We must decide if it is better to ignore the past or not – and at what cost.