Koko the Clown in A Trip to Mars (1924)

Still messing around basic techniques in iMovie before I start chopping up my own footage, I thought I’d try adding a new soundtrack to an old cartoon.

There’s no shortage of posts about space travel here at Spectacular Attractions, at least where Georges Melies and his film A Trip to the Moon (something of an obsession of mine) are concerned. This 1924 Fleischer Bros short is certainly a descendent of that movie. Koko the Clown was borne out of experiments with rotoscoping by Max Fleischer. The process involves drawing frame-by-frame animation over live-action reference footage, and represents one of the originating techniques for today’s motion-capture technologies.

The Fleischer cartoons became increasingly sophisticated in their interplays between live action and animated imagery, and usually offered a tricksy variation on the same concept: Max Fleischer is seen drawing Koko, conjuring him ‘Out of the Inkwell’, as the series (and the Fleischer’s production company) would be called; Koko then runs amok, goes on an adventure, before eventually being returned to the bottle of ink and the stopper replaced. It’s a witty recurring riff on the relationship between artist and artwork, as Koko resists his limitations as a simple line drawing, yearning to escape from the flat page on the easel and flee into other worlds. The Fleischers were experts at integrating technical innovations with simple themes and narratives, as they did in the Betty Boop series (the subject of one of the first ever posts on this blog), where Max was more of a flirtatious overseer of his creaion. By the end of this cartoon, you’ll be amazed by how fluidly Fleischer inserts himself into the action in a dazzling finale that echoes the race around Saturn’s rings in R.W. Paul’s The ? Motorist (1906)

I’ve set this short cartoon to music by Michael Nyman. When looking for a soundtrack, I wanted to avoid the usual jaunty piano accompaniment that usually gets tacked onto this sort of thing: I wanted something a bit more surging and epic (plus, I couldn’t figure out how to re-attach the original soundtrack in iMovie: hey, I’m still a novice at this…). I hope you like it, and I hope it’s an improvement on some of the very fuzzy copies of the Inkwell films floating around on YouTube: if you want more, plus documentaries about the Fleischer Bros and their studios, I’d recommend investing in the DVD boxset from Inwell Images, Inc., from which this cartoon is an excerpt. I will follow this one in due course with another Fleischer treat, Koko in 1999, to which I’ve added music by Stereolab and Shonen Knife. You can view or sign up for my YouTube channel here.

4 thoughts on “Koko the Clown in A Trip to Mars (1924)

  1. That was tasty! Nyman certainly emphasised the spirit of roving adventure over the madcap whimsy often favoured by the aforementioned jaunty piano! :D
    ALSO; I’m leaving my temping job at the end of the week and am wholly psyched to write on Alice.

    • Glad you like it Adam. I’m going to put another one up shortly, but the music is very different. I’m just waiting for my Mac to be fixed. It’s been erratic for a couple of weeks now, but I didn’t want to part with it, but it’s finally given up the ghost, and I’ve had to send it back to Apple for replacement parts. That’s delaying everything at the moment, but when it arrives back next Monday (hopefully), I’ll make a start on Alice, open up a Google Doc and we can get the ball rolling. Been working on a couple of book chapters recently, which is always a slow process for me, so it will be great to write something fast and loose.

  2. Pingback: Koko in 1999 (1927) | Spectacular Attractions

  3. By the way, Koko the Clown in Any Rags, was the John Inman (the guy who played the part of Mr. Wilberforce Clayborne Humphries of Are You Being Served?) from the BBC) of Betty Boop!

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