Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Betty Boop Cartoon Banned For Drug Use 1934

This is all a little unbelievable, like most early cartoons. Not to mention a little nightmarish. At least Betty looks like a girl: in her first couple of appearances she was a dog with long ears and a snout that popped out from time to time. The animators didn't quite know what to do with her.

After a few episodes she became a sexpot. It's interesting to watch the evolution of her costumes: here, in pre-code Hollywood, she was so scantily clad that you occasionally caught flickers of bare breasts (a wardrobe malfunction, perhaps) and, in her saucily flipped-up hemline, the delta of Venus. By the mid-30s the censors had clamped down, and by wartime she looked like a no-nonsense Army nurse with twill jackets and skirts below the knee.

These were Max Fleischer cartoons, some of the strangest things ever made, and they evolved into Popeye which ran forever but also ran out of steam around the time of the war. Then they became patriotic bullshit and propaganda, and never quite recovered. I like the fact that these characters are all a little hideous, a little smudgy, and almost psychotic in their unpredictable behaviour. By the end they all get stoned, sucking up nitrous oxide like a dentist who has fallen off the rails.

Were cartoons really made for children? I don't think so. They were shown along with movies (there'd be a newsreel, a cartoon, a short subject, and the main feature: or perhaps two), later sent overseas to bolster the morale of the troops. The studios cranked out hundreds and even thousands of them: Disney and Warner Brothers were the big guns, but then you had weirdball Fleischer and, a little later, Bob Clampett with his bizarre puppets-brought-to-animated-life, Beany and Cecil.

This just gets more unbelievable as you watch. Maybe the animators WERE on something.

"Oh my God - the pilot's going crazy!"

High Flight (an Airman's Ecstasy)

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings.

Sunward I've climbed and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds - and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of - wheeled and soared and swung

High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there,
I've chased the shouting wind along and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air

Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I've topped the windswept heights with easy grace

Where never lark, or even eagle flew.
And, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,

Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

John Gillespie Magee


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