Animation in the 1970s: Selected Shorts

American animation’s “golden age” was effectively over by 1970 – Warner Bros. closed its animation department in 1969 (it had closed in 1963, and the studio contracted DePatie-Freleng between 1964 and 1967 before reopening their animation department for a brief time in 1967), and Disney had released only twelve shorts in the 1960s. Terrytoons persisted until 1972, as did Walter Lantz Productions (the latter of which released its final Woody Woodpecker short, Bye, Bye Blackboard, on September 1, 1972); DePatie-Freleng was active during the 1970s, releasing various theatrical shorts in the decade, including numerous Pink Panther productions. One key event that led to the eventual decline of the theatrical short in the United States occurred in 1948 – that year, the Supreme Court determined in United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc. that the major studios engaged in a monopoly with their block booking practice. Block booking refers to a policy wherein the studios provided films to theaters in “blocks,” obligating theaters to accept a bundle of films in its entirety, rather than having the theaters decide which films they wanted to display; the 1948 case brought an end to that practice, which meant that animated shorts would now have to be presented separately from feature films. The studios continued to produce shorts, but by 1969 animated shorts had largely been abandoned altogether in the United States; the studios discovered that they could make a profit through having their theatrical shorts appear on television, however, and they sold them for broadcast in the 1950s.

The above paragraph only describes the state of American animation by 1970, however – this article will cover productions from various countries released in the the 1970s. To start off, Polish animator Piotr Kamler directed Delicious Catastrophe, a short released in 1970; this unusual film begins with a sphere bouncing up a flight of stairs. This sphere contains a mysterious flying contraption with wheels carrying a box – inside the box is a figure in a striped shirt standing on a platform inside a glass jar, with a clock on a chain around their body. An amorphous being interrupts the figure, who has been pressing their foot against an inflated balloon attached to some unknown object (possibly the pipe nearby, which produces droplets of a liquid) and playing a trumpet; the sphere reaches the top of the stairs, where a large block falls on top of it. The short ends with the glass container filling with liquid; the figure produces bubbles with his trumpet while floating in the liquid. Kalmer, the short’s director, has directed five additional works since Delicious Catastrophe, most recently the 2011 work Continu-discontinu 2010; he made one feature film, the 1982 stop-motion work Chronopolis, which contains narration by Michael Lonsdale (famous for playing Hugo Drax, the villain from Moonraker). Another short from 1970, Yak, was a segment produced by Al Jarnow for Sesame Street; the short, an educational work about the letter Y, features a talking yak. Al Jarnow worked on numerous shorts for Sesame Street; a more recent example is Floor Tiles, released in 1997. Polish animator Daniel Szczechura released Journey in 1970; the short depicts an unnamed figure’s train ride, and no dialogue can be heard during the short. Szczechura began his directing career in 1960 with the short film Conflicts – this work is mainly animated, but opens with a live-action scene, viewed by an audience in a movie theater, of where a man shoots another over a woman (and is then shot himself by the woman, who then commits suicide). The audience applauds, but three people seemingly disapprove of the segment, and thus the live-action scene is altered to have the man the woman is cheating on her husband with escape unnoticed; the three figures approve of this change, but the rest of the audience does not.

In 1971, the National Film Board of Canada released Catuor; directed by Judith Klein, this short features a cat playing various music instruments (specifically, the piano, trumpet, bass and drum). Raoul Servais’ short Operation X-70 debuted the same year – this short depicts the accidental deployment of a poison gas that induces a euphoric state in its victims onto a peaceful country. The inhabitants of the country struck by the poison gas develop wings – people ordered to shoot said inhabitants do not, and one of them sprouts wings (however, the effect is temporary). One fairly unusual short from 1972, Slippery Slope, features a room with a rotating wall; the short also switches from interior to exterior, and a song by Hot House plays over the scene. Also from 1972, Bye, Bye Blackboard is the final Woody Woodpecker short; the short follows Woody as he attends school, with his dog trying to accompany him. The following year, 1973, saw the release of The Flight, directed by Rein Raamat; in the short, a figure pursues a floating object, and takes flight when they grab hold of it. When they fall back to earth, the figure dreams of various flying machines; the work ends with person reaching space. Geoff Dunbar’s 1974 production Lautrec adapts Henri Toulouse-Latrec’s art to animation – Toulouse-Latrec was famous for his artwork, particularly ones depicting prostitutes. One experimental work from 1974, Mirage, features abstract shapes produced by a computer program connected to a television; the film’s director, Lillian Schwartz, is a computer art pioneer.

Also from 1974, Rein Raamat’s Firebird is a short showing color arriving to a city – the world of teh short becomes more vibrant and happier thanks to color, and a disruptive cat appears. Raamat directed fourteen shorts between 1972 and 1988, starting with Veekandja; he worked as a production designer prior to directing. Speaking of Raamat, he also directed Rüblik, released in 1975; the work concerns a boy who suddenly transforms into a pig, and must use the sidewalk (rather than crossing in the grass) in order to return to his original form. One unusual short from 1975, Cubemencube, depicts two squares initially in a romantic relationship (complete with sex, with genitals on display) – although the short begins with the cubes in love, the characters soon display violence, fighting with hand and fist before switching to weapons. A Pink Panther short from 1976, Mystic Pink, shows the eponymous cat (living at a city dump) discovering a magician’s hat (which contains a large rabbit) that falls from a van belonging to Mysto the Great; this was the first of seven shorts starring the Pink Panther to be released in 1976, and the character would subsequently star in only one short in 1977 (Therapeutic Pink) and 32 television shorts in 1978. Paul Driessen’s 1977 short The Killing of an Egg features a man breaking an egg (that seemingly has someone living inside it), and his own house is destroyed in the same manner as the egg; this short helped motivate Stephen Hillenburg (the creator of Spongebob Squarepants) to enter the animation industry. Ishu Patel’s 1977 short Bead Game depicts numerous beads forming various living things, including humans (who wage war against one another); Patel worked for the National Film Board, the organization that released Bead Game, for many years, and also produced various animated shorts for Sesame Street. Directed by Barbara Sykes, the 1978 experimental shortl Electronic Masks features mask-like designs produced by a Sandin Image Processor; Dan Sandin invented the aforementioned video synthesizer, which Sykes used for many of her 1970s productions. Another of Sykes’ shorts, By the Crimson Bands of Cyttorak, was also released in 1978; the work’s title refers to a spell that the Marvel character Doctor Strange can cast. The 1979 short Sunstone is an experimental CG animated work, demonstrating an illumination effect as well as rotation; Ed Emshwiller, who achieved famous for his illustrations (featured on science fiction magazines), directed the short.

The shorts covered in this article give some insight into animation in the 1970s – while production of theatrical shorts in the United States declined considerably (the Warner Bros animation department closed in 1969, Terrytoons and Walter Lantz Productions dissolved in 1972, and Disney releasing only nine shorts in the 1970s), various studios throughout the world released animated works during the decade. A handful of computer-animated works such as Sunstone (1979) and Hunger (1974) were released in the 1970s – one of them, the 1979 short Digit, was a segment in Music Image: Odyssey, a LaserDisc release. Disney released four feature-length animated films during the decade, and two that combine animation with live action; one of them, The Rescuers, received a 1990 sequel. Many other animated works made their debut in this time, as well, and I’ll potentially look at a few more in a subsequent post.

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