Sunday, October 21, 2012

Funny Feet: The Art of Eccentric Dance

I've always loved dance animation.  Whether it is Mickey in Thru the Mirror or Donald in Mr. Duck Steps Out or the dancing in Rooty Toot Toot, when expressive movement joins with music, you get an energy that leaves ordinary animation in the dust.  Dick Lundy, Les Clark, Ken Harris, Preston Blair, Ward Kimball, and Pat Matthews are just some of the animators with a genuine flair for dance.

Animated dance built on what was happening in live action films, and that was built on what had been done in Vaudeville and the English music hall.  Chaplin, Keaton, Stan Laurel, Groucho Marx, and James Cagney all used dance in their stage performances.  Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Ray Bolger, Buddy Ebsen, and the Nicholas Brothers were all influenced by the same tradition.

Betsy Baytos has worked as an animator and dancer and is making a documentary called Funny Feet: The Art of Eccentric Dance.  Her promo is below:

She's using Kickstarter to fund a trip to England to research music hall performers who fall into the eccentric dance category.

In addition to interviewing performers for the last 20 years, she has also interviewed artists Chuck Jones, Frank Thomas & Ollie Johnston, Ward Kimball, Myron Waldman (Betty Boop/Popeye) , Joe Barbera, Joe Grant and Al Hirschfeld (NY Times caricaturist).

Here's a clip from a Buster Keaton two reeler for Columbia.  Keaton and Columbia were not a good fit.  The studio was much more at home with the lowbrow knockabout of The Three Stooges than it was with Keaton's deadpan irony.  Elsie James, the woman in this clip, is a pretty crude performer with a tendency to mug.  However, I'm including this clip because after the three minute mark, there's about 20 seconds of sublime dance by Keaton, where he transcends Columbia's limited view of comedy.

I'm excited about the subject matter of Baytos's documentary and looking forward to seeing it.  Read more about it on her Kickstarter page.

1 comment:

Jonathan Lyons said...

Good for Betsy. I am a fan of eccentric dance, and often post clips to my blog. I will try to help her by adding it there as well.

Thanks for posting this.