Deconstructing Technology

Surreal Stop-Motion

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Very early in the days of film, certain highly creative, perhaps you could even say weird, filmmakers, saw an opportunity to show the world just what sort of oddities had bouncing around in their brains. Welcome to the world of the surreal, a new reality that expanded the bounds of what you could believe. Call it surreality, brought to life through the magic of film.

Without a doubt, the brains behind the film you can watch just beyond the jump, was one of the pioneers of surreality. Charley Bowers was a filmmaker and film actor during that transition time between silent film and talkies, after getting his start as a tightrope walker in the circus at the age of 6. He started as a cartoonist around 1912, making mostly Mutt and Jeff toons, but by the late 1920s he had perfected his self-proclaimed “Bowers Process”, his way of combining live action and stop-motion animation. There seems to be little detail on how exactly this process worked, but the stop-motion it’s impressive, even in today’s CGI world, perhaps even more so, and his films have a certain feel, a style of a dream come to life.

““It’s a Bird” is a strange little stop-motion animated short directed by film pioneer Harold L. Muller in 1930 that features a shoe-wearing, metal-eating bird (that actually looks a fair bit like a pterodactyl) that devours a car, piece by piece. Slapstick comedian Charles R. Bowers plays an explorer who encounters both the bird and a gruff-voiced talking worm on his travels to Africa.” (laughingsquid) As a note, Bowers and Muller collaborated on several films, but the stop-motion effects that really set this apart were created by Bowers.

If you only have a little bit of time, here is just a snippet involving a metal eating bird that lays a very unique egg.

But if you have the eight minutes or so to spare, might I encourage you to enjoy the entire short film?

AN IMPRESSION OF CHARLEY BOWERS by James R. Quirk, editor of Photoplay.

Highbrow critics talk in ornate polysyllables about the ingenuity and art of the German filmmakers. If they condescended to witness the nonsensical genius of a Charley Bowers comedy they could drool dictionaries.

In the world’s most individualistic industry, he is Aladdin and the camera is his lamp. He is a Jack of all trades and a master of one. He can direct. he can write. He can conceive the most glorious idiocy. He is a MASTER of camera wizardry.

Every short feature bearing his name proves the camera is a monumental liar. He makes hard boiled eggs hatch little Fords, turns time upside down and releases the blessing of laughter. Once in a comedy he drove a herd of elephants and donkeys into the Capitol at Washington. The learned Solons got so excited they demanded an investigation. They had been deceived by trick photography. Charley and the elephants had never been near the District of Coolidge. (Note: this trick shot can be seen in Now You Tell One (1926) in Volume 8: “Tons of Fun” of Kino’s “Slapstick Encyclopedia”).

I suspect Charley of a conspiracy against the school system. He is a living proof of the bliss of booklessness. All the education he ever received consisted of six months in kindergarten. Then he was kidnapped by a circus. And look at him now. In one of his recent comedies, I witnessed a former Biograph director playing an extra bit.

His life has been been almost as goofy as his genius. His mother was a French countess, his father an Irish doctor, and Charley was born in Iowa. After that anything was possible.

It happened. At five a tramp circus performer taught him to walk rope. At six the circus kidnapped him. He didn’t get home for two years and the shock killed his father.

Before he was nine Charley was supporting his mother. He walked rope, mowed lawns, ran elevators, printed menus, broke broncos, jockeyed horses, packed pork, sketched cartoons, toured vaudeville, directed plays, designed scenery, produced advertising, wrote history, animated one hundred reels of cartoons, worked out the Bowers process, invented a camera and – grew up.

Naturally the impossible is a joke to him. His whole life has been impossible and as a practical joker he is a near-millionaire. Give this little lad a great big look.

Educational Pictures Press Book for There It Is , submitted for copyright on January 23, 1928 (slapsticicom.org)

charleybowers_cars

Discovered via laughingsquid, and see more of Charley Bowers’ stuff here, plus a couple of very well done write-ups can be found at brightlightfilms.com “Forgotten Charleys“, and on Open the Pod Bay Doors HAL “Breaking a Few Eggs“.

[Ed. Note: The comment issue is still in work, as quickly as we can we’ll get them back so you all have a place to share! It isn’t the same without you, but we still wanted to post new stuff for ya’ll to read and enjoy!]

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