Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Dynamic Duo of Pixilation

The Pixilation Exhilaration of Len Janson & Chuck Menville

This Sergeant is Swell!

A teacher came into the library the other trying to track down a 16mm film we used to own called Blaze Glory (1968). She described it as a live-action parody of Westerns that used a frame-by-frame, stop-motion animation technique called pixilation (which may have been "invented" in 1952 by Norman McLaren in his Oscar-winning short Neighbors) and was a great classroom exercise in judging who's the hero and who's the villain. We no longer have this film, but it turns out we have two more 16mm films by the same LA-based directors: Len Janson and Chuck Menville. The films in question are the motorcycle gang parody Vicious Cycles (1967) and another Western spoof, Sergeant Swell of the Mounties (1972). Not only does the Enoch Pratt Central Library own these films, but we have screened them in the past as part of our periodic "Film Shorts" programs.

Unfortunately, little has been written about these talented filmmakers.

Wikipedia entry for Chuck Menville:
Menville was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, but moved to Los Angeles at the age of 19 with aspirations of becoming an animator. There, he got a job with Walt Disney Productions and served as an assistant on the 1967 film The Jungle Book. Unhappy with the climate at Disney, Menville soon branched out into writing, and began a long working partnership with his friend Len Janson.

During the mid 1960s, Menville and Janson co-produced a series of short live-action films, among them the Academy Award-nominated Stop Look and Listen, an innovative stop-motion pixilation experiment in which the main characters "drive" down city streets in invisible cars...In the mid-1970s, the team began a stint at Filmation, during which they brought their irreverent style to Star Trek: The Animated Series. (Menville authored an episode titled "The Practical Joker" for that series, which is now seen by many within Star Trek fandom to have been the genesis of the holodeck.)...Menville died of non-Hodgkins lymphoma in Malibu, California in 1992.

Wikpedia entry for Len Janson:
Len Janson is an American animator, writer and director whose career in animated cartoons and live-action motion pictures spanned several decades beginning in the 1960s. He began work as an in-betweener at the Walt Disney cartoon studio. By 1965 he had become a story man with his first screen credit in Rudy Larriva's Boulder Wham!. Soon after, he teamed with Chuck Menville to produce a series of live-action films which used the pixilation technique. By the early 1970s, Janson and Menville had become major names in the animation industry and welcome storytellers at studios such as Filmation and Hanna-Barbera. Their partnership ended with Menville's death in 1992. Janson remained active for a few more years, mainly as story editor for Sonic the Hedgehog. He also wrote episodes of Baywatch Nights.

Even more unfortunately, Janson and Menville's humorous independent exercises in pixilation have never come out on video or DVD; but, thanks to the Internet and the researching skills of the folks at Cartoon Brew, they can still be seen.

Here we go, then!


directed by Len Janson and Chuck Menville
MGM, USA, 1967, 10 1/2 minutes

This one shows up on Turner Classic Movies occasionally because it's now part of the Warner Brothers archives. It was nominated for an Oscar in 1968 (Best Short Subject, Live Action).

IMDB description by
A man wearing suit, tie, black-framed glasses, and a hat, leaves his house in LA's San Fernando Valley and heads off in his car. Except his car is him, seated on the ground - he moves via stop motion. He's careful and methodical, but when a cigar-chomping hotshot cuts him off, he engages in a bit of passive aggressive driving. We watch one of the drivers get gas, receive a citation from a cop, and deal with a flat tire. The two rival drivers are eventually in quite a race, which ends when one hurls off the road. At the end, a woman in gold slippers puts a tip in the driver's hat.

IMDB reviewer Wes-Connors adds:
With a hat resembling Buster Keaton's, well-suited Len Janson walks out of his sunny southern California home, breathes in some fresh air, and whistles himself into an imaginary car. Through "stop/action" photography, he appears to be hitting the road. Elsewhere, wearing a hat like James Cagney's, sporty Chuck Menville lights up a cigar, vainly checks his appearance, and unsafely shaves while driving. After guzzling some gas, Mr. Menville is pulled over for a speeding ticket. Continuing to speed, he causes problems for Mr. Janson, who tries to drive more safely. The painstaking trick photography got this entertaining short safety film nominated fro an "Academy Award". It was admirably written, directed and performed by Janson and Menville.
Watch Stop, Look and Listen


directed by Len Janson and Chuck Menville
Pyramid Films, USA, 1967, 7 minutes

The leader of the badass Vicious Cycles gang is played by Len Janson, while Chuck Menville portrays the leader of the goodie-two-shoes Mild Ones Scooter Club.

Watch Vicious Cycles


directed by Len Janson and Chuck Menville
Pyramid Films, USA, 1969, 10 minutes

A stop-motion pixilation spoof of old-time westerns in which actors appear to ride non-existent horses. A stagecoach is robbed by the villain, heroine Annabelle Twitterheart is abducted by The Pig-Nosed Kid, and Blaze Glory eventually recovers both the heroine and the money.

Watch Blaze Glory


directed by Len Janson and Chuck Menville
Pyramid Films, USA, 1972, 16 minutes

A pixillated romp across the great Northwest in which Sergeant Swell of the Mounties (riding an imaginary horse) repeatedly rescues Emmy Lou from Billy the Creep and a trio of unlikely Indians led by Chief Silly Savage in a spoof of old Western movies.

Watch Sergeant Swell of the Mounties Part 1

Watch Sergeant Swell of the Mounties Part 2

Labels: , , , , , ,


Anonymous Bridal Gowns said...

We are also very happy about the peplum seen again in fashion.

4:24 AM  
Anonymous charmingdate said...

So funny!

5:51 AM  
Anonymous charmingdate said...

So funny!

5:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A neighborhood public library in central ohio had sergeant swell on betamax

9:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hilarious good times watching it!!!

10:20 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home