Show contents, with start times:
- Film Buff’s Dictionary: Wilhelm Scream (1:44)
- Trivia Question: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (7:55)
- Industry Trend: Animation, Part 1 (8:24)
- Top 6: Stars We Hated But Now Like (28:55)
- Film Spotlight: The Red Violin (48:15)
- Closing: Trivia Answer, Preview of Next Week (57:09)
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Film Buff’s Dictionary: Wilhelm Scream
The Wilhelm Scream is a sound effects editing in-joke. The term refers to any of six takes of a particular scream first used in the 1951 film Distant Drums, then stowed away in the Warner Bros. sound library. The stock sound effect was used in a number of Warner Bros. films thereafter, most notably The Charge At Feather River (1953), where it is uttered by a character named Pvt. Wilhelm, after whom the sound effect was later named.
It became an in-joke, once sound designers Ben Burtt, Rick Mitchell, and Richard Anderson — all friends at USC — noticed that the scream appeared in a number of different titles. Years later, Burtt was hired to do the sound effects on Star Wars (1977), and he ran across a recording of the Wilhelm Scream, so he found a way to work it into the film. Since then, Burtt and Anderson have used it numerous times, and other sound editors, particularly those at Lucasfilm, Disney, Pixar, and more recently DreamWorks.
Today, roughly ten major films per year include the Wilhelm Scream. With it appearing in such franchises as Star Wars, Star Trek, Indiana Jones, Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Caribbean, and many more, it’s a virtual certainty you’ve heard the Wilhelm Scream in a movie before.
As promised in the podcast, here is a list of all the movies with the Wilhelm Scream. Finally, here is an absolutely fantastic video compilation of various uses of the Wilhelm Scream. Unfortunately it does not include the first use in Distant Drums, but it does have the one from The Charge At Feather River and a host of more modern uses.
Trivia Question: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
Industry Trend: Animation, Part 1
The art of animation dates back practically as far as the birth of film itself. In this first part of a new series on animation, we take a look at animation’s progenitors and the earliest works of animation.
- J. Stuart Blackton
Blackton created the first instance of animation on film, Humorous Phases of Funny Faces (1908), which achieved animation through chalk drawings and also featured puppetry. Blackton ultimately moved on to directing live-action, including live-action segments for Little Nemo (1911), a partially animated Winsor McCay short.
Here, you can view Humorous Phases of Funny Faces online at the Library of Congress. It’s about 3 minutes long.
- Emile Cohl
Cohl created the first fully animated short film, Phantasmagorie (1908), essentially a work of modern art, specifically of the Incoherent Movement. The short features evocative stream-of-consciousness imagery.
- Winsor McCay
McCay was arguably the first great animator, churning out a number of painstakingly created animated films, including the aforementioned Little Nemo (1911) but in particular Gertie the Dinosaur (1914), which is the first major example of character animation and the idea of using animation to create characters the audience can identify with and relate to and care about.
Gertie the Dinosaur was made up of some 10,000 drawings, done in ink on rice paper, which means that the backgrounds were all redrawn by hand for every frame. A more typical practice would be to use cels, which are essentially just transparencies, drawing the background once, and overlaying different cels of the moving parts of the image on top of the background. But cel animation was only just being invented as McCay was making Gertie the Dinosaur.
McCay would use cels for his later animated films, which include The Sinking of the Lusitania (1918), a work of propaganda designed as a call to action during World War I. But due to how time-consuming a process animation is, the war was over before the film was completed.
All of McCay’s surviving work, which is substantial, can be found on the Winsor McCay: The Master Edition DVD, available from amazon.com and Netflix.
Some of his most famous work can be found as free lesser-but-still-adequate quality videos online:
As an aside, note how primitive the live-action segments of these cartoons are, lacking conventional editing techniques and pacing. “Film grammar,” such as it is called, really wouldn’t be developed until the second half of the decade.
- Quirino Cristiani
The Argentinian filmmaker Quirino Cristiani created the first two animated features, El Apostol (1917) and Leaving No Trace (1918). And he would also create the first animated feature with sound, Peludopolis (1931), as well as several other animated shorts.
His work was almost exclusively political satires, which put him in and out of popularity with the Argentinian government. Unfortunately, all of Cristiani’s major works have been lost to fire over the years.
- Lotte Reiniger
Reiniger, a German animator, started working with animation in the 1910s, and in 1919 she begins work on a feature-length film that achieves animation with cardboard cut-outs casting shadows onto color-tinted backgrounds, which perhaps doesn’t sound that exciting but is actually quite beautiful.
Her most important work is The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926), which draws its story from the Arabian Nights tales. It is the oldest surviving animated feature film, and it can be purchased on DVD from amazon.com or rented from Netflix.
- Max and Dave Fleischer
Max (producer) and Dave (animator) Fleischer start dabbling with animation, in particular patenting the rotoscoping process in 1915, in which animators trace over live-action footage to blend authentic shapes and movement with stylized colors and textures.
Later, the Fleischer Studios would become a major cartoon studio of from the 1920s through the 1940s, producing the Koko the Clown, Betty Boop, Popeye, and Superman cartoons, as well as the feature length film Gulliver’s Travels (1939), which contrasts the rotoscoped Gulliver character with the more traditionally animated Lilliputians to good effect.
You can see various Fleischer Studios cartoons online for free at Google Video and the Internet Archive:
- Pat Sullivan and Otto Messmer
It’s unclear who, exactly, created Felix the Cat, but both animation producer Pat Sullivan and animator Otto Messmer were intimately involved in the development of this character, who would become the most famous and popular cartoon character of the 1920s. While Felix the Cat’s star has long since faded, starting with the introduction of the sound era, he was so popular in his day that his name remains familiar to this day, even to those who have never seen a Felix the Cat cartoon.
- Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks
Walt Disney, still the most famous name in animation, and his collaborator Ub Iwerks start working with animation in the 1920s, ultimately creating the Alice Comedies and Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. The latter serves as the inspiration for Mickey Mouse, created in 1928 and now one of the most recognizable symbols in the world.
Mickey’s third cartoon, Steamboat Willie (1928), becomes the first successful sound cartoon — a smash hit, in fact, that heralds a wave of incredible success in animation that lasts for many decades, continuing on into the present day.
From the late 1920s through the 1940s, the Walt Disney studio solifidies a reputation as a producer of soft, beautiful, fluid animation, and also as a pioneer of the art of sound in movies. Starting with The Skeleton Dance in 1929 — alongside a separate series of character/gag cartoons with Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy, and Pluto — Disney produces the Fantasia (1940), a groundbreaking feature-length anthology of classical music set to animation.
Many of the Alice Comedies can be found on YouTube if you search for “Alice Disney” — including the first Alice cartoon, Alice’s Wonderland (1923).
- Leon Schlesinger
In 1930, Schlesinger served as executive producer for the very first Looney Tune, and later he became producer of the series in 1934. While not directly involved in the creative side of making the cartoons, he had a keen eye for talent and hired such talents as Friz Freleng, Tex Avery, Frank Tashlin, Carl Stalling, and later Chuck Jones, Bob Clampett, and Mel Blanc. We’ll be talking about the Looney Tunes in more detail in the weeks to come, so we’ll be brief here.
As televisions pervade the nation in the early 1950s, the call for theatrical short cartoons diminishes, and movie theaters ultimately stop exhibiting newsreels, shorts, and cartoons before feature films. The production of animated shorts dries up almost entirely, to be replaced by animated television shows, which, due to the demanding pace of a weekly show, are almost necessarily inferior in quality. Animation on television, with only a few exceptions, is pretty terrible, betraying nothing of the art of animation pioneered by these early visionaries.
Fortunately, feature animation is thriving as strongly as ever. In the weeks to come, we’ll be looking at many different aspects of animation over the years. Stay tuned.
Top 6: Stars We Hated But Now Like
Film Spotlight: The Red Violin
The Red Violin (1998), directed by Francois Girard, uses the titular instrument as a method of telling several stories throughout time and geography, each of which has its own rich texture and feeling.
In a frame story set in the modern day, Samuel L. Jackson plays a collector bidding on the violin for his own reasons. That story is interrupted by several extended stories from the past, detailing particularly interesting episodes of the violins “life.”
Each individual story really feels in a sense like its own movie, with a unique look. Each of the stories is also told in the language of the area in which it takes place, adding to the feel of uniqueness for each episode.
What is particularly interesting about the film, aside from the fact that every bit of its production is absolutely gorgeous, is the way the stories all seem to become part of a whole, despite each one being so different from the others.
It is also a very exciting movie, which is unexpected given its subject matter. The screenplay by Girard and Don McKellar manages to throw quite a few surprises in unexpected places, and great editing combined with an Oscar-winning score give the film a real sense of momentum it otherwise might not have had.