Thursday, December 6, 2007

gumbasia, by art clokey

[This entry is not part of Film Club proper, but is rather an entry for Short Film Week, organized by Ed Howard (Only the Cinema) and Jeff Ignatius (Culture Snob).]

Gumbasia (1955) is a short animated film by Art Clokey, the man who would achieve lasting fame as the creator of Gumby. Gumbasia predates the character of Gumby by about a year, and is more far more striking than the Gumby cartoons which accompany it on the DVD on which I found it ("Cartoon Craze Vol. 20").

As the title implies, Gumbasia is a response piece to Walt Disney's Fantasia (1940): like Fantasia, it consists of animation set to music. Like the "Toccata and Fugue in D Minor" sequence that opens Fantasia, Gumbasia is abstract: concerned with form, motion, and syncopation instead of narrative or representation.

That's about where the similarities end, and it's perhaps the differences that are more illuminating. Instead of classical music, Clokey chooses to set his piece to a rather angular piece of jazz. And, of course, instead of choosing to use cel animation, Clokey uses stop-motion clay animation. The film's muscularity and energy make it easy to read as a forceful manifesto for clay as a medium, a sort of shot across Disney's bow: a way for Clokey to say "anything you can do with drawings (and a huge studio), I can do just as effectively with clay (on my own here as a USC student)."

Certainly the use of clay is more effective at making visual statements about form: Gumbasia is perhaps more interested in the tactility and mass of primal, Froebel-derived forms as any other abstract film I can think of, as these stills should attest:

These stills, of course, don't quite do it justice: part of the delight of the film is watching the speed with which the forms mutate and change. YouTube to the rescue:


Unknown said...

What, no comments!? This film is inspirational. I can't see it enough.
My copy comes from some kind of rip off DVD from China called "Gumby: 8 Delightful Shows. And the end of Gumbasia is lost in a cross fade into "Robot Rumpus."

Anyway, I'm not all that sure about the preachy Davey and Goliath claptrap (but I was able to watch it for hours as a kid, and I didn't turn out Lutheran)... but this Gumbasia thing is really great. An exuberant, organic, 50's modernist explosion. I love it.

kennykiller said...


kennykiller said...

just kidding...don't those FIRST!!! people rreally piss you off? WELL, DO THEY?

jpb said...

I've never had anyone do this on my blog before. I'm not sure if I should feel like I'm in the big time now, or whether I should immediately delete it.