If you take the J train over the Williamsburg Bridge, get off at Kosciusko Street and walk a few blocks west, you’ll come to a storefront that looks like it’s home to a going out of business sale, with benches and various other effluvia out on the sidewalk. Inside is a bar and club called “Goodbye Blue Monday” that’s most definitely in business: the place is decorated not unlike Pee-wee’s playhouse or the home of some mad collector of antique TV sets, mountains of action figures and bizarro furniture. (The rocking chair made out of two motorcycle gas tanks was pretty impressive.)
I’m there because way in the back – as a matter of fact out the back door and through a tiny backyard into a huge, high-ceiling shed – Tom Stathes is holding his first Cartoon Carnival
I met Tom at Jerry Beck’s MOCCA [www.moccany.org] screening of Harvey cartoons (You know – Casper, Herman and Katnip, etc) a few weeks earlier and learned about his collection of antique animation. Wanting to see some of it for myself, I’ve travelled to Williamsburg, the latest NYC outer borough outpost of the young, hip and poor.
Tom stands by his Bell and Howell 16mm projector, purchased on eBay and in as good condition as when it bored high school students with boring educational films way back when. While he waits for the room to fill a bit more, I take a look at the 1-sheet, folded-in-half Xeroxed program. It fits in perfectly with the environment, festooned as it is with randomly scattered outline drawings of completely unknown or horribly off-model cartoon characters. Word processors have evidently yet to reach this part of Brooklyn: the list of cartoons on it looks like it came out of the last portable typewriter in New York City, one in dire need of a new ink ribbon and a key realignment.
Tom’s show is marvelous by the way, a mixture of classic toons and ‘what the hell was that?!’ obscurities, enhanced in no small way by the unusual venue: ‘Bosko the Talk-Ink Kid’ comes out of the ink bottle, Koko style and razzes his creator (one of, if the not the very first sound cartoon, from 1929)… a non-cat and mouse Tom and Jerry run a diner where everyone breaks into song at the slightest provocation (the tough guy with a falsetto voice sitting next to the effete dandy who sounds like he’s been gargling with gravel is a nice touch)… a bizarre 1918 toon warns doughboys against going AWOL with seductive party girls… Wimpy swipes the sailor-man’s persona with a convincing disguise and a serenely repeated “I’m Popeye”… endlessly, psychedelically mutating clay geometric figures, the work of Art Clokey when he’s not animating Gumby, Davey or Goliath run rampant to a jazz score… an amazingly mediocre ‘Organalogue Sing-A-Long’ features a live-action little girl gamboling against drawings of some of the creepiest clowns and circus animals ever seen… and the show wraps up with a silent Felix the Cat cartoon: it’s a meta-moment when the cat screens his homemade movie on a projector not unlike the one Tom has been operating for the last hour or two.
I leave the backyard shed and pass through the club, where the lead singer of ‘Alexcalibur,’ is writhing and dancing in a bare-chested Dyonisian ecstasy. (After his performance he hands out free CD’s, his sweat dripping onto their paper wrappers.)
Tom promises more screenings from his archives, possibly at a more convenient location, but personally I can’t think of a more appropriate setting to watch weird cartoons than in a wonderfully weird Brooklyn bohemian bar.
[If you can’t make it out to Brooklyn, Tom sells DVD’s of his favorite toons; check out farmeralfalfa.tripod.com]