Errol Le Cain &Richard Williams 12 Sep 2007 07:37 am

A Funny Thing

- TCM aired A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum the other night. This is a great theatrical show and a mediocre movie. Despite the great cast, the brilliant people working behind the scenes (from Tony Walton‘s sets and costumes to Nicholas Roeg‘s extraordinary photography; from the incredible song score by Stephen Sondheim to Ken Thorne‘s excellent incidental music), somehow it all doesn’t really work.

However, animation enthusiasts would be primarily interested in the animated credit sequence by Richard Williams‘ fine animation. This was a sequence that brought Williams out of the cartoon world and into the more serious fold. Suddenly, his studio grew up.

Since we didn’t get to see his brilliant ads in the US, we had to seek out his title work. Credit sequences for future films such as The Charge of the Light Brigade, The Pink Panther sequels and What’s New Pussycat easily demonstrated how he really lifted his studio into the big time.

I’ve made frame grabs of the sequence from my recording, and thought I’d post them for your amusement.
______________________________________(Images enlarge slightly by clicking them.)

The sequence starts at the end of the film. Buster Keaton runs on a circular treadmill, and dissolves to an animated version of himself.

He grows in the frames as some large-sized flies enter from the left.

Cut out to see a small Buster disappearing. The camera whips across to a picture of fruit. The flies zip over there and eat the picture. (This image of fruit was very dark on screen.)

A fly lands on the nose of a CU caricature of Zero Mostel. His eyes cross watching the fly.

Flies land on Phil Silvers’ bald head and march across.

Buster runs across a painted frieze on the way to a series of inlayed boxes.

Zip to the second box credits Michael Crawford. Pan to the third box which features Jack Gilford’s name.

Dick talked with me about this scene in the film. He felt that to create realistic
characters in animation one had to slow everything down. He did it with dissolves.
It’s a technique he came back to often, quite noticeably in The Charge of
the Light Brigade

A fly crawls up a column.

Errol LeCain’s art seems to be featured in this elaborate scene. The entire group – top
and (upside down) bottom – dance.

An animated version of Zero Mostel chases a female through and across a painted wall moving into and across the cracks.

The cornucopia of fruit starts in full color but goes to B&W before it’s done, in honor of the great cinematographer.

A very large cast of shilhouettes runs around this credit for Ken Thorne. There is no cycle here. This is a Dick Williams piece, so they’re all fresh drawings. They turn into flies for the next credit.

A Roman version of an Escher wall painting animates, confusing the fly trying to walk across.

The animated Buster Keaton runs toward us on one side
and away from us on the other side.

For the editor’s credit, a female looks at herself in a mirror. A hand comes in and clips off her pony-tail.

A slew of credits rots in one spot. This falls off revealing the choreographers’ names.

I’m always fascinated by the credit the designer gives himself. No sign of anyone else
who worked on this sequence. Titles have changed since then.

This is the first time I remember seeing letters from the type of one card falling down to match letters from the next card.

This card, the least significant one, comes back several times.
Of course it’s overanimated though it looks like a cycle.

The camera moves in on a fly crossing a checker board.

That legal card, again.

Truck in on the copyright card.

The legalese changes as the MPAA card is lifted.

Truck out from “End” past “The End” to reveal several more boxes.

Finally, the MGM lion roars.

8 Responses to “A Funny Thing”

  1. on 12 Sep 2007 at 8:56 am 1.Galen Fott said …

    Michael –

    Wow, what a fantastic post! Thanks for it. I love the show but have never seen the film as I’ve always heard it’s *worse* than mediocre. Here’s at least one good reason to seek it out! Thanks again.

  2. on 12 Sep 2007 at 9:05 am 2.Matt Jones said …

    Excellent work Michael-’Forum’ is a Williams title seq. I’ve been longing to see for ages. Coincidentally, last night I was watching the original CASINO ROYALE with Niven, Sellars,Welles et al. & this too has an exquisite title sequence by Williams.

  3. on 12 Sep 2007 at 9:52 am 3.Chris Hatfield said …

    Man, thanks Mr. Sporn. Is it possible to see it in motion or could post a vid?

  4. on 12 Sep 2007 at 1:49 pm 4.Masako said …

    The HBO series “Rome” also incorporates animation in its title sequence; a little flashier thanks to the digital rendering but not necessarily better.

  5. on 12 Sep 2007 at 3:21 pm 5.Michael said …

    The title sequences are, in some ways, very similar. It was a good use of cgi animation for the ROME titles.

  6. on 12 Sep 2007 at 3:38 pm 6.Tom Sito said …

    Ave Citizen Mike! nice posting. Forum has always been a fave movie with me, even with it’s flaws. Phil Silver and Zero are at their peak, and the everyday Roman streetlife is acutally more historically accurate than a lot of serious period pictures done at the time. There’s lots of clever layers, like when you listen to the soundtrack, the score for the finale chase sequence is a reworking of the main themes as a movement from a Mozart Symphony. Lots of fun.

    As Phil Silver says when the money bag is shaken- I know that sound….and I LOVE it!

  7. on 13 Sep 2007 at 6:14 am 7.Bruce said …

    ‘Credit sequences for future films such as The Charge of the Light Brigade, The Pink Panther sequels and What’s New Pussycat easily demonstrated how he really lifted his studio into the big time.’

    Which reminds me, I had finished watching this documentry on your former boss, so if you’re interested, here is the link

    As a bonus, here is a charming commercial that was produced and directed by Richard

  8. on 12 Apr 2016 at 2:33 pm 8.Anaginn said …

    This is a wonderful tribute. Michael was a treasure and his blog is a tremendous resource for anyone with an interest in animation.

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