Hidden art in Woody Woodpecker

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Did animation pioneer Shamus Culhane secretly slip his own abstract paintings into 1940s Woody Woodpecker cartoons? Apparently so, according to cartoon historian Tom Klein writing in the new issue of Animation: An Interdisciplinary Journal.
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From the New York Times:

“Culhane essentially ‘hid’ his artful excursions in plain sight, letting them rush past too rapidly for the notice of most of his audience,” Mr. Klein writes in the 15-page article, titled “Woody Abstracted: Film Experiments in the Cartoons of Shamus Culhane.”

In the article Mr. Klein describes Mr. Culhane, who was credited in his work then as James Culhane, as a devotee of the avant-garde. He was influenced by the writings of Russian theorists like Sergei Eisenstein and Vsevolod Pudovkin, Mr. Klein writes, and spent evenings at the American Contemporary Gallery in Hollywood. There, he watched films by Fritz Lang and Jean Renoir, might have seen paintings by Oskar Fischinger and definitely “was inclined to wear a beret.”

Mr. Klein writes that one of (Culhane's) experiments was a two-second piece of an explosion in “Woody Dines Out,” from 1945. He finds the frames “improvised like visual music” in what Mr. Culhane acknowledged in his autobiography, “Talking Animals and Other People,” was an Eisenstein-inspired moment.

The longest such experimental sequence was in the seven-second steamroller smash-up in “The Loose Nut,” also from 1945. And, later in that cartoon, Woody is blown into an abstract configuration that Mr. Klein, in his article, calls “the convergence of animation and Soviet montage.”

"That Noisy Woodpecker Had an Animated Secret" (Thanks, Bob Pescovitz!)


  1. btw, non-art based continuity error @5:38 The construction guy’s stubble disappears for one whole scene. Did they think we wouldn’t notice?

    1. The guy in the continuity error at 5:38 looks like he was drawn by a different artist. He in the background in that scene, instead of being a character as he is in the rest of the film.

      There are layers in animation, and when you shift a guy from one layer to another, it’s like sending him through a portal to another dimension.

  2. I have to agree with nehpetsE… even as a child Woody W. struck me a s a complete douchebag, not in an anarchic, cool way a la Bugs Bunny, but in a dickish way. He was inconsiderate, self-absorbed, violent… and no subsequent notionsI have formed of the Id really excuses him, in my eyes.

  3. I always loved Woody. I didn’t remember this particular cartoon, but thanks for posting the story.

  4. I’ve always been fascinated with the in-between art lost in the action of cartoons. During explosions or when a character is mashed or stretched, taken as a single piece of work some of the cels are really incredible.

  5. Wow, I’m ashamed to have been a fan of Woody when I was little. I’m glad he didn’t rub off on me at such a young age. Woody’s negative influence must have been overshadowed by characters like Optimus Prime.

    1. For me realizing that Woody was a dick was a seminal moment in growing up. Discovering that the Tom and Jerry cartoons by Chuck Jones weren’t merely weird but far better than the rest was another.

  6. Smoothing concrete properly is hard. It’s an art to do it well.

    Woody Woodpecker. . .he ruins everything he touches.

    And his pecks to the head look like they would really hurt.

    crazy unmedicated bird. . .

  7. The woody cartoon is meh… I’m mesmerized by the Universal logo at the beginning, how did they make it?? Neeed…. to… stop repeating it… but can’t…

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