Mind Blowing Movies: Bimbo's Initiation (1931), by Jim Woodring

Mm200This week, Boing Boing is presenting a series of essays about movies that have had a profound effect on our invited essayists. See all the essays in the Mind Blowing Movies series here. -- Mark

Mind Blowing Movies: Bimbo's Initiation (1931), by Jim Woodring

[Video Link] I might have come to grips with the overwhelming mystery of life in a rational, organic manner if it weren't for a cartoon I saw on my family's old black and white TV in the mid '50s when I was three or four years old. This cartoon rang a bell so loud that I can still feel its reverberations.

It was "Bimbo's Initiation," produced by the Fleischer Brother Studios in 1931. I won't attempt to describe it; you can see it online. It's an ingenious piece of work, made by men who I now realize were well aware of its metaphysical content, as evidenced in part by the use of Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld in the soundtrack. Perhaps its creators were trying to amuse themselves by making a cartoon that combined madcap whimsy with philosophical depth. Or maybe they were just high. Whatever their motivation and intent, "Bimbo's Initiation" became my prime symbolic interpreter, the foundation of my life's path and endlessly exploding bomb at the core of my creative output.

The reason that cartoon affected me as strongly as it did was that I thought it was real, that it depicted events that were happening in my neighborhood. I set out to find those rooms, those implements, that bicycle, that pool. I got a reputation as the little boy who looked into everything. Whenever I went into someone else's home the first thing I would do, if I could, was look behind their drapes.

Consequently I missed a lot of things that were actually going on, which caused me a lot of grief, one way and another. The pleasurable intensity of the delusion was well worth any trouble that resulted from it, though... and as I say, it gave me a livelihood.

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  1. Holy Hannah, that one cartoon really does provide a key to Woodring’s entire aesthetic.  Amazing.

  2. Often when an artist replies to a question about influences, the artist replies with a list of inspirations — things or other artists that inspired them to do their own thing, rather than reference something that truly was an influence.  (Musicians are notorious for this — they list the musicians they liked, not the ones that influenced their style, thinking, or approach.)

    This definitely rings as an influence.  

  3. I just saw this for the first time this past Sunday while looking for something completely unrelated on Youtube.  The cartoons the Fleischers did with Cab Calloway are just as crazy.

  4. Yeah, I remember that one. And fifty years later, I still don’t get Fleischer. Give me Bugs and the Roadrunner any day.

    When did Betty Boop get beagle ears?

  5. Betty had the long dog-ears in her fist couple of appearances, I think her first was in the cartoon “Mysterious Mose”. They were gradually replaced by long hoop earrings. The Fleischer Studio was famous for better-than-average use of music in animation (later eclipsed by Disney), rough urban settings and a penchant for animating complex machinery and drug-like phantasmagoria. They were groovin’ with the weird jazz cats. Watch the following all the way to the end and then ask if it’s remotely like anything from the studios of Van Buren, WB, Harman/Ising or Disney:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_q2T_9UCTiIThe Fleischer studio re-made “Bimbo’ Initiation” a few years later as a Popeye cartoon called “Can You Take It?”, and parts of the original Bimbo cartoon were used in the 1980s Twilight Zone movie. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S01G9DFEY6E

  6. Somehow this surprises me not at all.

    I didn’t see any of the Fleischer shorts until I was in animation school. I’d heard about them and was delighted when I finally got a chance to see them on a pretty decent VHS dub.

    They completely blew my mind.

  7. I was waiting for Jigsaw to tell him to get the key behind his eye with a grapefruit spoon. 

  8. Fleischer Brothers cartoons were the fucking truth, man.  Superior to all other studios.  Superman, Through the Ink Well, Gulliver’s Travels, Betty Boop (particularly the ones featuring the hot jazz artists of the time–the Cab Calloway and Louis Armstrong ones are great), Popeye (mostly just the really old ones, though)–anything they touched was gold.

    1.  Nah – it’ll eventually pop up as a stripped-down animated-in-flash short (with worse music) to fill a break on cartoon channel or something.
      (Pessimistic, me?)

  9. I’d posit that a number of Adventure Time episodes are near as mindblowing. Those guys get pretty crazy, for a children’s post-apocalyptic cartoon show.

  10. One thought: is this on public domain yet? (I suppose the Mickey Mouse law is valid to this one too and it shouldn’t). But that is not the point: there are lots and lots of wonderful videos like this on public domain. What’s being done to make them available? I believe publishers will just forget about them since (apparently) there is no money to be made here. Is there any initiative to put all this on Youtube? That would be awesome. Or am I just lazy to ask it here instead of googling?

    1. Not sure about this specific cartoon, but apparently cartoons from this era are in the public domain, which is why (some) collections of them are so dang cheap.  Sometimes even newer cartoons go into the public domain because of a botched copyright notice (same with the film ‘Charade’).

      Were you ever in a Wal-Mart in the late-80s to mid-90s?  There were so many of these collections on VHS tape.  The distributor would watermark the video (e.g. Good Times  putting “GT” in the lower-right corner).

      Interestingly while the cartoons may have been public domain, the theme music was not e.g. Bugs Bunny cartoons with the Looney Toons/Merry Melodies theme muted out.

      EDIT: More recently, Mill Creek has released this type of collection, e.g. 200 cartoons on 4 DVDs for 10 or 20 dollars…

      1. That’s interesting! I was checking the C for Popeye on Wikipedia and it seems the character is in PD, but the movies are not. Copyright law is really confusing. It means (?) I could creat a Popeye t-shirt and sell it using its name, but still could not upload his videos to Youtube (right…)

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