ASIFA Magazine – Fred Mogubgub, part two.

Other big commissions followed including animated sequences for Jerome Robbins’ Broadway staging of Arthur Kopit’s Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mama’s Hung You in the Closet and I’m Feeling So Sad. Following the graphic breakthroughs of UPA, FMS reached beyond the traditional confines of the animation studio for inspiration. Chas. B. Slackman, for instance, was recruited as designer and staff artist Irene Trivas made major stylistic contributions.

Famous Sally, illustrated by Chas. B. Slackman

In business, popularity can breed conflict  Within a year Mogubgub left FMS.  Irene Trivas and Ed Smith joined him in his new office on Sixth Avenue at Mogubgub LTD.  The “M” in FMS was replaced by a fictitious “Mohammed”.  Schwartz and Ferro would go on for another two years producing commercials as well as titles for Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove.

Clients followed Mogubgub.  His first major commission was a recruitment film for J. Walter Thompson.  The ad firm wanted to lure young talent,  Mogubgub was hired to attract them.  The result was a romp around Manhattan set to the Beatles first album.

Quick cutting wasn’t Mogubgub’s only approach.  And ad for Ford titled “Ford Has Changed” was reminiscent of Saul Steinberg.  American icons parade across the screen led by a cowboy, Abraham Lincoln, and a strong man.  The visuals support, yet continuously undermine the sales pitch.  ”Ford has changed”: A man barks at a dog.  ”…until you get inside”: Jonah inside the whale.  ”Take the wheel and see”: a cop chasing a robber.  Comic images, but sinister.  After the stream of icons passes, the same gang who started the parade bring up the rear.  As they move to center they remove their heads as though tipping their hats.  Lincoln becomes a priest, the cowboy -an Indian, the body builder -a scrawny ectomorph.  This last transformation is more than a comic twist.  Instead of rejoicing at the new face of Ford, the finale questions the legitimacy and the necessity of “change”.   An early salvo in the upcoming cultural revolution.

The marching band soundtrack, the artwork, and the immediate comedy in the animation disguise the complexity of the Ford commercial.  Music and visuals take issue with one another and offer opposing points of view.  The Great Society is a further example of this technique.  A series of product shots are cut to “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”, it satirizes advertising and American culture.  The send up is made palatable by the filmmaker’s clear affection for his target.  Commercialism isn’t evil, just ridiculous.

Mogubgub wasn’t educated in cinematic theory (or practice) or literature. his filmmaking skills were largely self-taught. Once while waiting in a lobby, The Battleship Potemkin was running on the Moviola. Having never heard of Sergei Eisenstein (much like today young animators) he began to recut “The Odessa Steps” on the spot. He was fond of Godard’s line “Film is the truth 24 times a second”. Mogubgub’s main complaint with film was that it was too slow, that filmmakers underestimated their audience. People can process information much quicker than the movies present it.

The success of artists like John Hubley, Ernie Pintoff, and Norman McLaren encouraged a generation to experiment. Technological innovations offered further possibilities. In 1963, a new film splicer from Italy developed by Leo Catozzo, Fellini’s editor, allowed for cuts to be made in a single frame. Previously, an editor would lose surrounding frames and wasn’t unable to make another cut for around a foot. This opened Mogubgub’s world in much the same way non-linear editing and desktop compositing has influenced animators today.

An image was an image, whether a starlet photo from the silent era, animated drawings, or stock footage from a gangster picture. He practiced a dodecaphonics of film in which each frame is given equal value without regard for traditional consonance.

continues tomorrow