ASIFA Magazine – Fred Mogubgub, part three.

The Pop Show followed Enter Hamlet. Conceived as a trailer for a television series, The Pop Show is the best introduction to Mogubgub’s work. If this were the last surviving artifact of 1966, that year’s youthful creativity would be well preserved. The soundtrack mixes The Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” with Hammond organ renditions of “Eight Days a Week” and “Wooly Bully”. The Pop Show uses animation to show what’s “in” (Automats) and “out” (Sardi’s), what was popular and what the kids were doing. Its defining moments are a series of shots featuring the young Gloria Steinam. She first presents a bottle of Coca Cola, pours herself a glass, drinks it and shoots a winning smile. Several shots later she does the same with a frothy beer. Later the same with a bottle of “Mr Clean” followed by laundry soap, and a shot of Lucky Strike tobacco. It’s comic without being silly, political without being didactic and it presumes visual and intellectual sophistication from the viewer.

What may be his best-known work was made at this time -a three-story mural painted on the outside of his Sixth Avenue studio. The left side was a beautiful woman, design by Irene Trivas, the right hand side was a word bubble saying “Who Will Give Mogubgub Ltd. Two Million Dollars To Make A Feature?”

Without the two million Mogubgub still made a feature. The Day I Met Zet runs 71 minutes and has 72,000 scenes. Zet consumed Mogubgub for three years. In 1967 a distributor offered him three points of advice after screening a work print- the next day the film was in the trash and he started over. When the New York Film Festival refused Zet, the filmmaker mounted a protest. He marched through Lincoln Center with a sign reading “Fuck the New York Film Festival”. When the police came he threw the film into the trash and ignited it. The newspapers had shown up questioning him -”How many hours of work was he destroying?” “Why this protest against the Festival?” Mogubgub stood by silently as he watched an old 16mm print go up in flames. Meanwhile the whole proceeding was being filmed. He planned to make it into a short called The Day I Burned Zet.

The Day I Met Zet had its premiere at a club in Queens. A thunderstorm caused occasional power outages and the owner has a strict “no nude scenes” policy. There were a few blue shots in the film. Forced into self-censorship, the projectionist held his hand over the lens when the offending shots were to come up. WNET in New York broadcast the film once in the late 1960s. The only known print was last thought to be in New Jersey storage facility without climate control.

In the early 60s, television agencies and advertising executives had little understanding of animation. By the end of the decade things had changed. Agencies demanded that artists do things their way. Mogubgub couldn’t bear Madison Avenue telling him how to make films. Touring ad agencies with a lady dressed as Wonder Woman, or suiting up an artist in a gorilla costume and sending him to scale the Empire State Building didn’t drum up new contracts. He dismissed his staff and relocated to more modest quarters at 6 E. 46th Street.

Two somber films come from this period. Adagio and Unknown Reason (both with original soundtracks by David Horowitz) are dark meditative films. In Unknown Reason angels rise from the grave and descend again into the earth. A snow covered picnic table is barren of promise. The smiling Reaper is the resounding final frame. The title cards come towards the end (Mogubgub’s credit coming last and upside down), the final card reading “My second to last short film”.

Animators knew Fred as an endlessly supportive, generous artist. He had deep respect for anyone who painted or made film. When George Griffin was looking for his first animation job, he showed Mogubgub his reel. Upon learning this was the young artist’s only print he handed him $20 to make another.

CONTINUES TOMORROW