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Restored Fleischer Animation: “Buzzy Boop at the Concert”

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A photo of the massive amount of archived material the FTA curates

The Archive is renowned for its pioneering efforts to rescue, preserve and showcase moving image media. It is dedicated to ensuring that film history is explored and enjoyed for generations to come.

Our guest writer is Jerry Beck, a writer, animation producer, professor and author of more than 15 books on animation history. He is a former studio executive with Nickelodeon Movies and Disney. He has curated cartoons for DVD and Blu-ray compilations and has lent his expertise to dozens of bonus documentaries and audio commentaries. Beck teaches animation history at CalArts, UCLA and Woodbury University, and serves as Vice President of the International Animated Film Society, ASIFA-Hollywood.

After the enforcement of the Production Code in 1934, Max Fleischer’s animation studio had to rethink the direction of their Betty Boop cartoons. The character was still popular and iconic, but they had to downplay her sex appeal, and proceeded to give her an extended family that included her pet dog, Pudgy, a boyfriend, Freddie, and Grampy, an inventor.

They also introduced a mischievous niece, Buzzy Boop. Unfortunately, her two film appearances in 1938 have been missing for over 70 years. The good news: a 35mm print of Buzzy Boop at the Concert was found in the Russian state film archive, Gosfilmofond, thanks to a group of animation buffs in Moscow.

This came about thanks to animator Fydor Khitruk. Khitruk was a fan of the 1980 book by Leonard Maltin, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, and felt it should be translated into Russian. He and his team of students spent a decade translating the book. Unfortunately, Khitruk passed away in 2012. His team then spent another six years completing the project, and the book was indeed published in Russia in 2018.

Copies of the Russian version were sent to Leonard Maltin and myself (I was a research associate for Of Mice and Magic), and communication was established with the students. They read a post of mine about several “lost” Fleischer cartoons and decided to search Gosfilmofond for some of those titles. Miraculously, they found one of them hiding there—a pristine 35mm print of Buzzy Boop at the Concert.

The International Animated Film Society, ASIFA-Hollywood (of which I am Vice President and am in charge of their film preservation activities) teamed with the UCLA Film & Television Archive to borrow that print, preserve and restore it, and make it available in the United States. The restoration debuted at the 2022 UCLA Festival of Preservation and is now available for viewing on the Archive’s YouTube channel (watch below).

In Buzzy Boop at the Concert, Betty Boop exposes her bored niece Buzzy to high culture by bringing her to a concert recital by a famed soprano supreme, Madame Shrill. Buzzy enlivens the concert, and awakens a dozing audience, by jazz dancing her way to the stage and rocking the whole joint. The highlight of the film is the crazy swing dance finale—as only the Fleischer studio can do it.

The history of animation, and the larger history of film itself, is a giant jigsaw puzzle that historians and archivists race to put back together again. With lost films prior to 1950 printed on volatile nitrate stock, that race is getting harder and harder every year. The UCLA Film & Television Archive and their friends at ASIFA-Hollywood are committed to finding those lost jigsaw puzzle pieces—the cartoon ones—one “boop” at a time.

Why preservation animation? “Animated films are art, and art has value,” says ASIFA-Hollywood Executive Director Frank Gladstone. “They are often reflective of their times, a window into what people thought about when they were made. They are history. How can we understand where we are going or how we might get there unless we know where we have already been? And, as Jerry often says, if we don’t do this, who will?”

Watch Buzzy Boop at the Concert (1938):

Restored by the UCLA Film & Television Archive with funding provided by ASIFA-Hollywood.
Laboratory services by Roundabout Entertainment, Inc., Audio Mechanics, DJ Audio, Inc., FotoKem.
Special thanks to Gosfilmofond, Stanislav Dedinsky, Natalie Ryabchikova, Paramount Pictures Archives.

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