Retro Wednesday: The Films of Chuck Menville and Len Janson

In the 1960s two friends, Charles David “Chuck” Menville and Len Janson, revived the then-dead art of stop motion pixilation animation.  Pixilation, the animation of living beings, and object animation, was nothing new to film, but Menville and Janson took the process to a whole new level both technically and creatively.

Their first collaboration,  Stop Look and Listen (1967), was nominated for an Academy Award.  In the short film the main characters “drive” down city streets in invisible cars.  It is a rather “educational” story about the dangers of road rage, and the values of safe driving…

They followed Stop Look and Listen in the same year with another short film, Vicious Cycles.  The comedy, shot in 16 mm, features a gang of hard-core bikers intimidating a prissy motor scooter club. Menville plays the head of the scooter club. Once again all the vehicles in the movie are invisible, thus solidifying this characteristic as an official trademark of the friends’ films.  Amazing.

They followed this masterpiece with Blaze Glory, a spoof of cliché western movies in which heroes and villains rode around the old west, without horses of course! The movie was a hit short film at midnight movies in the early 70s, but didn’t get much screen time besides.

From there on the friends collaborated on the big budget animation productions of others, including  Star Trek: The Animated Series(Menville authored an episode titled “The Practical Joker” for that series, which is now seen by many within Star Trek fandom to have been the genesis of the holodeck, whatever that means.) The SmurfsThe Real Ghostbusters, and Kissyfur.  While they may not be known by the widest of audiences, their films certainly have a cult following, and I’m definitely one of the newest members!




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