Until writing this post, I could not have told you who directed the cult classic animated feature “Heavy Metal”. But now I know it’s Gerald Potterton
First I discovered Potterton’s short film “The Ride”
Then I found he directed another short featuring an elderly Buster Keaton, “The Railrodder”, which I had read about but never seen.
Clearly, this is an animator who appreciates slapstick comedy.
Also, Heavy Metal came into the trending topics recently because of the launch of the Falcon Heavy rocket, that put the Tesla roadster into space. This image was made by someone online. I believe the illustration was actually from the print magazine and not the movie,
2 thoughts on “Gerald Potterton”
Thanks for posting these. It’s terrific that Potterton gave us more of Buster Keaton on screen, and The Ride has some lovely comedy, set up well and executed well. For instance, Potterton establishes a plausible reason to leave the hat so the toboggan ride can start; the tree cutter falls when the toboggan knocks over the tree; the scattered skiers indicate a crash without the need to show it; and the run through the tent has a clear set-up. All good stuff.
However, the best silent film comedies show what’s missing: Cause-&-effect. Stopping to raise the hat to the ax man runs too short to work as a full bit, but too long for an incongruously comic touch of politeness in a mad dash. Once the tent guy’s on the toboggan, he simply rolls off. We don’t need to see how the chauffeur landed on the skier’s back but shouldn’t we see the skier first? And, again, this piggyback bit ends arbitrarily, as the skier simply pulls to the side and chauffeur hops off. So too the guy being chased by the sk-imobile simply disappears.
I don’t mean to criticize Potterton’s work exactly. It’s great that he did these films in the first place. Much praise to him.
Instead I’m commenting because it seems to me that the absence of cause & effect has afflicted comedy since the 60s. Early film comedies may have jumped from bit to bit but the best ones, the ones we honor, usually showed a clear reason for a bit to start and then to end. It wasn’t always a major motivation; sometime it was simple silliness or even a nonsensical non sequitur. Still it usually fit the internal logic of character and story. If two were on a sled and one needed to be gone, there’d at least be a bump. When Keaton comes out of the alley chased by cops, he stops in the middle of the street. It doesn’t make sense; they’re still chasing him. But then a passing car — plausible — goes by and Keaton sticks out his hand to grab the car: his internal calm joins the internal logic of the film, and he’s gone.
Now that key lesson is too often missed, and we get a string of bits without that internal logic. It’s as if physical comedians bought into conventional commentary that celebrates “antics,” and forgot (or never learned) that a bit should be a small gem of a story, with a beginning-middle-end arc, both in individual bits and over the whole thing.
Excellent comment. Thank you.