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Review Fix Exclusive: Tommy Jos Stathes Interview


Posted by Rocco Sansone on 5/07/15 Categorized as Film
Reviewfix.com sits down with founder and proprietor of Cartoons on Film Tommy Jos Stathes to talk
about his Blu-Ray/DVD Cartoon Roots, archiving old cartoons, why animation is important to cinema
history, his New York screenings, and cartoon history.
Review Fix: Please describe what exactly it is you do?
Stathes: For the sake of simplicity, I usually call myself a film historian and archivist. To be more
specific, Im an early animation archivist. Rather than simply research history or write books, Ive spent
several years building a private archive of the earliest animated cartoons that were made around a
century ago. This means I have hundreds of film reels and cans, and while Im often researching their
history and occasionally writing about them, my work usually entails finding and collecting the films in the first place (many of
them are rare or considered lost until found) and then finding ways to exhibit them publicly. Ive hosted or curated some fifty
public screenings thus far, occasionally show material in film history classes, have provided programming to Turner Classic
Movies, and am now beginning to get into the distribution of these early cartoons so more people around the world can see
them. The combination of all these tasks and activities are sometimes much more than a straightforward archivist, historian, or
educator must do in their day to day work, so Im often wishing there were clones of me to help myself outbut I like to think film
archivist as an umbrella term still sums it all up pretty well.
Review Fix: Why do you feel these cartoons are important?
Stathes: Like many children, I always loved cartoons. From a young age, I also had an intense interest in history. Ive always felt
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Review Fix Exclusive: Tommy Jos Stathes Interview | Review Fix

5/7/15, 12:06 PM

that its fascinating to know about and see examples of the earliest, oldest example of something that exists. In this case,
animated cartoons. To think that audiences all over the world went wild over silent, black and white animation is a fascinating
concept, and goes to show what was considered entertaining at a time when there was no television, barely any radio, nor other
technologies and forms of entertainment we take for granted now. Of course, many early cartoons still hold up really well as
entertainment pieces, and thats half the fun of working with them and showing them to new audiences.
Review Fix: Why this era?
Stathes: Ive always been interested in firsts and how certain industries or art forms began. As a lover of film especially, as
well as cartoons, my intense interest in the first cartoons thus came naturally to me at an early age. Its very whimsical and
charming to me to watch certain animators invent techniques and try to express concepts visually, as well as hone their skills in
those early years, without having gone to school for or read books about how to make animated cartoons. Another thing to
consider is that a film has to be pretty visually effective in order to convey information, emotion and ideas without the use of
dialog or sound effects. Aside from the technical and art-based reasons why I like to focus on this era, the films are also time
capsules of the time in which theyre made. I greatly appreciate 20th-century history and its fantastic to be able to see moving
records (or in the case of cartoons, parodies) of things that were going on at the beginning of the century.
Review Fix: What would you say is the toughest part about archiving, restoring and screening these cartoons?
Stathes: In general, one of the toughest aspects is the poor survival rate of these films. So many of them are considered lost
and no copies are easily found. For researchers and hardcore fans, this means that there are many films we want to see and
show around, but its simply impossible until a rare or unique print turns up. On a personal level, a more difficult aspect for me
has always been finances. I dont come from money and dont make much doing the work that I do, and since all of this is an
intense labor of love, Ive had to make many sacrifices of pocket change and time to accomplish anything Ive done. Back to a
more general sense, thougharchiving and working with these kinds of films takes up space, so someone like me is
accustomed to living among film cans. Even worse, sometimes Ill find a coveted film and its suffering from deterioration. That
means it might be unprojectable, or it can be saved but will take a lot of time, much more money, and other resources to
preserve it in a new professional copy. There is hardly anything casual, simple, or passive about being a film archivist, even if
youre doing the work independently and in the solitude of your own home.
Review Fix: Please tell us about Cartoon Roots.
Stathes: Cartoon Roots is a recent Blu-Ray/DVD release featuring more than a dozen fun and rare silent cartoons, as well a
few obscure gems from the early sound era. It includes many of the characters and series which were highly important in the
era: Farmer Alfalfa, Koko the Clown, Felix the Cat, Mutt & Jeff, Krazy Kat, Bobby Bumps, and several others. The collection
serves three purposes, or so. For general audiences, its a great way to familiarize themselves with the first famous cartoon
stars that existed before Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny. For seasoned animation and film historians, its an opportunity to see
and own newly restored versions of uncommon films, many of which have not been publicly available for 60+ or 90+ years,
depending on the title. Thirdly, its a fun and offbeat indie release for any Blu-Ray collector to consider owning. Aside from the
cartoons, it contains many extras and an informative booklet in the package as well.
Review Fix: Why do you feel the cartoons on this Blu-Ray were worth putting on among the other cartoons you have?
Stathes: Truth be told, there were some difficult decisions to make. I have hundreds of titles in my archive, so I often have

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Review Fix Exclusive: Tommy Jos Stathes Interview | Review Fix

5/7/15, 12:06 PM

trouble picking individual films to use in certain projects. Some of the films had already been prepared for other projects such as
television broadcasts or theatrical screenings, so that made them good candidates for inclusion on the Blu-Ray. I wanted to have
a good cross-section of the major characters, animators, series, and studios of the 1910s to 1920s, so the final selections
represent certain essentials of the period, while not using the tired old famous titles (i.e. Gertie the Dinosaur, Felix in
Hollywood, etc.) which have been recycled ad nauseam and over-shown in recent decades.
Review Fix: Why are cartoons so important to cinema?
Stathes: At first glance, cartoons are obviously important because of the enormous entertainment value theyve provided
audiences over the past century, even if the genre has been maligned by some, or relegated just to childrens fare by othersand
on the whole, animation is definitely not all childrens fare by a long shot. In a more technical and philosophical sense, animation
is a form of filmmaking and storytelling that is only possible in the medium of film. When we watch actors in a live action film, any
SFX and CGI put aside, much of what theyre doing can be performed in real life on a stage or on a set. Animation cannot exist
outside of the film world, and in a sense, it can even be considered more purely filmic than any live-action production. Anyone
who quickly dismisses animation does not truly understand animations general impact on the medium of film, nor do they
recognize the mediums reliance on animation to express surreal concepts or to enhance live action productions.
Review Fix: What has been the general consensus of your screenings and the Blu-Ray?
Stathes: At my live events, we typically get two distinct groups of people showing up. There are the cinephiles and animation
fans, who know quite a bit about film history and either love these films already or are looking to watch ones they havent seen
yet. Then we get quite a few people from the general New York City area who are not hardcore film people and are just looking
for fun and unusual events to attend on a weekend. Based on the feedback Ive gotten, most attendees in both groups have a
good time, and that means they were simply entertained or learned something new through exposure to these films.
The audience for my Blu-Ray, on the whole, tends to be people who readily identify as cinephiles, film historians, or animation
lovers. So, in general, consumers are a bit more informed from the get-go as opposed to people from the general public
stumbling upon it. However, I do think the format alone means some non-animation enthusiasts are probably going for it just
because its an unusual release in HD. Many people have written me telling me that they enjoy the set and are looking forward
to future collections.
Review Fix: What do you expect for the general audience to take from these screenings and Blu Ray?
Stathes: In my eyes, my screenings and this Blu-Ray collection serve several purposes all at once. First and foremost, my ideal
is for everyone to be entertained. Some viewers find the material funny, others find it whimsical and mesmerizing, either
because of the content or simply the age and look of the films. In some cases, I hope education is also part of the experience for
anyone watching. Whether I or someone else is explaining the history of the films or not, just the visual information within the
films alone is educational. Ideas, customs, technologies, fashions, and socio-economic information from specific periods can all
be found in these films, and its fun to see how a cartoon, or any film for that matter, unintentionally serves as an educational
time capsule this way .
Review Fix: Is there anything further youd like to add?
Stathes: Though a lot of it might sound like fun and games to the casual onlooker, there are many difficulties and struggles
involved in doing the kind of work I do. This is especially true as an independent worker without the support of another entity like
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Review Fix Exclusive: Tommy Jos Stathes Interview | Review Fix

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a museum, archive, or university. Despite those difficulties, its still very much a labor of love and a privilege to be able to
educate and entertain a global audience through my work. Im very grateful for all the support Ive gotten in response to Cartoon
Roots and hope to have more releases out before long. In the meantime, anyone in the New York City area should keep their
eyes peeled for my frequent 16mm Cartoon Carnival screenings where we all enjoy these early cartoons shown on reel film.
The mutual vibe of shared laughter and bemusement with an audience makes the films all that much more enjoyable.
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Bio
Latest Posts

Rocco Sansone
Rocco Sansone is a man of many interests. These include anime/manga, video games, tabletop RPGs, YA
literature, 19th century literature, the New York Rangers, and history. Among the things and places he would like to
see before he dies are Japan, half of Europe, and the New York Rangers win another Stanley Cup.
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