On December 30th, 2009, the Library of Congress announced the next twenty-five films chosen for preservation in the National Film Registry, merited on their “enduring importance to American culture.” On the list was the 1975 animated short QUASI AT THE QUACKADERO by Sally Cruikshank.
As the Library of Congress announced:
“Quasi at the Quackadero” has earned the term “unique.” Once described as a “mixture of 1930s Van Beuren cartoons and 1960s R. Crumb comics with a dash of Sam Flax,” and a descendant of the “Depression-era funny animal cartoon,” Sally Cruikshank’s wildly imaginative tale of odd creatures visiting a psychedelic amusement park careens creatively from strange to truly wacky scenes. It became a favorite of the Midnight Movie circuit in the 1970s. Cruikshank later created animation sequences for “Sesame Street,” the 1986 film “Ruthless People” and the “Cartoon Land” sequence in the 1983 film “Twilight Zone: The Movie.”
This was exciting news. I hadn’t heard a reference to the film in a quarter-century. [One day during a lunch break on a location shoot in the mid-1980s, another crewmember brought up this film; that was my only chance to discuss it.] Yet when I saw it the film made a great impression: I came home and wrote down my thoughts about her work after the only time I saw it. (According to my notes it was September 1, 1981, at the Nuart Theatre in West L.A.) I had recently graduated from film school and was working at Disney Studios. It was a time of searching and questioning what I wanted to do with all I had learned. A lot of this quest included seeing lots of alternative forms of film: Super8 Festivals, early features by Mark Rappaport, New Wave shorts by Chuck Straten, etc. An Evening with Sally Cruikshank at the Nuart was part of that search for my idiom.
The evening was a two-part show of her own short films and cartoons that inspired her. The latter works were mainly pre-Code, black-and-white surreal wonders of pulsating universes with elastic, bouncy beings and anthropomorphized objects: Pat Sullivan’s Felix the Cat in FLIM FLAM FILMS (great name for a production company but I’d hate to be the person answering the phone), several Fleischer shorts (Betty Boop in IS MY PALM READ?, the hallucinatory BIMBO’S INITIATION plus the early Popeye short A DREAM WALKING), and a combination live action / animation short from Warner Brothers called YOU OUGHT TO BE IN PICTURES starring Porky, Daffy and Leon Schlesinger. (Are you getting the drift of her aesthetic?)
Cruikshank’s work was ahead of its time: the color and design are far more like New Wave 1980s than Disco Seventies, as is its cut-and-paste PostModern sensibility. (No wonder her work was used in major Hollywood feature films during the ’eighties.) Yet the tabletop aesthetic of these handcrafted films is very much a product of the pre-Yuppie, pre-Reagan era. This is one of the most unshakable sensations of her works: her means of production perfectly places the artist in her generation and the times she has lived in, yet her creative vision is still pushing the medium’s voice thirty-five years after this film’s completion.