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NORTHERN SILHOUETTES: The Work of Bryant Fryer

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Bryant Wilkins Fryer, 1897-1963. Credit: Fryer-Keighley / Library and Archives Canada / PA-095862
I was inspired to propose this paper by a recent issue of ASIFA News, that compiled a chronology of Canadian animation in celebration of ASIFA Canada's I was inspired to propose this paper by a recent issue of ASIFA News, that compiled a chronology of Canadian animation in celebration of ASIFA Canada's twenty-fifth anniversary. The chronology listed such early indigenous productions as Jean Arsin's attempt to make an animated film with articulated puppets in a tarpaper shack in Winnipeg in 1910, the commissioning of the promotional film The Man Who Woke Up in 1919 by the Federated Budget Board of Winnipeg and the sponsorship of the cut-out animated film Romulus and Remus by the Montreal Catholic Diocese in 1926. For the next quarter century, according to ASIFA, the voice of animation fell silent in Canada. My contention here today is that this was not so.

Bryant Fryer is perhaps the most prominent of the voices unheard in this ASIFA historical survey. From 1927 until 1933, Fryer produced animated films under Bryant Fryer is perhaps the most prominent of the voices unheard in this ASIFA historical survey. From 1927 until 1933, Fryer produced animated films under adverse circumstances in Canada. Today, I’d like to give a brief overview of his career, discuss the difficulties of animation production in Canada, and perhaps show one of Fryer’s films. When the NFB began producing animated films under government sponsorship in 1942, it was as if the practice appeared in Canada as an English import via Norman McLaren, who would form the nucleus of animation production at the Board. Why did animation fail to flourish in Canada before this? Fryer’s career forms part of the answer to this question.

Bryant W. Fryer was born in Galt, Ontario on 12 April 1897.1J. M.M. (Michie P. Mitchell), “The Animated Films of Bryant Fryer.” (September 30, 1974) unpublished ms. Fryer, Bryant Documentation Microfiche (National Archives of Canada), 1. After education at the Ontario Art College in Toronto and service in World War I (where he drew caricatures of his colleagues in the Royal School of Artillery), Fryer studied under Tony Sarg at the Art Student’s League in New York. 2Joyce Kilmer, “The Making of an Officer.” clipping n.p. n.d. in Enid Fryer Documentation file (National Archives); Bryant Fryer rĂ©sumĂ© (1945) cited in M. Mitchell, “The Silhouette Films of Bryant Fryer,” Motion. Vol. 5 no. 3 (May\June 1976): 16.; Enid Fryer interview. (6 July 1974) National Archives of Canada, Ottawa, Canada, Geoffrey Keighley interview. (3 September 1974) National Archives of Canada. Tony Sarg was a key figure in the revival of puppetry in the United States. He came to N.Y. in 1914, where he began performing puppet plays based on performances of the Holden Marionettes, which Sarg had seen in London music halls. By the late teens, Sarg’s puppet plays were part of the regular theatre season in N.Y. and Sarg had touring companies on the road. 3Paul McPharlin, The Puppet Theatre in America. (Boston: Plays, Inc., 1969), 320-327. Sarg also helped to popularize puppetry through the publication of F.J. McIsaac, The Tony Sarg Marionette Book. (N.Y.: B.W. Huebsch, 1921) which went through several printings. Marionnette companies became intellectually respectable. Books were published on the subject, and theatre journals regularly reviewed puppet plays.

When Sarg began the production of his animated “Tony Sarg’s Almanac series for Herbert M. Dawley, he used a number of students, including Fryer, as production assistants and animators. Fryer’s introduction to the animation came at one of the turning points in the history of the industry. Beginning in the mid-teens, the domination of feature-length film production in the U.S. market led to the gradual withdrawal of major film companies from the production of shorts. This created a void in the market that was filled by small, poorly-capitalized companies. By 1921, manufacture of animated fIlms increasingly was done by small independent producers releasing through companies specializing in short subjects, rather than through companies in business alliance with the majors. 4For example, the first generation of animation companies were allied with major producers of feature-length fIlms, such as the Bray Studio’s association or business partnership with PathĂ©, Paramount, orGoIdwyn, or the Mutt and Jeff Film Corporation’s alliance with Fox. The next generation of animation companies released through short film specialists. These affiliations included Out of the Inkwell Films’ alliance with M.J. Winkler and later incorporation into Red Seal Pictures, or Pat Sullivan Studio’s release through Educational Pictures. C.S. Sewell, “Criterion, Rialto and Rivoli Will Show Tony Sarg’s Almanac,’ The Moving Picture World. Vol. 50 no. 4 (28 May 1921): 413. By the mid-1920’s there was a boom in the production and exhibition of short subjects, with all short-subject programmes not an infrequent phenomenon. 55. “All-Short-Subject Programs Prove Big Successes,” The Moving Picture World. Vol. 60 no. 1 (6 January 1923): 63; “Short Subjects Popular with Critics, Educational Notes,’ The Moving Picture World. Vol. 67 no. 6 (5 April 1924): 473; Fred C. Quimby, “Short Subjects at Last Attaining Their Rightful Place in the Sun,’ Moving Picture World. Vol. 77 no. 1 (7 Sept. 1925): 67.

Fryer’s introduction to animation through Sarg was decisive to the trajectory of his career, not only in terms of technique, but in terms of market positioning. The puppet animation that was used in “Sarg’s Almanac” was aimed at what might be called “the carriage trade.” The films were differentiated from the product of other manufacturers of animated films not only through the use of silhouette animation, but through transference of puppetry’s cultural “aura” from the stage. Puppet animation (both stop-motion three-dimensional animation and silhouette animation done with articulated flat puppets) was perceived as intrinsically more artistic than other techniques. The puppetry revival of the early 20th century brought cultural respectability to the medium. 66. For example, Some of Maeterlinck’s first writing was for puppet plays. Gordon Craig experimented with puppets as early as 1907, and wrote about them regularly in The Mask. Sarg’s puppet theatre in New York was backed by producer Winthrop Ames, who converted the first floor of a brownstone on Thompson Street in Greenwich Village into a theatre. McPharlin, 320-322. In Sarg’s silhouette films, subjects were chosen with special attention to their appeaI to professional groups and special attempts were made to publicize them among such groups. All episodes of “Tony Sarg’s Almanac” were issued with synchronised scores prepared by Dr. Hugo Reisenfield. 7For example, the second episode of “Tony Sarg’s Almanac” was The Tooth Carpenter (1921). The Criterion Theatre in New York mailed 5,600 special cards to all dentists in the New York area, to publicise the film. This kind of campaign was unusual “Franklin Enthuses Over Sarg’s Almanac; Many Bookings Secured,” The Moving Picture World. Vol. 50 no. 7 (18 June 1921): 732; “What of the Short Subject?” The Moving Picture World, Vol. 67 no. 6 (5 April 1924): 440-441; “Synchronized Sales Head Reports Many Big Sales Throughout Country,” The Moving Picture World, Vol. 50 no. 7 (18 June 1921): 738.

In a parallel to the earlier strategy that helped to advance acceptance of feature length films by adapting conventions of the stage (eg. “Famous Players in Famous Plays), as the twenties progressed, there was an attempt to give animated short subjects greater respectability. Hugo Riesenfeld inaugurated a competition for the Riesenfeld Gold Medal Award for exceptional merit in the short subject field in 1925. In its first year, both the Gold Medal and the second prize were given to puppet animated films. 8The winner was Ladislaw Starevitch’s The Voice of the Nightengale, with Max Fleischer’s Evolution (using stop-motion puppet animation from Willis O’Brien’s The Ghost of Slumber Mountain (1917) and Cecil Hepworth’s Through Tree Reigns taking second and third places. “Wins Riesenfeld Gold Medal Award”, The Moving Picture World, Vol. 77 no 1 (7 November 1925): 71. Trade journals began to give greater coverage to short films, with interview profiles of major figures in the short subject field, citing them as authorities in the film business. This treatment lasted less than a decade. When the short subject field began to collapse economically around 1927, such coverage ceased. Although Sarg was no longer producing films by that time, his “Almanac” series was consistent with this trend in the industry.

With the end of Sarg’s series of films in 1923, Fryer moved on to a brief period of employment at the Bray Studios, where he became acquainted with the techniques of cel animation, before leaving for further art training in London and at the Academie Julien in Paris.

By the mid-l920s, Fryer took up residence in Toronto, where he created artwork for advertising. Fryer’s return to Canada coincided with a couple of trends. First, the revival of puppetry in Canada began just prior to Fryer’s return. 9A few visiting marionette companies visited Canada after WWI. In 1923, the first post-war Canadian puppeteers, the King Cob Puppets, began activity in Hamilton, Ontario. In1925, Dave and Violet Keogh established Kay’s Marionettes in Toronto. McPharlin, 348-9, 464, 468. Secondly, Fryer’s return came at the time that Peter Morris characterised as the “years of promise” of the Canadian film industry. In the decade following World War One, a new nationalism in Canada resulted in a sustained period of attempts to create a film industry reflecting national concerns. Early post-war activity in this area concentrated in the production of newsreels, which satisfied a market for local news. Although Canadian versions of foreign newsreels, such as “British Canadian PathĂ© News” or “Fox Canadian News” dominated the market, a substantial number of domestic newsreels were also made, including “Canadian Topical Review” and “Canadian National Pictorial. 10Peter Morris, Embattled Shadows. (Montreal: McGill-Queens Press, 1978), 57-63.

In 1923, failed film producer George Brownridge persuaded the government of the province of Ontario to purchase the Trenton Studio, which was the largest studio facility in Canada, for the use of the Ontario Government Motion Picture Bureau. Some time later, the Motion Picture Bureau sent Brownridge to New York to arrange for U.S. release of its films. After a year, Brownridge negotiated a contract with the firm of Cranfield and Clarke, who opened a branch office in Toronto in 1926. Cranfield and Clarke agreed to distribute a series of Ontario Motion Picture Bureau films featuring S. L. “Roxy” Rothapfel and the cast of his radio show “Roxy and his Gang” to publicize tourism in Ontario.11Morris, 153-154, “Cranfield and Clarke To Release ‘Roxy’ Pictures,” The Moving Picture World, Vol. 80 no. 6 (5 June 1926): 478.

Cranfield and Clarke were in many ways typical of the marginal firms that entered the business when the major fIlm producers withdrew from the production of shorts. Part of their appeal to the Ontario government lay in the fact that they were English – an important fact in a country concerned over the influence of American cinema.12Morris, 72-73.

Many countries in the 1920s became concerned about the post-war dominance of the American film industry, but few felt this concern as keenly as the English-speaking countries of the British Commonwealth. In England, legislation would be put forth that imposed a quota for British-made films. In Canada, with an embryonic film culture that couldn’t yet be called an industry, cinematic nationalism was expressed through a celebration of the imperial link with England.

While Cranfield and Clarke was located in New York, its stock in trade consisted of the distribution of Cecil Hepworth’s films in the United States through Red Seal Pictures, the distribution company run by Edwin Miles Fadiman and Max Fleischer. 13“Closes Distribution Deal,” The Moving Picture World. Vol. 70 no. 3 (20 September 1924): 234. While most distribution contracts in the United States included Canada as part of the domestic market, the contract Cranfield and Clarke signed with Red Seal excluded the Canadian market. Cranfield and Clarke’s films began to be exhibited with the showing of Through Three Reigns, which received its American premiere at Hugo RiesenfeId’s Rivoli Theatre in New York on August 31, 1924. Among the exhibitors of the Cranfield and Clarke product through Red Seal’s distribution were the Balaban and Katz chain of theatres.

The failure of Hepworth’s company and the collapse of Red Seal Pictures left Cranfield and Clarke somewhat short on both product and an outlet. R.T. Cranfield and Colonel Clarke saw potential in Canada for film production based on the anti-American sentiment in the Commonwealth, and found strong backing in Canada, where former Prime Minister Arthur Meighen and Ontario Premier Howard Ferguson made speeches urging the production of Canadian films, and pledged close cooperation between the government and Cranfield and Clarke’s company. Cranfield and Clarke were to be given studio facilities at the Ontario Motion Picture Bureau’s Trenton facilities for a nominal fee.14Morris, 73. The producers, who were importing British-made shorts for distribution through their anemic group of film exchanges, found it prudent to open a London office. 1515. “Cranfield and Clarke lncrease Capitalization; To ‘Cover’ World,” The Moving Picture World. Vol. 78 no. 8 (20 February 1926): 704. Despite their announcement of expansion, Cranfield and Clarke had a total of seven exchanges in addition to their New York office. These were Boston, Philadelphia, Denver, St. John N.B., Montreal, Toronto and Winnipeg. Cranfield and Clarke advertisement, The Moving Picture World. Vol. 80 no. 3 (15 May 1926): 245. And, despite much rhetoric about the imperial link, Cranfield and Clarke’s London office was largely devoted to importing American-made shorts into England. “W.F. Clarke Sails For England,” The Moving Picture World. Vol. 81 no. 1 (3 July 1926): 42.

In the history of Canadian cinema, Cranfield and Clarke are most famous for producing the Canadian WWI epic Carry On Sergeant. 16Popular resentment about the perceived neglect of the Canadian war effort in American film led to the popularity of Canadian films on the subject of the war. This likely led to Cranfield and Clarke’s interest in producing a war subject. “Canadians See Favorable Year for War Films,” The Moving Picture World. Vol. 78 no. 4 (23 January 1926): 4. What is less well-known is that their first Canadian venture was with animator Bryant Fryer. Upon the announcement in 1926 that Cranfield and Clarke had formed a new production unit in Canada called British Empire Films, it was also announced that Bryant Fryer would produce the “Shadow Laugh Series” for the company. 17 “Col. Clarke Has A New Canadian Producing Unit,” The Moving Picture World. Vol. 83 no. 8 (18 December 1926): 3.

Production on the ‘Shadow Laugh Series’ began in 1927. Fryer obtained production, processing and printing facilities from Filmart, a Toronto company that produced film titles and advertising. The agreement with Cranfield and Clarke appears to have been a distribution agreement only, with no income being produced until the films were distributed to theatres. Filmart would sponsor the costs of production, but the labour used to make the films would be unpaid. To assist in animation, Fryer hired Geoffrey Keighley (his future brother-in-law). Keighley, a recent graduate of the University of Toronto, had no specific training in art. Stories and the design were determined by Fryer. Keighley contributed to story and wrote the titles. According to Keighley, “…the figures were cut out of opaque material and cardboard and joined together in sort of anatomical fashion. And we worked on a sloping glass plate which was about 30 inches wide and not quite as high as that. The backgrounds were made either of opaque paper or layers of tracing paper which were traced on the back of the glass plate we worked on. The figures had some sticky material on them…so they wouldn’t slide down the glass. We’d just pick them up and move them around against this background that was lit from behind. 18Keighley interview, M. Mitchell “The SiIhouette Films of Bryant Fryer,” Motion. Vol. 5 no. 3 (May/June 1976): 16. The images were photographed by a camera set up on a table in front of the animation stand. The camera operator sat on a chair on the table. After Fryer or Keighley moved the figures, they would move out of the way and instruct the camera operator how many frames they wanted photographed.19 Geoffrey Keighley, letter to Michie Mitchell (21 August 1974) cited in Michie Mitchell, “The Animated Films of Bryant Fryer,” unpublished ms. Bryant Fryer Documentation Microfiche, National Archives of Canada.

Follow the Swallow (1927), the first of the “Shadow Laugh Series,” took a month to produce. While Keighley was available to work on the film full-time, his lack of experience limited his contribution to the animation. Fryer supported himself with daytime employment and could only animate the films by night. Follow the Swallow shows a strong Tony Sarg influence, not only in its use of silhouette techniques, but in its adoption of the stone-age themes used in all of Sarg’s films. In Follow the Swallow, a mythical bird called the Gin Swallow steals the liquor of an alcoholic neolithic man, who pursues the beast on his dinosaur. The second of the series One Bad Knight (1927) broke with the Sarg tradition. This film depicts its hero, Sir Roland, as an old man recounting his past courtship of his wife in a medieval bar, fighting off a rival and a dragon for her hand. Both films are competent efforts when compared to Sarg’s work, but lack the delicacy of Lotte Reininger’s art. Aside from the limited experience of Fryer and Keighley, their production methods may have contributed to the quality of their work. Since their animation stand was on an angle, and the figures had to be fixed in place with sticky material, it was more awkward to position the jointed characters than it would have been with the horizontal surface on which Reininger worked.

By the time that One Bad Knight was completed, Fryer’s venture was in trouble. Cranfield and Clarke were in deep financial difficulties due to cost overruns in the production of Carry On Sergeant and were in no position to distribute Fryer’s films. Paramount and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer both decided in 1927 to return to large scale distribution of short fIlms, undercutting the price of product made by independent studios offered on a states’ rights basis. Industry-wide, fInancially hard-pressed states’ rights film exchanges were refusing to pick up new short film series. Many short film producers were suspending operations.20 “Short Reel Producers Feel Invasion of Bigger Makers.” Variety. Vol. LXXXVIII no. 11 (28 September 1927), 9. Among the companies affected were the Bray Studios Inc. and Out of the Inkwell Films. Although both companies survived, 1927 was a period of retrenchment, with the Bray Studios withdrawing from animation production to concentrate on industrial films and Out of the Inkwell Films temporarily losing its N.Y. studio until it entered into a distribution agreement with Paramount. This made it unlikely that Fryer would find distribution. Norman Gunn and Allen Beattie, owners of Filmart, were convinced that Fryer’s series had no commercial potential and withdrew their support. This brought the “Shadow Laugh Series” to a premature end.21 Morris, 74 – 80, Mitchell, “The Silhouette Films of Bryant Fryer,”: 17, Enid Fryer interview.

Luckily, Fryer hadn’t given up his day job. For the next few years, he supported himself by working in advertising. Keighley continued his university studies at CalTech, and gave up further work in the cinema. Fryer left advertising, spent a year studying art in Europe and married Keighley’s sister Enid. Returning to Toronto, he began to work as an instructor at the Ontario College of Art. In 1933, Fryer was hired by an architect named Hilton Wilkes to paint murals for the annual Beaux Arts Ball at the Royal York Hotel. In lunch discussions together at the Arts and Letters Club, Wilkes revealed an interest in animation to Fryer. Fryer responded by showing Wilkes the “Shadow Laugh” fIlms, and the two men decided to set up production of a new series of films. 22Enid Fryer interview, Mitchell, Motion: 17.

Wilkes was related through marriage to the Gooderham family, owners of the giant distilling firm Gooderham-Worts. In May 1933, with backing from Arthur Gooderham, Wilkes father-in-law, Fryer and Wilkes formed Bryant Fryer Limited to produce a series of six animated films. Film processing and recording facilities were provided by the Ontario Motion Picture Bureau, a producer of educational fIlms for the Province of Ontario. Fryer set up a studio on Bloor Street in Toronto, and hired two students from the Ontario College of Art, Ed Furness and Ralph Blaber, as animators. Production began on the “Shadowettes” series, Fryer’s fIrst series of films in sound.

Sailors of the Guard (1933) was meant both as a pilot for the series of films to follow, and as a vehicle to provide animation training for Furness and Blaber. Production did not proceed smoothly. Initially, production began with the same awkward slanted table and hand-cranked arrangement used in the “Shadow Laugh Series.” Problems with the hand cranked DeBrie camera purchased by Wilkes and Fryer resulted in a flickering effect caused by uneven exposures. This was solved by Ed Livingstone, a technician for the O.M.P.B., who devised a flat bed animation stand using an electric motor with a slip clutch to drive the DeBrie camera mounted directly overhead. This not only solved the problem of uneven exposure and eliminated the need for one person to act as a camera operator, it also simplified the manipulation of the cut out figures. This may have been the reason why the “Shadowette” films are much more elaborate than the earlier “Shadow Laugh Series,” with simultaneous movement of several characters, complicated turns and other effects that were less frequently found in the earlier films. And, there was sound, using mostly traditional melodies, although with some songs composed by Fryer. Music was arranged and performed in the O.M.P.B’s Trenton Studio by Frazer Allen, who was a bandleader in Toronto. 23Michie Mitchell, “The Silhouette Films of Bryant Fryer: Motion: 17. Sound was post-synchronized and dialogue was kept to a minimum.

Let’s take a look at an example of Fryer’s work – Bye Baby Bunting.

No record exists of audience reaction to these films, but the fact that the two surviving “Shadowette” films are based on songs, and that they begin with the lyrics of the songs on the screen, suggests an influence other than Sarg’s. Nearly fifty years after working with Fryer, Geoffrey Keighley remembered the competition to Fryer’s films in these terms: “People used to sing and this balI bobbed up and down over the words. I don’t know what they were called.24Geoffrey Keighley interview. This suggests that such short films as Educational Pictures’ “Sing Them Again” series, the Fleischers’ “Song Car-Tunes” and later “Screen Song” series, or Artclass Pictures’ “Popular Song Parodies” were possible models. 25“Picture Song Idea For Picture Houses,” Variety. Vol. LXXll no. 3 (6 September 1923): 21; “‘Sing Them Again’ Week Exploits Series”, The Moving Picture World. Vol. 65 no. 9 (29 December 1923): 838; “The House of Featurettes,” The Moving Picture World. Vol. 73 no. 6 (11 April 1925): 584; Denis Gifford, American Animated Films: The Silent Era, 1897-1929. (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1990),154.

After Sailors of the Guard and Bye Baby Bunting (1933), one more film, Jack the Giant Killer (1933), was completed during the summer of 1933. 26Sarg performed Jack and the Beanstalk to his Thompson Street theatre in 1917. Day’s Marionettes performed a version in Toronto in the 1934-35 season. There is no evidence that there was a definite connection among these and Fryer’s film version. McPharlin, 434, 368.

Fryer used silhouette animation on these films primarily because of the low investment necessary for such production. According to Furness, once a distribution contract was secured, Fryer planned to make subsequent films by the more expensive cel method, which he believed was necessary to the commercial success of an animated film series. The “Shadowettes” were previewed by distributors in Canada, with no success. Fryer and Wilkes travelled to England in the fall of 1933 to meet with J. Arthur Rank and others in the industry, but failed to find distribution. An envoy from Fleischer Studios visited the Toronto studio and is alleged to have offered Fryer and his employees work in New York, but this led to nothing. It became clear that no outlet could be found for the studio’s work. Gooderham suggested that the remaining investment be used to produce a short film for the Gooderham family. Can This Be True? (1933), which recycled graphic elements from Sailor of the Guard, outlined fifty years of the Gooderham’s family history. It was the last animated film made by the Fryer Studio. 27 Mitchell, “The Silhouette Films of Bryant Fryer,” Motion: 18-20.

Fryer’s film career foundered on the realities of film production in Canada in the 1920s and early 1930s. With a film distribution system dominated by American and British companies who saw Canada primarily as a market for their media goods, Fryer had few means to recoup investment on his films. Although the Ontario Motion Picture Bureau would distribute the two “Shadow Laugh” films with their educational pictures, this limited Fryer to rural audiences and non-standard 28mm distribution. Returns on this were barely enough to reimburse Filmart for its investment. Insufficient capitalization and personnel with little or no experience in the film business were further impediments to animation production.

Fryer would go on to work as an actor both in Canada and in Hollywood. During World War Two, he led a team that constructed panoramic paintings used in conjunction with Link Trainers for Royal Canadian Air Force flight training. He also performed and acted in Air Force musical reviews, and exhibited work along with that of other war artists. Fryer would participate in other film projects both before and after WWII, and continue as a commercial artist, but never again would work on an animated series, despite further attempts to seek backing. Although Jack the Giant Killer has apparently been lost, the five surviving Fryer films remain as poignant suggestions of what this talent might have achieved in the field of animation. 28“R.C.A.F. presents ‘Blackout of 1943’,” pamphlet; “ExhibItion of Graphic Art by the Art section,” pamphlet (Ottawa: National Art Gallery, 1943); Pearl McCarthy, “Art and Artists,” The Globe and Mail. n.p. n.d.; McCarthy, “RCAF Publicity Staff Artists Stage National Gallery Show,” The Globe and Mail. n.p. n.d; “Work of R.C.A.F. Artists Seen In Instructive Show,” The Ottawa Citizen. n.p. n.d., Enid Pryer Documentation File; Enid Fryer interview.


NOTES

The author is indebted to Bill O’Farrell of the National Archives of Canada and Chris Faulkner of Carleton University, who invited me to write on Bryant Fryer for their forthcoming anthology Canada’s Unknown Cinemas. Research was conducted with the cooperation of Sylvie Robitaille, Carolyn Holloway-Forcier, Jana Vosikovska and Alison Hale of the National Archives of Canada. Jacqueline MacDonald provided the results of her research into Fryer, which directed me to many of the sources of information used in this study. Further thanks are due to Ian Birnie of the Los Angeles County Museum, who brought the work of Bryant Fryer to my attention over twenty years ago. His request to me for information so long ago is implicitly and belatedly addressed herein.

© 1996 Mark Langer



Library & Archives Canada: Biography / Administrative history:

Fryer, Bryant Wilkins, 1897-1963: Bryant Fryer was born in Toronto in 1897. He was educated at the Ontario College of Art, continuing his studies in New York, London, and the Académie Julien in Paris.

An artist and illustrator by trade, Bryant became involved in the motion picture industry as an assistant in the production of more than 50 pictures for the animated series known as Tony Sarg’s Almanac.

In the 1920s Fryer began work on the first of a series of animated films called Shadow Laughs. Only 2 films in the series of twelve were completed, both in 1927. Six years later he embarked on a new series, Shadowettes, producing 3 films using the silhouette technique made famous in Germany by Lotte Reiniger. Shortly afterwards, Fryer was forced to suspend his activities when he moved into commercial production.

Fryer moved to California where he begin work as an artist in the motion picture industry. Associated with Gilmor Brown in production and design, he also acted and was a member of the Screen Actors Guild. Thereafter, Fryer returned to Canada where he began work as an art director for Rapid Grip and Batten Limited in Montreal.

Lieut. Bryant W. Fryer, RCAF. Credit: Fryer-Keighley / Library and Archives Canada / PA-095868.

He left the commercial film industry to join the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) as second-in-command of the Art Section of the Directorate of Information of the RCAF, designing panoramas for the visual link trainers throughout Canada. He supervised the application of designs, and designed and executed the settings, equipment and costumes for the RCAF Entertainment Unit overseas.

In the early to mid 1940s Fryer begin writing, producing and directing films for the RCAF.

Following the war Bryant resumed his work in the production of films. Fryer died in 1963. He was survived by his wife, Enid Bryant (nĂ©e Keighley). M. Mitchell, “The Silhouette Films of Bryant Fryer,” Motion, Volume 5, No. 3, 1976, pp. 16-19. The Canadian Encyclopedia online. 17 June 2002. . 1416





Mark Langer

Retired Associate Professor, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada

My research interests are devoted to the early work of Robert Flaherty (the “father of documentary”) and to the animation studios headed by Walt Disney and Max and Dave Fleischer. I have written a book on the Fleischers and a number of articles on Flaherty, Disney and the Fleischers in Cinema Journal, Film History, Screen, Animation Journal, Art History, Film Comment, Blimp, and other journals.

Outside of Carleton, I have been active as a guest curator for museums, archives and film festivals, including the Museum of Modern Art and American Museum of the Moving Image in New York, the Cinémathèque Française and Aubervilliers Festival in Paris, the Singapore Arts Festival, the Los Angeles County Museum, the Diagonale Festival in Salzburg, the Israel Film Festival in Jerusalem, the Tel Aviv Cinémathèque and the Ottawa International Animation Festival.

Professor Langer retired on July 1, 2012.

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