Just a warning: this post is brought to you by the letter “X” and his two friends who are–funnily enough–also named “X.”
(This is my roundabout way of telling you that there may be what we will politely term “delicate content” in this post, and if you are easily offended by pornography, you may want to skip this particular entry. In deference to those who might take offense, the rest of this post can be found behind the cut.)
Poor Eveready Harton. He’s had a difficult time of things–apparently he’s been pursued by some angry, “Hoary Amazens” [sic] and has ended up on a deserted island with no one but his very expressive, comically large penis for company. All he wants to do is find some release. But luckily for Harton, when you don’t particularly care where you find that release, the world is your dirty, dirty oyster.
[This version is in yellow–I’m not quite sure why–but if you want to see the video in its original black-and-white glory (or if, by this point, it’s been pulled from YouTube for breaching content restrictions), you can watch the full thing here.]
Buried Treasure was created in 1928 (or 1924, or 1925, or 1929–the date depends on the source, as there is no precise record available as to its creation) by three separate teams of animators to celebrate the legendary Winsor McCay’s birthday. Or so it has been claimed; other sources indicate that it was merely a well-financed “stag film.” Whatever its genesis, Treasure is believed to be the first example of animated pornography–or, at the very least, the earliest surviving instance of such. The full list of animators behind the film is lost to the ages, though Disney animator Ward Kimball would later claim, in a 1977 interview, that such notable artists as Max Fleischer (of Betty Boop and Popeye fame), Paul Terry (mastermind of Terrytoons), and Charles Bowers and Raoul Barre (of the “Mutt and Jeff” animated series) had each had a hand in the creation of Eveready Harton (the unconfirmed involvement of other animation pioneers such as Walter Lantz–creator of Woody Woodpecker–has been speculated in recent years as well). It’s likely that many of the animators originally involved in the production later shied away from the idea of being connected to such a controversial film; in Forbidden Animation: Censored Cartoons And Blacklisted Animators in America (2004), Karl F. Cohen claims that the final product was so inflammatory that film labs in New York, where the cartoon was made, refused to process the short, and it was instead eventually printed in Cuba.
In creating the X-rated toon, no single group of animators knew what the other group was doing–each team began with just the vaguest notion about where to go with their particular segment, as the first team sent the second team only the final frame of its portion, and the second team then did the same for the third. As such, the cartoon is essentially composed of one rapid-fire sight gag after another, growing increasingly more outrageous before reaching a relatively anticlimactic conclusion. There is no sense of cohesive narrative; Harton begins his adventure on a deserted island and somehow finds his way to a Midwestern farm, where every creature in sight is fornicating–or looking to fornicate–with anything that moves (and some things that don’t). The cartoon boasts a healthy (?) mix of bestiality, self-love, self-abuse (in the strictest sense, as Harton begins the cartoon by literally shooting flies off his engorged member), homosexual imagery, and almost anything else you can imagine (and some things you possibly can’t). Harton is what one might–tongue firmly in cheek–label the ultimate “omnisexual,” because he’ll find his enjoyment in whatever orifice will accept him, be it male, female, animal, artificial, or otherwise.
While it may not seem to be true at first glance, early pornographic cartoons like Treasure were ultimately very influential on the development of animation itself. Prior to these porn shorts, most cartoons in the silent era were relatively chaste, sedate affairs, with the technical achievements of those early cartoons sometimes being more noteworthy than any particular attempts at characterization, plot development, or humor. But pornographic shorts played by different rules, in that they played by none. These cartoons are marked by rapid cuts between multiple points of action; scenes are piled atop one another with little to no concern for linear narration, cramming a number of gags into a relatively short presentation. In American Silent Film (1978), William K. Everson classifies this quick pace of early pornographic cartoons as “a means of speeding the audience away from a gross sexual gag before its impact had had time to become offensive.” And up-and-coming animators no doubt paid attention to the overall effectiveness of this type of rapid movement in the cartoon: as Everson explains, the “dizzy and frenetic” pace of these early animated porn shorts is mirrored in some of the toons that would later make up the Warner Bros. animation stable, in which casual cartoon violence and wall-to-wall gags became the norm rather than the exception (though it’s obvious that these later animators showed much more concern for a well-developed story than did their arguably filthier-minded predecessors).
Though pornographic cartoons shocked and titillated audiences in the early years of cinema, today these short films are revered in some circles for their contributions to the development of animation as a viable and ultimately successful artistic genre. A copy of Buried Treasure is, believe it or not, housed in the Library of Congress with other early examples of pornography. Looking back at this cartoon from a modern perspective, the shock of Eveready’s adventures is admittedly somewhat diluted (at least for many of us). No one could ever accuse this cartoon of being a masterpiece. But it is nonetheless fascinating to watch, if only to see sexuality–and sexual extremes–portrayed with such a candid (if somewhat childish) sense of humor.