Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving: The Tony Sarg Years Recaptured on Film

Happy Thanksgiving. I hope that this holiday finds you warm, safe, and able to reflect on  all the blessings, large and small, seen and unseen, that surround us throughout our lives. In the last year, perhaps our vision of those gifts has been dimmed by this world's many distractions and troubles. If that is the case for you, please accept this post as an encouragement today and in the days to come to see life with a somewhat lighter heart.

As regular readers of this blog may recall, puppeteer, filmmaker, author and artist Tony Sarg has fascinated me for many years. Sarg, whose mother was British and father was German, brought his unfettered imagination to the mechanized displays in the holiday windows of the Macy's Department Store in Manhattan, beginning in the '20s. Later his development of  large-scale floating balloons led to his innovative creative contributions for that company's annual Thanksgiving Day parade in New York City between 1935 and 1941.

In the following newsreel footage, covering much of the Sarg years, many of his looming creations can be seen, along with the animated throngs of onlookers and parade participants who are captured on film as they reveled in the day and the wondrous sights before them. Those strange and fascinating floating figures include a few Disney characters (in their early forms), a "Red Indian" described by the British narrator in an unconscious if casually condescending manner, and hardworking paraders trying to fulfill the sometimes Herculean task of keeping their part of the parade in step.

Near the end of this second newsreel, President Franklin Roosevelt joshes a bit as he hosts a holiday feast. The last video of the three from 1941 seems charged with a certain poignancy, coming as it did literally days  before America was plunged into war on Dec. 7, 1941. It also marked the last year that Tony Sarg's playfulness translated into an exhilarating spectacle, since he would die the following year at 62.

The last clip is also silent but is nonetheless interesting because it appears to be a home movie and gives a "street level view" of the event. The sometimes jerky camera movement and the unaware expressiveness of the people on the screen only made the moment more affecting for me. Seeing a young policeman trying to maintain order and yet still glimpse the parade, a gaggle of excited children unable to stand still as they watch the parade, and formally dressed men and women straining to catch all the sights, I couldn't help feeling that the transitory nature of this very human occasion almost dwarfs the giant figures passing by. What were the lives of these people like? What happened to each of them? Do any of them still remember that day?

Unanswerable but compelling questions, I suppose. In any case, enjoy, and thank you for stopping by:

More on Tony Sarg can be seen here in this earlier post detailing his life and work.


Caftan Woman said...

We really are time travelers, aren't we? Something else to be thankful for.

Lovely post, and reminder about Tony Sarg.

Moira Finnie said...

Thanks, Patricia. I really could get carried away about Sarg. I've toyed with the idea of writing a book about him for some time--just to introduce him to a new generation. I know I'd get a kick out of researching it, even if it was never published!


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