BitTorrent Is The New Flesh; Judge Finally Deciding On How P2Ps Will Filter Content

There's a fantastic Betty Boop cartoon from 1932 called "Minnie the Moocher." It features Cab Calloway singing one of his most memorable songs, "Hi-Dee-Ho." I know, Betty Boop is gross, and I almost can't stand to look at her. There's something about this particular episode, though, something unsettling and oddly unnerving about it; Max Fleischer's cartoon stays with me. This, along with "Betty Boop in Snow White" from 1933, which also features another uniquely smooth yet raucously enjoyable song from Cab Calloway, are perfect shorts to watch for Halloween. In the 1933 cartoon, Calloway sings "The St. James Infirmary Blues," and it is really something to see. Both are fantastic, but "Minnie the Moocher" has a solemness, a darkness that undercuts the whole thing; this isn't your normal cartoon.

In a lot of ways, both are music videos. The plot is almost pointless, or if not pointless, certainly unimportant. The beginning shows an obligatory set up, and when you get through the Betty Boop scenes, you're rewarded with fantastic music and nonsensical and oddly creepy images. Yet even in these more "realistic" parts (a talking gramophone, what!?), Betty Boop is abused, she contemplates killing herself in song, and she writes the saddest, sweetest, most ominous letter I've ever seen in animation:

Dear Ma & Pa-

I'm leaving Home because

you're not so Sweet to me. I

won't ever be Home again.


Poor Betty Boop. "Home Sweet Home" is a nice touch, really, and she's off to meet Bimbo. They run off and it gets dark and they get scared. Ironically, they pick the darkest, largest tree to hide in, and that's when this seven-minute short earns its keep.

If I have my history right, this is an early example of rotoscoping, a technique of drawing or painting over a live action filmed image. So the dancing ghost is Cab Calloway's own patented shuffle, and in some ways, that makes it even more terrifying. The song is performed call-and-response, and when the skeletons at the bar call back, I think I could listen to them all day. The skeletons die -- skeletons die! Their ghosts come back and look up from the bottom of a well like souls lamenting, heaving up the better part of a death rattle.

The response team shifts to ghosts in a jail cell. They walk through the bars, uncomfortably close to the frame, and walk back, but they still need a ghost guard to let them out. And he does, but he leads them to electric chairs and fries them. Ghosts. Who knew Betty Boop was so startlingly creepy? Over all of that, though, is the friendly animation, the sheen of a cartoon for kids, and that is really where the horror is. It's mostly absurd, but with echoing human voices bouncing through this cave, knowing that Betty Boop is still on Earth, with Hi-Dee-Ho swirling around; this is a thrill to see.

My point is: You can watch it. Online. Halloween is over, sure, but that hasn't stopped me. The quality isn't great, but you can find it on BitTorrent and get a great version with better sound. As P2Ps die down, torrents are the future, but that hasn't stopped our court system from being several steps behind everything. They are only now deciding how Kazaa and Grokster will filter out copyrighted content. According to the Wired blog:

On Wednesday, Judge Wilson issued an Order to a court-appointed expert to determine the best combination of the following methods for filtering unauthorized works out of peer-to-peer systems: artist/title information, file hashing, and acoustic fingerprinting. If the expert has better ideas, he's welcome to include those too -- whatever combination works best on the Morpheus network. The arrived-upon method could become a legal precedent applied to other user-driven sites and networks.

In the meantime, torrents are everywhere. Software, music, movies, and whatever else is being digitized. You just need to know where to look, because eventually the courts will be several steps behind these, and you just might not have moved to the next delivery method of awesome Betty Boop cartoons from the 1930s. Watch it!

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