In 1979, Tom Waits collaborated with American artist John Lamb to create Tom Waits for No One, the animated short film set to his song ‘The One That Got Away’.
The film, said to be inspired by one of Waits’ performances at the Roxy in May 1977, never saw the commercial release and sat in obscurity for 30 years until it was uploaded to YouTube decades later. The project has since become a piece of cult fandom that only real Waits adorers will have even heard of let alone seen.
The work became a significant stepping stone for the entrepreneurial artist Lamb who, just one year after the release of his Tom Waits film, would go on to be awarded an Academy Award for Scientific and Technical Achievement after inventing the Lyon Lamb Video Animation System (VAS).
Tom Waits for No One, filmed live at the La Brea Stage in Hollywood in six takes, was edited down to five-and-a-half minutes before the live frames were “traced using a ‘video rotoscope’ and then converted by hand into animation” in a pioneering animation decision.
Apparently, the live filming included two strippers, 13 hours of video footage and a total of 5,500 frames were caricatured and then re-drawn. It makes for a beguiling watch that somehow acts as the perfect Venn diagram for Waits’ conflicting images of the smooth-talking crooner and the down-and-out ruffian.
The footage was raw and untethered, performed with a degree of self-degradation but once the frames were re-drawn, the song is lifted with the kind of magic that makes Disney Princesses fly.
The production crew was littered with future stars of the animation world with the likes of David Silverman, a creative who later became the first animator on The Simpsons adding to an impressive list.
On top of that, Keith Newton who would go on to be an esteemed Disney portrait artist, future Paramount Pictures vice president Garrett Smith, acclaimed filmmaker Gary Beydler, award-winning illustrator Micheal Cressey and Donna Marie Gordon, a dancer and choreographer who went on to spend a successful 18 years at the highest level. All of these people were a part of Waits’ adventure.
The film features Tom Waits walking through the street, smoking a cigarette and bemoaning “the one that got away” before he arrives at a dimly lit area. When there, he does what any animation worth his salt does and begins breaking into song and dancing with an apparition.
While the film never reached the major acclaim it deserved upon its initial release, it did secure a first-place award at the first Hollywood Erotic Film and Video Festival in 1980. Since then, it has become an undoubted cult classic and has seen Waits fans enthralled.
Enjoy the film, below.