Sunday, July 31, 2005

Anti-Movie Movies

I recently treated myself to a viewing of some Joe Dante films, including the two Gremlins movies. I'm one of those people who believes that the sequel is better than the original -- Dante himself thinks so -- but both have their own strengths.

One thing I didn't hear much about on the DVD commentary -- maybe it was on a part I missed; I can rarely listen to an audio commentary straight through, even with commentators as entertaining as Dante and Zach Galligan -- was the status of Gremlins as a satire of the then-recent blockbuster E.T. The film was and still is often seen as a shot across the bow of E.T. and the over-marketing of it. Gizmo is, much like E.T., an absurdly cute, funny-talking supernatural creature who enlivens a boy's life with warmth and innocence and niceness and goodness. But whereas E.T. played all that stuff straight, Gremlins basically expects us to get so fed up with the cutesiness that we cheer when the evil, nasty creatures arrive on the scene and start torturing the little creep. (In Chris Columbus's original script, which was much more of a straight horror story, Billy Peltzer is much younger and the gremlins actually kill Billy's mother by decapitating her, so the anti-E.T. aspect, the response to E.T.'s saccharine assertion that there's no reason to fear strange creatures from another world, was even clearer.) The satire of E.T. as the most-merchandised, most-exploited movie up to that point is pretty blatant too: not only does Hoyt Axton have a line (ad-libbed) about how every kid in America is going to want a Gizmo, but the whole story has been seen as a metaphor for the E.T. craze: the cute creature seems all right at first, but then he starts multiplying, and before you know it this cute little creature has spawned a horrible monstrosity that you can't escape no matter where you turn. It was, with Spielberg's approval and gleeful participation -- he wanted to do Columbus's original, more gruesome treatment -- a rather anti-Spielberg movie.

Gremlins 2 also takes satirical jabs at a movie, but this time the movie it's making fun of is the original Gremlins, which is satirized beat-for-beat, along with its own over-marketing.

What is interesting about this is that it's not very often that a movie comes off as a negative response to, or a criticism of, another movie. There are innumerable movies that pay homage to other movies, of course; and there are movies that parody other movies; but there aren't many that actually contain negative criticism of another movie. People usually make movies to pay tribute to what they like about other movies, not to slam what they don't like. Dante is one of the few moviemakers I can think of who has done it more than once; not only the two Gremlins movies but Looney Tunes: Back in Action, which he mostly took on so he could bash Space Jam.

Howard Hawks is another director who used movies to criticize other movies, which may be one reason why movie critics fell in love with him. Rio Bravo was his answer to High Noon, and To Have and Have Not takes shots at Casablanca by replacing Casablanca's superhero resistance fighter with a regular, cowardly man, and turning the hero's attraction to the resistance fighter's wife into a comic aside. And, while this is a bit too speculative, I sometimes think of Divorce, Italian Style as a satire of the image of Italy that was being conveyed in then-popular films like La Dolce Vita; a key scene shows the characters watching La Dolce Vita and contrasts the fantasy Italy of that movie with the glamor-impaired Italy of this movie.

Any other movies that seem like responses to and/or criticisms of other movies?

Saturday, July 30, 2005

I Come To Bury Eisner and to Praise Him

I have to admit I don't fully understand the recent ascension of Michael Eisner to the rank of the online pop-culture community's public enemy #1. Yeah, he overstayed his usefulness at Disney, but most executives do in fact overstay their usefulness and need to be pushed out. Entertainment executives are like sports coaches -- each one has a narrowly-focused approach to doing things that can provide good results in certain situations; when the situation changes, their approach does not, so they become out of touch and start to screw up. Eisner's approach was what the Disney company needed in the '80s; it's not even a question of whether it was an aesthetically good or bad approach, it was just necessary. For example, Eisner's decision to bring Disney into the world of TV animation, direct-to-video animated movies and overseas outsourcing was, aesthetically speaking, a bad decision. Practically speaking, it was a necessary decision at the time to keep the studio competitive.

Something similar can be said about his work at Paramount in the late '70s and early '80s, where he and Don Simpson made roughly equal contributions to bringing about an end to the experimental, risk-taking movie culture of the '70s and create the blockbuster-happy, deal-driven movie culture that we've had with us ever since. (See this for more.) Still, movie production was a mess in the '70s for all kinds of reasons, and some kind of return to a more structured situation was necessary if the studios were to stay in business. Eisner was one of the people who figured out what the structure should be: since movie studios were all run by mega-corporations, why not apply modern corporate techniques to the moviemaking process? It was crass, and it was cold, but it was inevitable. Eisner was not so much the man who ruined movies as the guy who did what somebody was bound to do anyway.

But if you want an anti-Eisner story, here's one: he, more than any other person, was responsible for what I consider one of the worst, most crass changes ever made to a TV show. It was Eisner's idea to change Happy Days from a single-camera show to a three-camera show with a live audience. Basically, the story goes, the producers of Happy Days went to Eisner (who at that time was still an ABC executive, though within a year he would move to Paramount, the company that produced Happy Days) and asked him to move the show to a less competitive time slot. Eisner replied that he wouldn't move the show, but suggested that they revamp it by changing it to a three-camera show and retooling it to focus on Fonzie. At Eisner's urging, the producers shot a "test" episode with a live audience at the end of the second season, and the episode's story was suggested by, you guessed it, Michael Eisner. The story Eisner came up with was that Fonzie is about to get married to a woman, not realizing that she's actually a stripper. Whether this says anything about how Eisner's mind works, I don't know.

The changeover of Happy Days from a sweet, funny one-camera show to a loud, crass three-camera show is often attributed to Fred Silverman, but according to contemporary accounts it was mostly Eisner's idea. So thanks a bunch, Mike.

And it is, I swear, pure coincidence that I wind up talking about Happy Days twice in one week.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

The "Long-Haired Hare" Formula

(Note: Part of the following is recycled from something I wrote on a message board. For those of you who would prefer something new, well, you get what you pay for, and blogs are free.)

I was recently watching the Bugs Bunny cartoon "Long-Haired Hare" again; it's the cartoon where Bugs gets revenge on an arrogant opera singer, and it's probably one of the most popular of all Bugs cartoons. In watching it, it occurred to me that the formula from this cartoon is probably the best-known formula for Bugs Bunny cartoons -- the one most commonly associated with Bugs -- and yet it wasn't used all that often.

The basic idea behind this formula is to have Bugs taking revenge on an authority figure or otherwise powerful figure who is abusing his or her power. You start off with a big character, in some kind of position of power and influence, acting like an arrogant jerk and making us root for him to be brought down a notch. Bugs, after being pushed around by the big jerk, springs into action (declaring "war") invades the sphere where the big jerk is all-powerful (the concert, the baseball game, the construction site) and gives the big jerk his comeuppance.

There were, as I have said, only a very few cartoons that actually used this formula. The first cartoon to use it was a 1942 Chuck Jones cartoon, "The Case of the Missing Hare," where Bugs finds himself mistreated by an arrogant magician; Bugs then shows up at the magician's act and gives him what for. The formula then lay dormant until a few years later, when writer Mike Maltese came up with a variation of it for Friz Freleng's "Baseball Bugs": we see a baseball team full of big, obnoxious jerks, and when Bugs gets pulled into the game, he torments the big, obnoxious players and manages to beat them single-handed. When Maltese became Jones's full-time writer a couple of years later, they started to use this formula a bit more often; both Jones and Maltese shared a conception of Bugs as a sort of Groucho Marx character who could deflate pomposity and arrogance. So they did one Bugs-vs-jerk cartoon a year for a while: "Rabbit Punch" (1948; Bugs vs. big, jerky boxer), "Long-Haired Hare" (1949; Bugs vs. big, jerky opera singer), "Homeless Hare" (1950; Bugs vs. big, jerky construction foreman), and "Bunny Hugged" (1951; Bugs vs. big, jerky wrestler). But after 1951, they pretty much abandoned this formula, though some of it found its way into "Bully For Bugs" (Bugs vs. big, jerky bull). Also, Bob McKimson and writer Sid Marcus did a sequel to "Homeless Hare" in 1954, "No Parking Hare," which is -- despite McKimson's low reputation -- pretty much as funny as Jones's original. And there's also a little bit of the formula in the cartoons where Bugs battles Wile E. Coyote, genius; Wile E. is a predator but he's also the kind of arrogant know-it-all intellectual who's just begging to have his pretentions deflated by Bugs. But apart from that, Bugs went back to his familiar routine of fending off predators and foiling Yosemite Sam.

And yet the formula survived, even after the Termite Terrace crew abandoned it. Not only is it still very much associated with Bugs in the public mind, despite its relative rarity; it became the basis for many other, later cartoons. For instance, a lot of "Tiny Toons" cartoons use this formula and almost every "Animaniacs" cartoon involving Yakko, Wakko and Dot is based on the concept of jerks getting their just desserts; the "Animaniacs" writers' bible specified that the villain should always be a big jerk and that a writer should start by having the antagonist show what a power-abusing jerk he is, so we can delight in seeing the heroes show him that he's not all that.

This is a very popular formula because it allows us, the audience, to enjoy seeing Bugs stick it to people who annoy us or are more powerful than us in real life. It also allows Bugs to use his abilities on someone who is an actual threat, as opposed to pathetic adversaries like Elmer Fudd or angry-but-tiny adversaries like Yosemite Sam. In most of his early cartoons, Bugs was up against characters who wanted to kill him: the excuse for bamboozling Elmer was that Elmer was out to shoot Bugs. When Friz Freleng created Yosemite Sam, he gave Bugs more of a socially conscious reason to act: Sam wasn't usually a direct threat to Bugs, but he was clearly a bad person, usually a criminal, who deserved to be stopped. But the antagonist in the "Long-Haired Hare" type of cartoon doesn't want to kill or eat Bugs, and he isn't a criminal; he is a respected member of society -- an opera singer, a man building a skyscraper, a star athlete -- and not the sort of person we'd normally expect to see getting pushed around. Which is precisely the point of this kind of cartoon: just as Groucho Marx insulted the people we'd never dare to insult, Bugs gets to beat up on the people who annoy us but whom we are expected to respect.

I'm not sure why this formula went out of WB cartoons after the early '50s. Maybe it's that this kind of Groucho-esque humor depends on the implication of class distinctions (we get revenge, through Bugs, on people who are richer or stronger than we are), and that kind of humor wasn't very big in the '50s? Maybe I'm over-analyzing. Really, the main reason the formula wasn't used often was probably just that starting in 1952 or '53 the cartoons got shorter -- because of budget cuts, the running times of the cartoons were cut by around a minute -- and so there was less time to do the kind of slow buildup that "Long-Haired Hare" or "The Case of the Missing Hare" provide; when you only have six minutes, there's no time to do a prologue where the big jerk displays his jerkery. Also, this formula couldn't be done with Bugs's regular adversaries like Elmer and Sam -- it requires a new, big, powerful character.

What a Crazy Pair!

Someone who knows more about these things than I should really try to make a list of all the parodies that have been done of the theme song to "The Patty Duke Show." (Which, by the way, was composed by Sid Ramin, best known as an orchestrator on such Broadway shows as West Side Story and A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum.) Many TV theme songs are easy to parody, but the "Patty Duke" theme song is particularly easy because all you have to do is take the phrase "identical cousins," plug in another word to replace "cousins," and change a few other words here and there in the song, and presto, you've got a song parody. Some of you may remember the SCTV episode that had a running bit about increasingly strange variations on the concept: "Identical Bellhops," "Identical Cheese Hostesses," and finally "Identical OPEC Oil Ministers." And one of the few really memorable posts on the "Jump the Shark" website was a sapphic version of the theme song. It's very malleable.

In fact, I think you could easily adapt the song into a song about the so-called blogosphere. Like so:

Meet Cathy, who writes that it's unfair
To over-tax a millionaire,
While Patty says she only fights
Reactionary troglodytes --
What a crazy pair!
But they're bloggers,
Identical bloggers, both of them,
Boosting their different parties,
Bashing the M-S-M.
Where Cathy insists that you're all wet
If you won't fight the terror threat,
Our Patty always wants to know
What happened at Guantanamo --
What a wild duet!
But they're bloggers,
Identical bloggers, and you'll find
They rant alike, they preen alike,
They hate Time Magazine alike,
You will lose your mind
When bloggers... are two of a kind!

By the way, and to veer off-topic again, have you noticed that any kind of humor or satirical writing (and the above is semi-humorous, sort of) seems to demand a certain even-handedness? I actually think that on the whole conservative blogs are worse than liberal blogs (there is no high-profile liberal blog that is quite as bad as, say, Powerline), yet the above song parody implies that they're equally annoying. It couldn't be done any other way; even if I have a partisan preference, it would be totally unfunny and generally ineffective to try to push that notion in a humor piece about blogs. Humor is better for generalized attacks on general annoyances; trying to do partisan humor often results in something that is partisan hackery rather than humor. I think that's why many of the best political comedians are actually rather even-handed in their satire -- because good comedians know that partisanship, while it may be necessary, isn't very funny.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Daws: The Revenge

TV Shows on DVD has the official announcements for sets of Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear, and
The Flintstones Season 4. I'll probably get the "Huckleberry Hound" set, pass on "Flintstones," and consider "Yogi Bear."

With Hanna-Barbera cartoons, the earlier the better; the earliest cartoons have some fine animation within the limited budget, and stories that are reminiscent of classic Warner Brothers cartoons, mostly because they hired the classic WB cartoon writers, Warren Foster and Mike Maltese. As their shows get more like sitcoms, I lose interest. (I know the early Flintstones have some good things and are quite well-animated, but compared to The Honeymooners it's really just a collection of old-school sitcom plots with an occasional clever satirical joke thrown in.) And oddly enough, I like Hanna-Barbera's early TV cartoons a lot more than I like their MGM work -- funnier and less mean-spirited, and with more distinctive characters than Tom or Jerry ever were.

I also seem to remember that some of the early Yogi Bear cartoons, when he was on the Huckleberry Hound Show, had him as an obnoxious wise guy like Bugs Bunny, though I'll have to refresh my memory when I see the set as to how often he acted like that; I saw one which was basically a Bugs story with Yogi in it, but that might have been a one-off, or Foster or Maltese burning off a story they didn't get to use at Warners.

And for an indication of how popular "Huckleberry Hound" was, here's a quote from a 1959 recording by Canadian comedians Wayne and Shuster (and for any Canadian viewers with unfond memories of them, let me assure you that they were very funny back in 1959) of their routine "I Was a TV Addict":

SHUSTER: Come on, I've made an appointment for you with the psychiatrist. It's at five o'clock.
WAYNE: Five o'clock?!
SHUSTER: What's the matter?
WAYNE: I'll miss Huckleberry Hound!
SHUSTER: Aw, come on!
WAYNE: And Yogi Bear!

The Last Time I Saw Paris

A local station devoted to "family friendly" and/or religious programming has had huge success with Happy Days -- it's fun and it's so clean that they don't have to bleep the word "damn" out like they do with their Wonder Years reruns -- and I make an effort to tune in now and then whenever they get to the years after Ron Howard left. This may make me the TV viewing equivalent of people who gawk at train wrecks; I don't know, but there's a weird fascination in trying to watch how a show struggles to find stories to tell after its lead actor walks away.

What's really horrific is the season they did when Joanie and Chachi were off doing, well, Joanie Loves Chachi. To compensate for the loss of those characters (and Garry Marshall good-luck charm Al Molinaro, who also joined the new spinoff), the producers shovelled in a ton of new youngish actors who could hopefully appeal to the teenagers who made up the bulk of the show's audience, both in the nation and in the studio audience. (The Happy Days audience was legendary for its obnoxious cheering for almost everybody; it's almost ghoulishly interesting when somebody comes in and the audience doesn't clap, or claps very quietly.)

So in addition to Ted McGinley, the almost uniformly pathetic replacement for Ron Howard, and Cathy Silvers, who was actually quite funny, the 1982-83 season added Crystal Bernard as an innocent Southern girl staying with the Cunninghams for no discernable reason, Billy Warlock as "Flip," a young character of no discernable character traits but whose hair bore an eerie resemblance to Chachi's; and, just in case the Fonz hadn't already been emasculated enough, they gave him a steady girlfriend, Linda Purl, who was a spunky divorcee with a cute daughter played by, alas, Heather O'Rourke. Mix in a few guest characters who drifted in and out, and adjust for the fact that there may have been some new semi-regulars in episodes I haven't seen, and the new characters basically far outweighed the characters who had been there since the beginning. It was Happy Days: The New Class or Happy Days as produced by Dick Wolf.

And here's the really weird thing: these episodes are not that bad. In spite of the fact that nearly all the new characters are awful, that the old characters have outlived any point they may have had, that the stories end with huge horrible lessons accompanied by the most obnoxious "heartfelt" music in television history, a late episode of Happy Days is actually pretty entertaining, much more so than, say, a late episode of Law and Order. (Though admittedly Happy Days never had a line as funny as "Is this because I'm a lesbian?")

I think the main reason for this, and the real subject of this post, is the director, Jerry Paris. Garry Marshall sensibly hired Paris, whom he'd worked with on The Dick Van Dyke Show (where Paris was an actor and the principal director), and Paris set some kind of record by directing over 200 episodes of Happy Days. His way of directing a sitcom is the kind of lean, mean, tight and fast direction you hardly ever see today: no matter how sluggishly written the scene is, the show never stops moving because the actors are always doing something. There are all kinds of tricks he uses to speed up the pace of long scenes in confined spaces, like having the actors speed up their delivery, do little bits of business while someone else is talking -- basically, tricks designed to make even the corniest script seem relatively naturalistic in execution, so the actors actually give the impression that this stuff seems real to them, and so that the show is moving too fast for us to notice the clunkiness of the last line. He did the same stuff on The Dick Van Dyke Show; the early episodes, mostly directed by John Rich, are more carefully paced, but once Paris took over and got going, he sped up the show by finding ways to do physical comedy, and fairly complicated physical staging, concurrently with expository pages of dialogue. Of course, on that show he had better scripts to work with, but the job of the TV director is to do his best with what he's been given, which often means trying to make weak scripts entertaining. Paris did quite a job of that on Happy Days, and it's kind of a tribute to the craft of a good sitcom director that they turned out as fast and entertaining as they did, and that he cleverly found ways of disguising the weaknesses of some of the actors (by finding ways for the better actors to physically dominate a scene, regardless of who it's supposed to be about).

Another director who has done consistently good, fast work with poor scripts is Joel Zwick. Except for Bosom Buddies he hardly ever did a show with good scripts, and his feature hit My Big Fat Greek Wedding wasn't much better, but he turned out some of the fastest-paced and most cleverly staged sitcom episodes around. And of course there's James Burrows, whose near-legendary gift for pacing is probably the only reason Will and Grace has lasted this long (the scripts aren't much, but it's moving too fast for us to notice).

Two more notes on those later, bizarre Happy Days:

- The other reason why it's worth tuning into these episodes, or many Paramount-produced sitcoms of that era, is that you'll often see some interesting guest stars; Paramount's casting people in the late '70s and '80s were really good at finding young unknown actors and building up their careers by giving them guest shots on popular sitcoms, like Robin Williams on Happy Days or Ted Danson on Taxi. And sometimes the long-running shows would be sort of a halfway house for refugees from Paramount's cancelled shows; a glance at shows that Peter Scolari and Tom Hanks both turned up in guest shots on Happy Days right after the cancellation of Bosom Buddies. Plus sometimes they'd just use plain cool people as guest stars; the late episode of Happy Days I saw -- the one that got me off on this rant -- featured Wendy Schaal. I'm not saying that nothing with Wendy Schaal can be entirely unfunny (she's done some duds like everybody), but she's got quite a track record of being weirdly amusing, and casting her displays good sense on the part of any show.

- Despite all the Jump the Shark hoopla, Ted McGinley's reputation as a show-killer isn't really fair; Married... With Children went on fine with him in it. But that show recognized the point of Ted McGinley, which is that he looks, talks and acts like he stepped off the cover of Gigolo Monthly. Casting him as a dumb blond selling his surgery-enhanced good looks, as Married... did, is fine. Casting him as an actual human being, let alone an intellectual, like Happy Days did, is insanity. See the distinction?

Why Do The South Park Guys Hate All That's Good and Decent?

A little late, but to add to my collection of nasty quotes about Family Guy, here's one from an interview a couple of months ago with Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park:

What's the meanest thing ever said to you before, during or after a gig?
MS: When people say to me, “God, you guys have one of the best shows on television. You and Family Guy.” That fucking hurts so bad.
TP: Very well said. It's such a kick in the balls.

Maybe if I find enough quotes like that I can assemble them into the inevitable "Why I Hate Family Guy: The Book." Somehow I feel it's needed at this moment in history.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Bad Courtship Tips From Musicals

Sorry for the under-blogging lately.

While I try to write up something longer/better/nicer, here's an incredibly inappropriate, but fast, post. A year or so ago I did a post quoting passages from Cole Porter lyrics which would now be considered -- well, actually, they always were -- horribly insensitive to all races and even sexual orientations ("Hail, queen of fairyland, how's Hollywood?"). By lack of popular demand, I thought I would dig up some quotes showing the strange obsession of the great musical-theatre lyricists with men hitting women.

Everybody remembers and still arguest about the wife-beating stuff in Carousel, but that's actually a fairly palatable version of the subject, given that Billy Bigelow hitting his wife and daughter is treated as a bad thing (he's pretty much damned for it, after all). What's astounding is how often this was treated not seriously, but as a throwaway joke. Starting with Hammerstein, ten years after Carousel, in a song from Pipe Dream:

Stand up to the girl like a guy,
Stand up to the girl like a guy,
And tell her to behave herself
Or you'll put a mouse on her eye.

Carolyn Leigh got into the act in Wildcat when she had the hero sing to Lucille Ball:

If you were a smelt, I wouldn't mind,
Givin' you a belt, I wouldn't mind,
If I thought that you would learn a lesson from the welt, I wouldn't mind.

Alan Jay Lerner, of "Why Can't a Woman Be More Like a Man?" fame, did it several times in the course of one song from 1979's "Carmelina":

Am I mad? Could I violently mistreat her?
Yes, I could, indeed I could.
Would I crush one delicious centimetre?
Oh, my God, of course I would.

And of course, the best-known and oftenest-replaced "joke" from a musical, from "The Very Next Man" in Fiorello!:

And if he likes me,
Who cares how frequently he strikes me?
I'll fetch his slippers with my arm in a sling
Just for the privilege of wearing his ring.

In context, this is actually not a bad nor even a particularly offensive line, because it just expresses, hyperbolically, the theme of the song: that if the hero won't love the singer, then she'll find someone -- anyone -- who will love her. You could probably get away with a joke like that in a modern play; there's a huge amount of politically-incorrect humor now, to the point that (as I said in an earlier post) un-PC is the new PC. But you can do that in a new play because audiences know that the un-PC jokes are just there for shock value; whereas with an older play, we're never sure if the jokes are supposed to be shocking or (as in the case of most of the quotes before the Fiorello! quote) they're just genuinely insensitive.

Sheldon Harnick, the lyricist of Fiorello! explained the changing reactions to that line:

In 1959, people understood that Marie was very angry with Fiorello, that he regarded her as no more than a piece of office furniture. So she wanted to quit. When she sang, she was being sardonic and not realistic. Over the years, especially as feminism has raised everybody's consciousness to the fact that battered women was not a joke, this was a reality we all had to face. Over the years, when I'd hear that line, it'd make me very uncomfortable. Then I saw a 25th anniversary production at Yale, and several women booed at the actress playing Marie when she sang those lines, and I realized it was time to change the lyric.

Oddly enough, Cole Porter, whose lyrics abound in jokes that would provoke boos today, didn't make a lot of jokes of this particular type. In fact, he gets through the song "Find Me a Primitive Man" without a single joke about wanting to be abused or any such thing. Though there is one example that I quoted in the other post, and you could make an argment for this one as somewhat queasy-making:

Ever since that magic moment
When I found your "No, no, no" meant
I've become a mess.

Finally, I should add that none of this stuff is quite as bad as the beloved family classic The Philadelphia Story, where there are about half-a-dozen jokes about the fact that the hero used to hit the heroine, and at the end she gets back together with him and is made to feel lucky for getting him back. Ah, wholesome old entertainment.

Saturday, July 23, 2005


I check the Peanuts website just about every day in the hope of finding a strip that I haven't seen before, and this past week I hit the proverbial jackpot: a great week-long story that I'd never seen before and, as far as I know, was never included in and Peanuts collection. (But it's not from 1960, as the site mistakenly says; it's from 1969.) It starts here and climaxes with the strip they ran today. One of the interesting things about the sequence is that Linus sort of becomes a surrogate for the audience, screaming at Charlie Brown to finally stop standing there and doing something, and becoming more and more frustrated until finally exploding with rage at Charlie Brown's wishy-washiness.

As to why it was never collected, it's probably because Schulz soon abandoned the idea of the Little Red-Haired Girl moving away, and moved her back without any explanation as to why or when she came back.

Don't Print It -- It's Strictly Off the Record

I watched Yankee Doodle Dandy the other day, and I noticed that while the movie is structured around Cohan's triumphant stage comeback spoofing F.D.R. in I'd Rather Be Right, it omits any indication of the fact that the songs from that show were not by Cohan but by Rodgers and Hart. I guess Cohan wouldn't have wanted it to be widely publicized that the last big number in the picture, "Off the Record," is not by him but by two younger (and, frankly, better) songwriters.

The song itself, where Roosevelt says all the things that he won't let reporters actually print, was simplified considerably for the movie, with some new and not-very-good wartime-uplift lyrics that may or may not be Hart's ("Who cares, as long as we can take the ax out of the Axis") and dropping the more overtly political jokes. My favorite of the "missing" verses is the opening refrain about F.D.R.'s political advisor, James Farley -- who was sort of like a non-evil version of Karl Rove:

When I was only governor, and just a good-time Charlie,
A certain party came to me - he said his name was Farley.
Don't print it - it's strictly off the record.
He sat right down and talked to me till I was in a stupor,
And ended up by selling me the works of Fenimore Cooper.
Don't print it - it's strictly off the record.
I said, "you're quite a salesman; you've been sent here by the fates.
If you can sell these dreary books, which ev'rybody hates,
Then maybe you can sell me to the whole United States!"
But that's off the record.

Since F.D.R. wasn't governor when he started working with Farley, the whole thing is inaccurate, but any song that insults Fenimore Cooper is okay with me.

I'd Rather Be Right itself was a very odd show, one of those incredibly huge productions mounted on Broadway in the '30s by Cohan's former producing partner, Sam Harris. Broadway economics then allowed for massive casts, and Harris, usually in collaboration with writer-director George S. Kaufman, was one of several people who took it to an extreme with plays that may have had more people onstage than in the audience. I'd Rather Be Right had a cast that included F.D.R.'s whole cabinet, the whole Supreme court, a group of women who object to the President's suggestion that they cut down on makeup usage for conservation purposes ("I regret that I have only one life to give for my permanent wave!"), a singing chorus, a dancing chorus, and so on.

It's sort of a shame, in a way, that the era when Broadway commanded the ability to field such big casts was also an era when there wasn't much interesting American play writing going on. (Ironically, even though New York based writers looked down on Hollywood, the writing done for Hollywood movies in the '30s holds up much better than most of the work being done for New York plays in the same period; New York theatre at this time was hobbled by a weird combination of crass commercialism and Popular Front crudity.) By the time American play writing got more interesting, theatrical economics no longer allowed for huge, ambitious plays with huge casts, with rare exceptions (Follies is one of those exceptions, and it lost a bundle). Even something like Angels in America doesn't have anywhere near the scope and scale of Harris and Kaufman's awful but ambitious The American Way did; it's the difference between a play that finds ways to look big and a play that really is big. I wonder what some of today's better playwrights might do with almost no restrictions on the size of the cast or the scope of the production.

Oh, and while this post has veered way off-topic, I can't mention The American Way without noting that it has my favorite bad line in theatre history. In a scene set in 1914, Fredric March rushes in and tells the other characters he has terrible news: "Austria-Hungary has declared war on Serbia!" Classic stuff.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

I'm A Thousand-Dollar-A-Day Newspaperman

One of the biggest, most inexplicable gaps in the history of home video appears to be on its way to being filled: Paramount will release a DVD of Billy Wilder's Ace in the Hole, which has never been available even on VHS, this October. Score one for lovers of really nasty, cruel, bitter movies.

Speaking of which, the failure of Ace in the Hole -- and it was a big failure -- seems to have taken some of the bite out of Wilder's work, or taken away some of his nerve. Most of his movies up to Ace are pretty tough and uncompromising (except maybe for the ending of Lost Weekend), whether it's a bitter melodrama like Double Indemnity or Ace or Sunset Boulevard or a bitter comedy like A Foreign Affair. Most of his movies after Ace pull their punches more, have something unconvincingly pleasant in them like the atrocious Ron Rich character in The Fortune Cookie or William Holden's little smile at the end of Stalag 17. Among Wilder's post-Ace movies, only The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes dares to have a really bleak ending and only One, Two, Three dares to make all its characters look bad; those happen to be my two favorites of his post-Ace years (along with The Apartment, which may have kind of a cop-out ending but is just too good not to love). One wonders how mean and tough Wilder would have gotten if Ace in the Hole had been a success.

And speaking of The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, here's a recent Guardian article where writer Jonathan Coe chronicles his fascination with the film, a fascination, he admits, largely based on Miklos Rozsa's music. (I used to disagree with Terry Teachout for selecting Rozsa's violin concerto as one of the great musical masterpieces of the twentieth century; after seeing The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, which is built around the themes of that violin concerto, I have no doubt that he was right. That music gets into your brain and never gets out again; and it's largely because of the music that the film's ending becomes an almost unbearably moving experience.) I have to admit, though, that I don't have any great wish to see the cut sequences put back into the film, even if they could be rediscovered; based on what remains of them, they seem too jokey and goofy without the compensation of being especially funny. The "Naked Honeymooners" sequence in particular would have made Watson out to be too outrageously stupid. Wilder may have felt pressured into cutting the film -- though it was, ultimately, his own decision and not the studio's, since he had final cut -- but I think he came up with a better movie by paring it down to the basics: one short sequence exploring Holmes's attitudes toward sexuality, and one long sequence showing how Holmes's world comes crashing down when faced with the new, post-Victorian world of international intrigue (there's probably some Vietnam-era commentary in the way the Diogenes Club is transformed into a sort of shadow government, coming up with new ways of killing people and keeping them secret from the populace) and female sexuality.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Happy Clue-Day

Today, I am late in mentioning, was the 10th anniversary of the release of Clueless. Amazingly there appears to have been only one article about one of the smartest "teen" movies ever made. It's also the best entry in that strange sub-genre, the modernized adaptation of a classic work of literature. (Amy Heckerling captures the essence of what Emma is all about far better than the Coen Brothers captured The Odyssey in O Brother, Where Art Thou?) So in honor of ten years worth of "as if"s and "whatever"s, let me quote some of my favorite lines from the film:

"Mr. Hall? The buzz on Christian is that his parents have joint custody, so he'll be spending one semester in Chicago and one semester here. I think it is a travesty on the part of the legal profession."
"Thank you for that perspective, Cher."

"It's just that, we've been shopping all day and I still don't know what to do about Mr. Hall. I have tried everything to convince him of my scholastic aptitude, but I was brutally rebuffed."

"You're too good for him."
"If I'm too good for him, then how come I'm not with him?"

"What's with you, kid? You think the death of Sammy Davis left an opening in the Rat Pack?"

"She's a full-on Monet. It's like a painting, see? From far away, it's OK, but up close, it's a big old mess."

And the film's equivalent of the scene where Emma insults Miss Bates and is chastised by Mr. Knightley, which manages to preserve the fundamental point of class snobbery (Emma abusing her position to casually insult someone of lower social status) in a modern setting:

LUCY: He your gardener. I don't know why you don't tell him.
CHER: Lucy, you know I don't speak Mexican.
LUCY: I not a Mexican!
CHER: Great, what was that all about?
JOSH: Lucy's from El Salvador.
JOSH: It's an entirely different country.
CHER: Oh, what does that matter?
JOSH: You get upset if someone thinks you live below Sunset.
CHER: Oh, OK, so everything is all my fault? I'm always wrong, right?
JOSH: You're such a brat.
CHER (V.O.): I had an overwhelming sense of ickiness. Even though I apologized to Lucy, something was still plaguing me. Like Josh thinking I was mean was making me postal.

Jane Austen would have loved this movie. Or at least she wouldn't have slept through it, which is more than I can say for most Jane Austen flicks. Happy 10th, Clueless.

Oh, and great as the youthful cast is, my favorite performance in the film is still that of Dan Hedaya as the heroine's father, a bug-eyed man who delivers every line like on the verge of his third heart attack.

The Still More, the Still Merrie-Er

At Cartoon Brew, Jerry Beck has a partial list of bonus features for the next Looney Tunes DVD set.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Hi Again, Bob!

The DVD release of the first season of The Bob Newhart Show must have been a winner for Fox, because the second season is on its way this October. Happily, unlike the bare-bones first season, commentary tracks have been recorded by Newhart, Marcia Wallace (Carol), Jack Riley (Mr. Carlin), and Dave Davis, the surviving creator (the co-creator, Lorenzo Music, passed away several years ago).

Season 2 is a step up from season 1, largely because the Jay Tarses quotient is increased. In season 1, Tarses and his writing partner Tom Patchett wrote a couple of episodes; in season 2 they came on full-time staff and wrote seven episodes, many of which veered away from the overly polite, gentle MTM-style humor into darker areas (including an episode where the blandest character, Peter Bonerz's Jerry, becomes briefly interesting by confessing he's in love with Bob's wife). In season 3 they took over as head writers, and the show got better still, and the show hit its peak in seasons 4 and 5 when Davis and Music left (to oversee the bland, polite Rhoda) and Tarses and Patchett became showrunners. Tarses -- more about him here if you scroll down -- was one of the more unique talents to be produced by MTM; it was a company that specialized in well-made, well-produced, "quality" entertainment, but Tarses, who came to hate the well-made sitcom form, seemed to spend a lot of his MTM years trying to erode the form from within. After leaving MTM, he spent his career creating dark anti-sitcoms that didn't run very long; his most famous anti-sitcom, Buffalo Bill, will also hit DVD later this year.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

That Is the Dumbest Thing I Have Ever Heard!

An early review of the first season DVD of The Cosby Show indicates that this set may break all records for shabby treatment of a beloved show:

Upon opening the set and playing an episode, to my great surprise, the episode – as well as every subsequent one on the disc, ran between 21:50 and 22:00. Seemed a bit short for “original NBC network versions,” so I timed several season 1 reruns that have been airing on TBS in order to compare runtimes (hence the delay in the review). The runtimes turned out to be the exact same – the DVD version matches, frame by frame, the TBS airing – which use the syndicated prints. In a subsequent e-mail to DVD Review Director pavanbadal, UrbanWorks DID confirm that the episodes were syndicated prints; however, no explanation was given as of the time this review was posted...

What gets my goat – what REALLY gets my goat – is the fact that the press release sent with the set went so far as to promote “original NBC network versions…which are approximately two minutes longer than the syndicated versions,” and then they INCLUDE THE SYNDICATED VERSIONS. It’s not just that the episodes were edited – that’s bad enough. But – for the release sent to all parties connected to the set, including promotion outlets for the set – to say that the episodes were something they obviously aren’t…its outright deception and the person who made the judgment call – on whichever end the problem occurred on – should be ashamed.

Carsey-Werner, the independent production company that produced The Cosby Show, appears to have really dropped the ball when it licensed the show to UrbanWorks (as opposed to Fox, which got Carsey-Werner's That '70s Show, or Anchor Bay, which is doing Third Rock From the Sun and Roseanne). Too bad, really.

I'm not the biggest Cosby Show fan, but I definitely would have bought a proper DVD release of the first season, which was very funny and somewhat revolutionary -- not so much for its themes as for the unique style of storytelling. Most TV shows build each episode around a crisis of some kind. It may be as minor a crisis as Ralph Kramden's latest get-rich-quick scheme failing, but it's a crisis all the same; dealing with a crisis situation is the backbone of storytelling, after all. Cosby basically threw that out the window and insisted that his writers avoid writing crisis situations; he wanted the stories to be based not on problems to be resolved, but on everyday situations to be discussed, mulled over, laughed about. So the second episode, "Fish Story," where daughter Rudy's goldfish dies, has no story to speak of, and no real conflict. Instead the structure is, act 1, Rudy's goldfish dies and everybody talks about it; act 2, the family prepares to hold a funeral for the goldfish in their bathroom. The only thing that adds any urgency at all to the story is that Cliff has to finish the goldfish funeral quickly so he can get to the hospital to attend to a patient. Few shows had ever adopted such a minimalist approach to storytelling, and I don't think any show since has done so. Cosby reportedly had a rule for his writers, similar to Larry David's "no hugging and no learning" from Seinfeld; Cosby's was "no conflict and no jokes." The show's plotlessness eventually led it into the realm of boredom and the even darker, murkier realms of Raven Satan Simone. But it made for a unique show, for two or three seasons.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Bad Movies That Need Remakes

Critics often say that instead of remaking great movies that can't be improved upon, Hollywood should try remaking movies that started with good ideas but didn't work the first time around. It's a good point, but they hardly ever give examples of movies that should be remade. So I'm going to name a few movies that I think need remaking, movies that were poorly executed but have stories that could potentially make a much better movie. Feel free to add your own examples in the comments section.

- Don't Just Stand There! (1968). This movie was written by novelist Charles Williams, who is best known for thrillers like "Dead Calm," but here he was adapting his comic novel "The Wrong Venus," a really insane novel with a plot that is almost impossible to summarize. Williams's script for the movie starts with the hero and heroine trying to smuggle watches into France by dipping them in creme de menthe so as to disguise the ticking; there's a famous authoress of sex novels whose ghostwriter is a six-foot woman with a black belt in karate; plot complications involve a guy who knocks on a French gangster's door and murders him with a crossbow; etc. It's nuts, and ever since I saw the movie, I've had certain lines stuck in my head that don't make any sense out of context -- lines like "Who is this ravishing Bougie?" and "If you need any help, I can take the girl." It also had a perfect cast for this kind of featherweight material: Robert Wagner, Mary Tyler Moore, Glynis Johns as the authoress and, as the ghostwriter, Barbara Rhoades, who made Julie Newmar look like a man and a very short man at that.

And all that goes down the tubes because the movie is so poorly made. This was the time when Universal was making most of its features like bad television shows, with flat lighting, stodgy blocking, poorly-done process shots and drab sets. To work, material as screwy as this needs either an informal and fast-paced approach, or a very stylized approach such as Get Shorty had; anything but this stuffy approach that kills every joke stone dead by treating this material as if it were an episode of Hawaii 5-0. Someone needs to return to The Wrong Venus and make a movie that's as wacky as the material -- though it's an open question whether you could assemble a cast that good today.

- Daddy's Gone a-Hunting (1969). This thriller had perhaps the creepiest, sickest premise of any mainstream Hollywood movie, which isn't surprising considering that it was written by Larry "It's Alive!" Cohen. It concerns a woman, happily married and about to have a baby, who is stalked by a man she had an unhappy relationship a few years before, and who wants to get revenge on her for aborting their child by, basically, trying to force her to kill her new baby. He also kills a doctor by strangling him with his own stethoscope.

This story is in the worst possible taste, but, done right, it could have been a truly creepy shocker playing on basic fears (fear of a previous bad relationship coming back to wreck your current life; fear of hyper-possessive boyfriends who want to take over your life). But it needed a director with the requisite amount of bad taste and willingness to exploit primal fears. Cohen wanted Alfred Hitchcock to do it, and Hitchcock was interested, but Universal talked him into doing Topaz instead (bad move); it wound up being directed by Mark Robson, who had made some fine shockers for Val Lewton but had turned in the intervening years into a ploddingly dull director who made even Valley of the Dolls seem middlebrow and tasteful. It needs to be done again, as a low-budget chiller, because sick as that story is, there's a lot in there that could still scare the daylights out of an audience if done right.

- The Silencers (1966). As the page "From Donald To Dean" makes clear, this first of the Matt Helm movies actually takes more material from another Matt Helm novel, "Death of a Citizen," than it does from "The Silencers." But whichever Helm novel is chosen for re-adaptation, it seems to me that now would be a good time to bring the real Matt Helm, Donald Hamilton's Matt Helm, to the screen. His style, which was basically a hard-boiled noir style applied to the secret-agent story, was too brutal for 1966 but might be just right for the Sin City era.

- Taking Care of Business (1990). This "comedy" starred Jim Belushi and Charles Grodin, was directed by hack Arthur Hiller, and was written by J.J. Abrams, a man who found his niche writing ridiculously self-important television shows with no sense of humor. Amazingly, it's not funny. But the basic idea of it just cries out to be remade: a wealthy, powerful man loses his private file, containing his credit card information, names and addresses of powerful people, all the information that only he has access to. A paroled criminal finds the file and uses it to the fullest. It played out as a standard Trading Places ripoff, but done right, it could be a highly entertaining examination of the idea, which we all have, that rich and powerful people know all sorts of things we don't, and if we could only know the secret names and places that they have access to, what wouldn't we do! And of course, a remake would revolve around a computer file, and feature the guy getting access to famous people's e-mail addresses and the like. It could work, as long as you kept Jim Belushi away from it.

- Carousel (1956). While Joel Schumacher has probably killed the movie musical stone dead with his Phantom of the Opera thing, if it isn't altogether dead, someone really needs to re-film Carousel. The movie version had a big budget and good singing (better singing than any modern-day version would be likely to provide), but just about everything else it wrong with it, from the clunky early-Cinemascope visuals to the miscasting of the lead character to the ill-advised changes such as having Billy die accidentally instead of committing suicide. Clearly it needs a new filming with more grittiness and more fantasy than the '50s version could offer; a director could model the visual style on the version of the story that did work, Fritz Lang's nonmusical Liliom.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Memo To Stephen Sondheim

Stephen Sondheim, interviewed here by Time Magazine, is a fine composer and lyricist, and I hope at some point he will stop revising his flop musical about the Mizner brothers -- the interview indicates that he is still trying to beat that particular dead horse -- and write a new show.

However, I am annoyed, though not surprised, to find that after almost 50 years he is still beating another dead horse, namely this quote, which is something he says in one form or another in every interview he gives:


There are legions. Particularly a number of the very purple-prose lyrics in West Side Story: "It's alarming how charming I feel." Coming from a Puerto Rican girl--what, is she studying Noël Coward?

Sondheim says that about that particular line over and over again, and over and over again I don't get it. A, the word "alarming" is not particularly obscure; B, even if you assume it is obscure, the whole song is about Maria saying how perfect she is, so it would be in character for her to affect an upper-class vocabulary, as part of the joke; C, people who have only recently learned English often pick up words that don't find their way into the everyday vocabulary of people who speak English as their first language, so Maria would be more likely than a native English speaker to say "alarming," not less.

If Sondheim wants to criticize some of his work in West Side Story, I could supply a list of lines that need criticizing (the misplaced stresses on "This is not the Ma...ria we know," for example), though at least a few of the real clunkers in that score may be by Leonard Bernstein, who wrote some of the lyrics himself before the producers hired a real lyricist. Or he can criticize Arthur Laurents's corny dialogue. But instead he keeps picking on one line that is just fine.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

The More the Merrie-er

Okay, so here are the cartoons in the next Looney Tunes Golden Collection, list courtesy of TV Shows On DVD, and a brief description of each, courtesy of me. I would say, overall, that this is the best selection of cartoons yet, and certainly the most varied:

Disc 1 - Bugs Bunny Classics

"Hare Force" (Friz Freleng, 1944) - Bugs gets a home with a nice old lady (sort of an early version of "Granny" from the Tweety cartoons, with a similar Bea Benaderet voice but a different design), but the dog of the house keeps trying to throw him out into the cold.

"Hare Remover" (Frank Tashlin, 1946) - Mad scientist Elmer Fudd tries to use a new formula to turn Bugs into a monster.

"Hare Tonic" (Chuck Jones, 1945) - Bugs convinces Elmer that he has the dread disease "Rabbitus." Ends with one of the greatest bits of audience-participation meta-humor of all time, which I will not try to give away here.

"A Hare Grows in Manhattan" (Freleng, 1947) - Bugs flashes back to his youth in New York city, singing "She's the Daughter of Rosie O'Grady" and tormenting a bunch of dogs ("Dog pile on the rabbit!")

"Easter Yeggs" (Robert McKimson, 1947) - The Easter Rabbit cons Bugs into delivering eggs for him; the recipients include a fearsome baby who keeps screaming "I wanna Easter egg," and Elmer, who wants to make "Easter Wabbit Stew."

"The Wabbit Who Came to Supper" (Freleng, 1942) - Elmer is told that he has to be kind to animals -- including wabbits -- to inherit a fortune.

"Bowery Bugs" (Arthur Davis, 1949) - In Davis's only Bugs Bunny cartoon, Bugs tells of how he bamboozled gambler Steve Brodie in 1890s New York.

"Homeless Hare" (Jones, 1950) - Bugs gets revenge on a construction foreman who's trying to pave over Bugs's home and put up a skyscraper. "Okay, Hercules, you asked for it."

"The Case of the Missing Hare" (Jones, 1942) - Bugs vs. an obnoxious magician.

"Acrobatty Bunny" (McKimson, 1946) - Bugs faces off against a circus lion. McKimson's first Bugs cartoon.

"Wackiki Wabbit" (Jones, 1943) - Two hungry castaways find Bugs and decide that "We're gonna have roast rabbit!" Notable for the stylized backgrounds and for the fact that the castaways look like, and are voiced by, WB cartoon writers Michael Maltese and Tedd Pierce.

"Hare Do" (Freleng, 1949) - Elmer pursues Bugs into a crowded movie theatre. One of the last WB cartoons that has the animation style and wackiness one associates with the early '40s cartoons (Bugs became a bit more subdued in the '50s).

"Rebel Rabbit" (McKimson, 1949) - And speaking of wacky... in one of the strangest cartoons ever made, Bugs is so upset that there's a low bounty for hunting rabbits (rabbits aren't considered dangerous) that he goes on a terrorist rampage. A great, insane cartoon from McKimson's best period.

"Hillbilly Hare" (McKimson, 1950) - Another great McKimson cartoon, culminating in the funniest square dance ever.

"Duck! Rabbit, Duck!" (Jones, 1953) - The last and, in my opinion, funniest of the Bugs/Daffy/Elmer hunting trilogy.

Disc 2 - Hollywood Caricatures and Parodies

"Daffy Duck in Hollywood" (Tex Avery, 1938) - Daffy runs amuck at a Hollywood studio where stock live-action footage abounds and the big star is a bird who sounds a lot like Katharine Hepburn.

"Hollywood Capers" (Jack King, 1935) - Beans ("of the Boston Beans") tries to sneak into a movie studio.

"The Coo-Coo Nut Grove" (Friz Freleng, 1936) - A series of Hollywood caricatures, with an audio commentary to tell you who everybody is.

"Porky's Road Race" (Tashlin, 1937) - Porky, still with his pre-Mel-Blanc voice (by Joe Dougherty) participates in an automobile race.

"The Woods are Full of Cuckoos" (Tashlin, 1937) - A visit to "radio KUKU," where a bunch of Hollywood celebrities are drawn as birds, including "Walter Finchell" and "Lily Swans."

"She Was an Acrobat's Daughter" (Freleng, 1936) - A musical cartoon taking us to a movie theatre, including the feature "The Petrified Florist."

"The Film Fan" (Bob Clampett, 1939) - Porky goes to the movies, where they mostly seem to be showing trailers and newsreels.

"Speaking of the Weather" (Tashlin, 1937) - Magazine covers come to life.

"Thugs With Dirty Mugs" (Avery, 1939) - The Killer, played by "Edward G. Robbemsome," goes on a criminal rampage, and only a guy in the audience can stop him. "Hey, folks, I sound like Eddie Robinson, don't I? And I can do a Fred Allen, too!"

"Goofy Groceries" (Clampett, 1941) - Various things in a grocery store come to life, and many of them act like Hollywood stars.

"The Swooner Crooner" (Tashlin, 1944) - Porky can't get his hens to lay eggs because they're all too busy swooning over a rooster who sounds like Frank Sinatra. So a Bing Crosby rooster comes along to "take a whack at those slick chicks" with his more mellow sound, and a croon-off commences.

"Wideo Wabbit" (McKimson, 1956) - Elmer chases Bugs through a TV station and through a tour of '50s programming, including Elmer as the host of "The Sportsman's Hour" and Bugs, in a Groucho disguise, as the host of "You Beat Your Wife" (there's a line that's usually cut on TV).

"The Honey-Mousers" (McKimson, 1956) - The pre-Flintstones adventures of blue-collar mice Ralph Krumden, Alice Krumden, and Ned Morton.

"The Last Hungry Cat" (Freleng, 1962) - In a spoof of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents," Sylvester is tormented with guilt and fear when he thinks he's killed and eaten Tweety.

"The Mouse that Jack Built" (McKimson, 1959) - The entire cast of "The Jack Benny Program" provides voices for this re-imagining of Benny and the gang as mice.

Disc 3 - Porky and the Pigs

"I Haven't Got a Hat" (Freleng, 1935) - Porky's debut.

"Porky's Romance" (Tashlin, 1937) - One of Tashlin's first great cartoons, as Porky tries to romance the heartless Petunia Pig (in her debut) and has a nightmare about what it would be like to marry her.

"Porky's Party" (Clampett, 1938) - Porky has a bizarre birthday party.

"Porky in Egypt" (Clampett, 1938) - Porky tours the desert; many funny camel jokes ensue.

"Porky and Teabiscuit" (Cal Dalton & Ben Hardaway, 1939) - Porky buys a racehorse.

"Pigs is Pigs" (Freleng, 1937) - A greedy little pig has a dream where he gets poetic justice for his gluttony.

"Pigs in a Polka" (Freleng, 1942) - "The Three Little Pigs" set to the music of Brahms's Hungarian Dances. One of Freleng's funniest classical-music cartoons, with the jokes arising directly from the music and rhythm.

"Porky Pig's Feat" (Tashlin, 1943) - Daffy and Porky try to escape from a hotel without paying their bill. One of Tashlin's funniest cartoons, a guaranteed killer in a screening with an audience, and watch out for a surprising cameo.

"Daffy Duck Slept Here" (McKimson, 1948) - Porky is forced to share a room with Daffy, who does what he does best: make life hell for Porky.

"Bye Bye Bluebeard" (Davis, 1949) - Davis's last cartoon before his unit was shut down; a mouse disguises himself as Bluebeard, a serial killer, to frighten Porky into giving him free food.

"An Egg Scramble" (McKimson, 1950) - Porky gives away an egg semi-belonging to chicken Miss Prissy (later to appear in many Foghorn Leghorn cartoons), who follows the egg to the big city.

"Robin Hood Daffy" (Jones, 1958) - Yoicks and away!

"The Windblown Hare" (McKimson, 1949) - The obnoxious three little pigs, realizing that their houses are destined to be blown down by the dimwitted wolf, sell their straw and wooden houses to Bugs Bunny.

"Claws for Alarm" (Jones, 1954) - Porky and Sylvester go to another broken-down house infested with murderous mice, whose attempts to kill the oblivious Porky are narrowly foiled by poor Sylvester.

"Rocket Squad" (Jones, 1956) - "Dragnet" in outer space, with Daffy as intergalactic cop Joe Monday and Porky as his partner, Tuesday ("he always follows me").

Disc 4 - All Stars Cartoon Party

"Daffy Duck and the Dinosaur" (Jones, 1938) - Daffy annoys the heck out of Casper Caveman, one of many Jack Benny caricatures you'll meet on this set, and his pet dinosaur.

"Super-Rabbit" (Jones, 1943) - Bugs eats a genetically-altered carrot that gives him super powers, and uses his newfound powers to prevent evil redneck Cottontail Smith from wiping out all rabbits. Tons of great moments, but the most memorable is still "Bricka bracka firecracker, sis boom bah! Bugs Bunny, Bugs Bunny, rah rah rah!"

"Daffy Duck and Egghead" (Avery, 1938) - Daffy annoys bulbous-nosed dimbulb Egghead.

"A Gruesome Twosome" (Clampett, 1945) - Two cats, rivals for a sexy female cat's affections, compete to catch Tweety and bring him to their lady-love for supper. This is the early, pink, totally evil Tweety. You can guess how it goes from there.

"Draftee Daffy" (Clampett, 1945) - Daffy is all patriotic about the war effort, but that's until he gets his draft notice, upon which he goes to any lengths -- even attempted murder -- to avoid the little man from the draft board.

"Falling Hare" (Clampett, 1943) - In one of his few outings as a non-winner, Bugs has a tough time preventing a Gremlin ("It ain't Vendell Vilkie!") from sabotaging a plane.

"Steal Wool" (Jones, 1957) - One of the best of the Ralph Wolf vs. Sam Sheepdog cartoons.

"Birds Anonymous" (Freleng, 1957) - Sylvester joins an AA-like group that seeks to cure him of his Tweety addiction.

"No Barking" (Jones, 1954) - Frisky Puppy keeps barking loudly and startling Claude Cat. This cartoon was animated entirely by Ken Harris, and it's a tour-de-force of comic animation as well as an object lesson in how to make an animal act like an animal (Frisky's behavior is all pretty realistic dog behavior) without rotoscoping or any loss of the WB "cartoony" style.

"Rabbit Punch" (Jones, 1948) - Bugs gets in the boxing ring against the Champ.

"An Itch in Time" (Clampett, 1943) - A flea torments Elmer Fudd's dog. Warning: you will be unable to get that pesky "food around the corner" song out of your head. Also contains the most famous off-color joke in the history of Hollywood cartoons, a line that was intended to be cut and somehow got passed by the censors.

"Odor-Able Kitty" (Jones, 1945) - Pepe Le Pew's debut, this time chasing a male cat disguised as a skunk.

"Walky Talky Hawky" (McKimson, 1946) - Henery Hawk goes looking for chickens, and meets Foghorn Leghorn, in his first appearance.

"Gonzales' Tamales" (Freleng, 1957) - The mice of Mexico are annoyed that Speedy Gonzales is stealing all their girls, so they try to trick Sylvester into bumping Speedy off.

"To Beep or Not To Beep" (Jones, 1963) - A Road Runner cartoon, suffering from the disadvantage of a Bill Lava score, but climaxing in a great series of catapult gags.

Whew! And there are special features still to be announced. (Don't expect any "banned" cartoons among the special features, though.)

Also Merrie Melodies

Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume 3 on October 25.

Lots of Bugs, Daffy, Porky, and broadly-caricatured Hollywood celebrities voiced by people other than Mel Blanc (who was a great voice actor but not a great impressionist, so if a cartoon portrays someone who sounds like Jimmy Durante or Jack Benny or Bing Crosby, it's probably not Blanc). Titles of individual cartoons to be announced soon -- I hope.

Update: List of shorts is here.

For Rhyme Geeks Only

The Wikipedia entry for "rhyme" is very good, especially in its explanation of the complicated rules of rhyme in French poetry. Though the article is correct in saying that these rules are from "classical" French poetry, they continued to be used well into the twentieth century; one of the most famous French-Canadian songs of the last century, Gilles Vignault's Mon Pays, follows most of the rules of classical French rhyme, including the strict alternation of "masculine" and "feminine" rhymes.

Italian is another language that has some rather interesting rules of rhyming, including the rule that words with three-syllable endings do not have to rhyme, with the result that Italian opera librettos will often have, in place of rhyme, a series of unrhymed multi-syllable words, as in this bit of verse from Rossini's La Cenerentola (libretto by Jacopo Feretti), where the accented syllables never rhyme:

- Quella sta nella cenere;
Ha stracci sol per abiti.
-(Il vecchio guarda e dubita.)
-(Mi guarda, e par che palpiti.)
- Ma non facciam le statue.
Patisce l'individuo:
Andiamo presto in tavola.
Poi balleremo il Taice,
E quindi la bellissima...

I've also wondered why the Italian language has so many rhymes whereas Spanish, a similar language, has few rhymes and very little tradition of rhyming (though I'm sure there's an answer to this for one more familiar with the languages -- and with Latin -- than I am). And then of course, in Germany, there's Richard Wagner's doomed attempt to revive the medieval tradition of using alliteration instead of rhyme, leading to all the unintentionally funny alliterative lines in the Ring ("Haus und Herd behagt mir nicht, Donner und Froh, die denken an Dach und Fach, wollen sie frei'n...").

I told you this was for rhyme geeks only, so I'll stop there. I actually wrote a college thesis entirely about the sonic and dramatic effects of trick rhyme (it focused on Byron's Don Juan,, so there was a lot to work with, though I don't actually like the poem that much anymore), and I wanted to do another essay on the development of different rhyme schemes in the English language, but was -- fortunately? -- talked out of it.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Ingmar Bergman Does an Audio Commentary

Yet another dubious attempt at whimsy, this time imagining what it would be like if a classic "serious" movie got the kind of DVD commentary we've all come to know and dread in current films:


Hi, I’m Ingmar Bergman. I wrote and directed THE SEVENTH SEAL, the movie you’re about to see, or maybe you already saw it without my talking over it... by the way, I originally wanted to call it “The Man Who Played Chess With Death,” but Svenk Filmindustri, the studio, thought it was a bad idea to put “Death” in the title, so they suggested this one. I thought it made it sound too much like, you know, a horror film or something, but it seems to have done all right.

While the credits roll, I should maybe say something about how the movie came to be made. I’d just done SMILES OF A SUMMER NIGHT and I was looking for a project to do that was a bit darker, and I remembered this story that had been kicking around all the Swedish studios. They’d all turned it down because nobody wanted to do a chess picture, but I thought there was something in it, because I said, look, it’s not about chess, it’s really about death and morality and that’s the kind of thing that can make for a good, strong story. So I wrote the script, and then I brought it to Svenk Filmindustri, and they said they liked the death stuff but couldn’t I update the setting. They thought setting it in the Middle Ages would be too expensive and might get people confusing us with IVANHOE, something like that. Luckily there was one guy at the studio – Frederik Larsson, I think his name was, nice guy, unfortunately dead now – and he was a big Middle Ages buff. So he got it, I mean, he said to the other executives, “Look, there was a lot of death in the Middle Ages, because of plagues and things, so if we set it now it just won’t have the same impact.” Finally the studio said I could do it if I shot it without big sets and borrowed the medieval costumes from PRINCE VALIANT, which had just wrapped. So I have to give Frederik credit, he really went to bat for us on this one.

Isn’t that a great shot of the beach? Gunnar Fischer, he was my cameraman on this, amazing cameraman. He would take all day to light a scene, and sometimes I’d say “Gunnar, hurry up, we’re going to fall behind schedule,” and then he’d just shrug and stub out his cigarette and go back to working on the lighting. A great cameraman, but he could be tough to handle. So when we were doing this shot, and I knew we really needed to get it done quick, I said “Hey, Gunnar, take as long as you want on the lighting.” It’s reverse psychology, and I know it sounds hokey, but it worked, because we had the scene set up and lit and ready to shoot in about fifteen minutes. That’s the thing about being a director, that you have to be willing to try all kinds of tactics to handle people, even hokey ones. But I don’t want to make Gunnar sound like a weirdo or anything. He wasn’t. And just look at what he did with this shot. This is the shot where you see Death turn up for the first time. I love that shot.

Here’s Max Von Sydow. I worked with him on a lot of movies. He’s an extraordinary actor, of course, most people know that, but what most people don’t know is that he’s an absolute joy to work with. You hardly even need to direct him, because he just knows what you want, just instinctively. He was also Jesus, did you know that? Not literally, of course; I mean he played Jesus in THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD, before Jesus movies were as big as they are now. I’m not completely sure I believe in God, of course, and I made a couple of movies about that, but I think, and Max thinks, that he was an underrated Jesus. He brought the same commitment to that as he brings to this scene here. Look at him. I love this bit where he talks to Death, you know, like it’s nothing new for him. Most people would play it like “Oh, no, Death is here,” but I told Max I didn’t want that, and he got it. He got it right away, and you can see it in his face and his reactions. He really got it.

So here’s our most famous scene, the chess game. I was originally only going to have the chess game happen once, but then it worked so well that I thought “hey, this should be a running thing,” so I wrote in some new scenes. I thought we might be overdoing it, but it’s become the signature bit of the whole movie, and people still come up to me and say “Hey, Ingmar, I’m Death, let’s play chess.” So that’s gratifying. Interesting thing, the chess board was actually borrowed from Bibi Andersson’s great-uncle, who had all these old medieval-style boards and vases in his house. And then on the last day of shooting we put too much light on it and the paint started to peel off it. We managed to get the shots we needed, but the board was shot to hell at the end of it, and Bibi had to talk her uncle out of trying to sue us. We bought him another chess board, and he seemed to like that one, so it all turned out okay.

So, that’s the first big scene. In a minute I’ll talk about how I originally wanted to kill off the young couple and let the knight live, but it didn’t test well and I had to change it around. But first I need a drink of water. All this talking is exhausting.

Hank Hill on Judges

The U.S. Supreme Court brouhaha (or, if there's two vacancies, brouhahas, or possibly brouhahi) inevitably brings to mind this exchange from the King of the Hill episode "Bobby Slam", in which Peggy invokes Title IX to get the neighbor's daughter, Connie, a tryout for the wrestling team, to the mortification of Hank, who fears that this will threaten Bobby's chance to make the team:

HANK: I thought you were busy teaching girls to blow up basketballs. When did this turn into a desire to ruin wrestling?
PEGGY: Oh, give me a break. I don't see how having a girl on the team would ruin it. Did a woman judge ruin the Supreme Court?
HANK: Yes, and that woman's name was Earl Warren.

That even outclasses The Simpsons' take on the late Chief Justice Warren (Marge: "Earl Warren was never a stripper!" Homer: "Now who's being naive?").

The line is, if a google search is any indication, pretty popular on the right side of the blogosphere, but the episode itself (which may have the most instantly-quotable lines of any King of the Hill episode) is actually a good one for "King of the Hill Democrats," as it's quite liberal in a non-preachy way, and the antagonist is the sexist coach who declares that Title IX was "Dick Nixon's biggest mistake":

PEGGY: Title IX of the Civil Rights Act clearly prohibits sex discrimination in public schools, and guarantees equal athletic opportunities for all boys and girls.
COACH: Yeah, well, Roe v. Wade doesn't apply to my wrestling team.
PEGGY: Oh, I think you'll find it does apply.
(Peggy and Connie leave the office.)
CONNIE: Mrs. Hill, wasn't Roe v. Wade --?
PEGGY: Yeah, I know, dear, but you have to pick your battles.

The best exchange in that episode is probably the one after Bobby tells Hank and his friends that Connie's presence might cost him a regular spot on the team:

HANK: It's all well and good to talk about equal rights until some man loses his job. How is that equal?
BOBBY: Yeah, and it's worse when they take away our favors, 'cause we're used to getting them.
BILL: Now hold on, Hank, I'm all for ladies wrestling, except when they do it in pudding. That's just demeaning to the human beings who make pudding.
DALE: Ever since they held that big women's conference in Beijing, co-ed sports has been the number-two priority on the international feminite agenda. Want to know what the number-one priority is? Co-ed bathrooms. It'll be a cold day in hell before we institute that in the Gribble home.

Monday, July 11, 2005

One of Those Crushing Scenes

I didn't notice until just now that the first season of "The Nanny" is out on DVD. Not being all that familiar with the show, I have no idea whether the first season is one of the better seasons of it, but I do think it's worth the fairly modest price of the set.

People looking to find out what's wrong with sitcoms today might do well to look at "The Nanny." Not that it's a great show or anything, but that's the point; only ten years ago there were quite a few sitcoms on the air that were not great, not huge hits, but were consistently entertaining. Shows like these succeeded by doing things that most of today's situation comedies do not; some of these things include:

- Hire performers who are distinctive and unique instead of performers with an "everyman" quality. Whatever you can say about Fran Drescher, she can't be confused with anyone else on television. And in comedy, someone who's annoying but distinctive is better than someone who's likable but bland.

- Give the performers some breathing space to do funny business, pauses, double takes, etc. It's incredible how regimented most of today's multicamera shows look, how afraid they are of pauses and unrehearsed business and all the stuff that makes comedy feel fresh. (Everybody Loves Raymond was one of the few sitcoms left that actually allowed for long pauses to play directly off the audience laughter.) If you're not giving the performers some space to really perform, what's the point of shooting with a live audience in the first place? Which brings us to a related point:

- Don't be afraid of a broad, theatrical style. On a live-audience show, it's okay to have performers who play to the studio audience, doing broad gestures and raising their voice and generally playing to the back of the theatre. A subdued, subtle, playing-to-the-camera style defeats the purpose of the live-audience setup and comes off as bland. The Nanny feels like a loud and raucous stage play, and that works better than trying to play comedy at a less-than-optimal volume level.

- Stereotypes are OK. Comedy is built on stereotypes, yet a lot of shows shoot themselves in the foot by trying too hard to make the characters un-stereotypical, and wind up just making them, again, very bland, with no particular ethnic, social, or cultural identity. Something like The Nanny, which is built almost entirely on broad stereotypes of Jews and WASPS (and the clashes that ensue when Jewish stereotypes meet WASP stereotypes), manages to give its characters a lot more energy than sitcoms where nobody is anything in particular, and therefore there's nothing in particular to joke about.

- Work out the relationships not only between the lead character and the supporting characters, but among the supporting characters. The best laughs on The Nanny always came from the mutual dislike of the characters played by Lauren Lane and Daniel Davis. On a lot of sitcoms, the supporting characters hardly ever talk to each other and have no particular relationship worked out, which means that everything becomes (my favorite word) bland when the lead character isn't around. (Regarding another sitcom with a more exalted reputation, the commentaries on NewsRadio often emphasize that the show worked because every character could be funny with every other character. But that's not something you often see nowadays.)

- Have a theme song that explains the premise. What ever happened to those, anyway?

MarineLand: Not Just An Ontario Thing

In response to my post on cheesy '80s commercials, Bryan Farr points out his page containing 14 different versions of the MarineLand song. Unfortunately he doesn't have any of the versions that pre-date 1995, but there's still enough there to warp your mind for life.

And Now For Something Completely the Same, But Better

Further to the "Great WB Animators" posts, I was just pointed to a piece that says some similar things, but with more in-depth, nuts-and-bolts knowledge: Animator Larry Tremblay, in a post at the old Termite Terrace Trading Post message board, provides some in-depth and very insightful observations on Rod Scribner, Emery Hawkins, Ken Harris and Virgil Ross. Read it here.

That Basketball Show

A DVD release for the first season of "The White Shadow", created by the late Bruce Paltrow. I can't think of much to say about this show, because it's been so long since I've seen it. I do remember thinking that it went overboard in terms of trying to work some kind of hot-button issue or prosocial message into every episode. When the MTM company got into hourlong dramas after years of doing only comedy -- their initial successes in the drama field were this show and "Lou Grant" -- they seemed to want to prove their drama bona fides by doing a Big Issue every week. Their best dramas, Hill Street Blues and St. Elsewhere, were closer to MTM's best comedies in being character-driven rather than issue-driven.

That said, I do remember The White Shadow as being pretty good. I also remember Mad Magazine doing a story on recently-cancelled TV shows circa 1981, and whereas they made fun of the weaknesses of all the other cancelled shows, they basically turned the White Shadow blurb into a straightforward, no-joke hymn of praise to the show ("It suffered from the rarest of TV diseases: intelligentus programmus"). When you can make Mad get all mushy, you must be pretty good.

Oh, and in yet another example of how shows from the same production company tend to wind up sharing story concepts, The White Shadow and MTM's WKRP in Cincinnati both did episodes in early 1980 about a Russian who visits the main characters and wants to defect (WKRP's was January 1980, TWS's was February).

Friday, July 08, 2005

Great WB Animators, Part 2

This is a follow-up to part 1, which is here. That post dealt with four animators; this one deals with only three, but I'll talk about a few more animators and their styles when I get the chance.

Update (1:18 p.m.): I've added a post on the animation of Bob McKimson, though I still need to find a few more screencaps.

Update (8:36 p.m.): A reader sends in a correction -- the "Porky Chops" screencap I originally posted was not by Emery Hawkins but by Don Williams (who animated in Art Davis's unit and later did many, many cartoons for Depatie-Freleng).

Gerry Chiniquy

Gerry Chiniquy was Friz Freleng's favorite animator. He started animating for Freleng in 1941, worked in his unit until around 1950, returning again in 1955 and staying with Freleng for more or less the rest of his career. After the end of WB cartoons, he became a director for Freleng's company, DePatie-Freleng, directing a number of Pink Panther cartoons. His name can also be found in the closing credits of Jem (animated mostly by DePatie-Freleng veterans), though I don't know that he would have considered that his proudest moment.

Chiniquy was not an animator who favored fluid movement; the hallmark of his animation, right from the beginning, was jerky, almost spastic motion, with Typically he will have a character move by moving his body downwards and then suddenly jerking upwards. You can always spot a Chiniquy scene by those jerky movements, down and up. He did this kind of movement from the beginning, and it became more pronounced as he got older and the budgets got smaller; by the time he animated Daffy Duck's big tap dance in "Show Biz Bugs", he was basically just holding the character's body still and moving it up and down.

The disadvantage of this kind of movement is that it makes fairly limited use of body motion; with Chiniquy, you don't get the kind of subtle indicators of personality you get with Virgil Ross, or the outrageous but equally character movements of Rod Scribner. Chiniquy's forte was not so much characterization as rhythm; his characters' movements emphasize the rhythm of Mel Blanc's dialogue delivery, Carl Stalling's music, and above all the timing of the gags; when Daffy stomps offstage in "Show Biz Bugs," his tick-tock way of moving helps point up the rhythm of the scene and sell the joke.

That sense of rhythm and timing made him indispensable to Freleng, for whom timing and rhythm were the most important parts of a cartoon. Also, Freleng was extremely fond of musical and dance sequences, and he often used Chiniquy's on-the-beat animation style for funny dances like Daffy's Carmen Miranda act in "Yankee Doodle Daffy".

Emery Hawkins

Before joining Warner Brothers, Emery Hawkins did a lot of excellent animation for Disney and Walter Lantz. At WB, he worked in the short-lived unit of director Arthur Davis; when that unit was shut down, most of the animators were transferred to other units (Davis himself became an animator for Friz Freleng), but Hawkins spent a year or so as a "rotating" animator, working for all three remaining directors at various times.

Hawkins was one of the greatest creators of wacky, freewheeling animation. He did not go as far as Scribner in terms of extreme poses and facial expressions; Hawkins' drawings are always pretty pleasant-looking. Hawkins' specialty was very loose, very fluid movement. His characters' bodies seem less "solid" than most of the other animators', drawn very skinny, constantly in motion, and able to change shape on a moment's notice. He also liked to use "smear" animation to get characters from one pose to another very quickly. (These screencaps are from "All A-Bir-r-r-d,", a Freleng cartoon where Hawkins' style is noticeably different from that of the regular Freleng animators, with much more freedom of movement.)

You can see the contrast between Hawkins and most of the other animators in the Freleng cartoon Golden Yeggs: right after a Gerry Chiniquy scene with Daffy moving rather stiffly, Hawkins takes over, with a freely moving, shape-shifting Daffy.

Some of this may reflect the fact that Hawkins had worked at Disney, where the animation was very fluid and had characters in constant motion, rather than the jerkier, more pronounced movements of typical WB animation. But Hawkins uses this fluid style not to be cute but to be funny; he uses the fluid style to take characters' bodies through a lot of changes and poses very quickly, with the fun coming from how quickly the character changes his movement and even his shape. If Scribner emphasizes extreme poses, Hawkins is more interested in how many unique poses and shapes he can create within a scene; his scenes are a delight to freeze-frame because his seemingly loose movements are created with so many contrasting and funny drawings. A great Hawkins scene in that respect is the climactic scene from McKimson's French Rarebit, where Bugs Bunny shows how to prepare Louisiana Back Bay
Bayou Bunny Bordelais à la Antoine. Not only does Bugs twist the other characters into hilarious shapes, Bugs himself changes shape almost unobtrusively; we can't really see some of the ways his body changes shape (even Bugs's hat changes shape sometimes), but we can sense it, and it makes the scene funnier without calling undue attention to its own cleverness, as "wacky" animation too often does.

Perhaps the best-known cartoon that Hawkins worked on is Chuck Jones' Rabbit of Seville, where Hawkins animated the opening scene and Bugs's drag scene.

Robert McKimson

To plagiarize a bit from my previous post on McKimson the director: Before he became a successful director, McKimson was one of the best and most influential animators at the studio. He did some work for Chuck Jones, then joined Tex Avery's unit (doing animation on Avery's first Bugs Bunny cartoons); after Bob Clampett took over Avery's old unit, McKimson animated for Clampett until being promoted to director. In the mid-'50s, when all his animators left, McKimson returned to animating on three cartoons, including "The Hole Idea", for which he did all the animation -- one of the few big-studio cartoons to be directed and animated by one person.

McKimson's animation was extremely funny, but also graceful, beautiful-looking, and -- compared to Rod Scribner, anyway -- subtle; he put so much detail into characters' movements that they almost seemed like real, breathing people. He made characters a bit taller and sleeker than other animators did, moved them a bit slower than usual to bring out the detail of their bodies' motion (he would have the whole body slowly move while a character was talking, rather than just sort of jerking them from pose to pose as Gerry Chiniquy did), and he was very careful about making sure that a character's gestures and body language were of a piece with what the character was thinking or feeling: in a scene like this (from "A Tale of Two Kitties"), the positioning of the characters' bodies, arms, and hands is carefully worked out to show which character in control in the scene. Or in the "cheater" cartoon "What's Cookin' Doc?", when Bugs Bunny shape-shifts into various celebrities, everything about the way he's drawn -- eyes, ears, body language -- is appropriate to the parody and to the character of Bugs, with imaginative transitions from the animation of "regular" Bugs to the animation of shape-shifted Bugs; it's funny not just because of the parody but because McKimson's sense of character allows him to emphasize the fact that it's still Bugs Bunny behind the parody.

McKimson's animation is also instantly recognizable by a kind of gesture he loved, which consisted of having a character do a slow, nonchalant gesture with both his arms and hands at once, as though the character is a conductor and he's conducting the cartoon. (Manny Gould also liked to have characters do things with both hands at once, but he would have them stretch out their hands very broadly, whereas McKimson's characters do it in a much more restrained way.) Examples of this can be found in Daffy's scene in Hell in "Draftee Daffy", the first scene between Sylvester and Sylvester Jr. in "Too Hop to Handle", and perhaps McKimson's best piece of animation (his last for Clampett), the beginning of Daffy's Danny Kaye routine in "Book Revue", which also demonstrates his wonderful ability to come up with appropriate physical gestures to accompany descriptive dialogue (assuming there is a gesture that is truly appropriate for a line like "Playing their samovars"). His attention to detail also pays off in his perfectly-synchronized animation of the huge shadow behind Daffy.

The Media Takes Notice...

Of the most important cultural development of our generation: Mr. T fandom.

The Further Adventures of Frankie Dunn

In honor of the DVD release of Million Dollar Baby, I thought I'd make a first stab at an outline of the sequel, "The Further Adventures of Frankie Dunn" or "One and a Half Million Dollar Baby."


Well, after the Maggie Fitzgerald incident, it took me a while to find another fighter to manage. Lady boxers have all these questions up front, like "What's my share of the cut," "How do I know you won't poison me and look grimly down at my crippled corpse," and so on.

But eventually I found a good prospect, Anna O'Rourke. She was a tough gal from a family of welfare-abusing meth addicts, and she knew that boxing was the only way she'd save up enough money to go to law school.

In her first fight, a Bratistlavan woman knocked her out and broke her legs. Anna said to me: "I don't want to live without legs like those useless people whose parking spaces I steal. Put me and my legs out of their misery."

I was conflicted. I said to my priest: "What should I do, father?" He said: "You do know she'll be able to use her legs again in a few weeks, right?" Some help he was.

Finally I knew what I had to do. I put arsenic in her Count Chocula and set her free. Yes, she was free. But me, I knew I'd never be free. Never.

So then I found a new fighter, Meghan O'Shaunessey. She was the thirteenth daughter in a family of cocaine-dealing shoplifters. She told me she'd turned to boxing so she could make enough to shop at Wal-Mart instead of just slitting the clerk's throat and stealing his pants.

But I guess she didn't listen hard enough to the stuff I tried to teach her, because she'd only been in two fights when a seven-foot Bulgarian knocked all her teeth out. The next day, after the fight, she said to me: "Mmmph. Mmmmph. Mmmmph." I knew what that meant. It meant she didn't want to live without teeth and leech off the system like those parasites on intravenous.

What should I do? It tore me up inside. And all my priest had to say was: "Did you ever consider that maybe you're not doing a very good job as a trainer if your fighters all get horribly maimed?" Catholicism is so useless when you're in a jam.

But after a lot of thinking and brooding and drinking, I made my decision. I went back to Meghan and strangled her with her own hair. I might be damned forever, but she'd never need to regret her lack of teeth again.

New boxers were tough to come by for a while after that, especially once they started screaming and running away when they heard my name. But I finally got a hold of my best prospect ever, Mary O'Hara O'Reilly, the only non-hunchbacked member of a family of dyslexic incontinent sadomasochists who ran over babies with cars. She told me: "I'm never gonna get my own car and run over a baby of my own unless I fight for it."

First fight, she was up against a giant robot created by rogue scientists in the former Czechoslovakia. And she won by a K.O. When it was over, she came to me and said: "I won! I won! I knocked her out and all I got was a black eye." Yes, she had a black eye. Black as the night, black as the pits of hell. She wouldn't look pretty for at least another week.

What could I do? I consulted my priest, just as a token, and he said: "You're crazy. I'm calling the police." I could tell he was really crippled too, inside, so I bashed his skull in with a table lamp.

Then I went to Mary's place and put her, her boyfriend, and the Pizza-Pizza guy out of their miseries with some rat poison and a chainsaw.

After that, the thrill was gone out of managing fighters. I couldn't stand having to wait through all the fighting and crippling to put them out of their miseries. So now I mostly just go from gym to gym with a rifle, giving fighters eternal peace in advance and putting my soul at risk every day. Damn, I'm tormented.