Monday, February 20, 2006

WB Animation: "Rabbit of Seville"

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Here's another revised version of an earlier post on WB animation. This is again based on a Greg Duffell post, identifying the animators who animated different scenes in Chuck Jones' Rabbit of Seville (which is available on the first Looney Tunes DVD collection).

- The opening sequence, where Elmer Fudd chases Bugs Bunny out of the woods and onto the stage, is animated by Emery Hawkins. Hawkins wasn't a regular member of Jones' unit; he had animated for Walter Lantz, and then moved to WB to work for director Arthur Davis. When Davis's unit was closed down, Hawkins animated for the three remaining directors at WB, a sort of "rotating" animator, and then left; he mostly worked on commercials after that.

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- When Bugs introduces himself as the barber ("How do! Welcome to my shop -- let me cut your mop"), the animation is by Phil Monroe, who worked in Jones' unit in the late '40s and early '50s, and later animated for Jones at MGM on projects like How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Before joining Jones, Monroe had done some work for "wilder" directors like Bob Clampett and Frank Tashlin, and has a slightly looser, wackier style than some of the other Jones animators -- though always keeping closely to Jones's pose drawings (Jones didn't give his animators as much room to improvise as some of the other directors).

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- Ken Harris, Jones' star animator (he's the guy who animated all the crying scenes in Feed the Kitty, for instance) animates the close shot of Bugs singing "Although your face looks like it might have gone through a machine." Harris was brilliant at doing these kinds of close shots, especially of characters looking toward the camera. Note the rather pinched, close-together features he gives Bugs and the detail of the wrinkles in Bugs's face.

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- The next scene, with Bugs in drag, is animated by Emery Hawkins, with his skinny and fluidly-moving Bugs, and somewhat Disney-esque look for the befuddled Elmer.

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- With Elmer back in the barber chair, Ben Washam animates the sequence where Bugs "is massaging Elmer's head and eventually makes a salad there." Washam also animates the subsequent sequence with Bugs as a snake charmer. Washam is easy to identify, at least in Bugs Bunny cartoons, because he always makes Bugs' teeth pointier -- or "chisel-toothed" as Duffell calls it -- than any other animator, as well as his generally angular way of drawing Bugs's head and features.

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- The great chase scene where Elmer and Bugs zoom upward on barber chairs is animated by Lloyd Vaughan (who was with Jones through most of the '40s and the early '50s). Vaughan stuck more than most animators to the way Jones drew Bugs in the mid-'40s, kind of short and hunched over and more vulnerable-looking than the sleek way he was usually drawn by the '50s.

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- Ken Harris now takes over in the scene where Elmer gives Bugs the barber a tip, Bugs pushes Elmer around in the revolving door, and then dances Elmer back into the barber chair. As Duffell comments: "This is rare animation, the likes of which we may never see again. The subtlety of action and expression...not to mention the analysis of action from the graceful movement of Bugs' the choreography of the dance with a limp Elmer---all without any live reference I'm sure---is breathtaking."

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- Phil Monroe does the shots of Bugs giving Elmer a pedicure.

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- Ken Harris is back for the shot of Bugs putting beauty clay on Elmer's face, waiting for it to harden, and then chiselling it off. Duffell again: " Typical of Harris, even in what might seem like a repetitive action of hammering, he subtly modifies each hit, each grimace by Bugs. Bugs seems like a living, breathing character here. What magic!"

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- The famous "Figaro Fertilizer" scene, where Bugs applies said fertilizer to Elmer's head (including one shot where Bugs has five fingers all of a sudden) and causes flowers to grow on his bald head, is animated by Lloyd Vaughan.

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- Ken Harris now animates the entire final scene of the film: the chase with increasingly large weapons (a perfect visual equivalent of a Rossini crescendo), the marriage sequence, and the final closeup of Bugs saying "next." Note also that Harris has his own preferred way of drawing Bugs's front teeth, sort of as a solid block with a line down the middle:

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My personal note (repeated from the earlier post): what's great about Harris's animation -- and the animation of all the great WB animators -- is that it's just so filled with character; every movement made by Bugs or Elmer in this film is perfectly in-character and tells us something about their personalities (Bugs' self-confidence and wit; Elmer's gullibillity and his frustration at being twicked by that wabbit). We're now used to thinking of "acting" in animation as being synonymous with voice acting -- so that the Simpsons voice actors were routinely referred to, in their latest salary dispute, as just "the actors" who play Homer and Lisa and co. -- but acting and characterization comes from the animators too. There is hardly any dialogue in Rabbit of Seville, just one spoken line and a few sung lines, and yet Elmer and Bugs are clearly in character throughout, because of the great actors who were listed as "animators."

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Good Ol' Lucy Brown

One of the all-time great Peanuts Sunday strips.

Gargoyles: So Near and Yet So Far

If you like the show "Gargoyles,", and you haven't picked up the DVD set of season 2, volume 1, you might be well-advised to pick it up pretty soon. According to this, low sales of that set are creating the possibility that Disney won't release season 2, volume 2 (the final episodes of the series). The creator is encouraging people to buy the season 2, volume 1 set to ensure that the rest of the series will be released.

If not, it'll create the ultimate annoyance of TV-on-DVD: a show whose DVD releases almost make it to the end of the series, but not quite.

OT: Electoral Sabermetrics

I grew up as a big fan of Bill James and his analysis of baseball; it's now pretty much mainstream, but "sabermetrics" -- the systematic analysis of baseball statistics -- was absolutely revolutionary at the time. There was this idea that baseball analysis could only be done by insiders, people who really knew how the game worked. James came along and proved that an "outsider" could look at the numbers, analyze them creatively, and come up with analysis that was more accurate than the insiders', not less.

Since political blogging took off, I've been waiting for something like that to spring up, a political equivalent to sabermetrics -- a way for outsiders to look at political polling numbers and come to a better understanding of politics than the "insiders," with their obsession with marginal stuff (does anyone really, truly vote on most of the issues that politicians and consultants are obsessed with?). One thing I've found recently may be the closest thing to a Bill James approach to politics that I've seen. It's in this post as well as this earlier post from the blogger Chris Bowers at the group blog (one of the better political blogs out there).

Bowers was looking at old poll data, and he came across data that showed him two interesting things about U.S. Congressional elections. One, if a sizeable majority of respondents thinks a particular party controls Congress, that party will lose seats in the Congressional elections. And two, there are some years when the vast majority of respondents are flatly wrong about who controls Congress.

Specifically, he discovered that there were three years in which most people identified the wrong party as controlling the U.S. House of Representatives, 1982, 1986, and 2002. In 1982, Democrats controlled the House, yet "68% of the electorate believed that Republicans controlled the House of Representatives" -- and that November, the Republicans lost a bunch of seats in the House. In 2002, the Republicans controlled the House, yet "72% of the electorate believed that Democrats controlled the House of Representatives" -- and that November, the Democrats lost seats in the House.

Bowers realized that what these three "wrong identification" years had in common was that they were years when different parties controlled the House and Senate. In 1982, the Republicans had the Senate but not the House -- but people thought they had the House too, and so they lost seats in the House. In 2002, the Democrats had the Senate but not the House -- but people thought they had the House too, and so they lost seats in the House.

Bowers goes into more about this in his posts, but what I find fascinating is that with a little examination of data, he's found a better predictor of the results of U.S. Congressional elections than anything I've seen before, particularly mid-term Congressional elections. Simply put, whoever controls the Senate will lose seats in the House in the mid-terms, because the voters focus their attention on that party, assume that that party controls Congress, and set out to punish that party. If there's a lot of consensus as to who runs Congress (Bowers goes into more detail about what it takes to create such a consensus), then there will be a swing in seats.

I like stuff like this because, as Bowers himself says, a lot of the big questions about what swings an election -- what is the party's message, what are their policy positions -- may not be all that relevant in the long run. They're relevant in individual races, but if you're talking about the national results of a whole bunch of little elections, you need to look at the bigger trends, and the bigger trend is just that voters tend to want to punish the party that controls Congress. There were all these thousands of articles written analyzing why the Democrats lost seats in 2002; but it all seems to boil down to the fact that voters mistakenly thought that they controlled the House, since that exactly parallels what happened to the Republicans in 1982 and 1986. This makes sense to me, and is true to the way a lot of voters vote.

Therefore, Bowers recommends that the message of the opposition party should simply be to repeat over and over that the other party controls Congress: increase the knowledge of who controls Congress, and you increase your chances of winning. And the best part of it is, this is a winning message that is impossible to contradict, because it's literally true, no ambiguity, no "other side."

If the Democrats make gains in Congress this November (and it doesn't seem far-fetched to think that they will: the split-power factor that worked against them in 2002 doesn't apply this time, and voters will know the Republicans control Congress because of the news reporting on Tom DeLay and so forth) then Bowers' analysis will really seem valid and useful for future horseraces. Just like Bill James's sabermetric tricks are more useful than baseball's conventional wisdom, these political sabermetric tricks seem to describe the real world of voter patterns better than any political pundit.

Update: I see some people are linking here from political blogs (like the good old Daou Report. For anyone linking here from a political blog, I should note that this is not a political blog (hence the "OT," for "off topic"), and is mostly about film and TV and cartooons and stuff.

Admittedly I've gotten more politicized and anti-war in the last few years, like most previously non-political people have. The reason for this can probably be summed up as follows:

TIME: September 12, 2001

SCENE: A hallway

CHARACTERS: Me and my crazy lefty friend

CRAZY LEFTY FRIEND: Do you support the invasion of Afghanistan?

ME: Of course. It's a rational response. Don't you support it, Crazy Lefty?

CRAZY LEFTY FRIEND: No. If the Bush Administration invades Afghanistan, the next thing you know they'll use 9/11 as an excuse to invade Iraq for no reason.

ME: Don't be silly. Iraq has nothing to do with this. The Bush Administration would never be so stupid as to invade Iraq.

CRAZY LEFTY FRIEND: I'm telling you, if you don't oppose the Bush Administration now, they'll exploit 9/11 for political purposes and use it as an excuse for invading Iraq.

ME: Oh, Lefty. You're such a crazy lefty. Only a crazy lefty would say something so crazy -- Lefty.

Flash-Forward to 2003.

ME (chastened): You were right all along, Lefty. They did invade Iraq for no reason. Where can I sign up for the "These People Are Completely Crazy Book of the Month Club?"

And there you have it. However, I comfort myself with the notion that the world is no longer quite as batshit crazy as it was in 2002-4, and otherwise grit my teeth. And so I don't do political posts very often, which is just as well.

Instead, go to the main page if you like posts about King of the Hill and obscure Otto Preminger movies.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Robert Browning on Religious Art

Most of the late poetry of Robert Browning is pretty hard to get through; after his last great work, the blank-verse epic "The Ring and the Book," his bad habits of obscurity and over-rhyming got the better of him. Most of the stuff he turned out in the last two decades of his life is frankly incomprehensible. However, one late Browning poem I find myself returning to quite frequently is Filippo Baldinucci on the Privilege of Burial", from the 1875 collection Pachiarotto. Like many of Browning's poems, this is set in Italy and incorporates Italian cultural history, in this case, the writings of Filippo Baldinucci, from whose Notizie de' Professori del Disegno the story of this poem is taken.

Most of Browning's poems are written in the voice of a speaker who is not the poet (Browning hardly ever wrote in his own voice); in this case, the story is told to the primary speaker by his uncle, a ferocious anti-Semite who detests the increasing tolerance and acceptance of Jews in Florence ("I fear we must not pelt the Jews!") and the "laws, which modern fools enact" in favour of tolerance. To illustrate his point about the devious trickery of the Jews, he tells his nephew a story, but as often in Browning, the point the reader takes from the story is different from the point the speaker thinks he's making.

The basic idea of the story is that a Jewish cemetary adjoins the property of an affluent, anti-semitic farmer. To "gall the unbelievers," the farmer hires the painter Ludovico Buti to create a painting of the Virgin Mary and place it facing the cemetary, so the Jews will have to see the Virgin Mary every time they hold a funeral. When the Jews object, the farmer tells them he'll turn the picture around in exchange for 100 ducats -- and then, when they pay him, hires Buti again to create a painting of Jesus on the other side of the canvas.

A young Jewish man, the son of a woman who was just buried in the cemetary (and whose funeral was ruined by the sight of Buti's painting) arrives at the farmer's house. But he doesn't want to fight, as the cowardly farmer and painter both assume; instead he offers to buy the painting to hang in his house. The farmer accepts the offer and assumes that he has made a convert:

The Farmer—who, though dumb, this while
Had watched advantage—straight conceived
A reason for that tone and smile
So mild and soft! The Jew—believed!

But the purchaser sets him straight: he wants the painting as a work of art, nothing more. He recalls seeing paintings of Greek gods in the home of prominent Christians, and wondering why they would display pagan gods in their homes. The answer he received was that the paintings are displayed for their artistic value only, not as religious works.

“‘Benignant smiles me pity straight
The Cardinal.
’Tis Truth, we prize!
Art’s the sole question in debate!
These subjects are so many lies.
We treat them with a proper scorn
When we turn lies—called gods forsooth—
To lies’ fit use, now Christ is born.
Drawing and coloring are Truth.

“‘Think you I honor lies so much
As scruple to parade the charms
Of Leda—Titian, every touch—
Because the thing within her arms
Means Jupiter who had the praise
And prayer of a benighted world?
He would have mine too, if, in days
Of light, I kept the canvas furled!’

And so, the purchaser concludes, he will apply the same principle to the pictures of Christ and Mary that Christians apply to pictures of Leda and Jupiter: as artistic representations of mythological figures, to be praised or scorned based on artistic considerations only, with the religious figures accorded no more respect than a Christian would give a Greek religious figure:

“‘So ending, with some easy gibe.
What power has logic! I, at once,
Acknowledged error in our tribe
So squeamish that, when friends ensconce
A pretty picture in its niche
To do us honor, deck our graves,
We fret and fume and have an itch
To strangle folk—ungrateful knaves!

“‘No, sir! Be sure that—what’s its style,
Your picture?—shall possess ungrudged
A place among my rank and file
Of Ledas and what not—be judged
Just as a picture! and (because
I fear me much I scarce have bought
A Titian) Master Buti’s flaws
Found there, will have the laugh flaws ought!’

The man leaves with the picture, leaving the farmer nonplussed. The uncle ends the story by ranting about the breakdown of religious repression and the evils of a society that tolerates tolerance:

“Was magic here? Most like! For, since,
Somehow our city’s faith grows still
More and more lukewarm. and our Prince
Or loses heart or wants the will
To check increase of cold. ’Tis ‘Live
And let live! Languidly repress
The Dissident! In short,—contrive
Christians must bear with Jews: no less!’

“The end seems, any Israelite
Wants any picture,—pishes, poohs,
Purchases, hangs it full in sight
In any chamber he may choose!
In Christ’s crown, one more thorn we rue!
In Mary’s bosom, one more sword!
No, boy, you must not pelt a Jew!
O Lord, how long? How long, O Lord?”

As with a lot of Browning's poems, he doesn't specifically tell you what meaning to take from the poem, and there are multiple ways to interpret it. Certainly it's not just about 17th-century Italy; there were plenty of people like the uncle in Browning's time, and today. The idea that art should be judged on its own merits as art and not as religious statements (or political statements) is certainly not something that ever goes away, though Browning is ambiguous about where he comes down on this issue. Is the uncle right -- for the wrong reasons -- in thinking that decoupling art from religious/political significance robs it of its ability to foster intolerance, and therefore creates a more tolerant society over time? Browning is certainly not with the uncle in thinking that intolerance is a good thing, but he might be putting inadvertent truth into the villain's mouth. Or is Browning less than enthusiastic about the idea of using art to make religious/political points, since it winds up backfiring on the person who tries to make the point (as it backfires on the other villains of the piece, the farmer and Buti)? Is it a celebration of the democratic nature of art -- because anyone can enjoy it, whatever their race or religioun or creed, good art is not exclusionary -- or is it more about religious intolerance than about art? The answer to all these questions, as always with a Browning poem, is "yes." He never tells you exactly what he thinks the primary point of a poem is, but he lets all kinds of themes emerge and butt up against each other -- that's what makes his poetry so interesting.

The PH Factor

In the realm of "oddball" comics, nothing is oddball-er than Archie comics' attempt to turn its characters into superheroes with names like "Pureheart the Powerful" and "Captain Hero." Dial B For Blog, braver and with a stronger stomach than I, has an incredibly comprehensive history of the teen superheroes (table of contents to the left, starting with post # 226).

Friday, February 17, 2006

Señor Chance!

Ivan at Thrilling Days of Yesteryear has a good post on the beloved character actor Pedro Gonzales-Gonzales (The High and the Mighty, Rio Bravo), who recently died at the age of 80. Ivan posts some excerpts from the "You Bet Your Life" appearance that made Mr. Gonzales-Gonzales famous.

Also, here's something I wrote about him last year:

I know him best from a movie called The Sheepman, because it was a movie that my dad saw as a young man, and years after he'd forgotten the name of the film, he always remembered Gonzales-Gonzales's big line: seeing a shipment of sheep being brought in, he cries out: "The sheep has come in!" Dad said this got a huge laugh in the theatre. One afternoon we were watching TV and we noticed Gonzales-Gonzales in some kind of sheep-herding situation; Dad realized this was it, and we waited for the big line. When we heard it, it was like we'd finally recovered the lost gold or something. So thanks, Pedro.

Royale Pains

So Casino Royale, or as everyone will no doubt be calling it, Bond Begins, now has a cast;

James Bond: Daniel Craig
Le Chiffre: Mads Mikkelsen
Vesper Lynd: Eva Green
Felix Leiter: Jeffrey Wright

Casting actors who haven't been over-exposed around the world (though Mikkelsen is a star in his native Denmark) is a strategy that harks back to Dr. No, which cast relatively little-known people who would go on to hit it big like Sean Connery, Ursula Andress and Jack Lord. Also, assembling an international cast (Danish villain, French leading lady) is a nice throwback to the international casts of the '60s Bonds; I was tired of all the British-accented villains.

Speaking of Casino Royale, Howard Hawks at one point considered making a film of the novel with Cary Grant as Bond. This page speculates on what a Hawks version of Bond might have been like.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

TV DVD News of Note

- Season 2 of "The Rockford Files" comes out on June 13. This was probably the weakest season -- co-creator Roy Huggins gave the younger co-creator, Stephen J. Cannell, more control, and Cannell miscalculated by making Rockford too much of a luckless schlemiel in some episodes. The ratings went down, and, according to the book Thirty Years of the Rockford Files, never quite got back where they'd been in the first season. But Cannell recognized the mistakes and got the show back on track in the third season, with the help of writer-producer Juanita Bartlett and a new addition to the writing staff, David Chase. So while the show really hits its stride in season 3, season 2 is still worth getting for Garner, and some of the better episodes. Incidentally, one thing that's striking about watching Rockford now is the incredible workload that it put on Garner: he's in practically every scene of every episode. Even a show like 24 doesn't ask Keifer Sutherland to work quite that much. Most TV shows now have larger regular casts, and more subplots, to lighten the star's workload; Rockford must have been an exhausting experience for Garner.

- Sitcoms Online reports the possibility of a DVD release for "The Wonder Years," which has been held up due to music-clearance issues. Could this be the sign that the floodgates have opened for music-heavy shows owned by Fox? (coughWKRPcough)

- Season 3 of "Moonlighting" has one of the better bonus features I've encountered on a TV-show set: the episode "The Straight Poop," a self-referential clip show where Rona Barrett interviews the characters about behind-the-scenes tension, has an audio commentary by several fans who run "Moonlighting" websites and fan clubs. They chat about the episode, identify the various clips, share tidbits and gossip about the show, and heap scorn on the cinematographer for photographing Cybill Shepherd through diffusion (though to be fair, he was the cinematographer from "Star Trek" and he always photographed women through gauzy filters). Fun stuff -- like an entertaining version of one of those scholarly commentaries on classic film.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Lyrics: "Double Standard" from Oh, Captain!

To follow up on my post about feminist movies, here are some surprisingly feminist lyrics from an otherwise cheerfully sexist 1958 musical comedy, Oh, Captain!. The song, by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, is called "Double Standard," and is sung to the two-timing hero by his wife and his mistress:

I came to you, a bride to you,
My contract says I'm tied to you,
But you're as free as a little bird is.
There's a word for you, you tainted saint,
But as a lady of restraint,
I can't tell you what that certain word is.
Mine eyes have seen the battle-light,
I'm tired of being a satellite,
Just another gal in your galaxy.
If you want your double standard,
Then you don't want me.

If I should shake my hip a bit,
Then you, you greedy hypocrite,
You dare to tell me I'm being shameless.
You have set a new Olympic mark
For clearing hurdles in the dark,
And yet you stand around acting blameless.
You pull the switch, it's so routine,
And just like any good machine,
I'm to do just what you expect me to.
Well, if that's your double standard,
Then a pox on you.

You're famous on the boulevards,
I bet you pose for postal cards,
I'm sure nobody could do it better.
But if I should let an eyebrow twitch,
I start with "b" and rhyme with "itch"
Like I'm the star of The Scarlet Letter.
Who knows how many times you've been
Cavorting down the street of sin?
Anywhere you hang your pants is home!
If you want your double standard,
I'll just have to roam.

You think I'm sweet and gentle, and never wild,
But we're not children, and I'm no child.
Did it ever occur to you I could give you more?
If you want your double standard --
Demand a double standard --
Then this means war!

Monday, February 13, 2006

"Once You've Driven Your Drunk Father To Your Mom's Parole Hearing, What Else Is There?"

The third and final season of the show "Titus" recently came out on DVD. The DVD sets are good packages -- commentaries, interviews, rehearsal footage, all the bells n' whistles -- and the show is well worth a look. Even by the standards of short-lived Fox Network shows, this one is very strange: based on comedian Christopher Titus's autobiographical one-man show "Norman Rockwell is Bleeding," it's a three-camera, studio-audience sitcom about Titus's attempts to lead a semi-normal life despite his alcoholic, emotionally and physically abusive, frankly evil father (Stacy Keach) and his fear that he will end up succumbing to mental illness like his mother. The show attempts to find comedy in such subjects as murder, suicide, insanity and child molestation; lighter plots include the episode where Titus and his friends stage an intervention to get his dad to start drinking again ("Without the sweet haze of alcohol, you're seeing your life for what it is").

Because it's based on the star's real life, "Titus" goes beyond the usual "dysfunctional family" sitcom: while it has its share of South Park-style bad-taste jokes that call attention to their own taboo breaking, it also has a lot of raw, realistic moments that get humour from genuine pain or hurt. Sometimes it even stops going for laughs and just goes for pure pain, as in an angry, bitter argument between Titus and his girlfriend Erin (Cynthia Watros) in the episode "The Breakup." The fact that the show maintains a certain level of realism and truth to its humour gives it a genuine edge that most "edgy" shows don't really have; unlike most "bad taste" comedy, the subjects it deals with really seem to matter to the characters on some level.

Another interesting thing about the show is the mix of styles: every episode includes black-and-white stand-up sequences with Titus talking to the camera (on a set similar to the set he used for his one-man show) as well as sudden cutaways to flashbacks and fantasy sequences. But the stories themselves are done in a very old-school sitcom style, shot on one or two sets like plays, with long scenes and no subplots. It's like "All in the Family" on acid, and it works quite well.

Like I said, it's worth a look if you enjoy a line like "You come into this world defenseless. That's why God gave us baseball bats. Well, he gave us trees. But we knew what he meant."

Bette Middlin'

The next big DVD box set on the horizon is The Bette Davis Collection Volume 2, featuring new special editions of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and Jezebel, Old Acquaintance (which caused many reviewers at the time to write: "Old Acquaintance should be forgot"), Marked Woman and The Man Who Came To Dinner.

Of these, The Man Who Came to Dinner is the one I like best, and Davis is the weakest thing in it -- she's miscast in a small and thankless part as the long-suffering assistant to the Alexander Woolcott-esque Sheridan Whiteside (Monty Woolley). Jack Warner was known for sometimes making his stars play these unrewarding second-banana parts just to keep them from getting swelled heads about their star status. But the cast, aside from Davis, is great -- Woolley repeating his stage role; Jimmy Durante, Ann Sheridan, Reginald Gardiner as a Noel Coward caricature and Mary Wickes as the nurse Miss Preen (who has the best speech in the movie and the play it's based on: "After nursing you, Mr. Whiteside, I am going to work in a munitions factory"). Like most Warner Brothers adaptations of plays, it sticks quite close to the stage script and is therefore very stagy and claustrophobic, but it's a lot of fun.

Leonard Maltin recently wrote that he discovered, from memos in the WB archives, that Jack Warner was initially considering hiring Orson Welles to play Whiteside and direct the movie. Welles met with WB executives for preliminary talks about the idea, but the idea was dropped, possibly due to the box-office failure of Citizen Kane.

My Contribution To the "Hunting Accident" Jokebook

"Because the Vice-President's mishap took place on a private ranch where rich people go to hunt quail, the guy he shot was the only creature getting shot in its natural habitat."


Yeah, well, Letterman and Leno's jokes will probably be still worse.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

For All You Canadian Brian Keith Fans

Looks like we Canadians got lucky, and by "we Canadians" I mean "those of us Canadians who are nostalgic for '80s shows with lots of car chases": a Canadian company has brought out a DVD release of the first season of Stephen J. Cannell's Hardcastle and McCormick. It's only available in Canada, but you can order it from and they'll ship it Southward.

"Hardcastle and McCormick" was created by Cannell (and one of his better staff writers, Patrick Hasburgh) in the wake of the success of "The A-Team." It followed the same basic formula as "The A-Team": the lead characters team up every week to dole out some vigilante justice. Brian Keith plays a judge who has a list of 200 cases he presided over where the defendant was guilty, but had to be let off due to legal technicalities. When he retires, he teams up with an ex-con (Daniel Hugh Kelly) to track down scumbags who got off on technicalities and bring them to justice. Think of it as "My Name is Earl" meets "Dirty Harry." In other words, it's pure '80s: comedy, Rambo-esque contempt for the law, an odd-couple buddy story, and lots and lots of car crashes. Among the three shows of this kind that Cannell turned out in the year 1983 (the other two were "The A-Team" and "Riptide"), this may have been the best, mostly because of Brian Keith. At the price, it's worth a look if you like '80s nostalgia.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

WB Animation: "Draftee Daffy"

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The next cartoon in this animation-identification series is Bob Clampett's "Draftee Daffy" (1945). Again, some of the identification here was done with the help of an old usenet post by Greg Duffell.

This is the cartoon where Daffy is reading about Allied victories in WWII, praising the war effort, and wishing he could be part of it -- until the Little Man From the Draft Board arrives with his draft notice, upon which Daffy resorts to anything, even murder, to avoid military service. It's a very subversive cartoon for a major-studio release during the Second World War, making fun both of the draft and of pseudo-patriotism (Daffy's literally being an armchair warrior but doesn't want to actually go and fight); and it's also a very funny cartoon in the time-tested "everywhere you turn, he's there" genre (everywhere Daffy goes, the Little Man follows).

While the credit system at WB at the time allowed only one animator to be credited on each cartoon, there were at least four animators who worked on this one: Rod Scribner, Bob McKimson, Manny Gould, and one other animator Greg couldn't identify -- I'm going to hazard a guess that the fourth animator might have been Basil Davidovich, who worked on another cartoon for Clampett around the same time (before being transferred to Chuck Jones' unit); some of the animation of Daffy looks a bit like what Davidovich would later do for Chuck Jones and Art Davis. That's just my guess, though.

The film starts with Daffy walking across his house and celebrating the U.S. Army's "Smashing Frontal Attack On Enemy Rear." This long shot is animated by Manny Gould:

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What Clampett often did was to let one animator do a long panning shot and then break it up with closeups animated by others. This is the case here, as we cut from Gould's animation to a shot of Daffy in front of a painting of General MacArthur; this shot, and the subsequent shot of Daffy pretending he's in combat, is done by Bob McKimson, with his elegant poses and attention to detail:

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Now we're back to Daffy walking across the room, and Manny Gould is animating again, with his trademark broad, wild arm gestures:

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Now comes a close-up of Daffy on the phone, animated by Rod Scribner. Evven when Scribner does a relatively restrained close-up, he squeezes and squashes a character's head like it's silly putty, and is more concerned with effective acting than making a character look pretty.

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And then we go once again to Daffy walking across that room, until he realizes he's been drafted, and Manny Gould cuts loose with one of his favourite tricks, having characters shove themselves directly into the camera:

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Rod Scribner now does the great squash-and-stretch sequence with Daffy looking out the window and seeing the Little Man From the Draft Board:

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And Manny Gould takes over again for Daffy's wild run upstairs, and the scene where he puts on a fake beard and looks out the window again (only to find the Little Man wearing the same fake beard). Gould's wild takes are less about playing around with body shape than Scribner's are; he achieves a wild take by playing with perspective, in this case making Daffy's head and eyes bigger:

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I'm guessing Basil Davidovich -- or if not him, someone other than Gould, Scribner or McKimson -- does the next scene with Daffy on the phone ordering a one-way ticket to the North Pole:

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When Daffy is hiding in the closet (the Little Man, of course, is there too), several different animators work on it; this first bit may be Scribner:

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The wild eye-take as Daffy realizes the Little Man is there is Manny Gould:

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And when Daffy hands the Little Man a bomb, we have some more elegant drawing and carefully-worked-out arm gestures from Bob McKimson:

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The next bit, with Daffy getting handed the bomb back to him by the Little Man, looks like that fourth animator whom I'm guessing to be Davidovich:

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But the shot of the Little Man watching Daffy get blown up looks like Rod Scribner to me; look at the way his eyes and eyebrows are pushed almost to their limits, as if Scribner is trying to see how much he can manipulate a character's body without making him totally shapeless:

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McKimson now does the scene of the Little Man bending over the prostrate Daffy; as Greg has pointed out, this is the kind of scene that McKimson usually handled, e.g. the scene with Elmer observing Bugs's fake death in "A Wild Hare."

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For the scene of Daffy locking the Little Man in a safe and then flying off on a rocket, I'm once again going to guess Basil Davidovich:

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But the final scene, in hell, is pure Robert McKimson, with Daffy doing the nonchalant "shrugging" gesture that McKimson was so fond of:

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Is this a perfect analysis? "Well, now, I wouldn't say that." But it's a start. Anyone who has a better guess as to who that fourth animator was, feel free to chime in.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

McCarey Madness

I was reading the original script of the Marx Brothers' Duck Soup, written by Bert Kalmar, Harry Ruby, and Paramount contractee Grover Jones (who isn't credited on the finished film). The film was called Cracked Ice at this time. This page details some of the changes that the script underwent between the submission of this script and the start of filming a few months later. In essence, the story is the same, but lacking most of the routines that made Duck Soup what it was. The script was pumped up in two ways: first, by incorporating a bunch of routines written for a Groucho-Chico radio show by the team of Nat Perrin and Arthur Sheekman (who received an "additional dialogue" credit) and second, through routines and gags added by the director, Leo McCarey. For example, McCarey added the mirror sequence and several other bits that had been staples of the silent, gag-filled comedies he had done for Hal Roach.

McCarey is one of those directors whose work really deserves a more in-depth study than it has received. There's a very strong argument to be made that McCarey in the '30s was the best director in Hollywood, possibly in the world. The variety and quality of his work in that decade is exceptional: in one year, 1937, he made both a stunning screwball comedy, The Awful Truth, and the most heartbreaking, depressing drama about old age ever filmed, Make Way For Tomorrow (a movie that makes Tokyo Story look like a Shirley Temple picture). He made Duck Soup; he made Harold Lloyd's finest sound movie, The Milky Way; he made Love Affair (which he later remade almost scene-for-scene as An Affair To Remember) and Ruggles of Red Gap and the best of the Eddie Cantor musicals (The Kid From Spain) and the multi-star comedy Six of a Kind. He was versatile, he was adept at comedy and drama, and he could bring out the best qualities in any actor -- Cary Grant adapted some of his Cary Grant persona from McCarey's own personality, and comedians like the Marxes and Lloyd gave of their best when McCarey was behind the camera.

What makes it harder to evaluate McCarey's work is that most cinema criticism focuses on a director's visual style -- how does he compose shots, how does he pace the film, how does he move the camera -- or on his thematic obsessions. McCarey's style isn't displayed in his unfussy compositions or the subject-matter he chooses, but in the way actors act in his films. McCarey was one of the few directors who was able to take the freewheeling, seat-of-your-pants style of silent comedy and bring it to the new era of big-budget sound movies. He preferred to work without a finished script (it's doubtful that Duck Soup really had a completed script by the time he started filming) and work out the dialogue and staging on the set with the actors. The unique quality of his work comes from this, from the fact that the actors seem so loose and unforced, as if they're making the scene up as they go along -- because, in some cases, they were. And the essence of McCarey's style is that he would let actors do things in the finished film that would be outtakes from any other movie: cracking up with laughter, trying to get out of each other's way, trailing off in mid-sentence: his best movies seem "real," and the actors don't seem to be acting, whereas most Hollywood movies, then and now, are very regimented and artificial.

The other thing that makes it difficult to evaluate McCarey is that his best work was basically behind him after 1939; his '40s work was very successful but not up to his best (the two priest movies with Bing Crosby), and his '50s work included one of the most embarrassing movies ever made by a major filmmaker, the McCarthyite My Son John. So it's hard to point to McCarey as an example of sustained greatness, though his later movies do have their moments, and he retained his ability to work with actors (compare Cary Grant in An Affair to Remember with the phoned-in performances he was giving other directors that same year). But in his prime, he was something close to a mad genius.

WB Animation: "Show Biz Bugs"

Following up on my post on "Hillbilly Hare": shortly after I started this blog, I did a couple of similar posts on individual animators in Warner Brothers cartoons. I didn't have the ability to post screenshots at the time, so I thought I'd re-post the analysis with illustrations of the animators' work.

I'll start with "Show Biz Bugs" (1957), directed by Friz Freleng. It's a Bugs-Daffy teaming where Daffy is jealous of Bugs' popularity and tries to either outdo him or bump him off.
The cartoon is very funny, as Freleng's cartoons usually are, because of his superb sense of timing; I saw it on the big screen once and it got some of the biggest laughs of the night, in a program that included a bunch of classics. Freleng knew exactly how long a pause should be, when to cut, how long to hold a character in a particular pose, for maximum comic effect.

From 1955 through 1960, Freleng had only three animators in his unit, all veterans: Gerry Chiniquy, Virgil Ross, and former WB director Art Davis. They all had fairly distinctive styles which are easy to spot -- easy enough that I was able to do this particular analysis without leeching off Greg Duffell's work, for once.

The opening scene with Daffy outside the theatre is animated by Gerry Chiniquy. Chiniquy's animation style had always been kind of jerky, based on spasmodic rhythmic movements rather than full body motion; with the lower budgets of the '50s, his animation mostly consisted of characters bending down and jerking their heads up again, with very stiff and angular poses:

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The next scene, with Daffy outside the dressing-room, is animated by Virgil Ross. His animation is graceful, emphasizing the likability of characters like Bugs; he's particularly identifiable by a habit of having a character tilt his body to one side while talking, and by his fondness for having characters point a lot. His way of drawing Daffy is easy to spot here because it seems closer to the '40s model than the others; Daffy's design had changed quite a bit by the late '50s, but Ross kept drawing the smaller, longer-beaked early Daffy.

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The long dance sequence that follows is animated by Gerry Chiniquy. Freleng preferred to give him the dance and musical sequences (Ross was arguably better at them, but Chiniquy usually got them unless he wasn't available), and the style of Bugs and Daffy's dance to "Tea for Two" is quite close to the style of Chiniquy's animation for the famous "This is It" opening of the Bugs Bunny Show.

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The scene with Daffy and the pigeons is probably Chiniquy again:

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The sawing-in-half sequence is Art Davis. He had been a director at Columbia and Warner Brothers, but when his unit was shut down, he stayed at Warners, stopped directing, and animated for Freleng for many years. His movement is a bit less jerky than Chiniquy's and his drawing for Bugs seems different (more "streamlined" for want of a better word) than Chiniquy or Ross. He also has what someone called a "looser" animation style than the others, going in for slightly more extreme poses and exaggerated movements, as much as Freleng would allow for (Freleng didn't like "extreme" animation).

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Daffy saying "hmm, I can get rid of the rabbit and it'll look like an accident" is Virgil Ross, with Ross's trademark use of hand and finger gestures:

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Chiniquy gets the brief shot of Daffy working on the explosive xylophone and laughing evilly:

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The subsequent xylophone sequence, with the famous "Endearing Young Charms" gag (which writer Warren Foster had previously used in the Private Snafu cartoon Booby Traps and the Bugs/Yosemite Sam scuffle Ballot Box Bunny) is Art Davis. Again, Freleng tended to give him a lot of scenes involving something extreme -- extreme anger or extreme violence, both of which are in this particular scene.

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Finally, the entire closing scene is Virgil Ross: the old-school drawing of Daffy is one clue, as is the positioning of Bugs' ears; Ross had a trick of characterizing Bugs when he wasn't speaking by positioning his ears in unusual ways, one ear slightly down, ears farther apart than usual, and so on.

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And that's all, folks.

Some more notes on the cartoon itself:

- It recycles two major gags -- the pigeon gag (which cartoon writer Mike Maltese reportedly called his favourite cartoon gag of all time) and the closing gag about a trick that can only be done once -- from an earlier Freleng cartoon, "Curtain Razor," where Porky Pig is a talent agent watching a bunch of bad performers audition.

- "Show Biz Bugs" also features some very stylized backgrounds from avant-garde painter Boris Gorelick, who had a brief and not very happy period as Freleng's background painter.

- The concept of Daffy being jealous of Bugs's stardom was a concept that would be used in the prime-time Bugs Bunny Show, and which unfortunately would take over Daffy's character to the point of ruining him. Up to 1954 or so, Daffy had been getting angrier and more frustrated, but could still become a winner, or a crazy duck, or a con man, if the director preferred it that way. By the late '50s, he was just angry and greedy all the time; by the early '60s, he was basically a villain.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

WB Animation: "Hillbilly Hare"

It's time for another who-animated-who analysis of a great Warner Brothers cartoon, Robert McKimson's "Hillbilly Hare." I am not enough of an expert on animation to tell you exactly who animated what, so (with his permission), I have drawn on an old post by animator and WB animation expert Greg Duffell, who knows more than anyone I've encountered about the styles of individual animators. What follows is in my own words, with mostly my own comments, but the identifications of who animated what is based on Greg's original post (available here courtesy of Google Groups). My thanks to Greg for his permission to draw on his expertise.

"Hillbilly Hare" is one of the all-time great Bugs Bunny cartoons, culminating in perhaps the funniest sustained sequence in any cartoon: the three-minute sequence where Bugs poses as a square-dance caller and leads two hapless hillbilly brothers through a sadistic square dance ("Whop him low and whop him high/Stick your finger in his eye"). McKimson, who would later be stuck with the "B" grade animators, had a definitely A-level crew at this time. The great Rod Scribner had just re-joined the studio after several years away due to illness, and this was his first cartoon for McKimson's unit; other animators who worked on this cartoon were the great Lantz and Disney animator Emery Hawkins (shuffling from one unit to another after the WB unit he was in, Art Davis's, had shut down) and three McKimson regulars, John Carey, Phil DeLara and the director's brother Charles.

The opening scene, with Bugs walking through Cornett Wood's hyper-realistic design environment and singing "I Like Mountain Music," is by Emery Hawkins, who gives us a skinnier, more fluidly-animated Bugs than most:

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After the first hillbilly sticks a gun in Bugs's face, Charles McKimson takes over. One of the immensely talented McKimson brothers (the third brother, Tom, was an animator and layout artist at Warners), Chuck McKimson was given a lot of the close-ups and "characterization" moments in Bob's cartoons; his animation of Bugs seem to stick the closest to Bob's pose drawings, and reflect some of Bob's own preferences as a director, like giving Bugs heavy eyelids and a kind of wise-ass Groucho Marx attitude:

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The scene with the second hillbilly (voiced by John T. Smith is by John Carey; the scene also seems pretty close to McKimson's own preferences in terms of drawings and poses, but is a little looser than Chuck McKimson's:

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Some real looseness takes over as Rod Scribner gets his first piece of animation, with the two brothers looking for Bugs; Scribner was never as wild for McKimson as he was for Bob Clampett, but his preference for full body motion and broad acting still comes through:

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Phil DeLara, who made characters a little cuter than usual for a McKimson cartoon (Greg writtes: "some nice, cute-faced Bugs here....quite different than the way
that Bob McKimson usually draws him in his layouts") gets the shot of Bugs singing "Pop Goes the Weasel":

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Emery Hawkins, always good at having a character stretch and bend while he's running, gives us Bugs running into an explosive powder house:

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Most of the next scene with the hillbillies falling for Bugs in drag is Phil DeLara, though Greg says that one close-up shot of Bugs in drag may be Chuck McKimson. DeLara does some fine work on the lecherous hillbillies:

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Chuck McKimson gets another close shot, of a jukebox with (apparently) animatronic humans inside it:

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For the square dance scene, Emery Hawkins animates the whole dance inside the house, up to and including the part where Bugs takes over calling the dance:

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When we cut to outside the house, Rod Scribner has taken over, with his body-contorting animation starting to really get a workout (again, he can't cut loose the way he did in the '40s, but it's certainly funny and expressive animation and very much the kind of thing only Scribner would do):

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Scribner keeps going up to the bit where the hillbillies "wallow around in the old pig-pen," which is handled by Chuck McKimson, including some more vaguely Groucho-esque poses from Bugs:

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Now Scribner takes over again for the extreme violence of Bugs making the hillbillies pummel each other and poke each other's eyes:

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And the last scene of the cartoon ("right hand over, left hand under") brings back Emery Hawkins and his skinny, fluid Bugs...

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...right up to the final shot where Bugs bats his eyelashes at us as he plays the violin.

"Hillbilly Hare" is available on DVD on the "Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Volume 3."