Math Appeal

Chuck Jones’ skilled and witty film of Norton Juster’s script of his own short story.

It should have been un-adaptable, like Gogol’s The Nose, but everything works, except maybe the social attitudes. Stuff like “didn’t know what to do with her hands” is just delightful, because it sets up just the kind of cognitive dissonance (“WHAT hands?”) that laughter is made of — when two irreconcilable concepts forcibly co-exist, the brain can only escape a Robbie the Robot short circuit by bolting through the escape hatch marked GIGGLE.

The Dot is a really horrible character. There’s a real “Hero of the Beach” muscle-mag attitude that women are passive objects to be competed over by men. While the Line and the Squiggle enter into this honestly and without actually being mean to each other, the Dot is a spoilt, malicious creature who abuses anyone who doesn’t satisfy her incessant demands for novelty. I hope the poor Squiggle finds somebody more his own speed and settles down into a life of creative anarchy.

Apparently this is available on a DVD of Frank Tashlin’s THE GLASS BOTTOM BOAT, which is vaguely apt, but it should really be an extra with VERTIGO. Both because of the ways in which Jones’s visuals approach Saul Bass’s (the YouTuber who posted it apparently thinks it’s by Norman McLaren — a fair guess, but WRONG), and in the way the short reverses the sympathies engendered in Hitchcock’s film — a woman trapped and torn and manipulated and molded between two horrible men is replaced by a female manipulator who remodels the men in her life, rejecting the less adaptable model in favour of the one who can literally be bent to her will.

A small contribution to the short animation blogathon hosted by Pussy Goes Grrr.

16 Responses to “Math Appeal”

  1. You know, I SAW The Dot and the Line when I was a kid on TV. This was before I knew who Chuck Jones was(I later found that he was behind the best Looney Tunes, the Road Runner show and all my best childhood pleasures).

    Even then I found it visually expressive. It’s also part of Chuck Jones’ philosophy where he expressed in DUCK AMUCK that an animated character’s personality was ethereal and capable of persisting long after the character’s change shape(s). The Dot and the Line takes that and runs with it, expressing the formal qualities inherent in total mastery of form.

  2. The Dot and the Line was really frustrating for me, and I haven’t seen it for around 20 years. I liked it for one thing and hated it for the other. As you say, the attitudes expressed are sexist, but also the squiggle being represented by something of a parody of rock and roll, while the line is represented by orchestral (don’t remember if it’s classical) was remarkably square for 1965.

    It may be about the beauty of math, but squiggle could’ve been a fractal!

  3. I think they’re not quite sure if the squiggle is beatnik/jazz or rock n roll, but he’s clearly a scruffy undesirable. If we assumed that the line is his contemporary, then there could be something refreshing about the movie championing a young square, but it basically feels quite conservative. However, there’s something very amusing about Morley playing the groovy anarchist.

  4. Refreshing? In 1965? Not from what I rememeber. On television, squares were routinely celebrated then. Hipsters were either the butt of jokes or considered dangerous, depending on the context. So later in the ’60s we got ridiculously contradictory shows like The Mod Squad trying to have it both ways. The media would grudgingly toss a bone to youth simply because they had money. If they could sucker them into liking something fairly fascist, all the better.

    Besides, squiggle is represented musically largely by a twangy guitar, and as a Fender Telecaster owner of long standing I take personal offense to that!

  5. […] enough, we had one last submission: the estimable David Cairns also took on Chuck Jones’ The Dot and the Line, unexpectedly positioning it vis-à-vis Vertigo. I couldn’t have asked for a better blogathon […]

  6. woolworthdiamond Says:

    My, that Robert Morley interview is worth the price of admission alone. I’ve found my new hero.

  7. The man was a big fat treasure. I recall an interview he gave at 80 where he was arguing that foreigners (all of them) should be forced to speak English. It wasn’t possible to tell if he was being serious, but it was HIM, so it was hilarious and delightful rather than sinister and fascistic. He was taking more than full advantage of the license granted to octogenarians.

  8. I had a flatmate who was put off cream of chicken pie forever after that scene.

  9. Jenny Eardley Says:

    You didn’t miss the musical connection to Vertigo? Listen at 6:10. I agree with your points about the sexism and anti-rock and roll but I still loved it for its wit and the overall theme to get out of wallowing by making something of yourself. Maybe they should have had the line find someone better but that might have repeated the old cliche of “Look, she’s stuck with that loser, and doesn’t she regret it!” Maybe the use of shapes instead of faces makes it harder to see a good side of the dot.

    I’ve noticed several BBC radio comedies/films etc. of that era having a go at the Beatles, I guess their popularity just seemed threatening to the establishment; they’d criticize at their hair or say the music was unlistenable. I heard Pick of the Pops 1964 the other day, the Beatles were at number 4 with Money Can’t Buy Me Love, the chart was great overall but they were on another level, clearly. You wonder what planet the nay-sayers were on!

  10. Heh, you’re right, the music is absolutely plagiarized at that point! It owes more to Vertigo than Vertigo owes to Wagner.

    Rock n roll was generally disparaged even by the hippest types (who were into jazz) until the mid-sixties, it seems. And the Beatles’ greater ability probably made them seem more of a threat — the skewed logic went “Rock n roll is terrible, and therefore a threat to music, but the Beatles are quite good, so they’re an even bigger threat!”

    James Bond says that drinking warm champagne is like listening to the Beatles without earplugs — I think he says it in Diamonds are Forever, which shows what a fuddy-duddy he was. Interestingly, he’s a character with no taste in music or art whatsoever, only smokes and drinks, which is supposed to make him seem cultured.

    My favourite anti-Beatles joke comes from Dino in Kiss Me Stupid.

    “That song isn’t right for you. It should be sung by someone younger, like the Beatles.”

    “The Beatles??? I sing better than them all put together. And I’m younger… than them all put together.”

  11. What’s really amusing is that the anti-rock n’ roll snobs weren’t just in the older set, but also young folk music fans. Real hipsters were snobbish even within jazz, only certain subgenres would do. For example, hard bop didn’t appeal to them much.

  12. Jenny Eardley Says:

    Hey just saw this: Watch at 4:25, the posh kids have been taught the Establishment line on the Beatles.

  13. Still, one of them has a good point about Henry V.

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