Archive for March 7, 2016

A laugh is an elegy for the death of an emotion

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on March 7, 2016 by dcairns

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From UNCLE TOM’S BUNGALOW, directed by Fred “Tex” Avery.

A cartoon apparently so beyond the pale it’s available only on low-quality bootleg, nth-gen VHS imparting a seedy porno look to the capering.

There are two problems with this film. Some other Tex films have a lot more problems than that.

First problem: use of stereotypes and caricaturing of black characters. This isn’t actually too severe a problem here. HALF-PINT PYGMY is much more extreme, and portrays its black characters as a form of animal life, suitable for exhibiting in a zoo. In a cartoon where all the characters are stylised grotesques, the African-American ones don’t come off any worse, and true to the source, they are sympathetic. I don’t want to tell anyone else they aren’t entitled to be offended by this, I just wasn’t overly offended myself.

Second problem: making fun of a serious issue. But really, Avery is making fun of a serious book. His target is sanctimony, and he can’t help but be delighted by how easily the bubble of high seriousness bursts. Like so ~

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Facing the lash, Tom declares, “My body may belong to you, but my soul belongs to Warner Brothers!”

A gobsmacking and hilarious line, and one wonders how Avery got away with it, not because it’s offensive to black people but because it’s offensive to his employers. My hat just has to come off. This isn’t a very good cartoon overall — too much narration, with gags simply showing action that contradicts or puns on the VO, a common Avery technique and not one of his most inspired — but the bits that are funny are the bits that go too far. When the two little children are menaced by Simon Simon Legree (so named because he says everything twice) the black girl turns white with fear and the white girl turns black. They stand frozen, alternating shades for long seconds. It’s an unacceptable joke, elaborated upon nonsensically until the “un” falls off the “unacceptable” and “unfunny” through sheer metal fatigue.

Even the VO comes into its own at the climax, when Harriet Beecher Stowe’s famous chase across the ice is commented on in the breathless manner of a horse race. “Hounds and Legree coming up fast on the outside!” Again, sanctimony is the target, and poor Stowe is almost too easy for Tex to deflate. At the end, Uncle Tom rides to the rescue in a typically distended Avery limousine — all that money he won shooting craps. “And there you have the story of Uncle Tom’s Bungalow — or have you?”