Archive for Chuck Jones

They Go Boom #1

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Politics, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 28, 2018 by dcairns

Friday night turned out to be a Vilmos Zsigmond double feature* — I’d bought a second-hand disc of Spielberg’s 1941 and showed Fiona the end credits because I remembered them being funny — she not only laughed at the entire cast screaming as their credits come up —— but at every single one of the random explosions punctuating the end titles. Then she demanded we watch the film. “What else did you buy it for?” Hoist by my own petard! Well, the trouble with certain unsuccessful comedies is not so much that the laughs aren’t there, but that the irritation is. As Spielberg himself diagnosed the problem, the film is just too LOUD. He realised he was in trouble in the edit and hoped John Williams’ score would bail him out, “…but then I realised John was overdoing his score to match my over-direction of Zemeckis & Gale’s over-written script.” In tightening the film to try to save the audience from exhaustion, he took out or compressed quieter character moments, according to co-star Dan Aykroyd, hyping up the intensity even more.

The best bit — whether it makes you laugh or not, it’s spectacularly impressive as a piece of choreography — camera movement as well as people movement.

Spielberg’s favourite comedy is, apparently, IT’S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD (“One mad too many”) — which is another way of saying he should never have attempted to direct a comedy. Amid the shouting, the actors who make a good impression and even get laughs are those who take their time and underplay — Lionel Stander and Robert Stack. Aykroyd does his patented fast-talking schtick (he would have gone down great in the thirties), Belushi is a cartoon, and the cast is rounded out with members of the Wild Bunch, the Seven Samurai, and Christopher Lee and Sam Fuller. Nominal hero Bobby DeCiccio is an incredible dancer/stunt artist and I’d like to have seen him do more physical comedy.It’s gloves-off time for Spielberg — he lets his obnoxious, bratty side out, though he did modulate the script to reduce some of the real unpleasantness. Our hero no longer nukes Hiroshima. But there’s a rapey villain — played with gusto by Treat Williams — a real Zemeckis/Gale trope — see BACK TO THE FUTURE — and lots of racial “humour” — I don’t need to see Toshiro Mifune saying “Rots of ruck,” thank you. But I kind of liked that the Americans destroy a lot of their own property but DON’T sink the Japanese sub. No Japs were harmed during the making of this picture. The race jokes are bold, especially viewed with modern sensibilities, but I’m not sure the movie really knows what it’s trying to say with them. Equal-opportunities offense only really works when you have equal opportunities elsewhere.

Spielberg asked Chuck Jones for advice, and the advice was, “Don’t do it.” Jones said you need to have at least one non-crazy character or it won’t work — he cited BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI for the James Donald character — “Madness! Madness!” But 1941 does have quite a few non-mad characters. DiCiccio and Dianne Kay are more generic than eccentric — but the movie never gives us a reason to care about them. They don’t care about anyone else. Example: in the wake of the seriously impressive night-club riot, Kay thinks she’s found DiCiccio — she lifts his head, but it’s just a random sailor, so she drops his head with a thunk and moves on. Moderately funny, perhaps, except we’ve seen it too often in movies, and it’s done cold-bloodedly (OK, maybe distractedly — but if she’s not paying attention to the wounded man, she’s still cold-blooded) and it hurts her character, so it wasn’t worth doing. All the characters we’re supposed to like are stupid or obnoxious much of the time in this movie.Slim Pickens’ character is dumped at sea, last heard screaming “Which way is the coast?” They KILLED him? I really needed a shot of him trudging out of the Pacific surf in his sodden onesie, and that’s not something I say about every film.

Good old Vilmos’s William Fraker’s cinematography is beautiful, but it’s a big part of the problem — combine the 70s’ approach to period, which is tons of diffusion, fog filters as thick as Warren Oates’ glasses, with Spielberg’s love of backlighting, smoke and Fuller’s Earth, and it becomes a little hard to read the action. Forcing the viewer to strain cancels out a huge amount of the comedy and adds to the headache effect with all the screaming and explosions. I think it’s a bit too misty even if it were an Indiana Jones picture. (To shoot RAIDERS, Spielberg gets Douglas Slocombe, who can do atmospherics but who also likes things clean and crisp unless there’s a good reason otherwise. Spielberg enters the 80s leaving behind that 70s period look.

Amazing miniatures work. Only the fairground ever looks like a model, for some reason. The Death Star assault on LA looks amazing. Callback to JAWS is a little laboured. Foreshadowing of JURASSIC PARK is funnier now, though.Oh, it was also a Nancy Allen double bill… In 1941, Nancy plays a woman with a sexual fetish for warplanes — an extrapolation of Carole Lombard and Robert Stack’s business in TO BE OR NOT TO BE, possibly. If we look for traces of autobiography in Spielberg’s work, then we have to say that the character with a fetish for WWII warplanes is HIM — see also the planes in the desert in CE3K, his WWII episode of Amazing Stories, the flying wing fight in RAIDERS, the flyboy antics of ALWAYS, and the rather extraordinary sequence in EMPIRE OF THE SUN where Christian Bayle spies on a sex scene during an air raid. Spielberg is more Ballardian than you’d think.

Meanwhile one couple end up screwing in a tar pit and Treat Williams is last seen being molested while covered in raw egg. Biological sex is messy. Mech sex is clean. Clean like fire. Once we can all upload ourselves into the Oasis, everything will be great.

*Actually, no.

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That Stinking Feeling

Posted in FILM with tags , on March 8, 2018 by dcairns

Got sick as a dog, or coyote, on Fiona’s birthday while having dinner. Spent today recovering. Got over the shivering fits and just felt very pleasantly sleepy.

Fiona is watching THE RELUCTANT DEBUTANTE. I am sleepily half-watching.

I bought a very peculiar ROAD RUNNER DVD. It has a few latter-day toons by “other hands” from the 90s or noughties — and the older ones are DePatie-Freleng affairs. And there’s just one Chuck Jones film, CHARIOTS OF FUR, which is also a late work. It IS nice that Jones got his hands back on these characters at last. I find his last Bugs Bunny films a bit sad — so slow and talkie — but this was pretty good. Still not a patch on the fast and furry-ous days of yore, but a fond reunion of the cartoon deity with his Job.

(Holding up a tiny sign to a falling boulder — an analog of human existence — or is the sign addressed to the indifferent Creator, a canyon echo of DUCK AMUCK?)

The Sunday Intertitle: Dropping Bricks

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on October 8, 2017 by dcairns

Having posted about Stan Laurel as “Ferdinand Flamingo” last week, it seems only right to mention his star turn as Ferdinand Finkleberry in DO DETECTIVES THINK?, a Laurel & Hardy movie I seem doomed to return to perpetually. Interesting that Ferdie is types as being slightly less awful at detection than his partner, played by Ollie. A dubious ranking.

Interesting also that the name Ferdinand was used twice, as if Stan or the title-writer felt it was specially apposite. In the talkies, of course, and even in many of the silents starting in 1928, Stan goes by his own name, as does Ollie — as the partnership brought out the platonic ideal versions of the actors’ comic personalities, hiding under pseudonyms came to seem like an obstruction. I’m not sure why Ferdinand was ever considered right for Stan, though. To me it suggests flamboyance, which you might get in an early Laurel vehicle if he’s parodying Valentino or someone, but by the time of this film, that wasn’t even a memory.

While I’m counting Ferdinands, indulge me as I count bricks also. Some backstory. L&H were on TV a whole lot when I was a kid. Then they went away — some kind of rights dispute. Some years into this fallow period, a program of shorts was screened at the Ross Bandstand in Princes Street Gardens. My best friend and I attended this open-air showing on a whim, and sat in light drizzle watching DIRTY WORK and laughing so hard it felt life-endangering. (We had a similar rediscovery when we saw a selection of Looney Tunes at the Filmhouse, presented by Chuck Jones. A transfiguring experience.)

One thing that really killed me was the seemingly endless succession of bricks falling on Ollie’s head — a bit of durational comedy that got funnier the more over-extended it got. So on this latest viewing I decided to count the bricks.

To my amazement, the initial, seemingly eternal cycle of falling masonry comprises only four bricks, bouncing sharply off Ollie’s cranium in as many seconds. And yet, to the unsuspecting and susceptible viewer, this seems to last an unbelievable age, with more and bigger laughs crammed into those moments than you can recall expelling in your previous existence on earth.

After the sequence of four bricks at regular intervals, Ollie believes the assault is over and — extremely foolishly — looks up. And receives a fifth brick in the face. Then he gives Stan a slow-burn look of resentment. He picks up a brick and — a very Ollie gesture — dusts it off, preparatory to raising it in a threatening manner. At which point God punishes him with a sixth brick. When Stan, also foolishly, ventures closer, Ollie gives him a vicious crack on the shin with that brick he was holding, and is punished again with a veritable downpour of brickwork, a whole chimney’s worth, impossible to count.

I’m still astounded, though, that what I remember as about twenty bricks was a mere six. Good work, boys.