Archive for Frank Tashlin

Canary Row

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on August 25, 2016 by dcairns

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A bit of Warners Islamophobia to balance Disney’s anti-semitism.

I bought a DVD of Porky Pig cartoons because it was only 33p, and seemed worth a punt. I didn’t recognize any of the titles. Well, I doubt Porky is anybody’s favourite Warner Bros cartoon character, and by the time Warners got around to issuing his own collection, it seems all the valuable titles were used up. The disc contained several b&w Porky titles, and a couple of colour cartoons not featuring Porky (doubtless somebody feared the kids the product was being advertised to would be disappointed with only monochrome pig action), and most strange of all, a b&w toon not featuring Porky. But this was probably the highlight of the set.

It seems like the DVD, though labeled KIDS WB, was really intended as CAIRNS WB, because I can’t imagine there are very many more people in this country who would have devoured it with more interest. The majority of the contents were directed by Frank Tashlin, sometimes credited as Frank Tash. Since most of his WB cartoons are b&w, most of them haven’t been made available, and so I haven’t been able to compare his animation with his later live action work as much as I’d like.

Several of the filmlets featured pomo/fourth wall breaking gags, including two separate altercations with some guy in the third row of the cinema in which the cartoons are putatatively being screened. So that was good. Tex Avery is the guy best known for this kind of thing, but Tash was the one who was permitted to carry it over into feature films.

We were also treated to lots of extreme angles and cinematic showing-off, including obsessive play with shadows, so you could see the filmmaker’s ambition.

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Plus — scary villains! Not so much of that in later Tashlin. There are occasional grotesque moments — one could argue that the entire oeuvre is somewhat grotesque — Lindsay Anderson felt like THE GIRL CAN’T HELP IT had been photographed inside a juke box — but Jerry Lewis is much more disturbing.

Then there’s PUSS N’ BOOTY, with Tashlin credited as “Supervision” (the Director’s Guild didn’t consider these guys to be directors, and I don’t think Warners did either) and Cal Dalton as lead animator — but the whole thing feels very Chuck Jonesian, thanks to the excellent cat animation. True, the mistress of the house appears only as legs and bits of torso, like the maid in Tom and Jerry, and Tashlin shows a more salacious interest in those legs than Hanna & Barbera would at MGM, an interest which is quite typical of his later work. And the cat and canary conflict anticipates Sylvester & Tweety Pie, characters I mostly associate with Friz Freleng. But all this beautifully observed feline stuff is hugely reminiscent of Jones’ Pepe le Pew heroine.

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It’s an eye-popping cartoon — at the start, the cat has just finished off its fifth canary, and is overjoyed when its owner orders a sixth. Sylvester never got to actually kill any of Tweetie’s relatives. And the punchline is pretty remarkable too — the cat finally gets into the canary’s cage, after the expected slapstick failures. A titanic struggle. And when the mistress arrives to investigate — only the canary remains… and then it belches and the cat’s bow flies out of its mouth.

It’s unusual to find a cartoon with real killing in it, and no translucent ghost angel figure to make it unreal. I just know this one would have upset me as a kid. So I admire it greatly as an adult.

The Look #4: Harold and Sybil get camera-shy

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 10, 2016 by dcairns

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At the end of Harold Lloyd’s BUMPING INTO BROADWAY, previously discussed on Sunday, Harold essays a trope that would become quite familiar, and may have been old even in 1919, I’m not sure. All set to go into his final fadeout clinch with Bebe Daniels, Harold and his girl suddenly seems to notice us watching. He thoughtfully repositions a nearby screen to conceal the snog, but then notices that the screen had been hiding a few of the cops who have been chasing him for most of the last reel. Thoughtfully, he replaces the screen, thus deactivating the policemen like budgies whose cage has been covered, then he lifts up a rug and holds it before himself and Bebe as a sort of curtain.

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So overwhelming is the act of kissing Bebe, however, that Harold drops the rug, and we fade out on the traditional clinch, save for the fact that Harold’s hand is held high as if still holding the rug. He THINKS he’s achieved some privacy, but like the vengeful camera which pursues Buster Keaton in Beckett’s FILM, our gaze is insatiable.

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A year later, and Buster is doing a variation on this joke in ONE WEEK. It’s a famous shot: leading lady Sybil Seely drops the soap while bathing, and notices the camera’s presence just as she is about to retrieve it. The friendly cameraman puts his hand over the lens, and Sybil is able to grab her bar and gives a grateful grin to the operator as she lowers herself back into the water, modesty more or less preserved.

Keaton’s gag is bolder than Lloyd’s, firstly because it happens in the middle of the film. I think there’s a kind of understanding that endings are allowed to be a bit self-referential, since the audience is about to be forcefully confronted with the fact that what they’ve been watching was, in fact, a film, when the lights come up. Of course we never wholly forget this anyway, but jokes about our shared, willed illusion are easier to justify if placed at the end so they don’t really disrupt the film’s reality.

(Under the right circumstances, a comedy’s ending can be allowed to trash everything that went before, and nobody minds. Surely it was screenwriter Frank Tashlin who was responsible for the ending of the Bob Hope movie THE PALEFACE, in which leading lady Jane Russell is dragged off by wild horses, prompting Bob to turn to us and remark, “What were you expecting, a happy ending?”)

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The Keaton gag goes further than the Lloyd one also by using the camera lens as prop. Lloyd admits there’s an audience, but Keaton admits there’s a camera and a cameraman who allow that audience to see the action, and who can choose to prevent it. The shameless Sybil doesn’t, apparently, mind being seen naked by the cameraman, but she’s not getting them out for the viewing public.

 

The Complete BUSTER KEATON Short Films 1917-1923 (Masters of Cinema) (Blu-ray)

No Picnic

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , on August 21, 2015 by dcairns

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To my surprise, I find there’s a visual gag at the start of Tarkovsky’s STALKER. Well, not quite the start — we get several long-take explorations of what Fiona termed “texture porn” — every interior set seems to have been sprayed with crude oil, so surfaces glisten darkly, they display soaking and rumpling and seep goopus from cracks and creases. But then, unexpectedly, there’s a car wearing a hat.

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It’s a familiar sitcom gag, the object placed on a car roof which is then lost when the car departs. Tarkovsky may have gotten the idea — and I like this idea so I’m going to say DEFINITELY GOT —  the idea from Frank Tashlin’s THE GEISHA BOY, in which conjurer Jerry Lewis is parted from Harry, his rabbit, in just this fashion. Said scene is a lot funnier than Tarkovsky’s, due to Lewis’s repetition of the single word “Harry.” He must say it about forty times, trying different intonations, ending with a plaintive yet accusatory “Oh, Harry!”

So, there you go — Jerry Lewis is funnier than Tarkovsky. He can have that on his tombstone, and then, ten years later, when we get to see THE DAY THE CLOWN CRIED, they can chisel it off.

Mind you, Tarkovsky does very well to have the hat facing forward, not like a hat that’s been casually placed on a surface. In profile, the hat displays its most characteristic aspect, so it’s instantly recognizable, which is good visual comedy. And it also makes it look like the car is wearing a hat.

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There are fewer laughs as the film goes on. A piebald specialist takes two irksome dilettantes, a novelist and a physicist, into “the Zone,” an uninhabited region touched by some strange alien force. A bit of text at the start claims this takes place in a “small country,” and is signed by a Dr. Wallace. Fine — so this is happening in SCOTLAND, as far as I’m concerned. I know a few places here as strange as the Zone. Have you ever walked through Dumbiedykes?

The steaming, oozing smudge and crumble of the opening scenes gives way to lush yet dank colour as we enter the Zone, because “Zone” is “Oz” spelt backwards, partly. Fields dotted with rusting tanks set the mood for a film set in a landscape once civilized but now reclaimed by nature — or something else. It’s all very proto-Chernobyl, as everyone must think when they see this. Another case of east European sc-fi managing an act of prophecy, even in disguise.

My friend Alex tells me the Strugatsky brothers’ source novel, Roadside Picnic, is so named because the various zones dotted over Earth in it are places where travelers have briefly stopped, then departed, leaving stray objects, signs of their presence. It all sounds a bit more whimsical that Tarkovsky could bring himself to be, and it doesn’t sound like a meditation on faith, which I take STALKER to represent. Maybe, rather than remaking SOLARIS, the ludic Mr. Soderbergh should have turned his attention to this one?

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