Archives | Sequential Visual Art
Monday, March 12, 2012
Intimate Enemies: What’s Opera, Doc?
It is a truth universally acknowledged that What’s Opera, Doc? is one of the finest cartoons ever made. It satirizes opera, Wagner in particular; it parodies Disney’s Fantasia, and, for that matter, it parodies the routines of its stars, Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd. The production was, by Warner Brother’s standards, lavish, and the layouts, by Maurice Noble, are inspired.
All of that’s obvious. What’s not so obvious is that the film plays on the nature of reality in a way that’s reminiscent of Dance of the Hours from Disney’s Fantasia. As I’ve argued in Animal Passion? Hyacinth Hippo and Ben Ali Gator, that episode depicts the inability of animal dancers to stay in role with the result that, when Ben Ali Gator courts Hyacinth Hippo we don’t know whether they’re acting roles or whether their passion is, well, real. Something like that is going on in What’s Opera, Doc? Elmer Fudd is in role as, well, Siegfried I guess, from beginning to end, but Bugs is not.
Note: I’m not going to comment on the design. But you should pay attention to it. Note the colors, the camera angles, and the use of lines. It’s really exquisite.
Kill the Wabbit
Let’s start at the beginning. As the title card and credits roll we hear an orchestra warming up. We thus know that, yep, as the title says, this is going to be opera. The opening music is wild and stormy and we see a stormy sky, and then a large hulking shadow appears projected against a cliff. More sky and lightening, and then we see that the large shadow is projected by a rather small fellow:
It this point a simple, and rather old, point has been made: things aren’t always what they seem to be. The camera zooms in and it’s Elmer Fudd, in heroic costume as a Nordic warrior, informing us that he’s “hunting wabbits.”Continue reading "Intimate Enemies: What’s Opera, Doc?"
Monday, December 12, 2011
Tank Tankoro, by Gajo Sakamoto
Gaja Sakamoto. Tank Tankuro: Prewar Works, 1934-45. Presspop, Inc. 2011.
I was browsing in Jim Hanley’s Universe* a few weeks ago and saw a handsomely slipcased volume by someone I’d never heard of, Gajo Sakamoto, about a character I’d never heard of, Tank Tankoro. That I’d never heard of either means nothing, of course. The fine print on the label pasted to the cellophane wrapper indicated that this Tankoro character was “the preeminent robot superhero manga from pre-WWII Japan” and that it had somehow gotten lost even in Japan and wasn’t rediscovered there until the 1970s, at which point it was republished to much joy and acclaim.
A very convincing sales pitch and, as I said, the slipcasing was very handsome. But I didn’t buy that first time. But two weeks later . . . then I bought. I ripped off the cellophane wrapper, took the book out of its case and started leafing though. Good paper, high quality printing, I thought, and funny.
I leafed through to page 73 and noticed a bunch of guys and a canon, but no ammunition. I turned the page and saw a nice two-page spread (74-75), in four color printing (the earlier pages had been only black and red). On the right-hand page some guy had a basket stacked high with octopi while on the left-hand the guys with the canon were wondering “What’ll we do with them?”
Of course, I new exactly what they were going to do with them, and started chuckling at the notion of using octopi as canon balls (while also thinking that that wasn’t too kind to the octopi). And, yep! that’s what happened on pages 76 and 77. And then 78 and 79 formed another two page spread, which you can see on the web, here (page 78) and here (page 79). The octopi formed a chain stretching from Tankuro up there in the air down to the guys on the ground, who were trying to reel him in: “It’s like beach net fishing.”
What an utterly absurd and wonderful conception. Of course, it didn’t work. Tankuro freed himself, because he’s the hero. I was hooked.Continue reading "Tank Tankoro, by Gajo Sakamoto"
Friday, November 25, 2011
In Plato’s Cave
Monday, November 14, 2011
Pastoral 4: Orality and Mastery
While I emphasized sexual imagery, both explicit and implicit, in my first post on Disney’s Pastoral, the episode also has a good deal of oral imagery. That’s what I want to discuss in this post.
Oral imagery shows up well before any sexual imagery. It’s there at the beginning, albeit in a very special form, that of an on-screen character playing a musical line from Beethoven’s score. As I indicated before, this is the only episode in the whole film where that happens, and it happens several times throughout the episode. Further, the instrument is always a wind instrument, never a stringed instrument, though Beethoven’s symphony abounds in strings.
In the first case we see a faun playing pan pipes. He’s joined by other fauns, all piping and dancing away, and they’re joined by unicorns. Then one faun and one unicorn get to playing around. The faun climbs a pedestal and alternately plays a riff on the pipes and strikes poses, as though he were a statue, while unicorn attempts to make sense of it this harmless trickery. At the end of this back and forth the unicorn licks the faun on the face:
Think of it as an oral link between a faun and a unicorn. We’ll see other such links. Continue reading "Pastoral 4: Orality and Mastery"
Friday, November 11, 2011
Another Withdrawal from the Being Bank
Domestic Tranquility, NOT: Disney’s Pastoral
I’ve saved the most troublesome for last, Disney’s setting of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony. It was soundly criticized upon initial release, mostly, or especially, for Disney’s use and reworking of Beethoven. THAT doesn’t bother me at all. That kind of artistic license is pretty much the price of admission for Fantasia. No, what bothers me is the cuteness, but secondarily the pallete. Both are obvious enough, but it’s the cuteness I want to grapple with.
For THAT is one of the central criticisms of the Disney aesthetic, it’s too cute. This is certainly not the only episode in Fantasia where cuteness rears its ugly head. Yet it’s not bothersome in the dancing mushrooms, and it’s easily set aside in the goldfish and the baby dinosaurs. But it’s front and center in the Pastoral.
Moreover, the Pastoral is in the heart of Disney’s imaginative world, for it’s about family life. The first segment shows us a family of winged horses—inspired by Pegasus—mother, father, and children. One of the children takes its first flight before our wonderstruck eyes. Then see the little ones at play and the whole family parading majestically across the sky. That’s the heart of Disney country. And its followed by courtship, a rousing party, a storm that drives adults to protect children and males to protect females, and then the storm breaks, out comes the sun. Everyone’s happy. The sun sets. Bedtime.
Why all the treacle, in the character designs, in the actions, and in the palate?
Let’s work our way through it.Continue reading "Domestic Tranquility, NOT: Disney’s Pastoral"
Thursday, November 03, 2011
Jamming the Soundtrack: Fantasia’s Intermission
Fantasia was conceived as a concert; indeed, its working title was The Concert Feature. Concerts of classical music had, and still do have, intermissions. It follows then that The Concert Feature had to have one as well.
But Disney conceived of his intermission as more than just a break in the program where people could stretch their legs, go to the restroom, or chat with companions. He also provided a film segment that played the role of intermission. This comes between the fourth and fifth musical selections on the DVD. When Fantasia was first shown in theatres it came, I presume, after the actual break, which would have been at the same point in the program.
People are sitting in their seats, the curtain opens, and the film rolls. What the audience sees is pretty much what they saw at the beginning: an empty stage with a podium, music stands, and risers. Gradually, as at the beginning, musicians enter and take their places. There’s a bit of tuning up, and then things become quite different.
Before Deems Taylor appears, and certainly before Stokowski mounts the podium, a bass player sets a riff, plucking the strings rather than bowing them:
He’s quickly joined by a clarinetist and a violinist:
Pretty soon most of the orchestra’s merrily riffing away, playing a little swing music, the popular music of the day.
Disney’s now waltzed into one the standard tropes of films and cartoons from the 30s into the 50s, the tension between classical and popular music. Any number of cartoons and live action films were built on this conflict. Fantasia, of course, is grounded in it, if only obliquely. The music, except for this little bit, is classical. But the film medium itself is popular; the notion of film as high art was a bit in the future.Continue reading "Jamming the Soundtrack: Fantasia’s Intermission"
Monday, October 24, 2011
To Copy is To Be, Not: Tezuka’s Book of Human Insects
Osamu Tezuka. The Book of Human Insects. Translated by Mari Morimoto. Vertical, Inc. 2011.
Originally serialized in Japan as Ningen Konchuuki in 1970-71, Tezuka’s The Book of Human Insects deals with themes and motifs that have been present in his work from the beginning, but presents them to an audience more mature than we normally associate with Astro Boy, though we would do well to remember than many adults eagerly followed Astro’s adventures. Just how mature, that’s a judgment call, but The Book of Human Insects presents us with genuine violence, with thugs, gang bosses, overly ambitious industrialists, and with explicit, though not pornographic, sex, including an encounter between two women. If I hesitate to call it lesbian or gay sex, well, that’s because what’s going on in that relationship is, well, not so complicated, but it doesn’t fit into neat socio-sexual categories either. Not American categories at any rate.
One woman in the encounter is the private secretary, assistant, and mistress of one of the above mentioned industrialists, Kiriri Kamaishi. She’s being fooled and exploited, and by a woman she’s supposed to watch and follow. That woman, and the party to sexual relationship, is Toshiko Tomura, Kamaishi’s new wife in a match that’s explicitly constructed as a competitive wager. Tomura is our protagonist. The wager takes the form of a marriage contract between them that places heavy restrictions on Tomura’s actions, but which also has one clause that Tomura herself added: “Any unilateral divorce will not be recognized. And if either spouse should happen to violate any of the these terms, all of their assets shall be transferred to the other.”
There’s a certain logic to fiction that pretty much betrays how this wager is going to work out. Further, the rather absurd nature of the covenant gives this segment of the story, “Longhorn Beetle”—the third of four—the feel of parable. But then, the whole story has that feel, a feeling that ebbs and flows as the story twists and changes. The point of this extended parable, however, is nothing so simple as a lesson. Of perhaps it is, and the lesson is: what is, is.Continue reading "To Copy is To Be, Not: Tezuka’s Book of Human Insects"
Sunday, September 18, 2011
Cartoon Metaphysics: OOO and Animation
Two and a half months ago when I blogged about Animation and the Sentient Text I speculated
about object-oriented ontology in the age of animation: Is there a connection? Animated films have been with us since the early 1920s, and animation itself extends back into the 19th Century, with flip books, kinoscopes and such. In its cinematic guise animation has been aware of itself and its tech and has depicted that in many and various of its works. From this it follows that animation is aware of the apparent ontological difference between its materials, static images, and its effects, living beings (and others) on the screen and into the minds of viewers.
Let me continue that speculation.
Early in his career Walt Disney did a series of films known as the Alice films. They were short subjects in which a girl named Alice—who owes little to Lewis Carroll’s Alice that I can see—does this that and the other. Alice, however, is a live action girl, while the world in which she does this that and the other is an animated one. Here’s a frame grab:
That’s Walt Disney standing over her shoulder and, of course, an animated scene in front of her. In this shot we see an animated mouse attempt to annoy a live action cat:Continue reading "Cartoon Metaphysics: OOO and Animation"
Friday, September 02, 2011
Fiction and Reality
There’s the Nelsons, the Cleavers, the Waltons, the Partridges, the Huxtables, the Cartwrights (though that family lacked a Mrs. Cartwright), and the Flinstones, and the Jetsons, and the Gilligan’s Islanders, though they’re not at family, but they were sure up in one another’s business. But you see, lots of happy families.
On TV. And you know, TV’s as real as Pepsi Cola, which is the Real Thing. I know that because Michael Jackson said so. And he know’s about reality, doesn’t he?
Thursday, August 25, 2011
Mimi and Eunice: Donne’s Extasie Remixed
Nina Paley originally posted this cartoon as “Bees in Their Bonnets”. But the four stanzas of John Donne’s “The Extasie” work as well, though there is, I suppose, something of a stylistic clash between Paley’s cartoon style and Donne’s poetic style.
From John Donne, “The Extasie”
This ecstasy doth unperplex (We said) and tell us what we love; We see by this, it was not sex; We see, we saw not, what did move: But as all several souls contain Mixture of things they know not what, Love these mix'd souls doth mix again, And makes both one, each this, and that. A single violet transplant, The strength, the colour, and the size— All which before was poor and scant— Redoubles still, and multiplies. When love with one another so Interanimates two souls, That abler soul, which thence doth flow, Defects of loneliness controls.
Here’s the full poem.
Monday, June 06, 2011
You’re Doing it Wrong
Wednesday, June 01, 2011
The Birth of Story Telling
Monday, May 30, 2011
Monday, May 09, 2011
Some Recent Trends in Continental Thought: A Parable in Flowers
Special to The Valve