Wednesday, 23 July 2008

And on that farm there was an...igloo?

Looney Tunes might be, outside the best work of certain great directors, such as Bresson, Bunuel, Ozu, Bergman and Kubrick, the greatest achievement in film. Definitely better than Scorsese.

Outside of the obvious surrealism and absurdity on display, a rabbit in a dress fighting an idiot gambler on a southern steamboat, Bugs attacking a dream to get his way, Daffy finding his background, body and voice redrawn manipulated, two mice attempting to commit suicide, causing all sorts of problems, there are simple logistics within the actual animations that are superior generally to most output.

So here are my pretentious reasons.

Reason 1: No human characters of limited range to kill and dull the fun. Humans are rare and not very interesting, as they are in many a live-action films. Most in fact.

Live action films essentially set up an absurd premise, a shaky narrative drive with many side alleys that don't illuminate anything, are designed to kill time, show ill-defined pretensions, all reaction tied to characters sketched to avoid offence, with few genuine defining actions on a real level, stretched to a very long running time. Cliche in character is stated as unique rather than examining the cliche, is worked to create an emotional response that is manipulated, mashed usually into bizarre absurdity that is frequently immoral if you have a chance to think on it. Isn't Gangs Of New York a Looney Tunes film without gags or good pacing? It's a Sylvester and Tweetie cartoon. (Day-Lewis makes a good Sylvester the Cat. As a Looney Tunes fan, my hat goes off to you sir)

Yet because it is humans and fiction they get a pass. By using human actors it suggests a focus on humanity so is humane (unless its a lot of CGI which throws up the absurdities involved again), because its fiction the absurdities usually explained away as its not serious. Because it is humane and apparently emotional. Very few manage to avoid this sentimental and rather inhumane view of vaguely defined humanity with random events put propelling them. Yet Looney Tunes thrive on that absurdity and make it focused.

Looney Tunes are cynical about all of story and humanity's aims, as are the films of Bunuel, Lang, DePalma and Schrader. We're idiots looking for some reason, finding nothing, fall into absurd actions that make things worse. In Looney Tunes you are aware you are watching a fiction. Characters are aware that they are a fiction. Aware that they are doomed. They play in all the roles. They are to the point. There is a fun sense of play on tragedy and limitations of their set-up. They are not within the implicit pretension that moves through any live-action film (including my own most likely).

Reason 2: Existential despair with laughs. Essentially, save Bugs, they focus on the loser character. But that can be easy. Chaplin and others in silents did this. Animation frequently take this path (although Looney Tunes were the first to perfect it). It was a convention to have a loser character.

Yet Sylvester The Cat, Wil E Coyete, and Daffy, the on-screen poet Laurette of loser-dom, are three of the dumbest, most pathetic wretches ever created, creatures whose entire existence is an affront against fate. Fate treats them unkindly again and again. Then blows them up, runs them down with a train, blows them again. Two out of the three are simply trying to get a meal, to survive. Daffy is trying to gain self-respect, and respect of others, which is even more difficult in these cartoons.

It's simply so funny yet depressing. It kind of resembles life more than much fiction because fiction if frequently kind to its characters and life is less so, save usually in friendly or familial situations. It's repetitive in the way jobs can be. Looney Tunes does seem closer to the simple life than sentimental, two hour fiction.

Reason 3: The pacing of this damned fate can be astonishing. Its very simple. They get to the point fast, don't mess around yet know when to slow down, so when a character is doomed, the set-up can be tortured, is funnier and more twisted than the fate. With the three idiots mentioned above, the funniest elements are anticipation, the watching of them torture themselves in ways that are genuinely familiar and identifiable to most humans approaching a difficult decision, a failed situation. Within the confines, stripping away melodrama to cause and effect, of focusing on smaller actions, the absurdity of the situations makes the situation funnier and more identifiable, before moving onto the next situation, that is usually even worse.

Reason 4: Supporting and side characters. Side characters such as Elmer Fudd or Yosemite Sam do tend to be funny, frustrated, not quite as complete as a central character such as Daffy or Bugs. They are frustrated. They can be the chased or the chaser. It depends but as in your face, annoyed, annoying as many a character you'll meet in daily life and wish they would just go away. The Looney Tunes are very aware of how annoy a human being can be.

Small characters who pop up in one or two cartoons such as the two mice torturing a neurotic cat are also wonderful and eccentric but would make me goo off on an odd tangent and this posting is already pretty long.

Anyway, those are my reasons and I'm sticking to it.

I'm now going to watch 24, or as I call it American's torturing Muslims (minorities generally but usually Muslims). It's deeply immoral, is right-wing yet so much fun. Its a total witless Looney Tune cast-off without an ounce of a brain (twenty hours rather than 5 minutes so it does tend to stretch into absurd conversations and actions, yet is as dumb as any looney tune minor villain). At least it fills that immoral gap that you need as a human.

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