Thursday, April 17, 2014

A Nitemare on Spinach Street

One way you can tell that a cartoon is special is by the DVD packaging.  If there are extras, like commentaries or a mini-documentary about its making, then that's how you can tell... well, for the most part.  I mean, It's the Natural Thing to Do?  Seriously?  I haven't gotten to it yet.  Anyway, Wotta Nitemare has a bonus commentary by Jerry Beck, the man himself.  And that guy's the real deal!  He's seen all the Looney Tunes / Merrie Melodies cartoons.  Maybe he can tell me which is the one where Sylvester sounds drunk.  I mean actual drunk, not just pretend drunk that Mel Blanc does so well.
And so we start with Popeye's face... hey, wait a second.  See?  This one's a classic!  All the elements are there in Popeye's dream: the love triangle that is Popeye, Bluto and Olive.  Popeye always starts off as the omega, or the weakest link in the triangle, if you like.
Anyway, here's a bad analogy for you: we were watching Duck Soup this weekend.  Personally, I think I've seen it too much, and now I'm focusing on small details I never noticed before, like the first time Groucho... I mean, Firefly, goes to his car, and half of his shirt's sticking out.  Lol.  The mirror scene is of course the stuff of movie legend, but I'm as originalist as the next guy, and Max Linder did originate the idea before anyone else, even before Buster Keaton probably.  However, the Marx Brothers put a better spin on it, and it's still the go-to reference to mirror gags... wait a second.  Anyway, I'm sure the psychology of dreams was well known, especially by the likes of Winsor McCay and his Little Nemo series, but for me, Wotta Nitemare gets all the high points of the dream arc just right.  The struggles to get nowhere, the attempts in vain to run away, the proverbial marshmallow pillow, what have you.  Moments of pleasure often quickly give way to moments of anguish and struggle, and you will believe anything your brain throws at you.  Popeye's dreams are literally in the clouds, and we see Olive in an angel's outfit tickling his enormous chin.  Suddenly, Bluto materializes out of fat air in his devil's outfit and whisks Olive away.  We'll leave the Battle of the Sexes commentary for another day; all girls want bad boys, all boys want bad girls, that kinda crap.  Popeye struggles to keep up with Bluto and Olive, but he's always close enough to see what's going on.
As always in dreams, things are in a state of constant flux.  A giant boulder in Popeye's way turns into an attacking steamroller, and Popeye's unicycle turns into a giant snail, and not the fast kind in The Neverending Story, either.  Popeye tries to run away, but... this probably says horrible things about me, but it's one of my favourite parts of the cartoon.  The music's perfect, Popeye's struggles are perfect... has everyone not had this dream?  The Fleischers even throw in a musical reference to their previous A Dream Walking.  I guess eating too much spinach has the same effects as Ambien today.
Soon the dream takes an unseemly turn.  Olive's finally had enough of Bluto when Bluto starts stuffing his face much like Wimpy often does.  "Yecch!" she cries.  Lol.  It's Breathless Mahoney and Lips Manlis all over again, folks.  An epic struggle breaks out between dream Bluto and dream Popeye until... yup, even Popeye's final safety net isn't safe in the world of dreams.  Popeye eventually wakes up before he's able to eat all the stuffing out of his mattress, and gives real-life Bluto the old Fist Tornado for good measure, even though Bluto doesn't know why.  That's right, even a bully like Bluto sometimes doesn't understand why he's hated so much.
Anyway, Popeye goes back to sleep and his dream has a happy ending.  It's what Hollywood's all about, of course.  The concept of lucid dreaming hasn't been explored too much beyond Vanilla Sky and the film it's based on, apparently.  Still, a classic Popeye cartoon, even though it doesn't have the doors at the beginning.

-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan

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