Tuesday, April 07, 2015

So We End as We Began, with Olive tied to the Railroad Track

Oh, I must not be looking forward to writing this review or something.  But alas, another series comes to an end, just like the Toms and Jerries I was looking at earlier.  This is the last Popeye cartoon I plan to profile, the ironically titled Cartoons Ain't Human.  Why, there's damn near nothing that could be more human, from an anthropological perspective for one!  The timeless urge to put pen to paper and make your mark in this life?  Anyone and everyone can relate to that!  Of course, when the cartoon characters themselves decide to start doing that, well, that's just a sign of laziness on the part of the filmmakers.  And yes, this is one of the ones with story by Jack Mercer, the very voice of Popeye himself.


First off, a checklist.  No shame in a checklist these days.  The hot trend among doctors is to have a checklist of all the things they need to do.  Especially surgeons.  At the top of the surgeon's list: Number One.  DON'T LEAVE STUFF INSIDE YOUR PATIENTSTools, sponges, watches, whatever.  But that's how sacred the bond is between surgeon and patient.  There could be five helpers watching him leave a bone saw inside a patient next to their spleen, but none of them are going to speak up and get their ass fired.  Screw that!  Oh, screw that type stuff!  Especially these days.
Of course, the animator's checklist is a little less drastic, as you can see from the attached picture I have yet to attach.  It's merely a list of the ingredients, if you will, that go into an animated picture.  They've dumbed it down for the mass audience, of course, using paper instead of clear cels... oh, right.  It's "cartooning" for HOME movies.  Cels and paint are a little too rich for the home market's blood.  I have no idea what you'd need tacks for; shows you what I know!  Sheesh.  And so, with tons of paper surrounding him, Popeye gets to work.
...or does he?  This is where a Sharon Stone-type muse comes into play and gives the artist an idea for a freakin' film.  Popeye's method of finding inspiration is much like that of Bill Plympton: he just looks around for things in his studio to use as a plot... prop?  Plot prop... something like that.  Anyway, it's time for one of those things that the warning at the beginning of the Popeye DVD warned us about... as well as a more conventional, still heavily regulated thing that inspires Popeye that we weren't warned about.  Well I never!  I thought these were family friendly pictures.  That's what I get for straying too far from Disney.
Thankfully, after a live agent from the Hays Office intervenes, it's back on track, and Popeye eventually settles on an idea that will allow him to start churning out the sequential paper images.  Windsor McCay only wishes it were that easy; or that he would have thought to hire a couple interns, either way.


...already?  Well, even though Popeye's a big movie star and what not, when it comes to showing "home movies," he's a silent film star at heart.  Like the bigshot he is, Popeye's going to sit back and provide the musical accompaniment and sound effects and dialogue, while Olive and Popeye's four hellspawn sit and watch the movie.
And so, the movie proper begins.  I'll never understand why comedians always want to do the heavy dramatic stuff too.  It seems to be an inevitability.  I always go back to the example of "Weird Al" Yankovic, because even he does the occasional slow dramatic ballad.  And yes, "Those Were the Good Old Days" and "You Don't Love Me Anymore" are kinda creepy.  Of course, when it comes to songwriting, the first rule is to always give yourself a place to take a breath.  Even rappers know that!  Even the Fu-Schnickens knows that!  Probably why The Mighty Mighty Bosstones are trying to phase out that awful "Impression That I Get" song, if only for the sake of the singer.
And so, Popeye's sad tale called Wages of Sin (Less 20%) starts in earnest.  Let's secretly hope to ourselves that it's shorter than Von Stroheim's Greed.  And right away, we see that even the visuals of the film need enhancement.  Okay, sure, Popeye's got to make the rooster sound... but do a shadow version of it too?  Oh my stars and gardens!  Makes me think of how certain studio films tend not to integrate the opening credits into the movie; Falling Down is my favourite example.  We'll save that for later... And so, the cartoon crescent moon of Krazy Kat fame awakens from its slumber and turns night into day with one gesture of its arm.  Well, celestial beings seem / tend to do that, if only in poetry.
And so, the daylight shines on the world that Popeye has created.  And true to a seemingly ancient tradition, the cartoon within a cartoon kinda sucks.  Makes me think of that Porky cartoon, whose soundtrack was on that Carl Stalling CD that came out about... damn!  Damn near twenty years ago now?  Oh, I feel so old... Porky's Preview!  That must be it!  Anyway, we meet "cartoon Olive Oyl" who's actually not all that dissimilar to regular Olive Oyl, but cartoon Olive's quite a bit thinner.  She's sawing on a piece of lumber, in a manner not so different from something that a Warner Brothers cartoon Indian might have been doing in order to be presented as foolish.  We see that cartoon Olive is making a splint for a cartoon cow.  Alas, it's too long, but for a reason: it gives Popeye an opportunity / excuse to provide the lowing sound of said cow.
And then... time for cartoon Popeye's intro.  Boy, what is it with these close-ups that look like one thing, and the long shot that makes it look like another?  Even Popeye himself can't get away from that flavour of gag!  Popeye eventually arrives at Olive's farm, and they lovingly approach each other.  But comedy's never too far away, and events arrange themselves so that Popeye ends up kissing the cow instead... on the bright side, the cow no longer needs the leg splints!  Maybe it's a different cow... I'm telling you!  This section of animation's an interesting one.  Sure, the subject's a bit tawdry, but the footage it must have been rotoscoped from must have been a hoot.  Anyway, Popeye eventually realizes his mistake, and approaches Olive instead.  But just before Popeye goes in for a kiss, he finds himself suddenly repulsed by Olive.  Olive's head morphs into that of a very lippy fish.  But Angelina Jolie wasn't born yet at this point, so Popeye's still scared and afraid, wondering what he ever saw in Olive in the first place.  So, he goes back to kissing the cow.  Humour, baby!  Still, if I were Olive, I'd be more than a little pissed off.  Cartoon Olive angrily pulls Popeye away from the cow, and we don't get to see "real-life" Olive's reaction to it all.  If she had any self-respect, she'd be a little pissed off.  You know, like Robert Duvall in The Judge during the slanderous home movies!  Filming the big accident... indeed.  The very idea.
And so, after the cow starts to swoon from Popeye's passionate kisses, Popeye gets all dramatic and stuff.  He could do Shakespeare!  I never knew that.  But Popeye's words are a little easier to decipher.  Something about seeking his fortune in the big city.  That most universal of dilemmas that face the middle class wage earners: do they focus on earning money?  Or starting a family?  Me myself, I now fall in between.  But who knows?  Maybe I'll start making some money again someday.  I'd kinda like to!
Anyway, back to Popeye's picture.  Popeye sets off to follow his Plan A.  And even though he rejects Olive's offer of a kiss a second time, I'm suddenly feeling strangely positive about the whole thing.  Maybe it's not that Popeye's repulsed by Olive and her feelings, but maybe he feels like he needs to earn the kiss.  We'll just have to wait and see.  (Spoiler alert: that's what happens)
And so, Popeye's out of the picture... incidentally, his body is a crudely drawn rectangle; on the other hand, it sure bends a lot.  So, Popeye has left, and Olive is sad about it, and she starts to cry.  MEANWHILE... we pan left, and here come the bad guys who will consume the rest of the picture.  It's the dastardly landlord and his dastardly horse.  But hey!  At least someone is paying attention to Olive!  Why, the dastardly bastard even kisses Olive! 
No... no, Olive is a proud and chaste woman, and she has devoted her life to this Popeye character.  She hates the landlord and everything he stands for.  Plus, his horse is making untoward advances toward Olive's bovine.  Ewwwwwwwwwwwwww!  What's a girl to do?  Well, she grabs the nearest phone and calls to Popeye to save her!  Fortunately, it's a cartoon phone, and it's right there, with a direct line to Popeye.  We see Popeye hard at work in the big city carrying a sandwich board... Newt?  What a strange-ass name!  You mean, like the amphibian?  What... ever.  Anyway, Popeye drops everything like a true hero and runs to save his beloved Olive.  In his unthinking haste, Popeye runs smack into a Keystone Kop, thereby inspiring that one car crash in 10.  Popeye always respects an "ossifuh," but he doesn't have time to lock himself into a cell, as in Cops is Always RightAnything to get out of a little housework.  Sheesh!
I just don't know where to take the last Act Break, but perhaps this moment is a good one to do it with: we discover that Popeye's dubbing in cartoon Olive's voice.  Cree-eepy!


And so, a mighty chase ensues.  However, as an action fan, I'm unable to take it too seriously, as it becomes more like a dream sequence.  Not quite as bad as a series of unconnected gags, but close.  We see Popeye wailing away on a pogo stick, we see Popeye in a boat rowing along... we see Olive commandeer the bad guy's horse, and the horse goes along with it!  The bad guy summons bloodhounds with stick legs from out of thin air, we see Olive walking on water with giant ice cubes tied to her shoes... see what I mean?  But the four nephews are getting into it.  Kinda shocking to me, since they seem to have little to no respect for Popeye the rest of the time.
And then, more umbrage for Olive to take, as Popeye has a scene where Olive is barking at the bloodhounds, who are running away from Olive, scared half to death.  And then... it's time to get tied to the railroad tracks.  Now wouldn't that be a great bit of trivia to know?  The first time in recorded history when someone got tied to a railroad track?  Of course, it would depend on the person.  Perhaps it's just a myth, like how guns are a great idea for home defense.  Anyway, as in the very first Popeye cartoon, we get a close-up of the badly drawn train, and we see Popeye making its various sound effects... and what's the deal with Popeye's piano?  Why are there two levels of keys?  It's not a piano he's drawn for the film!  Maybe the filmmakers confused themselves on that one.
Needles to say, Olive's in imminent danger, and Popeye better hurry his ass up... hmm!  Notice how in the very first Popeye cartoon that Bluto ties Olive to the railroad tracks with the metal part of the tracks?  She might be able to survive that!  Get on that, Mythbusters! 
Anyway, screenwriters take note: there's either a great lesson in this next part, or no lesson at all.  For the next non-sequitur, we see Popeye riding an angry bull running along the railroad tracks.  Popeye and the bull enter the train tunnel... then out comes the train.  Popeye emerges a second later, and posts a sign on the tunnel that says "Free Hambergers." (sic)  Sorry, "fresh" hamburgers.  Alas, a cartoon Wimpy doesn't show up to stuff his fat ass face.
Perhaps this was the proper moment to take the Act break.  I decided against having a nested level of Act breaks for the film within a film, but perhaps future generations who review this cartoon will know better to do that.  As everyone says in Hollywood these days, WWJJAD?  We see Popeye's four darling nephews watching the film once again, and the one nearest to the projector makes a grand sweeping motion with his tiny arm, and hits the speed lever on the projector, changing the speed from low to high.  It's one of those early home projectors that doesn't handle the high speed very well.  The projector starts to shake, and move along the table.  But rather than just tell someone to flip the switch back, Popeye somehow instinctively knows that this is just the break he needs to give the film a little extra oomph.  Why, Popeye's film within a film itself seems to change its content based on this speed change!  In this scene, we can tell that the content of Popeye's film is not as important as how its audience has to change position to watch what's happening.  Apparently, no one dares tinker with the projector, as it flails about wildly.
At this point in Popeye's film, Popeye is riding in a kangaroo's pouch towards his destination.  Slip sliding away, indeed!  Art students, take note of the thickness of the line around the kangaroo's body.  You know, for emphasis.  At one point, the projector ends up showing Popeye's film on the moon.  Why?  Because a) it can, and b) wow!  What an idea!  Kinda looks like the opening of the original Honeymooners TV show.  And, of course, my favourite part of Popeye's accompanying music is right here, where he plays two notes with one instrument, then quickly switches. 
Meanwhile, Popeye's audience of five are still chasing the movie all over the floor and up the wall.  They end up hanging from the chandelier.  I like this part here because, once again, what's happening in the film is not that important, as the action in the rest of the room.  Good image, though!  A close-up of the bad guy's grinning mug.


Now, you're probably thinking to yourself, there must be one last way to insult Olive!  Well, the filmmakers have thought of one.  As Olive's hanging from the chandelier (the four nephews are scattered on the floor, having fallen off the ceiling), the ending of Popeye's film ends up getting projected onto Olive's now bulbous nose.  Popeye decks the bad guy, then eats his ubiquitous spinach!  Bad-ass.  Now, Popeye's punched out at least two trains, so it's time for something different.  Here, he doesn't take the Luddite path to saving Olive, but rather turns himself into a digging machine, and quickly builds a tunnel of sorts underneath cartoon Olive so the train can safely pass under her.  Cartoon trains only, mind you.  A real train would need a less steep grade and a slower speed to... you get the idea.  And so, cartoon Popeye kisses Olive in earnest, drawing a curtain down over them to make it seem that much naughtier.  They're in love again!  Still, if I were Olive, I'd be...
Anyway, that's it, folks!  Another end to another long series of cartoons.  I'd be a little more misty eyed over the whole enterprise if I didn't feel so rushed.  But what to profile next?... damn.  I just realized that there's all these miscellaneous shorts on these Popeye DVDs!  Guess I better look at those next.

-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan

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