Sunday, May 24, 2015

Heeza friend of mine

Actually, the Fleischers are the friend of mine.  I'm only watching this because it's an extra on Popeye, volume 1.  Dang, but they've got a lot of extras on volume 1!  It's going to take me a whole quarter damn near to get through them all at my current rate!  So, I've decided to start on disc one and go to disc 4, even though I've progressed backwards from Popeye volume 3 to Popeye volume 1.  Hypocritical of me, I know.
Anyway, let's dive right into it.  There once was a guy named Heeza, and he looks like kind of an old geezer... geeza.  Or, he went to the pyramids at Giza.  He stepped in some soot, got it all over his foot, then went to get a piece of pizza.  I only mention that because, as you may notice if you try to watch it on YouTube, all the title cards seem to be four lines that rhyme.  Annoying, to be sure, but also unique, as far as I know.  Maybe it's unique to the Heeza series.  Incidentally, what's with the name Heeza?  Must've gone the way of Adolph and Gertrude as once popular first names.
But let's dive into the film proper.  For students of editing, you just might wince like I did at the first or second edit.  After the first title card that establishes the plot, more or less, we see Liar run out of the house.  SPOILER ALERT: That lasts a little under a second or so, and then... BOOM!  Next title card.  The next title card (pictured above!) lasts about two seconds.  Maybe that's the best print they could find or something.  But generally a title card should last ... oh, I don't know... LONGER THAN THAT.  Maybe six to eight seconds, give or take.  I mean, a title card could have ONE LINE of dialogue and it's on there way longer than necessary, typically!
Now, as the DVD informs us, once you get past the insert with recipes for Popeye's party dip and for Popeye's party pizzas... this Heeza Liar cartoon is from 1915.  And the filmmakers involved decided that they wanted to put less effort into the animation.  I mean, this isn't a Winsor McCay masterpiece that we're dealing with here!  Not by a very very very long shot.  Which brings us to the car that Heeza is driving.  It's one of those old cars with a motor that you have to crank.  And as you can see, the car seems to be either a cutout, or on a cell that can be moved around.  Pretty high-tech for 1915!  Incidentally, speaking of Winsor McCay, this cigar-chomping Heeza character seems a tad inspired by the cigar-chomping character from that one Winsor McCay cartoon... let me see if I can find it now... ah!  There it is.  Just my opinion.  Of course, Heeza's nose is a little different.
Most of the animation seems to involve Heeza switching between two poses.  Different era.  Things pick up a little bit during this sequence in traffic.  I kind of like it, if only because Heeza eventually gets his comeuppance.  Standards for comedy seemed to be a bit lower back then.  For example, there was a ... Mack Sennett silent comedy?  I can't even remember the name of it, but the bad guy shot, like, six or seven of the Keystone Kops before turning the gun on himself.  But he had a comedy moustache so it was okay... SHEESH!!!!!
On to the game proper.  "The players cuss and shout," indeed.  Was I the only one who thought of that Popeye short, The Two-Alarm Fire, where Bluto sings "Rare and tear and yell and shout"?  I thought so.  Anyway, Heeza jumps over the fence that's about ten feet high and makes his way to the game.  And here's yet another example of filmmakers slowly learning the art of storytelling, as a dog follows Heeza into the ballpark.  I mean, we need to root for someone or something here!  Heeza alone's kinda not cutting it.
And so, Heeza joins the players on the field.  An unconventional but apparently welcome solution to their pitcher problem, Heeza shakes hands with one of the guys.  The guy points to the sleeping pitcher.  Heeza looks at the sleeping pitcher, then turns back and shakes hands some more.  World-class storytelling, my friends.  World-class.
On to the first pitch.  The batter gets an eyeful of Heeza and laughs.  Oh, he's gonna rue the day... and then, the day comes!  Heeza's first pitch is thrown.  Kinda reminds me of Bugs' slow ball from Baseball Bugs, only Heeza's pitch has quite a few more loops in it... I mean, "astounding curves."  Why, you'd think that a pitch like that would become the stuff of legend!  Okay, maybe not The Natural legend, but still!
And then, in another feat of technical wizardry, there's a slight perspective change here.  As you can see, now we can see Heeza and the batter!  In 3D, no less!... okay, 2.5D.  It means a little extra work for whoever is animating the ball, but clearly the filmmakers are up to the task.  For when the ball is thrown, it does indeed get smaller as it approaches the batter... I dunno.  There's maybe a little too much magic going on here.  The ball magically ends up back in Heeza's hand after the pitcher catches it!  Too much work for the filmmakers, I guess.
Heeza enjoys another laugh after another successful strike, and he gives the audience another playful wink.  Now it's just getting creepy, frankly.  And to add insult to injury, Heeza throws a pitch that ends up hitting the batter on the head.  I'm speechless.

At this point in the film, the film finally lives up to its title!  And the conflict begins in earnest, for clearly Heeza isn't as good at batting as he is at pitching... and that's putting it mildly.  Reminds me of the recurring gag in Batty Baseball... which is apparently not on YouTube, in its entirety at least.  Oh well.  Can't have everything!  And Heeza can't get no respect from the giant men on the opposing team.  Even the pitcher has a laugh at Heeza's expense!  Dayamn!  Looks like the Gas-House Gorillas' pitcher.  But Heeza's got his cigar and a warehouse-full of gumption and he swings as mightily as Casey. 
And so, Strike One is called, and Heeza rightly complains about it to the referee... boy!  I really know my baseball, don't I?  Or is it wrong to complain?  Probably.  Just like it's wrong for our veterans to want health care, probably.  Oh, you can have health care... if you're a pussy!  Something like that.
Speaking of manliness, s.. the plot's about to get real.  After Heeza's finished complaining to the ... umpire?  Is it the umpire?... how did I get to Psalms 14:1?  Good Lourdes.  Anyway, so after Heeza finishes his complaint, the arbitrator pushes him on the face, down to the ground.  Well, Heeza is nothing if not a man.  A tiny man with a nose that's a different color from the rest of his skin, but he's still a man.  Maybe not a man's man, but he's got his cigar, and he's got his pride, and he gets up and starts beating the sh... he gets into a mild Fist Tornado with the umpire.  Mild by Popeye standards anyhow.  Raining fist blows down upon this thug, Heeza gives the ump one last punch, sending him sailing away into the distance.  Heeza seems surprised by his own strength, as he flexes his arm muscles at the audience, and throws us another loving wink.  Heeza then slowly turns to that bum catcher.  All he has to do is give that guy a dirty look, and the catcher starts quaking in his boots.  He knows what he did!  The catcher leaps away, and we repeat the muscle-flexing animation from a second earlier.
Next scene: the umpire and catcher are BACK!  And Heeza, the "little runt," is back at bat again.  The pitcher is less joyful this time.  He pitches and... I gotta watch that again.  Heeza bunts the ball, apparently.  Either that, or the animation's just leaning a bit towards the crappy side.  Oh, but that couldn't be the case, surely?  Could it?  Anyway, Heeza makes a mighty run for it, and he apparently runs faster than man can throw a baseball, and he ends up safe at home, if only barely.  The umpire learnt his lesson the first time.  Err on the side of Heeza, and for God's sake, don't push him in the face again!
Next scene: the fifteenth inning.  Well, like George Carlin says, we don't know when it's going to end!... oh, right.  A minute, thirty-eight to go.  Heeza's got a slightly different look on his face as he sets the stage for what will either be his greatest triumph, or an epic fail of epic proportions.  Man, how did we ever live without the phrase "epic fail"?  Fumbling around in the dark for words like "total disaster" and "endless quagmire."  Streamlined thinking!  That's the way society should be.  Double-plus good!  Anyway, if you've been watching... and I kind of wish I haven't been... you will know that SPOILER ALERT Heeza has now deliberately missed the ball twice in a row.  So, he's got two strikes against him.  But he's not a total dummy, and after a couple of slow, loving puffs on his cigar, he grabs the bat and is ready to hit the ball this third time.  To build some dramatic tension, the catcher touches the top of Heeza's head again.  Which seems a bit stupid to me, seeing as what happened the last time the catcher played dirty.  Anyway, long story short, Heeza hits the ball and all is well.  HOWEVER, I will give credit where credit is due to even the smallest spark of genius and or ingenuity.  I almost hate to spoil it... okay, a pelican grabs the ball in mid-flight.  Heeza runs around the bases not once, not twice... but three times a victor!  Which seems a bit stupid to me; I thought they had two men on base already.  Maybe I read that last title card wrong... oh, they didn't even give a score!  Just that it was tied!  Still, Heeza Liar is a champion, and the filmmakers give him a shot of the stadium of an epic scale befitting the end of the movie... hmm!  That's odd.  I thought it was just a small stadium... you know, from this scene towards the beginning of the film!  Maybe it's just the expensive seats for the nicely dressed patrons in the crowd. 
I wonder if this was just the best Heeza Liar short they could find.  I admit, I was a little prejudiced when I saw one of the documentaries on the Popeye DVDs, and one of the interview subjects mentioned that the Heeza shorts are terrible.  They are, I'll agree, but I was entertained, nevertheless.  I don't know why.  And I certainly haven't seen the pelican gag before!  Surely that's not out of respect?  I'll bet the Fleischers came up with that gag.
And so, that was my introduction to, and hopefully freedom from, Colonel Heeza Liar.  There's another one here on YouTube ... but it's not on my DVD, so screw it.

-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan

1 comment:

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