Sunday, September 27, 2015
Born Freep, or Prayer of the Fanboys
Anyway, the DVD commentary guy... I think it was Greg Ford, but he didn't feel the need to introduce himself... he and the director of High Diving Hare proper Friz (Isadore) Freleng swore on the bottom of their hearts, that High Diving Hare was a risky picture to make. And why? Well, it's basically a one-joke premise, beaten asymptotically to death as only the Looney Tunes can. But I think that's part of their charm. Now, you take a show like Limitless, on the other hand... I'm sorry, I mean "Limitless." First of all, the idea of a virus that's engineered to kill one particular person... that was stolen from the last season finale of "The Blacklist," and probably somewhere else, for that matter. But since J.R. Orci and his partner Alex Kurtzman seem to be producing every single television show right now, I guess that's okay, since they're just ripping themselves off. And their mentor J. J. Abrams. The point being, life gets frittered away by details, less is more, yada yada yada. Sometimes you just want to sit back and let Bugs Bunny give you a couple yuk-yuks. If you're at all like me, anyway... and you should be.
So, anyway, I disagree with the theories of Greg Ford and Friz on this one. I think a better argument can be made that, sure, by the Third Act of Rabbit Every Monday, you can start to feel the flop sweat. But arguably, the First and Second Acts are possessed of such genius, such Jack Brown Genius, that you can probably let the Vaudeville-esque Third Act go. I mean, Yosemite Sam as Elmer Fudd, and bubble gum! I'm laughing just thinking about it! ...and I'm pissed off at the DVD makers, because I've got five volumes of these f... damn things, and Rabbit Every Monday's NOT ON THEM!!!! What the douche! ...on the plus side, Catch as Cats Can isn't either, and it should never be. Still, no Rabbit Every Monday. For shame.
Also, I wish to issue a genuine complaint to the DVD makers over Looney Tunes Volume One. I'll be more specific than I usually am. It's easy to navigate with a DVD player through the various menus, but on my computer... not as easy. And this seems to only apply to Volume One. Say you're navigating through the list of shorts. You get one menu page with five shorts on it. No problem with a DVD player. But on a computer... not so easy. You have to go through it one by one, starting at the top. Say you want to get to the fourth one on the list, for example. Well, you have to click the top one, then the next one down, then the next one down, and so on. As Bill O'Reilly might say... c'mon, guys. Fix it. Now.
Excuse me while I take a bath... (30 mins. later) that's better. I really really gotta stop quoting that guy....
...oh, right! The plot. I should probably mention that. Welp, my childhood memories of this cartoon are happy ones, of course. Or at least, my adolescent memories. Ah, the days of rewinding with a VCR. It brought us closer to our favourite films somehow. Now the filmmakers rewind and fast forward for you. You know, through what they feel to be the boring parts. Anyway, I don't recall having a problem with the one-joke premise-ness of it all! I never really thought about it that way. I mean, Ray-Jay Johnson apparently has one joke, right? Yakoff Smirnoff is basically one joke, is he not? ...be careful on that last link, BTW. And, more to the point... the whole Charlie Brown and Lucy and football trifecta of evil... THAT was a one-joke premise, was it not? It's all about style, when you get right down to it. And the Looney Tunes have nothing, if not style. Friz Freleng's style seems to be the old-fashioned Vaudeville showbiz style. They pointed this other thing out on the DVD commentary, but I actually kinda remembered it myself, I swear. The high-diving gag was also in Friz's other classic, 1944's Stage Door Cartoon. The curtain rises, we see Elmer trying to choke Bugs Bunny to death, but is saved by Elmer's stage fright. After gaining his own composure... you know, from BEING CHOKED TO DEATH (the hipsters oughta like that part of it) ... Bugs starts announcing the next act: the high dive act. Elmer ends up making the dive... actually, Stage Door Cartoon may have been the first unofficial appearance of Yosemite Sam! According to the IMDb, 1945's Hare Trigger is the first Yosemite Sam cartoon. I rest my case. Mel Blanc had the voice, and Friz put a cartoon character to it. Friz grew tired of Elmer Fudd, it seemed. Time for someone different, and a little more dangerous. Not that Arthur Q. Bryan wasn't good, mind you.
But back to my childhood memories. How they play tricks on us. I don't remember the setup of High Diving Hare being my favourite section to re-watch on this one. Maybe that's part of the genius of it (the cartoon). But Yosemite Sam is a strange bird, and Friz himself kinda didn't consider Sam to be human, but more of a human caricature... just like the Texan he's based upon. In each picture, Sam has a different motivation, but usually stemming from greed. In Buccaneer Bunny, definitely old-fashioned pirate greed. In Along Came Daffy, hunger. In Ballot Box Bunny, political power. But here, in High Diving Hare, he's just a crazed Fanboy, if I may apply that modern paradigm on this cartoon from the '50s. All he wants to see is Fearless Freep and his trademark high diving act. (Damn. I KNEW I should've gone with the headline, "Wild Yosemite Sam CAN Be Broken.") Thereby perfectly setting up the dramatic tension when the bad news arrives... this, I hate to spoil, for some reason. The point being, Yosemite ends up trying to get Bugs to make the dive.
And so, as with the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote, the battle of wills begins. I hate to do a play-by-play, but I think you can probably guess how it turns out. It's a lot like in Woody Allen's film, Play it Again, Sam... oh, wait! Herbert Ross directed it! My Appy Polly-logies. It's a lot like in Herbert Ross' film, Play it Again, Sam... incidentally, Trivia Time, Bogey never actually used that exact phrase in Casablanca... I know, you already knew that. People fritter away time obsessing over technicalities, don't they? But in that movie, Woody goes on a date with a girl who... damn, it doesn't seem to be in the Memorable Quotes section. This one gal wanted to go to a section of New York... probably Greenwich Village, to "look at the freaks." Needles to say, the freaks struck back. I think the point I was trying to make was the affable cartoon gun nut Yosemite Sam tries to get his way at gunpoint, but it doesn't work. The flip side of the Cartoon Violence coin, if you will. However, when the cartoon guns come out, the attitude of the cartoon character that the gun is pointed at usually changes. And quick. That part of it's pretty real!
Now, maybe my childhood memories are deceiving me, but I taped this off of free TV, probably TNT or TBS when they used to not be ruled by CSI reruns and Tyler Perry, respectively. And I don't seem to recall the episode where Bugs dresses up as an Indian, or the part where Sam says "Open the door!" then says to the audience "You notice I didn't say Richard?" ...man, how many versions of that song are there? And when's Mika going to cover it? The editing of High Diving Hare must've been pretty slick. The part in The Big Snooze when they just faded out, then faded back in to Bugs asleep... less subtle. They had to cut out the part where Bugs deliberately gives himself sleeping pills, you see; he's not gifted like Dennis Quaid in Dreamscape, you see. As for Hare Remover, where Elmer INSTANTLY switches from joy at having caught Bugs to angrily walking back to the lab... well, even Jerry Beck can't explain that one... can he? The IMDb's no help!
Alas, I think it's well past time to deal with the finale. ...oh, wait! Almost forgot. There's another similarity to The Big Snooze and High Diving Hare, because one of the ways that Bugs tricks Yosemite is by quickly turning the diving board around, just as Bugs quickly turns the log in The Big Snooze, thereby tricking Elmer to run off the edge of a cartoon cliff.
Okay, back to Finale Analysis. I never did try to break this down into Acts, did I? Well, the First Act is, of course, the setup. Yosemite Sam buys a mess of tickets to see Fearless Freep. The Second Act is Bugs having to fill in for the Freep-meister. But how do you break this down into the Third Act? Maybe that's what Greg Ford and Friz had trouble with. The film seems to be mostly Second Act high-jinks, or perhaps the academic study of the situational heuristics surrounding two characters and a diving board way high up in the air. They try to keep things interesting, anyway, the filmmakers; you gotta give them that. But I guess you could say that the Third Act comes late, when Yosemite Sam seems to be like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day when he finally learns to conquer his situation. The other example I couldn't help but think of is "No Country for Old Men"... there's another one? Whoa. No, I meant the Coens' Oscar-winning 2007 feature, No Country For Old Men. I thought of that, mostly because yes, I am a Coen-head. It's the way God made me, I can't help that. But also because, at some point in the film, the victims of Anton Chigurh at some point in the Third Act... maybe it's just the guy with the chicken truck, but at some point it's understood that this guy is a serial killer, so they really don't need to show the gruesome details. It's understood what's going to happen. Anyway, Yosemite Sam is shown climbing up the ladder... in one instance, he fires both pistols as he climbs! Dayamn. That's talent. But late in the Third Act, we just see Sam climb up the ladder on the right side of the screen, then a couple seconds later plummeting back to Earth to land in the tank (on the left side of the screen). It's understood that he's getting fooled, the details don't really matter. Or maybe they just ran out of gags to come up with. This may be a unique moment in the Looney Tunes canon, but Jerry Beck would know for sure. The one I want to see again is the one Sylvester and junior cartoon where Sylvester sounds drunk... is that asking so much?
Anyway, I guess what I'm trying to say is this: for the jaded hipsters out there, if you want one Looney Tunes cartoon that will reward your patience, this one is probably it, if only for that final sequence when Sam climbs up the ladder, then silence, then the sound of sawing. I dare not spoil this ending for you, and Bugs' joke is pretty cornball, but I do like a good law joke. Besides, the one about lawyers at the bottom of the ocean being a good start's getting a little overused... damn, they're good. It's in the first of O'Donnell's examples of cartoon physics on Wikipedia, right there at the end. However, I honestly don't remember another cartoon where that joke is actually used; let's see if Yahoo can retroactively remember it for me... ah, yes. But the only other example seems to be the Road Runner holding up a sign that said it. This is out of respect to the Looney Tunes, perhaps.
-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan