Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Lonely Passion of Ansel Adams

Ah HAH!  That's where Allen Funt got the idea!  I kinda haven't been paying attention, but I think this is the first Looney Tunes on this DVD set that's an older one.  I don't have the cold openings down to an exact science like, say, Jerry Beck might, but it may be safe to say that Elmer's Candid Camera has a cold opening that sounds like your grandfather's Looney Tunes.  Maybe it's the last-generation recording equipment that was used, maybe it's the old fashioned musical arrangement, but let's put it this way: when they re-issued a bunch of Looney Tunes using the Golden... the Blue Ribbon label, the musical arrangement they picked for it was not the one used on oldies such as Elmer's Candid Camera... man, I'm wearing myself out!  And Dough for the Do-Do doesn't count because it's got a newer opening.


My GOD!!!!  Is that Elmer Fudd before he started going to his local Pritikin centers?  Must've happened to a lot of Hollywood types; they all ballooned up during the Great Depression, living off the fat of the land over there in California.  Lots of comfort/soul food to stave off the bad times.  But now that Elmer's moving up in the Maslow pyramid... hey!  Wikipedia's fixed their auto-complete!  You can click on a phrase, and after about half a minute, get taken directly to the page!  I just might have to donate now... of course, the mere act of photography can wreak havoc in your otherwise straight-line progression from the 'love/belonging' to the 'esteem' and 'self-actualization' phases of the pyramid.  Engaging in such activities as photography often blur the lines between the three, and if you're really good, like the James Stewart character in Rear Window, you get kicked back down to the physiological phase while you try to recuperate in your wheelchair.
But there are far choppier waters ahead for Elmer, literally and figuratively... spoiler alert.  As with Egghead before him and his record album of boxing lessons, the simplicity of "How To" manuals is about to collide with the complexity of the natural world.
And so, Elmer and his hat bounce out into the out of doors... Ayn Rand's worst nightmare, I tell you.  Just look at that human parasite feeding off the charity of others, just whistling away as though the whole world revolves around whatever rolls around inside that WASPy head of his... something like that.  He's even got Egghead's old suit, methinks!
And so, Elmer comes across a freshly painted set of wabbit twacks in the dirt.  Makes me think of that old line from 2006's Best Picture winner, The Departed, when Jack Nicholson says "The truth is, when you're facing down the gun of a barrel, or the lens of a camera... what's the difference?"  Not enough films play up the similarity.  The only one that comes to mind is when the bad guy in The A-Team movie has a camera and a gun pointed at... let's say the new B. A. Baracas, and he says "Don't move!  Smile!"... something like that.  I don't take good notes; actually, I think there was a silent comedy that did something like that too, so it's been in the Thought-o-sphere, just hiding in plain sight.
At about the 1:21 mark, we get the famous lullaby in a nice discordant variation by genius composer Carl Stalling, as we see a rabbit sitting there at the end of the footprint highway (hmm!  It seems to continue on past where he sits!), sleeping in the middle of an open field.  Now, Elmer's a newbie... sorry, I mean a n00b photographer, so he thinks he's got to get right up close to the rabbit to get that proverbial pwint suitable for fwaming.
Now, the proceedings start off lightly bawdy.  As Elmer tries to get the framing of the image just right, a bird distracts Elmer from his mission at hand with its lovely song, and he shushes the bird.  The rabbit wakes up and shushes ... well, both of them, frankly.  The whole world's making too much damn noise.  Elmer looks surprised, then looks back through the viewfinder to see... well, let's just say it wouldn't be a suitable framed picture for polite company.  Now, in the interest of full disclosure, the rabbit returns to its original pose before Elmer gets a chance to investigate what's wrong with this picture, just to give you an idea of the lapine reprobate we and Elmer are all dealing with here.  Just wait til he starts talking!!!


Now, I've heard the story a couple times.  The way Mel Blanc tells it, the animators told him that Bugs Bunny was going to be a "real stinker" ... something like that.  This was long before Ted Cruz was invented, mind you.  So Mel tried to think of the toughest accent he could, and I believed he narrowed it down to either Brooklyn or The Bronx.  Now, as David Letterman might say, this is when he came up with an idea that actually literally may be worth "a million damn dollars."  Blanc combined the two accents and came up with the voice we all now vaguely remember until we sit down and actually watch some damn Tunes that are Looney.  I don't know how much money Warner Bros. has gotten over the decades from the antics of Bugs and his kin, but how can you put a price on animated immortality?  Short screen gems that will last as long as mankind is able to sustain this planet?
I guess what I'm trying to say is that, well... this ain't exactly Bugs, and it ain't exactly Bugs' voice.  This yet unnamed rabbit, as in Hare-um Scare-um has a voice somewhere on the Goofy family tree, on a teeny weeny branch that Disney's lawyers have decided wasn't worth the climb.  And that laugh, well... let's just say that Hare-um Scare-um co-director Ben Hardaway was clearly destined to end up with Woody Woodpecker.
But let's get back to the instant case.  As with A/The Wild Hare, we start with the sad realization that Elmer just doesn't know a talking wabbit when he sees one.  And the one he was trying to frame with the camera gets up, stands behind him, and starts chatting away.  We've all been there, amateur photographers... admit it.  And sure, in our modern internet age, this scene seems to go on and on and on and on and on way way way way way way too long.  Wonder if they thought so way back when, or were the kids all too busy trying to throw stuff at their fellow theatre-goers?
Anyway, long story short... I know, I know, way too late for that... Elmer finally gets out from under his red camera cape to address his new-fangled conversation companion.  I think this is my new favourite scene in this outing, that long dark moment of the soul just before Elmer realizes he's being f... messed with.  "Over.... over there!" Elmer says to the wabbit.  Elmer then does a massive double-take worthy of James Finlayson.
"Gosh!  I don't even know the guy!" says the wabbit... geez!  I think he says that in Elmer's Pet Rabbit as well.  Well, a good line is a good line.  Never gets old.  The wabbit walks away in "anger," Stage Right.  Sloppy work there, by the way, Carl Stalling.  Sloppy work.  On the wabbit's second step, the musical accompaniment begins in proper.  Disgusting.
Elmer tries to brush off what just happened to him, but quickly finds inspiration anew in a little grey squirrel.  Makes me think of Letterman for some reason, but that's just me, I hope.  And so, Elmer sets up the camera again and... oh no.  Will things go smoothly for Elmer?  Spoiler alert: I'm afraid not.  I hate to spoil what happens, but that pile of apples round the tree does look vaguely familiar.  I'm thinking The Wacky Worm or something, or maybe Now That Summer is Gone.  Elmer does manage to dodge Bugs'... I mean, the grey wabbit's apple core, but an apple ends up landing on Elmer's head... dayamn!  That's one gooey apple!  And thank goodness, too, because I'll bet an apple on the head might hurt like hell.  Maybe they're Rome Beauties or something.


The psychological torture continues in earnest.  Elmer has moved on to birds, and the proto-Bugs stumbles upon him again.  "Oh, there you are!" says the wittwe gwey wabbit, and walks over to Elmer.  Lol.  You can guess how this goes from there.  Oh, the wabbit would be playing a mean game of arbitrage if there were a third party that could get involved.  But in lieu of that, the rabbit asks Elmer, while his elbow's lodged in the crack of Elmer's ass BTW... "Would you be interested in taking a picture of a rabbit?  I know a rabbit who wouldn't mind posing for you..."  Spoiler alert: Elmer's thoughts have clearly turned to murder at this point.  But seeing as how he has no shotgun for this outing, his butterfly net, which you will recall from the inventory at the beginning of the film, will just have to do.
And so, Elmer, in his adrenaline-fueled state, marches off to find the rabbit, clutching his butterfly net in his red fists at about 5:07 or so.  His steps are slightly erratic, as you may notice.  He's taking one step every 2/3 of a second, but takes two 1/3 second steps in a row.  See, the filmmakers tried to time the action to the 24-frames a second rate of speed as best they could, usually opting for 6 beats a second for moderately-paced action, and 8 beats a second for more frenetic action. 
And so, Elmer eventually spots his quarry, walking slowly Stage Right and mumbling to himself.  Oh, the rabbit's just ripe for the catching.
And so, at about 5:29 (on the DVD), down goes the net over the rabbit.  Personally, this part doesn't do much for me.  Maybe because it's kind of the same playbook from most of the other Bugs and Elmer outings.  If I had to pick the weakest, this one's probably it.  And so, Elmer feels bad about what he did, and the wabbit turns the tabwes... tables on Elmer, so to speak.  Elmer ends up in the net his own damn self!  And, well... he goes a little crazy.  I'm sorry, I mean cwazy.  And he actually says it, too!  "I've gone MAD!" says Elmer as he bursts out of the net.  He destroys the camera and the book that started it all, and gets rather elastic in his insanity-fueled rage... a little less intense than, say, the end of Wabbit Twouble, sure, and with no game warden to temper the proceedings, Elmer ends up in the lake.


The bunny hears Elmer dwowning and, to his credit, he dons a striped bathing suit and fishes Elmer out.  Because my synapses fire funny, I'm reminded of the opening disclaimer of that John Cleese special, "How to Irritate People."  See that?  YouTube can be a good thing!  It's got stuff on there like that that you might not spend a whole lot of energy trying to hunt down otherwise!  Sorry, Cleese, but it's true.  Anyway, at the beginning of that special British TV special, Cleese warns people that, as with most things, there are limits, and you don't want to irritate people to the point where they want to kill you. 
Of course, the rules are a little different in cartoons, and Elmer's quite weary from his water-based ordeal, but Bugs... I mean, the unnamed grey rabbit tries to make sure that Elmer's okay, and that an ambulance isn't needed.  You can probably guess how it's all going to end, but you didn't see that book ending up on Elmer's head coming, now, did you, Mr. and Mrs. Jaded Sophisticate Cinephile?


Good double bill with: Hare-um Scare-um and Elmer's Pet Rabbit... maybe Good Night Elmer as well

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