Sunday, June 12, 2016
Our next Looney Tunes is another adolescent favourite. I would watch this one over and over on the old VHS for some reason, because hey. I knew how to work the VCR, and this is what I chose to use it for. I could've done something noble, like help to bring down Sun City and the evil South African regime, or try to apply to the Juilliard dance program, but Looney Tunes it was. Which brings us in our usual roundabout way to the next Looney Tunes, the Bob Clampett classic Bugs Bunny Gets the Boid. Hey, save something for "Put a Clampett on It," huh, guys?
Now, sure, some of you probably don't think much of Boid, despite the lewdness promised in the title, and sure, it's probably not Clampett's zaniest work, but... ah, let's just get into it.
Now, Mel Blanc was the man, of course, creator of many of the, um... most recognizable cartoon voices, possibly ever... Heathcliff, Barney Rubble, and a few others not worth mentioning... I was trying not to use the word 'icon' or any of its variants for once... DAMN IT!!!!
...what was my point again? Oh right. Well, as good as Blanc was, sometimes you just need a second voice or two. For as with the greats like Harrison Ford and Robert De Niro, Blanc had a limited range, and he just couldn't do a Goofy-ish voice as well as others. Clampett knew this, and employed the other voice actors we get on his films, such as Boid. Kent Rogers plays the black sheep of the buzzard family, and Sandra Bernhard... I mean, Sara Berner plays the Italian matriarch of this group of buzzards. Incidentally, Blanc doesn't get credit at the beginning of this one! Must be one of those contractual anomalies again. Either Blanc gets the full and only credit for the voices, or he gets none.
In the background under the credits, we see an impossibly thin outcropping of rock, stabbing the sky as it were. Once the words and union credits fade out, BOOM! We zoom up incredibly quickly to the top of said thin mountain, Clampett style. We see the mama buzzard and her four sons. Note that you can't see the face of the one on the left. And yes, that's deliberate.
The mama buzzard is planning dinner, and she gives each of her buzzardlings orders for what to bring home for supper... now, before all my bird friends from the Environmental Science program get all up in arms... or wings, as it were (drumroll)... and sit there, furiously emailing me back and screaming, "But, The Movie Hooligan! First of all, just call the babies a 'chick', not a 'buzzardling.' Jesus. And second, they look more like a red-headed vulture than a buzzard, and third, they forage on roadkill. They DO NOT selectively go out and pick from such a wide variety of animals." Yes, I know, I know. The red-headed vulture's got the white neck ruffle, black feathers, and semi-pink head flesh of the birds that populate Clampett's whimsical romp. Alas, Warner Bros. didn't have extra employees in the cartoon department to make sure that the animals were correct, Linnaelically. (Jesus) But this is the premise we go in with. Clearly, cinematic storytelling standards were poor at the time. How will our children's children ever forgive our trespasses? And yet, they love Fred Fredburger. What an age we live in.
And so, the three Italian alpha males each take off in succession and, beaming with pride, Mama Buzzard watches. She does a massive Clampett double-take when the fourth doesn't take off in similar fashion. "Why, Killa!" she scolds. "Get a move on... SCRAM!" Needles to say, the black sheep, aka Beaky Buzzard, doesn't wanna go. We've all been there, folks, admit it. After all, families aren't robot farms, are they? The Duggars, for example... okay, bad example. Let's move on.
"Well, at least go out and get a rabbit! Or something," the mama buzzard pleads. How those other three could get anything larger than a rabbit, I'll never know. Must be that pesky Cartoon Physics at work again. Beaky still doesn't want to go out. We've all been there, folks. One swift kick in his buzzard behind, and Beaky is out in the world... dayamn, but that's your million dollar tough love right there, as Letterman might say. And unlike the veritable jets his brothers are, Beaky sputters his way out into the sky and, thinking he's still on the ledge, pleading to his mother's breast, Beaky eventually realizes his predicament and plummets to the ground.
...or does he? Beaky may not be as fast as his counterparts, but he can at least stay aloft. (I once heard that birds suddenly taking off flying in the air is bad for their hearts. I think it was about ducks.) And so, to the tune of ... 'Arkansas Traveler'... yes, I had to look it up. Sad... Beaky takes off and scouts the landscape for that rabbit of his marching orders. Screenwriters take note: there are no accidents. Everything's done for a purpose. This is still a Bugs Bunny picture despite all evidence up til now to the contrary, and if it's rabbit Baby wants, rabbit Baby gets.
Spoiler alert: at the end of a long trail of tracks, boom. There appears to be a rabbit-like creature on the ground far below. Again, another massive double-take. Clampett really really loved those. You don't even need a character to do a double take! The freakin' camera can do it for you! Reminds me of that one in An Itch in Time... that's the one, isn't it? The one that causes the flea to scream "T-BONE!!!!!!" Love that one.
And so, at 1:59, Bugs' close-up starts. Sure, technically, a few seconds before, but it's from afar, and it was probably a stunt rabbit. Why waste an A-lister on a wide-angle shot, says Hollywood? We pause for the corny joke on the cover of the red book Bugs is perusing. Just something about that desert sunlight, I guess, that must be ideal for reading. Next scene:... I don't use enough paragraphs, do I? Next scene: normally, we'd see the predator sneaking behind trees in a forest, but we're dealing with a buzzard, so we get their equivalent: sneaking around in a clouds. Something whimsical about that. This is the kind of seemingly mundane thing I'd nevertheless find myself rewinding on me old VCR tape... you know, just because I could. Beaky tiptoes between clouds, with xylophone accompaniment, of course. Incidentally, best Scrabble(TM) word ever, second only to maybe 'quiz', and of course, Scrabble(TM) itself.
Beaky pokes his head out of a cloud, and gets cloud on his face... thereby creating Mr. T 40 years in advance? Oh, I still think so. Now, up til now, Beaky's been shown to be a cowardly weakling, but when he occasionally puts his mind to it, he actually does have the speed of his stronger, more Italian brothers, and Beaky swoops down upon Bugs with equal fury and plane noise. However, Bugs does notice, gets surprised by it, and quickly ducks back into his hole in the ground.
Bugs soon re-emerges, however, to make fun of the buzzard, of course. Typical. ... oh, I almost forgot to mention the nod to what would eventually become the trademark of NBC (2 L8 2 Sue?)... So Bugs is one step ahead, as always, and makes fun of the doofy buzzard. Typical. But Bugs does call the buzzard 'B-19,' which Donald Trump surely would appreciate. Might as well be called the biggest of something in this life, right? Yolo, kids... yolo. Bugs pretends to be an air-traffic controller, probably for way too long, and soon enough... yup, Beaky crashes right next to Bugs with a resounding crash noise.
Just as quickly, Bugs loses the ATC gear, and slowly examines the seemingly dead Beaky Buzzard, munchy wunching away on his trademark carrot. Bugs touches Beaky's tail, perpendicular to the ground, and it goes to the ground with yet another resounding crash.
The buzzard eventually comes to, Bugs having asked of him his usual "Eh, what's up, Doc?" And then... well, let me put it this way. As its IMDb "Soundtracks" page helpfully informs us, Beaky aka "Killer" informs us, and by extension, Bugs, through song. "Blues in the Night," but with special lyrics... doesn't usually happen that way, except in What's Opera, Doc?, for one. And, of course, the page contains spoilers. Thanks a lot, the IMDb!
But before it can become a complete musical, the singing stops as quick as it started. "Eh, what is it you're looking for?" asks Bugs. He should really be more careful when he talks to strangers about dinner. And then... boy! I thought the Stooges were bad about stretching things out. Beaky Buzzard tries to remember what his momma told him to git.
Now, fans of animation like me will surely appreciate when Beaky cocks his head and says "OH DON'T TELL ME NOW, DON'T TELL ME" and we can see the underside of his beak. Creepy, I know, to like that kind of thing, but I'm sorry. It's just the way God made me. Beaky quickly returns to trying to remember what he was supposed to get... a loaf of bread, a container of milk, and a stick of butter. Oh wait, that's Sesame Street. God, I love Jethro Tull. Anyway, once again, this film is full of little surprises, and Beaky instantly goes from harmless oaf to DEFCON 3, grabbing Bugs by the neck and saying "It's a rabbit! A-hulp!" Beaky's wings double as human-like hands at times, usually when the occasion calls for them.
As Bugs often does, he makes another plea for a little civility in this game we call life. Bugs' ruse this time is to escape, under the guise of "tidying up a bit foist." "Hot diggety!" says Beaky. LOL. We then hear the sound of a shower and... well, as much as I hate to disagree with the folks over at Closed Captioning International... I do realize they're awfully busy, and can't be expected to fix every little thing that someone notices, but I beg to differ on their intoipritation of Bugs' new lyrics, changed slightly for the occasion, for "Blues in the Night." Now, what I heard was "Ta duh dee da duh duh... a buzzard is two faced... a goony old ting that'll leadja to sing, 'A Hoey d'Hoey.'" Gesundheit! (someone say that for me, woodja) The CC people skipped over the 'Hoey' part completely, probably for the best, but their interpretation of the middle section was "a dirty old thing that'll eat you to sing"... WUUUUUUUUUUTTTTT???!!!! EAT you to Sing? I've never even heard of that. And while they're at it, can they fix the menu of Volume One? I'm getting tired of having to select Feed the Kitty to get to the rest of the shorts. And get me a Blu-Ray drive for my desktop; we went the Cheapskate route when ordering it from the local place; I knew we should of... have just gone to Costco.
Next scene: ...well, it's actually the same scene, actually. Beaky listens to Bugs' lyrics, and begins to grow suspicious. Not so much at the personal insults within them, but more that he just can't see what's going on. Beaky confides in the audience that he thinks Bugs is trying to trick him, then goes "Shhh!" to the audience. Now, that's the star's confidence right there, even though he's playing the bad guy here in Bugs' picture. Kinda like Bogey in The Return of Doctor X... sorry, that's the only example I can think of from that era. And so, Beaky reaches down into Bugs' hole in the ground, and the singing stops... love the animation of just Beaky's feet. I guess there's just little rewards like that in this pic.
Now... I keep thinking of what Evan Wright said in 1992's Mistress. Personally, I think it short-changes the whole purpose of cinema a little bit, but I can see how the Mamet-ian crowd, for one, would find some truth in it, and certainly brevity. Same complaint lodged against "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" in Sullivan's Travels, really. Not enough sex. Wright's line was "People go to the movies to be titillated by sex." The problem with Clampett's Looney Tunes? Too MUCH sex! Or maybe I'm just that prudish. Bugs emerges from the rabbit hole in a shower cap and towel, dripping wet. Most noticeably, he's got quite a lot of lipstick on. In the most girlish voice he can muster, Bugs says to Beaky, "You naughty, naughty boy!!!" Beaky turns red and gets all sheepish and sh... stuff. Bugs then rolls up his towel and thwacks Beaky right in his be-feathered ass, and exits Stage Left. Bugs exits Stage Right.
Things get ultra-kinetic at this point, as they sometimes do in Clampett affairs. Bugs hides behind a rock, and Beaky reappears, trying to find Bugs. He just knows that Bugs is close, but doesn't know exactly where. Bugs then grabs Beaky and plays with Beaky's giant Adam's apple, to which of course we get that AYE-YIY-YIY sound, called "haunting" by some. They say it was done with trombones... hmm! Wonder why the Myth Busters never tackled that one. It's one secret that Hollywood keeps close to its vest, one of the few secrets it has left. The pie fight from Dr. Strangelove is a whole other beast altogether.
...I suppose it's a good time for Act Three. It had to arrive eventually.
And so, Bugs decides it's time to just get the hell out of there, and put as much distance between himself and the buzzard foe hanging around like impending danger. At first, Bugs hops his ass off, much like in Tortoise Beats Hare... one part of it, anyway. Also, in Tortoise Beats Hare, Bugs starts skating along on the dry ground, but while on all fours. Here, in Boid, he's mastered the art of skating along on the ground on his two hind legs, and quite leisurely at that!
Again, he misunderestimated the oft-hidden fury in Beaky's flight. We hear the approach of what sounds like a jet plane, and soon enough, Beaky comes streaking by, picking up Bugs in its huge yellow feet. Beaky's force of flight is so powerful, in fact, that the music gets drowned out by it, and starts up again in the next scene. LOL.
Next scene: we get a mash-up of 'Arkansas Traveler' on queazy trombone AND the 'Over the Waves Waltz' by Juventino Rosas... I actually didn't know that until looking it up on the IMDb just now. Wotta guy. Clearly I've let you down, Dear Reader. Better just stick with The Village Voice or James Bernardelli's ReelViews Dot Net from now on... I'll give you a minute to switch over... sure, it's not as epic as, say, the time they combined The Police's "Every Breath You Take" and the Peter Gunn theme on that one episode of "The Sopranos," but few things are.
Bugs eventually opens his eyes, realizes what's happening, stops his cross-country dirt skiing and goes limp. Hmm! Mr. Fudd's bear attack playbook! Go figure. Bugs then gets a silly idea. Bugs plucks one of the buzzard's rudder feathers from its ass, making the Clampett "BYEW" noises, of course. Apparently, it was Beaky's lone tail feather. Bugs then starts ticking Beaky's tummy. Beaky starts laughing, of course. Also, the Carl Stalling Memorial Orchestra, before they were called that, starts going nuts in their own right. The xylophone player seems to just rake the spherical hammer back and forth across the xylophone's various keys. I'm telling you! The orchestra had more fun on Clampett pics than anyone else. I can't prove it yet, but the anecdotal evidence is there in spades, believe me... oh, crap. Another Trump-ism. I'll be glad when this damn election's completely over.
Next scene: Bugs clearly has cut off his nose to spite his face... something like that. Or has he jumped from the frying pan that Mama Buzzard had at home, and into the fire of FALLING TO THE GROUND VERY VERY FAST. This throws off the whole pattern, as the big tumble usually comes right at the end, like that one with Bugs and the big, sad hunting dog, sans the tiny barrel of whisky round its neck... I'm pretty sure it's The Heckling Hare. Gotta wait til Vol. 2 for that one; figures. Or Falling Hare... it's right there in the TITLE, for Gawd'z zake! Bugs, still holding the tailfeather, finally realizes he's falling, and tries to screech to a stop. He loses the black feather at that point... bet a couple of the animators were relieved at that. Editor's note: we cross-cut between Bugs falling and where on the ground he's apparently going to land. Note the bones and flowers... and yes, the scene was filmed at noon day when the sun was egg-zactly overhead. Why do you have to be so picky all the time?
Next scene: the big landing. Bugs is submerged up to his arms in the ground, and the assembled bones and flowers on the ground in front of him fly up into the air, and reassemble on the ground anew, much like the wood for Popeye's baby chair at the end of Axe Me Another. Note the vibraphone on the musical score, used to signify disorientation.
Now, for those of you who've seen Harold Lloyd's classic 1925 comedy, The Freshman, what comes next probably won't be a surprise to you. Thanks a lot, The IMDb. Way to ruin another film for me. And for those of you scrambling to check the rules of Cartoon Physics, well, you probably better go ahead and do it. Because this cartoon so far is indeed in violation of the main law... or is it? The law states that "any body suspended in space will remain in space until made aware of its situation." In Bugs' case, however, he was suspended by Beaky, so the laws of Beaky (AKA the "normal" laws of physics) take over.
Next scene: a close-up of Bugs, and you'll surely notice, maybe not right away, that there is now a half-eaten carrot under the ribcage in the ground. Bugs feels around with his eyes closed. He seems to be intact, but then he notices those bones in front of him. I can't tell what that is on the musical score. Stalling would use it a lot; is it an oboe or a flute playing in a register lower than normal? I'm going to go with the latter; seems like flute to me.
When Bugs feels that carrot mentioned earlier under the ribcage, that does it. Bugs opens his eyes and almost immediately starts crying. "Gruesome, isn't it?" he says, in mid-cry. So much for his chances at an Oscar. But that's fearless Bugs for ya. He doesn't go for the Oscar gold like those kiss-ass Disney characters always did... okay, one time. And this other time. But that's it! That's REALLY it... okay, and What's Opera, Doc. Anyway, Bugs keeps right on crying... and then, his feet slowly appear from under the ground. I think this means we have to come up with a new rule of Cartoon Physics: a cartoon body will not create more work for the animators if it means disturbing a perfectly good painted background cel. Now, the sequence in A Pest in the House when the guest's blanket is disturbed by a drunk, laughing Daffy trying to tell a (probably dirty) salesman joke, sure... the blanket gets re-drawn, but not the desert ground here. Why, Bugs doesn't even leave a hole behind when he pops himself out of the desert ground! (spoiler alert) Oh, and future thespian's note: Mel Blanc does about as good a job as anyone can do when going from crying to laughing. Take that, Strasberg! "Ah, I knew it all the time," says the cocky Bugs.
Next scene: Bugs is back to normal, walking along to Stage Right, eating a carrot. Bugs looks behind him, as though he's expecting something... I guess I'll make another embarrassing confession here, as any good blogger worth his weight in Tabasco sauce should. This caught me by surprise the first time I saw it. Ah, these are the moments that filmmakers live for. As it happens, spoiler alert, Beaky was hiding behind the tall cactus at Stage Left. "Ah huh, NOW I gotcha!" he says, making a quick grab for Bugs. Bugs and he wrestle around a little bit... and there's MORE things for the aspiring actor to take note of. Blanc does a crackerjack job of making Bugs sound like he's in distress; the nervous laugh, the panic, what have you. Now, the more jaded amongst us might notice the occasional dance pose amid the panic. And then... the Carl Stalling drummer goes nuts, as he often does in Clampett affairs... again! More fun than others!... and then, we get Bugs and Beaky dancing, to the tune of "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree." HAH! Take THAT, IMDb Soundtracks page for Bugs Bunny Gets the Boid! Don't have THAT yet, do you? Innit?
Next scene: they're still dancing. Bugs asks Beaky "Why don't we do this more often?" Beaky's reply is "You mean, just what we're doing tonight?" Beaky blushes. Another stab at the Hays Code. Beaky's blush fades back out quickly, but in clunky chunks, rather than a smooth fade. I guess the filmmakers didn't want to go to too much trouble on this one.
Next scene: back to the long shot. Bugs dips Beaky low, holds it, then spins Beaky around, like a record, baby. Right round, round round... but the record comes off the spindle, and acts more like a top, especially when he appears back in front of that damn skeleton again. The callback? Really? I can completely understand now if you find this one a little bit underwhelming.
And so, the spinning Beaky Buzzard drills his way into the ground in front of the skeleton on the ground, where Bugs was a mere second ago, it would seem... and what's the deal with that, anyway? You're telling me that hole filled in with dirt just as soon as Bugs popped out of it? I kindly don't wanna picture that... Anyway, once Beaky's head unspins from all the knots in his neck... you know, from spinning around and what not... Beaky looks at the scene laid out before him. Boy! He responds to spinning around better than I do. The older I get, the sicker I get from spinning around... yup, just had to test that out. Scuse me while I throw up...
(later) And so, in the tight spot he's in, Beaky plays his last lifeline... that show's still on, right? Lord knows there's still people out there who want to be millionaires... and he calls his ma. "Oh, MAAA!!!!" the poor guy wails. The very next instant: Ma Buzzard appears, amid the sound of a bullet. Ma looks at poor Beaky and panics, causing her neck frill to twirl.
Forgetting that Bugs was supposed to be dinner, Ma asks Bugs what happened to her "poor little kid." Bugs says "Keep your shirt on, lady. The kid's okay" and pulls Beaky out of the ground by his neck to prove it. Leaving that slight aside, Mama's just relieved that Beaky's okay and gives him a loving kiss.
Next scene: Mama is about to either tear Bugs a new one, or take him up to the big oven in the mountains herself. But no, because we need one last plot twist, don't we? "You are my HERO!" says Mama Buzzard to Bugs, then gives him a big kiss on the mouth. Boy! I never realized how elastic her beak is! Bugs starts to blush, then turns into Beaky in his own way: his mouth starts to morph into more of a beak shape, he turns beet red and starts talking like Beaky. Judging from the recording, I'd say it wasn't Mel Blanc, but that would've been interesting to hear him try that. So file this ending along with Racketeer Rabbit and a few others that I can't think of right now... the only other one I can think of is Wabbit Twouble, but that comes in the middle after Elmer Fudd hammers a couple of boards over Bugs' hole.
-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan