Thursday, February 23, 2017
A Nightmare on Elmer Street
So far I didn't get to hear all of veteran animator Bill Melendez's DVD commentary... it was a fun time working at the ol' Termite Terrace, from what I gather. Lucky guy. Lots of pranks, like at George Clooney's Italian villa there on Lake Como; the constant struggle to make the cartoons wild enough. Damn Hays Code.
Okay, so we don't always get terribly specific details about the given cartoon. But this much I do know... or at least, I think I do. This was one of the last cartoons that Bob Clampett did for Warners. The war was over, and there was this new medium called "television" that seemed like an exciting new thing to be a part of. The future! A cinema in the home. Why, there'd never be a need to go out for anything ever, ever again! Well... maybe just groceries. Non-milk groceries. Or how about eggs? I mean, besides what we would get from the chickens in the backyard.
And so, it is within this context that we find Mr. Fudd chasing Bugs once again, firing his shotgun to the music. ("William Tell") And then, the action comes to the old hollowed-out log. You know, right there on the edge of the canyon. You'd think a healthy fear of heights would inform the thinking of cartoon characters, but no. It always seems to come as a surprise to them! Why is that, exactly? Not quite in the purview of the Laws of Cartoon Physics, I'm afraid, nor the Statutes (Kansas Annotated) and Guidelines on Cartoon Pre-meditation.
But, as usual, Fudd finds himself following wherever Bugs seems to be taking him. Fortunately for human hunters chasing pesky wabbits, either for sport or for the purposes of curbing the growth of invasive species, ... what was I gonna... oh, wight. Real wabbits aren't that bright. Although, I'm telling you... those two rabbits I saw one day, I swear it's like the one rabbit was seriously trying to chase the second rabbit out into oncoming traffic. If only there were a busier street, it might've been a success. Anyway, Bugs gets Elmer to run through this hollow log... and pretty quickly at that. Hmm! Seems like he'd have to crawl through on his hands and knees, but the log's pretty big. And so, Bugs pushes the end of the log so that Elmer runs right off the cliff... almost. God bless the Laws of Cartoon Physics, even though I should be rooting for Bugs. And, of course, the Wikipedia example is just a rough guideline. Elmer's situation is but another snowflake in the snow storm of cartoon cinema history. Also, Wikipedia's a more elegant solution than the expensive lawsofcartoonphysics.com website that was big in the late '90s early 2000s. What did we do indeed before the term 'viral' went viral, now thought of practically exclusively as a serious (mind / brain) infection by an internet meme?
Not to be fooled so easily, having turned into a giant cartoon lollipop twice now, Elmer makes absolutely sure that there's solid ground to walk out of that log onto... sort of. He gives it the ol' tap with the hand test. Yup; there's solid ground there. But just before Elmer's able to emerge from the log, Bugs gives the log an extra quick push halfway off the cliff, and... yup, Elmer's making an extra confident run further and further out over the cliff's edge than he ever had before. Ever had a day like that? Yeah, me too. Anyway, once again, the elasticity of the Laws of Cartoon Physics is on display, because Elmer is nauseatingly aware of his dire situation in the face of impending gravity. And yet...
If there's one thing that Robert Clampett likes, in addition to extremely groundbreaking, extra-liquid animation, it's the wild, wild plot. And the breaking of the Fourth Wall... for those of you who don't know, the Fourth Wall is when a character in the movie talks directly to the audience. Like Ferris Bueller or Sam Elliot in Lebowski. And so, rather than plummet to an easy death, Elmer Fudd stands up and fights, bemoaning his shabby treatment at the hands of Bugs and the city fathers of Warner Bros. But Elmer's a smart boy, and he knows that he has a contract with "Mr. Warner." Elmer pulls out a notarized piece of paper from his jacket pocket. Why... that must be it!
Next scene: with chin up, as high as a Republican politician, Elmer begins his slow exit march, Stage Left. Arguably, Elmer's eyelashes seem more feminine than usual... anyway, Bugs continues his begging and pleading, on his strangely-human rabbit knees, no less. Of course, no matter how dramatic the scene, Clampett always likes to throw in a hint of nudity... take the end of the first episode of A Corny Concerto, for just one bawdy example. Or that Masked Marauder one... sheesh!!! Fig leaf to the max!
I dare say I don't even have to watch it again! I don't want to disturb the house guest, anywho. Also, my PC video player is in the middle of another "critical" download, so it looks like I'll have to wait anyway... okay, back in business. Next scene: lakeside, where Elmer's got his fishing gear, as predicted earlier, but he's a multi-tasker, with a nice daytime nap as the primary task. "And NO MORE WABBITS!" he reiterates before falling into a deep sleep.
Naturally, no sooner does he make his anti-wabbit declawation, when... one slide whistle later, out pops Bugs from Elmer's a'picanick basket! And then, again, more extra-fast editing. I wonder what the theatre patrons thought at the time when they saw this one. Did the editing induce headaches in the tiddly winkies in the audience? We switch from Bugs' close-up to a long shot of Elmer sleeping away, and Bugs is, well... I mean, let's face it. Bugs is openly mocking the sleeping Elmer! Bugs is a bully! Shame on those who are Bully for Bugs. Bugs starts singing "Beautiful Dreamer," on top of everything else. To Elmer's credit, his sleeping is not disturbed by Bugs... until what happens next, of course. And if you're on Elmer's side of this equation, well... you might want to change the channel at this point. It's going to get worse before it gets better.
Bugs is in a singing mood in this celluloid affair and, now that he's sound asleep, starts singing that old Looney Tunes standby, "Someone's rocking my Dream Boat." Incidentally, good double bill with Gorilla My Dreams... ugh. Not looking forward to that one for some reason. More choppy editing after Bugs sings "Peaceful and calm," and we go right into some of Bugs' dialogue. The music seems to stay on track, so it's just another case of experimental timing in the editing that this affair represents. Well, if Clampett was indeed out the door of Termite Terrace after this one, I guess something was bound to give!
Now, where Popeye was having a more conventional dream in Wotta Nitemare, Bugs has here achieved lucidity in Elmer's dream, and if you're hipper than I am, Bugs has gone the full Dreamscape. In full Smart-Ass mode, Bugs breaks the Fourth Wall some more and notes to the assembled audience that yes, Elmer is having a pleasant dream! Totally boring, too. What Elmer's dream needs is a little chaos. But Bugs is nothing if not a Southern gentleman and, after tapping a pink cloud... seriously, it's got the word "Pink" on it, if only for the color-blind in the audience... proceeds to make Elmer's dream a little more colorful with a big bucket of Acme brand Nightmare Paint. As usual, Carl Stalling's orchestra has more fun in a Clampett cartoon. Elmer briefly reappears as a naked, pixie-version of himself, then disappears in a Shining-esque wave of Acme brand Nightmare Paint(TM) (C) (R).
Next scene: now the psychological torture really begins in earnest. "The rabbits are coming, hooray hooray!" sings Bugs over and over again, as dream Elmer gets trampled over and over by mere outlines of rabbits: red with regular-sized ears, and yellow with ears as tall as Bugs himself. I think it's time to go to the Closed Captioning on this one, for what Elmer says next.
Anyway, as you can see from the Closed Captioning, despite the relatively small number of "rabbits" in comparison to what is claimed, Elmer says... nay, exclaims "Ziwwions and triwwions of Wabbits!!!!" Kinda didn't sound like it to me, but who am I to question the genius? (insert reference to Trump inauguration here) In all his agony, Elmer wonders aloud where this giant swarm of wabbits could be coming fwom... from, pardon me. Bugs is at Stage Right, and provides the answer... I wouldn't dream of ruining the surprise... the lewd, groan-inducing surprise. Elmer bursts into tears and... holy crap! Is that Elmer's naked ass?
Next scene: more experimental editing, I tells ya! Bugs is so in charge of Elmer's dream, we don't even dwell on Elmer's crying for the usual amount of time. Instead, we cut to Bugs grabbing an oversized book entitled "A Thousand and One Arabian Nightmares." You know, to get some inspiration for his next bit of messing with Mr. Fudd's head. Frankly, there's a good lesson there for all of us. Reading: because you just never know where you'll find your next good idea for torture! I guess "The Prince" by you know who might have been too obvious a choice. Anyway, for those of you who are fans of torture, I have two points. One, you will probably be disappointed because a certain Richard Bruce Cheney hasn't enjoyed a wave of good publicity in the Trump era yet, and he never will, and two, if you find yourself disappointed at Bugs Bunny for what he does to Elmer next, well... I don't know what to tell you. I mean, if you find yourself thinking, "THAT'S too gruesome?", that's perfectly understandable. I react that way myself from time to time. And sure, if you think Bugs is being too soft on Elmer, I'm with you. But if you're thinking to yourself, "I looked up to you, Bugs! Gimme something to WORK with here!", well... clearly you liked Bugs for the wrong reasons.
And so, I will skip over Elmer's cruel (dream) treatment at the hands and paws of Bugs, and move right along to his next self-realization. Because, you see, even Elmer seems a little bit disappointed by Bugs' prank, in a way, once the indignity of it all passed, combined with the sheer, eye-widening horror. See, Elmer's on a dream railroad track, but unlike Inception, which was on AMC this very night, Elmer's not tied to the tracks, but he's covered in so much dream rope that he looks like a giant spool of the stuff. His fear turns to anger, and he's able to free himself from his state of bondage. He doesn't achieve complete lucidity, just enough to get pissed off at Bugs. Real pissed off. Enough to almost turn into a human-like car... or a car-like human? His limbs spin as fast as wheels, and he makes that trademark jet noise that always seems to be in these here Warners animated affairs.
Next scene: more deviltry courtesy of Bugs and Elmer. Elmer's chasing Bugs, and Elmer's got the angry look on his face, but... I dunno. Seems more like ballet anger to me. I'm certainly no ballet connoisseur, and I haven't seen Black Swan or anything... so really, I'm probably the wrong person to speak to the subject. But there are heroes and villains in some ballet, no? Anyway, this is but a short sequence. Why, I failed to comment on the ballet at the beginning of this very affair, set to the tune of William Tell, no less! You know, Bugs' hops being extra exaggerated, Elmer firing to the music and what not...
Next scene: Bugs finds a hole in the ground to dive into. There's another one right next to it, and Elmer, ever the Sheeple, the slave to Bugs' actions, tries to dive into it in turn, but Bugs yanks it out of the way... let's take a second here to contemplate the nature of dreams, and the nature of cartoons, or celluloid dreams projected (traditionally at 24 fps) onto a giant silver screen. Leave us try to take leave of thoughts of Fred Fredburger for a second... damn. I was doing so well for so long, too. Now, when you think of cartoons, you probably think that Bugs' move here is the kind of thing you see in cartoons all the time. And you'd be right!... but the only ones I can think of is Screwy Squirrel. For example, in Screwball Squirrel, the very first Screwy Squirrel cartoon, Screwy dives into a hole in a tree. The dumb dog tries to follow suit, but Screwy pulls the tree hole up, thereby causing the dog to hit his head on the tree, leaving a head-shaped dent in the tree. They pause for the laugh, then continue on their merry way. A similar thing happens in Lonesome Lenny but... for the life of me, I cannot remember what it was!
I guess I'm trying to say it doesn't happen that much. Okay, confession time. Elmer hits the ground like a gong, then slowly wilts to Earth... Elmer gets there before his, um... bathing suit does. Bugs asks the passed-out Elmer, "Eh... what's cookin', Doc?" I confess: I had to watch that part a second time on VHS... you know, check and see if the Hays Code missed anything. However, they clearly missed the part where Elmer gets back up again. I'd post a still of it, but...
Okay, let's move on.
We're probably overdue for an Act break as it is. Now, arguably, this cartoon has the same Three Act structure that Hare Ribbin' has. It's almost like how the 50 states of the USA are divided up: mostly along geographic lines. Well, Act Two is probably where the action moves underwater and... no, wait, that's Hare Ribbin' again. Anyway, Act Three should probably be when Elmer wakes up... sorry, spoiler alert. Meantime, Elmer comes to, gets an eyeful of Bugs, and gets mad again. However, Elmer gets mad as he did before, when he unraveled himself at the railroad tracks. Now, here's another anomaly that may have never happened before and may never happen again in a cartoon, possibly ever. I'm not sure what you'd call the noise that Elmer makes, but here's how Bugs interprets it. Bugs says "What's the matter, doc? You cold? I'll fix that." Hard to say if Elmer would agree with that logic in hindsight, but he's as trapped as a deer in headlights, and Bugs has his way with Elmer. Bugs dolls up Elmer like a smoking hot brunette, complete with wig, green dress and lipstick. Feminists will probably not appreciate how Bugs puts the lipstick on Elmer... which, in a way, must make me a bit of a Feminist. Anyway, let's move quickly on to the next outrage. Elmer tries to find comfort from the audience and stares at the Fourth Wall in vain, while Bugs lifts the curtain on the background. The new background shows a group of wolves... the only difference is, these wolves are in what could be liberally described as suits of the zoot variety, and they're standing at the corner of Hollywood and Vine, if the sign is to be believed. They're Hollywood wolves! And when Hollywood wolves howl, they say "How OOOOOOOOOOLD is she?" The Closed Captioning somehow failed to mention that. If memory serves, even that was too hot for broadcast TV the last time I saw this on it, getting trimmed ever so slightly. I believe the "is she" got trimmed to protect the freakin' ears of the Puritan.
And so, two of the wolves bounce around, while the third tries to chat up the new Elmer woman character. Soon, however, Elmer makes his/her escape, with the wolves in close pursuit. After a quick aside to the audience, Elmer makes his/her way to the wheat field. The wolves follow Elmer into said wheat fields, and we can only see their hats as they run through the grains. Next scene: more quick cutting. Womanly Elmer and Bugs are at the other end of the wheat field. Elmer's looking to see if (s)he can see the wolves. Bugs, however, seems kinda helpful at this moment, telling She Elmer "Quick! Run THIS way!" Bugs' run, however, is terribly complicated, but it's accompanied by strangely rustic music, a variation on "Turkey in the Straw" if I know my music at all. Elmer sees Bugs' run the one time, and nails it! And so, for the third iteration, there's Bugs and Elmer, doing Bugs' idiotic run away from the chasing wolves. For you audiophiles out there, I agree. The final "Hey!" before the next scene at the whimsical cliff is the best one.
Next scene: Bugs and Elmer find themselves at the edge of a cliff that's so ga... sorry. I really oughta cut back on that. It's an unusual cliff, let's put it that way. Bugs quickly dives off it, as does Elmer. Next scene: falling, falling... falling forever. Much like at the end of The Heckling Hare... in fact, I dare say there's a couple sequences that rather closely copy the animation used in The Heckling Hare! If I had a gang of interns working for me, why, I'd clap my hands and make it so! A YouTube "educational" comparison video, that is. Strictly educational, mind you, just trying to spread the Gospel according to the Tunes that are Looney, the Melodies that are Merrie and what not.
And once again, we find Elmer crying, unedited this time, with Bugs singing all the while, as they both plummet to Dream Earth. Bugs sings an appropriate song for the occasion, of course: that one that goes "The Leaves of Brown came a'Tumbling Down." Remember? Admit it... if it weren't for these Looney Tunes, you probably wouldn't know a lot of them old songs!
I've slowly realized that characters tend to cry to the music in a Bob Clampett joint. Take the end of Baby Bottleneck, for instance, when the Daffy / Porky hybrid finds its way to a mother gorilla, if memory serves. Elmer's not crying to the music here, but he does ask Bugs, in a rather Broadway-esque way, "What'll we DO, Mr. Wabbit? What'll we DOOOO?????" Remember kids, repetition is the key to getting those lines to stick in the craw of the memory. As our Russian friends say, repetition is the mother of learning... or whatever Putin says it is, something like that.
And so, much like the similar scene with Bugs and Mickey Mouse in 1988's Who Framed Roger Rabbit, so too here does Bugs help himself, and lets she-Elmer continue the long plummet to the ground. "Ain't I a stinkah?" confides Bugs to the audience. I'm just too disgusted with myself to describe the groaner, the bad pun that was Bugs' saving grace in this moment. However, I would like to acknowledge the ... the play on "Reveille" that Bugs does with just his voice when he unveils the Bugs-only helpful solution to their gravity-based dilemmma. We usually ... lol. The last time we heard that was in that one with the early non-Freberg version of Marvin the Martian and his strangely-human-Mel Blanc-soundin' trumpet... which one was that? Rocket Rabbit? The Rabbit-teer? Too lazy to get up out of chair...
Back to sleeping Elmer under the elm tree, with the dream thought bubble over his head. We see Dream She-Elmer falling in said thought bubble, landing on real-life Elmer, and not crushing him. Elmer wiggles around, wakes up and, glassy-eyed as hell, says "Oh! Wotta howwible nightmawe!" to the audience. Animation snobs will like this, because of the extra layer that is Elmer's mouth... OH MY GOD! Clampett created Hanna Barbera's TV work! Well, a good cost-cutting measure is sometimes a good idea. Whole animation studios have been based on much less.
And speaking of cost-cutting measures, Elmer runs from the countryside back to the movie set where the beginning of this affair was being, um... "filmed." Note how said countryside looks like the similar scene from Clampett's earlier effort, The Great Piggy Bank Robbery, except with Daffy doing the running through the extremely hilly countryside instead of Elmer. Who says these guys aren't flexible? WHO?
Now, here's a tiny detail I never cared about before. I call it tiny, but it probably represents a couple days work on behalf of the in-betweeners and etc. Next scene: back at the hollow log, and Bugs is still there, but he seems a little happier now, now that Elmer's come crawling (quickly) back. Man, but Bugs was depressed before, on his knees and weeping and what not. Elmer returns and re-assembles his shredded contract. BUT BEFORE HE DOES... he seems to spin around about three times, not unlike a dog chasing its own tail. Well, I was younger at the time when I first habitually watched this cartoon so much, and I guess I had harder feelings towards Elmer; you know, what with him being Bugs' nemesis and all... now I realize they've both ganged up upon me. DAMN YOU BOTH!!!
Now, I'd like to take this opportunity to point out more cost-cutting, but with a twist. It's kind of a rare positive example of cost-cutting. Now, the whole time that Elmer puts his contwact back together, then tries to make nice with "Mr. Warner," take a look at Bugs... you probably weren't, were you? Well, neither was I. But that's a movie star for you. You occasionally hear that about movie stars, right? You just can't take your eyes off them, no matter even if they've suffered a rather convenient head injury yet are still able to sautée vegetables. Anyway, take a look at Bugs while all this Elmer business is going on. Doesn't move! Now, had I noticed this as a younger man, I definitely would've been perturbed by it... maybe not to the very core of my being, but still. But now that I'm older and greyer,... grayer?... I see the secret genius of it.
And so, they pick up the scene where they left off. Elmer runs through the log off the cliff, and Bugs gets the last word. Typical. I just hate people that always get the last word... except Lawrence O'Donnell. The ending of The Big Snooze is kinda similar to the ending of The Great Piggy Bank Robbery... as well as the dramatic structure! Both mostly a dream sequence, both completely insane... and what's the deal with Bugs' hand gesture? I'll let the historians grapple with that one. You know, people who actually know stuff. As for me, well... The Big Snooze is another Clampett classic, but a little bittersweet, on account of it being the last one and all. I'll probably stick with the more zany ones.
Ooh! Final observation: I finally listened to all of Melendez's DVD commentary. Mind you, it's not ALL positive. He did mention something about the different style of Chuck Jones, and I think he rather specifically used the word "effete" and something about Chuck being too "precious" with his animation. I couldn't agree more, but Chuck and Clampett are both still the greatest of the Looney Tunes Merrie Melodies directors.
-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan