Sunday, March 05, 2017

next LT: Bugs Bunny Rides Again

Remember VCRs at all?  I sorta do, especially when it comes to short films like Bugs Bunny Rides Again.  You'll maybe see the old tapes in pawn shops, or at the Goodwill or other thrift stores... actually, the old pawn shop that used to have a whole section of a wall dedicated to old VCR tapes finally got rid of them.  Who knew?  Nobody wants and or needs them anymore!  I mean, Tom Hanks already lashed together his makeshift raft with them in Cast Away (2000), so what's the point anymore?  No more time for sentiment or nostalgia that old at the pawn shop.  But there's still a slight call for video in physical form, rather than computer file or streaming form.  The latest and greatest format is Ultra HD Blu-Ray, because now that HDTVs, projector form or otherwise, are getting bigger and bigger, people are starting to notice that, yup... the digital resolution's not keeping apace, so they gotta fix that now.  Still gotta wait for that better color (TV) set, so to speak.
But for those who used VCRs at any great length of time, this one's for you.  I say that because the VCR mindset still lives on a little bit, and now it's being incorporated into a few films.  Has been for a while, really.  Take 2006's testosterone-fueled classic-ish silver screen offering, 300, for example.  It's for those people who liked the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but who thought to themselves, "Why are there so many female characters?  Icky!"  I wouldn't dare try to demean 300 by calling it a mere action film, but it does indeed contain action scenes, if I may point that out.  In fact, I dare say the film was rather proud of how entertaining its action scenes were going to be.  So proud and self-confident, in fact, that it would slow down the good parts for you!  In advance!  For when you were to check out 300 on VHS from your local library, there might be certain scenes you'd either pause, or rewind a couple times.  You know, just to revel in its ultra-transcendent awesomeness.  Again and again.  But the filmmakers tried to save you the trouble, and slowed down certain critical moments of action.  Just to make sure you wouldn't miss them.  One example of this is where you have a crowd of people, WHEN SUDDENLY... one of them leaps up, aims their hand-held weapon, and SLASH!  All in slow motion.  This also happens in the first big scene from the latest Tarzan movie.  Alas, I must be jaded now by this technique, because I did not feel the need to rewind it and watch it again.  Oh, it was epic and all, don't get me wrong.
And not only that, they also occasionally do the opposite, and slightly fast-forward past a part that the focus group found a trifle boring!  Even in an action sequence!  Oh, but I digress again.  Let's get back to our latest and greatest, Bugs Bunny Rides Again, another Friz Freleng-Bugs Bunny and Yosemite Sam classic.


We start with... one nice thing about DVDs is that you can pause them and not have to worry about stressing out the disc.  Now, the CD player in my car, on the other hand... a little overheating, and it can't handle it!  Just can't.  A lot.  I guess sitting out in the sun all day isn't good for the car's CD player, go figure.  Anyway, pausing the VCR tape has that potential for being bad.  More than five minutes was the rule of thumb, if I may use that expression.  On the other hand, when's the last time you heard about someone wearing out a DVD of Fast Times at Ridgemont High?  Wonder if Cameron Crowe ever beams with pride over that?
Okay, back to beeswax.  Bugs Bunny Rides Again is indeed a thinly-veiled parody of a Western, and we start with... what else?  Bullets.  Just bullets.  A wide angle shot of a Western Town, and the bullets are flying.  Kinda sounds like someone's got a machine gun or two in the mix down there, but whatever.  As long as it's consistent with the 1880s... you know, the official era of the Western.  It's like what the 1970s are for Disco; it just is.  It is what it is!
Next scene: more bullets, but there's a nice, sly commentary about traffic problems.  They even have a shout out to that phenomenon of that one guy who runs the red light, and everyone in the opposite lane has to wait.  Now, c'mon.  You gotta like that!  Because even cartoon bullets have some etiquette.  Classic.  I should probably recuse myself from this one, but, you know... I'm not a Russian spy, so I won't.  Chuck Jones used a similar gag in one of his Westerns, but it just wasn't as funny; at least not to me... Drip-Along Daffy, that's it.  Like and Subscribe!  Like and Subscribe!  I'm mo git me some Like and Subscribe... oh, right.  That's YouTube.  Waah. :( [sniff, wipe away tear}  }:
Next scene: exterior.  It's the "Gunshot Saloon," where you go in to get a slug.  I'm actually kinda shocked!  When you think of Friz Freleng and the Looney Tunes, you tend to think shout outs to either Friz himself, or several of his employees.  Hasn't happened yet, but it's coming, folks.  I highly doubt that there was a Josiah Cheever on the animation staff, but who knows.  Lol.  Maybe he worked in the mail room or something.  Anyway, back to the actual movie, where the incidental music switches off, and saloon music from a lone piano switches on.  You know, if this one had a commentary track, AND IT SHOULD... they might mention something about the genius of Carl Stalling, that he used to play an organ for silent pictures, or maybe some juicy tidbit about how they had to go on location to a live-action WB Western to get the authentic sound of a saloon-type piano.  But no.  All they focus on is the next scene, where a guy gets shot over his drink, and how creepy it all is.  And what really makes it creepy is how fast it happens, and how normal it all seems.  Creepy, creepy, creepy... IT'S A CARTOON!!!!  IT'S JUST A CARTOON!!!!!!!!!!!  JUST A FUNNY LITTLE CARTOON FOR THE TIDDLY-WINKIES... sorry, I apologize.  Sorry for shouting.  And yes, I'm probably being a little hypocritical.  Or a lot.  Creepy.  Everything's creepy... and what about that topless woman on the wall there?  How did that get past the censors?  Why is this not rated GP or X or NC-17?  Or B for boobs?
Next scene: a woman screams.  Note that it doesn't seem to be because of the incidental character that just got shot.  No, it's time for Yosemite Sam's big introduction.  For a short guy, he sure scares a lot of taller people!  You really gotta admire that about him!... I mean, the guy!  Sam walks in to the Gunshot Saloon... completely under the swinging doors, naturally.  Then guys start saying "It's Yosemite Sam!  It's YOSEMITE SAM!!!"  Now, Blanc was the man, perhaps the greatest living cartoon voice maven of all time... including Cretaceous and Devonian, with Dan Castellaneta a close second, of course.  But even Blanc had some limitations, and one of the guys saying "It's Yosemite Sam!" SOUNDS LIKE Yosemite Sam.
Now, in my carefree, ill-spent youth, watching Bugs Bunny Rides Again on old purloined VCR tape, I think I first noticed something in Sam's big introduction.  He introduces himself as usual, in that larger-than-life self-referential way of his.  But then he says "And I AIN'T no Mamby Pamby!"  Now, call me oversensitive, but I seemed to notice that the quality of the audio changed a little bit, and I think I noticed that Sam's mouth didn't quite sync up somehow.  Believe it or not, these little details matter.  I forget which one it was, but I saw some of the early silent cartoons, and the characters were mouthing some line of dialogue.  And if you were to see it, you'd probably think to yourself what I thought to myself, and that is... what the hell was THAT?  Did the cat just come in through the flap, and is the flap swinging back and forth?  What is that, is a FISH trying to BREATHE out of the water?  Good fricking LOURDES!
But we are living in a post-secrets society, and all we have to do is turn to Wikipedia for the answer.  Right there near the top, they say that it was changed.  They changed "Mamby Pamby" from "Mahatma Gandhi."  Apparently, the cartoon was released the same year that Gandhi was assassinated, and someone wasn't too happy about that line in the cartoon!  But that's the irony of the times for ya.  Meanwhile, all the blackface and making fun of Native Americans that occurred in Looney Tunes... all that stuff could stay.
Okay, let's move on to the next tiny detail.  Sam is done introducing himself, so now it's time to lay down some law.  As you might remember, law without order is worse than order without law... I was going to post a link to it, but I dunno!  Maybe I'll just let you guys scratch the itch instead.  No contest, no reward money, none of that "Hit the Watermelon and earn $10" crap that used to appear on the web all over the place, just suffer in silence or non as you try to place the quote.  Anyway, Sam says "Now all you skunks clear outta here!"  Then he starts shooting the two guns.  Your favourite and mine is, of course, when he fires a bullet into the floor, thereby causing himself to jump up in the air about three feet, or about the full length of his height.  You know how in Astronomy 101 they refer to the Earth's orbit as 1.0 units?  Same thing here.  1.0 units of Sam's height.
Next scene: the skunks clear out of Gunshot Saloon, running past Skunk-in-Chief Sam himself.  And I dare say that Sam gets a little enjoyment out of watching all the scaredy cats running past him, even though there's no grin on his face.  And then, of course, because cartoons have to take things literally, an actual skunk starts to run out.  And, dare I say... a GAY skunk at that?  Holding one of those hobo bags on a stick?  Ever do that when you were a kid?  Tie a bunch of stuff in a towel onto the end of a stick?  Ah, the good old days.  We used to have a house with endless forest in the backyard... well, semi-endless.  And every once in a while, we'd take a walk to the edge of the forest to find the dead end street that ran behind it, then walk back up the hill to our house.  Different era.  Completely different.  Lower middle class people in Washington state back then could have such amenities.  Someday I'll gather you all around me and I'll tell you about mythical things we used to have like forests.  We cleared them all away to make suburbs.  It didn't used to be all Scotch broom like it is now.
Next scene: there's one last skunk trying to sneak away.  Seems there always is.  Well, Sam starts shooting the dickens out of that guy and... it's apparently an homage to an old carnival game.  One that involves the use of a gun, and you shoot at targets.  Note the scoreboard above the dude's head!  The picture quality of the DVD is so good that I just finally noticed that the yellow numbers at the top of the "screen" are painted anew each time one is added... makes sense.  You don't want to have six layers of cels if you can help it, as much time as that would save.  Here's one drawback of the VCR: those numbers used to get cut off!  Oh, I'm telling you kids, it's video's Golden Age.  No more pan and scan (even though I kinda miss it), no more stuff like that cut off...


Probably time for an Act break, even if it's a little early.  Spoiler alert: time for Bugs' intro.  Sam of Yosemite wants to make doubly sure that there's no one left in the saloon.  Sam's a lot like James Thorogood that-a-way: when he drinks alone, he drinks alone.  However, there's one guy left, and the music changes a little bit, in order to telegraph a change in the mood as our focus is drawn away from the loudest, shortest guy in the room.
Next scene: ah, you can feel the clichés, can't ya?  Seriously, though, who in Hollywood doesn't love a good Western?  Alas, we're stuck with Bugs Bunny Rides Again.  But give Bugs credit where it's due: he can be the coolest rabbit in the room with the best of 'em.  He can roll his own cigarette, for God's sake!  I keep confusing this one for the one where Bugs just says "Yep!" after the big dramatic slow intro in that one.  Oh well.  Here Bugs answers Sam with "I aims t'!"  (oh, the Closed Captioning's so white bread.)
Next scene: the slow march to density... destiny.  One step per second, saves some wear and tear on the overtaxed animators.  And even though Bugs' giant rabbit feet aren't in boots, they still clang with each step, just like Elmer's... I mean, Yosemite Sam's.  And then, soon enough, there they are, nose to nose.  Bugs draws first... oh, wait, he's just reaching for a carrot.  A move like that could've gotten you killed in the Old West.  But no time for that.  It's on to Bugs' new old catch phrase, which Sam repeats, then he points two guns at Bugs.  For some reason, this threat of violence is somehow worse than the anonymous, cross-eyed expendable from earlier.  How is that?  Well, perhaps it's star power... something like that.
And then... you know, it's been a while since we've had a corny joke.  Well, to be fair, cartoons have the opportunity to put their own unique spin on a corny joke or, in this case, a Western cliché.  Alas, I'm no historian of clichés.  For a guy like me, I'm having a hard enough time just trying to keep up on clichés, new and old.  If only I had catalogued them, or maybe had a photographic memory, like Matt Groening or something... I might've actually made something of myself.  There's two bunnies in our front yard!  Anyway, back to the cartoon, speaking of bunnies.  Sam tells Bugs, "This town ain't big enough for the two of us."  Of course, with an egomainac like Sam, it's probably more like three: Bugs, Sam, and Sam's ego.  Bugs runs off to remedy this population crisis.  We hear various industrial sounds like sawing, hammering, what have you.  Bugs returns, holding a saw, and asks "NOW is it big enough?"  Next scene: a visual punchline, which I dare not ruin here in this space.  You'll have to hunt for it yourself.
Needles to say, Sam's not happy with Bugs' remedy.  Typical Tea Party-Freedom Caucus-type reaction.  Nothing's ever good enough, government is bad, tax cuts for the rich are the only thing that's good.  And then, time for another joke that only a cartoon could do.  I have yet to see a live-action Western do an homage to this sequence.  Maybe the Zuckers did it, or maybe Mel Brooks in Blazing Saddles, or maybe Seth MacFarlane in A Million Ways to Die in the West... ooh!  Just thought of that one Itchy and Scratchy they had in Ghost Dog at the end of the film where the cat and mouse involved find themselves with larger and larger guns.  An homage, really.  It ends better for Yosemite, even though his pride's still hurt.
Next scene: Bugs takes off running, but no matter where he goes, there's Yosemite Sam!  Bugs stops, midair, making a weird horn noise... I don't recall offhand where it's used elsewhere.  I'm thinking of the one that Chuck Jones used in one of his Orange Monster pics where Bugs keeps poking him in the eyes, Stooges style.  Anyway, the main takeaway of this is, it's time for that old staple of the Western pic, when the bad guy exercises his Second Amendment rights, and shoots at another guy's feet, and exclaims "Dance!"  There was a scene like this when Bluto, or Sindbad, is making Olive dance in Popeye the Sailor meets Sindbad the Sailor.  It's also featured in Back to the Future, Part III and in GoodFellas... both from 1990!  Is my age showing or what?
And so, in this grand tradition, Sam shoots a couple bullets at Bugs' feet, and Bugs starts in with the dancing.  Bugs does a tap dance number, accompanied by hat and cane.  He does a similar jig to similar music in Stage Door Cartoon.  And here's a real bit of Cultura Obscura for you: one time on Al TV... you know, when "Weird Al" Yankovic would hijack the airwaves of MTV and do his shtick, one time he did his own fan version of this one Matthew Sweet video that featured animé... "Girlfriend"!  That's it!  Wonder whatever happened to that guy?  Anyway, after some more browsing on YouTube, here's Weird Al's take on the video, and here's the part with Bugs dancing from this very cartoon we're looking at right now!  Now, to be fair, the film by itself still has showmanship that modern audiences can relate to.  Particularly, the part where Bugs tries to sneak off, mid-dance.  Sam quickly puts a stop to that, firing another bullet.  Bugs gets right back to "center stage," right there in between the Study Club and Ken Champin's Veterinary... Study Club?!  VETERINARY?  Of course, back then, the vet was the blacksmith, and he'd usually just shoot a horse that had a broken leg.  You know, much like what we do today!  Some things never change.
Bugs finds an opportunity to turn the tables, and takes it.  "Take it, Sam!" says Bugs.  And, for whatever reason, Sam does what this talking rabbit tells him to.  Sure, they've just been fighting, and Sam shot at him a couple dozen times, but that's one of the unspoken rules that used to be respected.  When a talking rabbit tells you to do something, you just do it.  No matter how much you've just been trying to kill him.  And so, Sam does indeed take the next part of the dance.  And you gotta hand it to Sam!  He seems to be about as good a tap dancer as Bugs is!  And arguably Sam's got a better, um... what would you call that?  An exit dance?  Incidentally, also used in Stage Door Cartoon; alas, I gotta wait til Season 2, Disc 4... I mean, Volume 2, Disc 4 for that one.
And so, we come to yet another part that I used to laugh myself silly with.  Sam does his Exit Dance, Stage Left, and, with Bugs' blessing, he falls into a very, very deep mine shaft.  Apparently, he forgot that old Showbiz rule about not falling into a mine shaft.  And you certainly can't fault the various safety committees!  I mean, it says right there in yellow rubric above the mine shaft!  It says "DANGER"!  But Sam did indeed miss it, and down he goes.  Audiophiles take note: as Sam is dropping... alas, we don't get to see him fall, because we get a shot of the mine shaft after Sam's already fallen into darkness... Sam is apparently bumping into the mine shaft walls quite a bit as he falls, taking a lot of extra falderal with him as he reaches his final destination, at the very bottom of the mine shaft.  "Poor little maroon," taunts Bugs at ground level.  I know Sam had it coming and all, but...
Next scene: a car full of mining waste arrives back at the surface, and dumps its contents onto the ground.  Next scene: Sam emerges from said ground contents, and is back at square one, pissed off at Bugs.  Lol.  Why does it always take him seven minutes to learn?

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