Peace is a great concept, but the idea of peace in my time is inconceivable!
Animated shorts are the main course this week,
You Ought To Be In Pictures (1940, Friz Freleng, United States Of America) ***
I was never as big of a fan of Porky Pig as I was of the rest of the Looney Tunes gang. He’s funny, but compared to the likes of Daffy Duck, Bugs Bunny, or Marvin the Martian he’s just not as funny or endearing. You Ought To Be In Pictures is an example of some of the early attempts to mix animation with live action, and while the animation looks pretty good it never completely gels with the live action and that has an alienating effect. You Ought To Be In Pictures is a cute little adventure for Porky Pig, but it’s not top flight Looney Tunes and later attempts at a mixture of live action and animation would yield far better results.
About Schmidt (2002, Alexander Payne, United States Of America) ***
Somewhere along the way Alexander Payne’s third feature film lost me. I still enjoyed my time with the film, I found a lot to like in About Schmidt. But, I also lost interest and didn’t care much for what happened to the main character or any of the side characters. The characters simply weren’t all that compelling to me, and that’s why for all the good writing and the quality direction I was never that interested in what was happening on screen. About Schmidt is a well made film, it just so happens to be a film that meanders about so much that I never had much reason to care for where it was meandering to.
Ali Baba Bunny (1957, Chuck Jones, United States Of America) ***1/2
So far out of all the Chuck Jones I’ve seen it’s true that any Chuck Jones is good Chuck Jones. That being said, there’s no denying that Ali Baba Bunny is lower tier Chuck Jones. The animation is lovely, the story is lively, and the slapstick is very funny. But, Ali Baba Bunny is missing that extra something special that is found in the very best work of Chuck Jones. In this case that extra something special is a bit of heft, in the form of the short being meta or prescient in some way. Ali Baba Bunny is a really good short bordering on great, but it’s of the slighter variety and that’s why it’s good fun but not top tier Chuck Jones.
The Machinist (2004, Brad Anderson, Spain) ***
Brad Anderson’s film is visually compelling, and it does feature very good performances from Christian Bale and Jennifer Jason Leigh. The handling of the story is a shade too Memento-ish, but luckily there is actually some meat to the story of The Machinist and it never falls into the trap of being pure gimmick like Memento did. Mr. Bale’s physical transformation is impressive, although truth to be told I found his acting more impressive than any body theatrics he performed for the role. The Machinist is a solid bit of filmmaking from Brad Anderson, a suspenseful thriller that reaches a cathartic payoff that is well earned.
Bimbo’s Initiation (1931, Dave Fleischer, United States Of America) ***1/2
Dave Fleischer’s Betty Boop shorts have, thus far, been about using the format of animation to explore the surreal. Bimbo’s Initiation is a continuation of that exploration, as there is no discernible rhyme or reason behind what happens to Bimbo during this short. The only actual story, that of a Mickey Mouse looking fellow shoving Bimbo down a manhole where he’s met by a cult that wants him to join and won’t take no for an answer, is one that is only going to work for people who understand the monopolistic tendencies of Disney. Either way, I don’t think the film is about Disney at all, it’s out Mr. Fleischer putting Bimbo in a scenario where the form and structure of animation can be toyed with to present a surrealist wet dream.
Bambi Meets Godzilla (1969, Marv Newland, Canada) ***
An absurdest piece that is quite funny. This short clocks in at around a minute and a half, and yet in that short time frame Marv Newland manages to crack off a few jokes that are all funny. The biggest joke is that the film ends as soon as the opening credits are over, and it ends with an authoritative stomp and a mighty chuckle. Bambi Meets Godzilla is funny, and since that’s all I think it was aiming to be, kudos to Mr. Newland for his short.
Little Red Riding Rabbit (1944, Friz Freleng, United States Of America) ***
My second encounter with Friz Freleng, and the second short that shows a lot of promise but doesn’t ultimately come together. Mr. Freleng’s film is gorgeously animated, but that is pretty much a given with a golden era Looney Tunes production. The story is charming and I like the spin put on the character of Red Riding Hood and how that played into a very unconventional ending. The short as a whole feels like it’s lacking in definition, the slapstick is funny but at the same time it’s aimless slapstick as opposed to the purposeful slapstick of a Tex Avery or Chuck Jones Looney Tunes short.
Peace On Earth (1939, Hugh Harman, United States Of America) ***1/2
An animated short made at the genesis of World War II that predicted the downward spiral of man. When Hugh Harman’s short most hits home is when we see the animals rebuilding after the death of mankind. They use the same tools that man used, yet they seem to avoid the warring nature that has always plagued mankind. The evil isn’t in the tools, the evil is in the people. The animation is eerie, fluctuating between the light colors of the post-apocalyptic world and the drab colors of a world at war. Peace On Earth is a timely film, perhaps now more than ever.
Rooty Toot Toot (1951, John Hubley, United States Of America) ***1/2
John Hubley’s short owes as much to the works of Jacques Demy as it does to the American Jazz movement in the 1900s. The characters sing every line, yes, that could be the basis of a tenuous connection to Monsieur Demy However, the real connection comes in the emotion of the lyrical words. The lawyer is a rat and that comes through in how he chooses to sing. The accused female is a jilted lover, that much comes through every time she speaks. The story is a bit slight, but the structure of the animated format is experimented with in a most delicious manner.
The Barber Of Seville (1944, Shamus Culhane, United States Of America) **
The animation in The Barber Of Seville is quite often very clever, but it cannot overcome two massive problems with the short. First is the character of Woody Woodpecker. I have no great affinity for that character. I’ve always thought of Woody Woodpecker as an annoying throwaway character, and that’s exactly what he is in The Barber Of Seville. Second, and the most glaring problem with the film, is that it is unrelentingly racist. There are two human characters in the short, both of which are mocked and made fun of for their ethnicity, and I didn’t find that funny in the slightest.
Book Revue (1946, Robert Clampett, United States Of America) ***
The more of Robert Clampett’s work that I discover the more I am convinced that he may have been the most experimental animated director that film has ever seen. Others would go further with the format of animation, but Mr. Clampett consistently used mainstream vehicles to push the envelope of experimental animation. Book Revue is another entry in Mr. Clampett’s surreal catalog, a short more interested in the craziness of what can be done with animation than anything else. I enjoy Mr. Clampett’s works, and I appreciate his experimentation. But like most of his work Book Revue is an interesting oddity that that is an experiment unfinished.
Quasi At The Quackadero (1976, Sally Cruikshank, United States Of America) ***1/2
Continuing where Book Revue left off comes a film like Quasi At The Quackadero. This 1976 short from Sally Cruikshank is a surrealist’s wonderland. Dreams are the catch of the day, and Miss Cruikshank uses a simple, and slightly crude, animation style to explore the immense unknown that dreams represent. I do believe that Miss Cruikshank is also saying something about the idea of people chasing their metaphorical dreams, and how we may be chasing something that we don’t want to catch or can’t be caught at all. It’s not for everyone, but I got a kick out of Quasi At The Quackadero.
Another week with a lot of shorts, almost all of which ended up being worthwhile. There were a lot of great contenders this week, but Hugh Harman’s haunting Peace On Earth takes home movie of the week honors. Until next week, watch more movies!