Saturday, January 27, 2007

Revisit: Rio Bravo

A Warner Brothers release 1959
Directed by Howard Hawks
Writing Credits:
B.H. McCampbell (short story)
Jules Furthman (screenplay)
Leigh Brackett (screenplay)

The sheriff (John Wayne) of a small town in southwest Texas must keep custody of a murderer whose brother, a powerful rancher, is trying to help him escape. After a friend is killed trying to muster support for him, he and his deputies - a disgraced drunk (Dean Martin) and a cantankerous old cripple (Walter Brennan) - must find a way to hold out against the rancher's hired guns until the marshal arrives. In the meantime, matters are complicated by the presence of a young gunslinger (Ricky Nelson) - and a mysterious beauty (Angie Dickinson) who just came in on the last stagecoach.

One of the quintessential westerns, Rio Bravo is a textbook example of Hawks versatility as a director. His eye for storytelling and technical mastery is evident in most every genre he tackles, westerns included. He works through the western without missing a beat, providing a full show, while adding his own distinct, right-wing politics. The characters in the film are rich and fully-rounded, their behavior and psychology focused. John Wayne plays the curt, upstanding sheriff with usual excellence. Personally, I think Walter Brennan's Stumpy steals the show. Must see for fans of the genre.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Revisit: The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923)

A Universal Pictures release 1923
Directed by Wallace Worsley
Writing credits:
Victor Hugo (novel)
Edward T. Lowe Jr.
Perley Poore Sheehan

Gypsy dancer Esmerelda (Patsy Ruth Miller) is the object of offection for both Phoebus (Norman Kerry), the loyal Captain of the Guards, and Jehan (Brandon Hurst), the evil brother of the archdeacon. When Jehan stabs Phoebus in the back, Esmerelda is blamed, but the hunchback Quasimoto (Lon Chaney) comes to her rescue, as she was the only person ever to treat the deformed man kindly.

Chaney’s performance, paired with a striking and innovative use of make-up, evoked both terror and pity in its original release, and it remains the best reason to see this film. He really gets into it, and it's a pretty stunning transformation, considering the period. In fact, a lot about this movie is pretty stunning for the time; while the camera movement is flat, the images contained are striking, with a beautiful, realistic looking medieval set and many large crane shots that cram hundreds of people onto the screen at once. From what I gather, it is the more accurate version of Hugo's story, as well. People often have trouble watching silent films today, but this was one that definitely kept me engaged on a basic story level. I'm interested to see how it compares to the 1939 Charles Laughton version.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Tish-Tash: The Forgotten King of Comedy pt.4

The Inner Circle: Interior Meaning

Andrew Sarris defines interior meaning as being “extrapolated from the tension between a director’s personality and his material…It is not quite the vision of the world a director projects nor his attitude toward life. It is ambiguous, in any literary sense, because part of it is imbedded in the stuff of the cinema and cannot be rendered in non-cinematic terms” (562). Based on this description, interior meaning can be interpreted as latent themes presented over a period of time or body of work. While many critics lamented the triviality of post-war comedies, Tashlin’s films often dealt with motifs of sexual fear and offered scorching critiques of consumer society.

The typical Tashlin hero is generally a male protagonist caught in a situation of sexual castration. They often find themselves refusing the ardent passes of strong-willed females. In many cases, these females are often wealthier and more powerful than the males they are chasing; Dick Powell refuses to marry for money in Susan Slept Here and although Jill St. John keeps her riches a secret in Who’s Minding the Store?, Jerry Lewis still rejects her sexual advances because he’s waiting to earn enough money to get married on his own. Similarly, The First Time stands as a critique of the economic struggles inherent in the institution of marriage.

We can see these themes in Tashlin’s cartoon work as well. After initially being pushed around by Petunia Pig in Porky’s Romance (1937), Porky rejects Petunia’s bid for marriage because he fears she’s going to turn into a fat, controlling slob. In Plane Daffy (1944), a femme fatale Nazi spy hen named Hatta Mari4 seduces American fighter pigeons for information, but can’t seem to get a grip on Daffy Duck, who manages to escape her electric kisses. In The Stupid Cupid (1944), Daffy resolutely fights against the Cupid’s attempts to make him lovesick . “Oh no you don’t buster,” Daffy says, whipping out his wallet to show the Cupid a picture of his large family. “You hit me last year and look what happened – tied down, no more fun! Now look at me, a has been!” The Cupid eventually succeeds and sends Daffy into a feverish ménage-a-trois with a married chicken couple; a commentary on the dangers of sexual attraction.

These ideas culminate in Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?, as Tony Randall resists the attractions of Mansfield’s rich and beautiful Rita Marlowe because he is engaged, choosing a simpler life with a simpler wife over the ‘success’ Rita has to offer. Bill Krohn writes “Clearly, the Tashlin hero’s refusal to be seduced is a moral choice, because he is not without desire – he is just free of certain socially conditioned forms of desire… the hero’s refusal is the central symbol of a general critique of the desire for money, youth, fame, and the catch-all concept of success” (35).

The idea of success in a consumer media-driven society plays a big role in Rock Hunter, as it does in many of Tashlin’s films. In some cases, it takes the obvious form of satire: the validity of comic books in Artists and Models, the failed product pitches in Rock Hunter, the glorified ideal of Hollywood in Hollywood or Bust. But Tashlin often ends his films ambiguously. In The Girl Can’t Help It, Tom Ewell plays Tom Miller, a down-and-out alcoholic press agent forced by gangster ‘Fats’ Murdock (Edmond O’Brien) to boost the singing career of Jerri Jordan (Jayne Mansfield), Murdock’s lover. Miller had seen success before – he propelled singer Julie London to stardom despite her desire to settle down with Miller and live a normal life. Throughout the film, Miller is haunted by the loss of London as a lover, and Jordan acts as his chance to rectify the past through the present. In the end, Murdock appeals to Jordan’s desire to settle with Miller and leave stardom behind, despite the fact that he forced her to cut a hit record. Despite the seemingly happy ending, its sardonic tone and valorization of average-ness and the ordinary leaves a mixed message. Are the characters truly happy, or are they simply substituting one image of success for another? Tashlin’s ambiguity acts as discourse on the American dream and the definition of success in a media-driven society. As Bernard Eisenschitz writes, “Tashlin not only identified and denounced the contradiction of American cinema, but also embodied it, since the ambivalence of his films makes it impossible to say which side he is taking, or to be sure that he is not exploiting the very same thing he is denouncing.” (105)

Some videos from Tashlin's films have been added to parts 2 & 3 - check 'em out! Part 5: The Conclusion coming soon...

Check out Part 3!
Check out Part 2!
Check out Part 1!

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

More NC-17 Movies!

MPAA Chief Wants More NC-17 Films
MPAA chief Dan Glickman is encouraging independent filmmakers to make more films that would earn them an NC-17 rating. According to Daily Variety, Glickman acknowledged that producers often face a stone wall erected by exhibitors to keep out NC-17 films. He said he plans to meet with theater owners to persuade them to drop the barrier. "It's one of our ratings, and I'd like to see it used more," he said.

from IMDB

An NC-17 rating has long been considered the death of a film, killing it's business by limiting the audience market. But I agree with Glickman - if the rating exists, why not use it? If more studios and theater chains promoted films carrying the rating - and the films were good - I'm sure the business end would work out. This news comes days after Glickman announced that the MPAA was going to re-evaluate and re-adjust the current ratings system (though he claims the doc This Film is Not Yet Rated had nothing to do with it), which is also good news. The ratings system does need a serious revamping; here's to hoping Glickman can handle it better than Valenti.

Lars Von Trier and the Lookey

Von Trier unveils 'Lookey'

Back in December, Danish filmmaker Lars Von Trier announced that he had created a cinematic game involving 'visual disturbances' called Lookeys that be featured in his next film, The Boss of it All. The intention is to create a more active role for the audience; the first moviegoer to find all the Lookeys in the pic will win $5,360 and the opportunity to be an extra in his next film, an English-language horror pic called Anti-Christ.

I love the idea of audience participation in the cinema; it's too often that film is a passive medium. While I can't think of anything off the top of my head that has such a direct connection with the audience (3D? Smell-O-Vision?), I'm not sure that this is the best way to go about it. It sounds kind of kitchy, and once the secret is unveiled, it's all over. I hear the challenge is quite complicated, which might not motivate audiences in a theatrical release. Plus I hear you have to be able to understand Danish.

I think this is something that filmmakers should explore more in DVD. There's a series of childrens cartoons coming out based on the old Choose Your Own Adventure novels by allowing kids to decide what happens using their remote - I would love to see a filmmaker produce a DVD-only release that experiments with that idea. But what other ways can we make the cinema more active?

This is also a prime example of why I love Von Trier. Even when his experiments feel covoluted or under-developed, he's at least thinking about new ways to approach the cinema beyond a technical level.

Oscar Noms and Predictions

Well the Oscar nominations were announced this morning, and while none of them were particularly too surprising, there are definitely some interesting choices in there. Here's a rundown with some predicitions:

Best Supporting Actress
Adriana Barraza for Babel (2006)
Cate Blanchett for Notes on a Scandal (2006)
Abigail Breslin for Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
Jennifer Hudson for Dreamgirls (2006)
Rinko Kikuchi for Babel (2006)

Who Should Win: Jennifer Hudson
Who Will Win: Jennifer Hudson

This newcomer gave a career-making performance in Dreamgirls and by all means deserves this award. Not only is she a fan favorite, but her win at the Golden Globes basically secured her win here. Kudos to Barraza and Breslin for scoring nods.

Best Supporting Actor
Alan Arkin for Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
Jackie Earle Haley for Little Children (2006)
Djimon Hounsou for Blood Diamond (2006)
Eddie Murphy for Dreamgirls (2006)
Mark Wahlberg for The Departed (2006)

Who Should Win: Eddie Murphy
Who Will Win: Eddie Murphy

The only other good thing about Dreamgirls, aside from Hudson, was Murphy's performance as James "Thunder" Early. The two of them made that watered-down ball of cliches watchable, and will be rewarded for it. It's interesting to see Whalberg up there, though...

Best Acress
Penélope Cruz for Volver (2006/I)
Judi Dench for Notes on a Scandal (2006)
Helen Mirren for The Queen (2006)
Meryl Streep for The Devil Wears Prada (2006)
Kate Winslet for Little Children (2006)

Who Should Win: Penelope Cruz
Who Will Win: Helen Mirren

Mirren's performance in The Queen is all the rage lately and her double win at the Golden Globes is a good indication that she's gonna score gold come Oscar time. Unfortunately I haven't seen the flick yet. But I have seen Volver - which was one of the best films of the year, hands down - and Cruz was a revelation in that film. While I'd love to see the gold go to her, it will probably go to Mirren.

Best Actor
Leonardo DiCaprio for Blood Diamond (2006)
Ryan Gosling for Half Nelson (2006)
Peter O'Toole for Venus (2006/I)
Will Smith for The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)
Forest Whitaker for The Last King of Scotland (2006)

Who Should Win: Ryan Gosling
Who Will Win: Forest Whitaker

I've got one question - where's Borat? While I haven't seen any of the films in this category, Whitaker's role in Scotland has Oscar written all over it, so I'd expect this to be a good year for African American performers. From what I've heard, though, Gosling gives one heck of a performance in Half Nelson. It's nominated for a Spirit, so I'll let you know what I think soon...

Best Director
Clint Eastwood for Letters from Iwo Jima (2006)
Stephen Frears for The Queen (2006)
Paul Greengrass for United 93 (2006)
Alejandro González Iñárritu for Babel (2006)
Martin Scorsese for The Departed (2006)

Who Should Win: Iñárritu
Who Will Win: Scorsese

This is the most disappointing category of the year. I've only seen three of these films (Iwo Jima, Departed, Babel) and all three were mild achievements for their helmers; lukewarm films that showcase steady, if only competent direction. Departed was such an exercise in genre it looked like a walk in the park for Scorsese, and the only thing that was good about Babel were those moments in the script that allowed Iñárritu to stretch out a little bit, but these two are poised at the top of this list. I'd prefer it go to Iñárritu; I like to be able to make jokes about the Academy always stiffs the Scor-miester. But if Eastwood wins again this year, I swear I'll fucking shoot somebody. He's a good director, but christ - stop giving him awards for such bland cinema!

Best Picture
Babel (2006): Alejandro González Iñárritu, Steve Golin, Jon Kilik
The Departed (2006): Nominees to be determined
Letters from Iwo Jima (2006): Clint Eastwood, Steven Spielberg, Robert Lorenz
Little Miss Sunshine (2006): Nominees to be determined
The Queen (2006): Andy Harries, Christine Langan, Tracey Seaward

Who Should Win: Pan's Labarynth
Who Will Win: Babel

Socio-political concious coincidence based films are all the rage - anybody remember Crash? naw, me neither - so expect Babel to take the top prize. Which is disappointing, considering it was nowhere near as good as Iñárritu's Amores Perros and was basically a convoluted, trite piece of crap. Pan's Lab was way better than all of these films combined, but it's lumped into the Foriegn Language category. Oh well..

Well, those are my predictions for this year. Some interesting nominees - particularly in the acting categories - but overall I think we all saw this coming. The Oscars are mostly about politics, so keep that in mind when making your own predictions, people. Last years winners are the best example of that - I mean, c'mon, Crash over Brokeback? Really?

Oscars make me sick.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Has Cinema Lost Its Soul?

How Cinema Lost Its Soul

It should be remembered that the birth and growth of cinema was almost immediately parallel to the birth and growth of modernism in the other arts. Film is generally at its best when it recognises its roots in modernism, ie when it rejects conventional notions of realism, disengages from bourgeois values, and questions the primacy of narration.

From the beginning of cinema, film artists working in the new medium understood that its strength was not in straight narrative, something literature or the theatre could do better. While commercial cinema, especially Hollywood, continued with the conventions of 19th-century literature and theatre by producing illustrated novels and "opened out" plays, modernists looked towards non-narrative film form, or considered narrative as secondary to style. They disturbed the accepted continuity of chronological development and attempted new ways of tracing the flow of characters' thoughts, replaced logical exposition with collages of fragmentary images, complex allusions and multiple points of view. They resisted the commercial film in favour of "art cinema", to equal the other arts in seriousness and depth.

This article from the Independent is an interesting read. It outlines the rise of avant-garde/experimental cinema (if we can call it that - I think 'non-linear' or 'non-hollywood' cinema would be more accurate in terms of what the author is discussing) and characterizes the synthesis between formal artists (ie. painters, poets, sculpurists, etc.) and filmmakers. The article describes a fertile collaborative ground in which art blended with cinema - a state which, the author claims, is retroverting, as we more often see the avant-garde heading to galleries and theaters being filled by standard Hollywood schlock.

What remains of experimentation in film today?... Now, at the beginning of the 21st century, we are increasingly seeing the avant-garde abandon the cinema for the gallery - a shift made possible by the digital revolution. It is becoming necessary to redefine film without reference to its previous conditions of existence, by reference, not to the narrow context of the history of cinema, but to the wider field of art history.

Film is going under a huge change these days. With new forms of distrubtion and the DIY aesthetic of YouTube, it is going to be crucial that we redefine the cinema and its functions. The article doesn't mention the internet and it's capabilities as a distribution medium, perhaps because it is too early to gauge where the whole YouTube phenomenom is going. However, it's undeniable that film is changing, fast. I do like the idea of encompassing cinema under an art history context. Film is too often sectioned off from the rest of arts - perhaps because of the scope of its business - with video art and experimental cinema in their own little bubble. The academic interest in film often discusses intertexts and source texts, but I haven't had an experience where an art movement and a film movement were presented side by side, in depth. While I don't think that will fix the "avant-garde abandonment", it will certainly help us find a more accurate definition for modern cinema and pint us closer towards the direction in which the Internet phenom will eventually take us.

Tish-Tash: The Forgotten King of Comedy pt.3

The Middle Circle: Personal Style

One of Tashlin’s most renowned trademarks was his use of reflexive intertextual references – a self-conscious referral to outside texts in order to derive meaning or develop humor. Tashlin used topical references in almost all of his films: Artists and Models features James Stewart in a cameo appearance on a balcony with telescopic camera, as well as a comic book character strikingly similar to Batman; Son of Paleface features Roy Rogers in a role lampooning his own screen image.

However this practice culminates most notably in Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?, where much of the film’s humor is derived from intertextual references. Take, for example, the films Brechtian introduction, in which Tony Randall mistakenly presents the movie’s title as The Girl Can’t Help It. That particular film, also directed by Tashlin, is mentioned repeatedly throughout Rock Hunter; along with Kiss Them For Me and The Wayward Bus, it is established as one of mega-star Rita Marlowe’s former screen credits – another intertext, as these three titles are all real films in which Jayne Mansfield, the actress who plays Marlowe, formerly performed.

Mansfield herself acts as an intertext throughout the entirety of the film. Her bleached-blond buxom looks and incessant squeals emulate another blond bombshell, Marilyn Monroe. When Marlowe mentions that “the studio is worried about my acting in my upcoming drama”, one can’t help but think of fervor surrounding Monroe’s first dramatic role in 1956’s Bus Stop. Even the name Rita Marlowe is a send up of famous female film stars; a combination of Rita Hayworth, Jean Harlow, and Marilyn Monroe.

Tashlin’s use of intertextuality finds it root in his early work in animation. The majority of his Warner Brothers cartoons are riddled with popular references, both timely and timeless. Of course, this is not specific to Tashlin but to the Warner Brothers animation style as a whole. Take, for example, Bob Clampett’s 1939 short The Film Fan, in which Clark Gable and the Lone Ranger make an appearance, or I.Freleng’s 1936 short The CooCoo Nut Groove, which stars cartoon counterparts of Ben Bernie, Groucho Marx, W.C. Fields, Fred Astaire, John Barrymore, Mae West, and Laurel and Hardy, among others. In general, these references aimed to spoof or lampoon well-established stars for humorous purposes.

However, Tashlin’s use of star references often-extended beyond simple mockery. The 1944 short Swooner Crooner is a great example of this: a group of hens laying eggs for the war effort get distracted by a rooster who looks and sings like Frank Sinatra, bringing egg production to a halt. Porky Pig, acting as supervisor, rushes to investigate and soon finds himself auditioning for a new crooner. Caricatures of Al Jolson, Jimmy Durante and Cab Calloway are presented, but Porky settles on a Bing Crosby clone that introduces himself as "The Old Groaner". A battle of the crooners ensues, and between the two of them, egg production soon becomes more than Porky can handle. This film is an obvious nudge at working women in the war effort – multiple visual references, including a hen assembly line and a gag where bomb bay doors open to release the eggs make this clear. The caricatures serve not only as a source of humor, but act to motivate the plot of the film; their singing battle ultimately resolves the narrative conflict of how to turn the workers’ inactivity into wartime production. Likewise, the contrast presented between Sinatra’s sultry voice and Crosby’s soothingly smooth singing makes a point about the military risks of excessive phallic power. The film is a warning for female workers against erotic distraction and reinforces the idea of domestic duty. In turn, the caricatures become essential to the plot, rather than just throw away gags. Tashlin understood the power of celebrity and used it to critique society – something he would do again later in his career with both The Girl Can’t Help It and Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?.

Of course not all of Tashlin’s cartoons were as insightful as Swooner Crooner. As Greg Ford points out, Tashlin’s 1937 short Speaking of the Weather “was, in many senses, a typical Warners “Merrie Melody” (80), and Tashlin had many other shorts of the same vein, including 1937’s The Woods Are Full of Cuckoos and 1938’s You’re An Education. These ‘Merrie Melodies’ often featured inanimate objects anthropomorphized to the tune of a licensed Warner Brothers radio single. They too often featured topical subjects – current magazines, radio stars – although they lack the critical punch of some his narrative shorts. While seemingly innocuous, the ‘Merrie Melodies’ provided a good framework for the rock’n’roll intertext of Tashlin’s The Girl Can’t Help It, as then-rock sensations such as Little Richard, The Platters, and Fats Domino help the film movie along in musical interludes that mirror the ‘Merry Melodies’ style.

Due to Tashlin’s frenetic pacing, much of the topical humor in his films is easy to miss. However, he undoubtedly reviled in the use of intertext as both a source of humor and satire throughout his career, making it a mainstay of his style.

Check out Tish-Tash pt.1!
Check out Tish-Tash pt.2!

Part 4: The Inner Circle coming soon!

Razzie Nominees 2007

Razzies Get Back to Basics with 2006 Nominees

In this wonderful season of self-congratulatory awards hype, the crew behind the Razzies have one of the hardest jobs in Hollywood - narrowing down the year's worst releases and choosing the most heinous of the bunch. Past Razzie winners include Jenny Mcarthy's hilariously unfunny Dirty Love, Tom Green's surreal Freddy Got Fingered, and the misunderstood J-Lo/Affleck disaster remake Gigli. This year the Wayan's Brothers Little Man and the totally unnecessary Basic Instinct sequel are leading the pack with 7 nominatious each, including one for "Sharon Stone's lopsided boobs" in the Worst Screen Couple category.

These are probably the only awards worth following, as they are incredibly tongue-in-cheek and have been getting more attention from the industry in the following years (Halle Berry actually picked up her award in person for worst actress for last years Catwoman). Check out the press release and full list of nominees here.

Aqua Teen Movie Set for March

Aqua Teen Movie Set for March

Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters is an action-adventure epic that reveals the mysterious origins of Meatwad, Frylock and Master Shake. When an immortal piece of exercise equipment threatens the balance of galactic peace, it is up to the Aqua Teen Hunger Force to run away from it. Peril escalates when the Plutonians team up with the Cybernetic Ghost of Christmas Past to strive for ultimate control of the sinister deadly device.

Well I guess the rumors were true. Aqua Teen will be hitting about 800 screens on March 23rd. This crap is ridiculous - I don't know how they could strech this show out into 86 minutes, but apparently they found a way. The early teasers were pretty ugly looking, just about what you would expect from the Aqua Teen crew. Here's hoping that it will at least be mildly amusing...

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Review: Tales of the Brothers Quay

Playing at the Film Forum

The program includes the following films:
The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer (1984)
The Epic of Gilgamesh (1985)
Street of Crocodiles (1986)
Rehearsals for Extinct Anatomies (1986)
Dramolet (Stille Nacht I) (1988)
The Comb (From the Museums of Sleep) (1991)
Anamorphosis (or De Artificiali Perspectiva) (1991)
Are We Still Married? (Stille Nacht II) (1991)
Tales from the Vienna Woods (Stille Nacht III) (1992)
Can’t Go Wrong Without You (Stille Nacht IV) (1993)
In Absentia (2000)

Masters of stop-motion, The Quay Brothers are known for their Freudian-influenced state of conciousness style imagery similar to that of Jan Švankmajer. Most of their films feature dolls, often disassembled, in a dream world of machine parts, meat, wood puzzles and other found objects. Their attention to detail is striking - you can see the layers of dirt, filth and ware on their materials, and their set designs are amazingly constructed. Their camera work is also well definied, utlilizing intense closeups, rack focuses, vertical and horizontal pans, and repetition to built a distinct rhythmic aesthetic. Their best known work is the haunting Street of Crocodiles, based on the short story of the same name by the Polish author and artist Bruno Schulz. This retrospective, playing this week only at Manhattan's Film Forum, is a must see for any animation fan.

Senses of Cinema interview: Quay Brothers

2006 Suicide Girls interview: Quay Brothers

Tish-Tash: The Forgotten King of Comedy pt.2

The Outer Circle: Technique

As an animator, Tashlin was widely recognized for bringing a live action visual vocabulary to his cartoons. Animation historian Greg Ford writes “Tashlin’s taste for the language of feature films was evident from the very beginning in his first stint as an animation director at Warners in 1936…Sometimes Tashlin’s love of live action films took the form of straightforward visual quotation” (79-80). Ford refers to the high and low angle shots used in Porky’s Poultry Plant (1936), tracking shots used in Wholly Smoke (1938), and the opening montage of Brother Brat (1944), which more than borrows techniques from war documentaries of the era. There are other examples of this as well: the use of pans in The Woods Are Full of Cuckoos (1937) and Now That Summer Is Gone (1938); the use of canted angles in Porky’s Road Race (1937); the frequent use of the dissolve as a transition. For the time, these techniques were new to animation, and widened the visual language of cartoons for future animators.

What is particularly effective in Tashlin’s animation work is his use of space. In Porky’s Railroad (1937), there is a scene shot from a low angle perspective to make it appear as if a train were coming at the spectator. In The Case of the Stuttering Pig (1937), Tashlin uses a wide-angle shot to allow room for six different characters to appear on screen in a row.

Porky Pig’s Feat (1943), one of Tashlin’s most innovative cartoons, uses a variety of different angle shots to portray depth. The short follows Daffy and Porky as they attempt skip out on the bill for their stay at The Broken Arms Hotel. In one scene, they knock the brutish hotel owner down flight of stairs; a side view shot slowly turns into a bird’s eye view, creating a spiraling sense of depth that makes the gag work. One low angle shot shows Daffy and Porky running towards an elevator at the far end of the hall. Because the shot is at such a low angle, the elevator seems far away, but a quick zoom brings the camera to the front of the action. A similar shot allows for a gag in which the hotel owner chases the protagonists in and out of different rooms in the hallway. In one of the more daring shots, a low angle view gives Porky Pig’s perspective as he looks up at the hotel. These attempts at providing depth and perspective were uncommon in such early cartoons and certainly paved the way for Chuck Jones' Coyote and Roadrunner chase-toons of the fifties.

Considering Tashlin’s use of space and depth in animation, it comes to no surprise that his feature film work utilized Cinemascope to its fullest advantage. Tom Ewell, traditionally framed, introduces The Girl Can’t Help It by pointing out that it was “photographed in the grandeur of Cinemascope”. Ewell then opens his arms, and the frame widens to the full Cinemascope width, drawing the spectator’s attention to the additional amount of picture the format provides. Tashlin often used the wide screen of Cinemascope as a source for visual gags in this sense, but he also exhibited a technical mastery of the format. In Bachelor Flat, Tashlin’s use of Cinemascope allows for a dream sequence in which the spectator can see both the dreamer and the dream simultaneously, something traditional framing couldn’t do. Likewise, the ending of Artists and Models involves a Busby Berkeley style musical number that includes a cacophony of dancers and set pieces along with the stars of the film. The format also proves quite useful in the club scenes of The Girl Can’t Help It, when the focus switches to the rock’n’roll bands, many of which have upwards eight members, and their dance happy fans.

Another of Tashlin’s notable techniques was his use of color. Although many of Tashlin’s cartoons were in black and white, the few that were colored exhibit a genuine palate. These cartoons were often made using watercolor, giving them a smoother appearance than the strongly painted Looney Tunes of the fifties. Primary colors were bold and usually found in the animated characters, while the backgrounds were often a wash of bright yellows, pinks, greens, and purplish-reds. A great example of Tashlin’s use of color can be found in the short Little Pancho Vanilla (1938); Pancho’s mother’s bright sky-blue dress provides a strong contrast to the light yellow rocks tinged with purple and green in the background. Tashlin’s feature films also applied this style of color. Bright and distinct primary colors act to draw the spectator’s eyes to specific characters – Jayne Mansfield’s lips, for example. Like his cartoons, the backgrounds often feature a mix of yellow and purple; the club scenes in The Girl Can’t Help It exhibit this quite well.

Many of Tashlin's cartoons can be found on the Looney Tunes Golden Collection vol. 4 DVD

Check out Tish-Tash Pt. 1!

Part 3: The Middle Circle coming soon!

Revisit: That Touch of Mink

A Universal Pictures release 1962
Directed by Delbert Mann
Writing credits:
Stanley Shapiro
Nate Monaster

A rich businessman (Cary Grant) and a young woman (Doris Day) are attracted to each other, but he only wants an affair while she wants to save her virginity for marriage.

Cary Grant is in so many movies. In this one, he plays a crusty millionaire whose lofty bribes can't seem to get him access to Doris Day's pants. Director Mann has taken a couple of cues from Tashlin here: a palate of bright solid colors, with strong purple and yellow backgrounds, slapstick-style gags, the use of double entendre. The film also has a uniquely American aesthetic. Cathy's desire for the stability of marriage and her fear of sex are a reflection of rural christian attitudes. It's interesting to see how sex is visualized in this film - they never outright say the word, but use double entendres and visual metaphors (the bed, for example) to represent it. Far different from today's physically oriented depictions. Cary Grant in the 60's is so much funnier than Grant in the 30's - he's got that whole likeable prickness thing going, it's great. Check Father Goose for a better example. As a romantic comedy, it's highly watchable and entertaining.