East Bay View (a blog about several things)

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Friday, September 08, 2006

You Ought to Be in Pictures: Act naturally

(Half a month late for Brian's Freleng-For-All.)

If the hybrid live- action/animated film was no longer new in 1940 -- Fleischer and Disney did it two decades earlier -- then (as now) it was still a novelty. Daffy persuades Porky to leave cartoons to try to make it in features, though his motives aren't altruistic: he wants Porky's spot. After getting thrown around a bit, Porky reutrns and he's not happy with Daffy. The visual hook is that Daffy and Porky are drawn over photos and live footage where the parts are played, not always convincingly, by Termite Terrace staff -- you can pick out Chuck Jones and Bob Clampett rushing out to lunch.

Freleng himself had left Warners in 1937, decamping to MGM. Standards weren't nearly as high there, and Friz came back to Schlesinger as soon as his contract expired; this was his first directorial effort after returning. Written by Jack Miller, the toon was something of a rib on Clampett: though it's clear that Porky is Friz, you wouldn't guess that Daffy, duplictous for the first time, represents Bob. That Friz preferred being Faust to being the devil is perhaps a measure of his comparative conservatism. Funnily enough, the new mean streak Friz gifted Daffy would allow him to eclipse Porky's popularity.

Glad to be back, Freleng, it seems, worked a little harder on this one -- even in the character animation, there isn't the churned-out feeling you get from some of his work. Daffy's whizzing dance for Schlesinger ("Bill Robinson is slow/Fred Astaire never could top this one") is his most joyful moment, blissfully unaware as he is of the suffering Schlesinger's boys will inflict on him in years to come. For budgetary reasons, however, the number of shots in which both the animation and the live footage move is limited, which necessitates some awkward cutting, for example, between Porky and the guard played by Michael Maltese. If we make an unfair comparison to Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, here the limited interaction results in limited wildness, preventing it from being one of the really funny Warners shorts.

But it's still one of the best of its time, and its lasting contribution isn't the hit-miss interpolation of live action, it's the way Daffy and Porky are treated as actors, as if they have an existence outside of their shorts. It offers another way to view any cartoon utilising a stock company, and takes us three quarters of the way to Duck Amuck. Moreover, it conflates fictional reality with real reality in a way that's been drawn upon by countless filmmakers since. If you take the hybrid style as cartoon verite, it's the first mockumentary.


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