Category Archives: Comedy

Abiding

A film worth hollering about.

You know, I don’t mean to neglect this blog. Contrary to popular perception, college professors actually do more work during the summer than during the academic year: planning courses, researching, writing, etc. Multiple projects have reared their heads and, since they have deadlines and since blog entries do not … In any case, I have a few entries in the on-deck circle. Stay tuned..

Though my contributions are exceedingly small, I’m nevertheless quite pleased to be associated in even the smallest way with The Big Lebowski: I was recently interviewed by Duane Dudek, film critic for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, about the film’s status as a cult object. Duane, a very nice chap, talked with me for half an hour or so about the nature of cult films, and the specific appeal of The Big Lebowski.

Though only a sliver of this comment remains in the article, my own take on the cult appeal of TBL is that it is a surprisingly rich and dense text that rewards multiple viewings. Not only is the plot actually quite complex (it took me a couple viewings to sort it out, and at least one more to realize that it — like other Coen Brothers’ films The Man Who Wasn’t There, Blood Simple, and Miller’s Crossing — was a riff on film noir. Beyond the plotting, though, the film’s characters, situations, and gags are plentiful, multi-layered, visually inventive, and bizarre. As I am fond of saying, The Big Lebowski just keeps giving and giving and giving. Every time I see it, I find something I had missed, or something that may be read in another way. It is no wonder to me that hordes of beer-guzzling bowling enthusiasts recently descended on Milwaukee to celebrate this film. Few films merits such treatment. I suppose it’s up to me to start up the Big Trouble in Little China Fest… (I actually have an old essay about BTILC on that venerable site.)

Clearly, Shirley MacLaine is enamored of Jerry Lewis.

For some reason, another journal also saw fit to interview me recently. Leo Collis, a writer for Film International (full disclosure: I am a frequent contributor of book, DVD, and film reviews to this publication), recently chatted with me via Skype about my book Tashlinesque. Leo’s interview appears in a recent update to Film International‘s wide-ranging website. Forthcoming on that same site is his full review of my book, which I look forward to reading. (Also forthcoming in Film International is a review that I wrote of the semi-recent Blu-Ray release of Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom, in case you’re curious.)

Finally, one of the chief reasons for my absence from this blog was that I was researching and writing a  paper, which I recently delivered at the annual conference of the Society for Cognitive Studies of the Moving Image. Studying the workings of the brain and mind as a framework for understanding our grasp of movies — this is the mission of this organization, in a nutshell, and it is one that interests me greatly. I am no scientist or psychologist, but I do have a strong interest in cognition, evolutionary psychology, and the mental processes that underpin vision and narration. I’d only once dabbled in this area before, for the Visible Evidence conference in Istanbul in 2010; that was for a paper about using certain principles of cognitive science to explore the use of animation in documentary film. The paper I delivered about a week ago represented for me a more thorough exploration of the overlapping topics of cognition and cinema.

cool blue

My recent paper — which I hope to revise for publication — used a scene in Jean-Pierre Melville’s film Un Flic (French slang meaning “a cop”) as a way to ask questions about the specific visual-cognitive processes that we activate when we detect “fakery” in cinematic special effects. For multiple shots in the scene I analyzed, Melville uses, for budgetary reasons, a toy train set and a toy helicopter to stand in for a full-size train and a full-size helicopter. The fact that the vehicles are models is exceedingly obvious to any viewer; recognition takes less than half a second, I’d estimate.

Digging around in psychology literature about visual cognition was a new and rewarding kind of research for me; I’ve never drawn on scientific papers for any of my own writing. Combining it with my own knowledge of film history and cinematic narration was quite satisfying.

Ultimately, I argue in that paper that, in a typical viewing situation, the visual-cognitive information gleaned by our foveal system “agrees” with that gleaned by our parafoveal system; if there are disparities between these two information streams, we are cued to look for further disparities. Such disparities include but are not limited to the volume of light reflected by a small object (the toy train) when we are “told” that we are looking at a large object (a real train); the sudden movements that give away the lightweight nature of the toy helicopter, when we know that real helicopters move more subtly; the uniform leaning of a toy tree when we know that a real tree moves gently in a wind, not to mention the chaotic flutterings of its leaves. When the parafoveal and foveal systems do not agree, again, we are “primed” to find other flaws in the visual information. In this case, I argue, the principal flaw we find has to do with the film’s story information: we are effectively lied to. Not about the real world, but about the nature of the story world, or diegesis. Once we pick up on that “lie,” we use it to assess the trustworthiness of the storyteller/director. And, as I found, the general critical and popular discourse on Un Flic unfailingly mentions the obvious miniatures, with many commentators going so far as to say that those toy vehicles “take them out” of the film entirely, or, more severely, make them question or even dislike Melville as a filmmaker. (I used the user reviews of Un Flic on IMDB as a case study.)

I found the linkage between visual perception, narrative perception, and critical evaluation to be fascinating, and, as I say, I do hope to expand this paper and publish it. I got some excellent feedback at the conference, and need to incorporate those ideas into it. Your ideas are welcome, too.

Coming up soon(ish): a long essay about Neil Young’s misunderstood album Trans. That’s one of the things I like about blogging. I now have a forum to write about not only cognitive film studies, but oddball albums by rock titans. Quite exciting, this computer magic.

Eye see you.
I see. You?
I C U.
Aye. See you!

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A Mishmash of Tish-Tash

Three directors: (left to right) Norman Taurog, Jerry Lewis, and Frank Tashlin

Frank Tashlin was an unusual filmmaker for a number of reasons, one of which has to do with his relationship with Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies producer Leon Schlesinger.

For one thing, Tashlin often contended that, once his comic strip “Van Boring” started to bring in a bit of revenue, Schlesinger — the supervisor of Warner Bros.’s fabled “Termite Terrace” animation studio, where Tashlin worked — felt that he was entitled to some of the profits. Quoth Tashlin, “He wanted a cut of it, and I said go to hell. So he fired me.”

(Incidentally, “Van Boring” – whose eponymous main character was based on Tashlin’s former boss, Amedée Van Beuren, the head of the nearly-forgotten Van Beuren animation studio – has its own Facebook page! Check it out – whoever holds that account posts at least one vintage “Van Boring” strip per day, and many are quite clever.)

I’ve never been able to corroborate that story about Schlesinger wanting a cut of Tashlin’s (assuredly meager) “Van Boring” profits, but it doesn’t seem all that unlikely to me, given Schlesinger’s reputation as a rather stern and shrewd businessman. (He was also regarded as a fairly permissive, hands-off producer, for which many Warner Bros. animators admired him.) In any  case, even if Schlesinger fired Tashlin at that time (around 1933), he would rehire him two more times. Tashlin bounced around from studio to studio quite a bit, as I detail in Tashlinesque.

The other element of Tashlin’s unusual relationship with Schlesinger is that, evidently, the producer granted the animator a unique privilege: the permission to use a nom de animation for several of his cartoons. That nom was “Tish Tash,” a pseudonym Tashlin started using as early as his teenage years, when he illustrated his school’s yearbook and other publications. A handful of Tashlin’s Warner Bros. cartoons – and a large number of the print cartoons that he published in various humor magazines – were signed by Tish Tash.

Leon Schlesinger and friend

 

I have a few bits of Tashlin-related news to report. The first of these is that The Austin Chronicle has published a more-or-less favorable review of my book Tashlinesque, which you can read right here.

A couple of months ago, I did a phone interview with the good people at The Mondo Film Podcast, a very excellent site created and run by true cinephiles. Justin Bozung, one of those cinephiles, was aware of Tashlinesque and wanted to talk to me for an epic podcast about the genius of Jerry Lewis, one of my favorite topics. You can listen to and/or download that podcast here; it runs two hours (!), and my comments occur during its last 30 minutes. Folks, this is only Part One of the Jerry Lewis show. Yes, his genius truly is so enormous that two hours of talking doesn’t even come close to addressing it. I am not speaking sarcastically, here. Here’s a second link from which you can listen to the ‘cast.

Finally, and most incredibly:

For me, one of the most rewarding and exciting things about writing books is that, occasionally, admirers of my work will contact me to share with me their enthusiasm. Not long after my book This Is Spinal Tap was published, I received a very nice email from a university librarian who was compiling a list of resources for students and scholars who wished to do research on mock-documentaries. He didn’t have to alert me to my book’s inclusion on his list, but he did, and very kindly included some words of praise, as well.

Just today, I received an email from Stephen Kroninger, who runs an eponymous animation/illustration blog at Drawger. Not only does Stephen possess an original Frank Tashlin oil painting (see below), he has compiled a remarkably useful and comprehensive post consisting of all manner of Tashlin-related materials, both print and audiovisual.

In addition to containing video of, to name a few, both Jerry Lewis’s amazing dance scene from Cinderfella and Tashlin’s hard-to-see and extremely influential cartoon The Fox and the Grapes (which I have also posted below), Stephen does a great service to historians and students of American illustration by posting, in its page-by-page entirety, Tashlin’s extremely hard-to-find, out-of-print cartooning manual How to Create Cartoons. This book, in which Tashlin espouses his “SCOTArt” system of drawing (which relies on the mastery of four basic shapes: Square, Circle, Oval, Triangle), is quite rare. The only copy I’ve ever seen resides in the Frank Tashlin Archive in the Margaret Herrick Library at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills. Years ago, with permission, I made a photocopy of the book, but the copy that Stephen has uploaded is way better, as it’s in color — well, its cover is in color — and the scans are of very high quality. How to Create Cartoons offers insight not only into Tashlin’s method of illustration, but into the general stylistic and economic tendencies of the market for illustration in the middle of the twentieth century. Again, this is a valuable document.

My own talent for illustration lies mostly in the realm of the notebook doodle, but perhaps it’s now finally time for me to give this SCOTArt business a go. Reader submissions are also welcome!

 

Canter through Coventry, an original oil painting by Frank Tashlin

Ambiguity, Tashlin-style

When I set up this blog with WordPress, the site sensibly encouraged me to create categories for my posts; this I did: you can see them over there, on the right —>

What with Frank Tashlin on my brain lately, it occurs to me that two of those categories – Tashlin and Ambiguities – mutually reinforce each other to a certain extent. That is, when I stop to think about it, I realize that my now-decades-long interest in Tashlin is due, in part, to the fact that I admire the ambiguities that are essential to his work. Indeed, I believe that Tashlin’s best work is his most ambiguous, and vice versa.

I intend to use this website to expand on some of the ideas in Tashlinesque, so this seems like a perfect opportunity to do so, especially since the particular ambiguity that I wish to discuss, from Tashlin’s great 1956 film The Girl Can’t Help It, is one that I mention in the book only in a (lengthy) footnote. I am focusing on this ambiguous moment because I think it is especially incisive.

The Girl Can’t Help It is about a semi-reformed mobster, Fats Murdock (Edmond O’Brien) who hires a down-on-his-luck talent agent, Tom Miller (Tom Ewell), to make his protegée, singer Jerri Jordan (Jayne Mansfield), into a big star. Miller doubts that even his best efforts will ever make a singing sensation out of Jerri, for the very sensible reason that she has a singing voice that shatters lightbulbs. Miller tells Fats that he doesn’t think that Jerri will ever be a star. One evening, when Jerri, Miller, and Jerri’s maid, Hilda (Juanita Moore), are together at Jerri’s house, Fats calls them and angrily demands that they turn on the television so they can watch Eddie Cochran performing on a variety show. Fats’s point is that Cochran has an unusual voice, too, and he’s a big star; Fats irately rejects Miller’s claim that Jerri is unpromotable. Even though neither Miller nor Jerri “gets” why someone with so odd a presence and voice as Eddie Cochran can be famous and well-loved, they resign themselves to redoubling their own promotional efforts.

(As a side note, let me say that Fats was 100% correct about the unusualness of Eddie Cochran’s voice and performance style. I love the guy’s music, but it really was kind of odd. His vocal style, his guitar-playing, and his movements may all be aptly described as “herky-jerky” and/or “hiccupy.” He really did cut a strange figure. Knock yourself out on the YouTube.)

The scene only becomes ambiguous when we see Miller’s, Jerri’s, and especially Hilda’s responses to Cochran’s performance of “Twenty-Flight Rock. A clip of the scene is below.

This is how I describe the scene, and its ambiguity, in my book:

Tashlin makes a very ambiguous joke about the song’s racial origins. While Tom and Jerri watch Cochran with mild befuddlement, Jerri’s black maid, Hilda (Juanita Moore), demonstrates her enjoyment of the song by dancing around Jerri’s living room. When Miller looks at her questioningly, Hilda makes a smiling gesture of dismissal and leaves the room, still dancing.

The scene’s stance on racial matters is uncertain. Hilda, the only black person in the scene, seems to have a “deeper connection” to the music – arguably a version of the stereotype about the hypersexuality and “natural rhythm” of black people. But Hilda is also the only character to connect to the music on an authentic level: the song was made to be danced to, and she enjoys dancing to it. Jerri and Tom – both of whom are involved in the music industry – don’t know what to make of the song. For them, Cochran’s style is nothing more than a successful business model. This is precisely the kind of challenging, ambiguous cultural satire that Tashlin favors, as it reinforces the notion that rock music is both debased and authentic – a dynamic that was and is undeniably relevant to the American music industry.

 — Ethan de Seife (me!), Tashlinesque: The Hollywood Comedies of Frank Tashlin (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2012, p. 235).

The most challengingly ambiguous element of this scene is, as noted, its attitude toward matters of race. Complicating and related to this ambiguity is Tashlin’s double-edged attitude toward popular music, and popular culture in general. Two interlocking ambiguities for the price of one!

The problem is this: it is important for us to grasp that, of the three characters, only Hilda genuinely enjoys Cochran’s performance. This is important because the satire of the scene requires us to understand that for Fats, Jerri, and Miller – even though they are all sympathetic protagonists – popular music like that of Eddie Cochran is just a way to make a buck. (Though it should be noted that, as is apparent in the clip above, Fats enjoys the song, too.) The only character to treat the music as 100% artistically valid is Hilda: her dismissive gesture as she exits the room provides humorous visual confirmation that Jerri and Miller do not “get it,” a fact reconfirmed by their body language, and by the clueless looks on their faces. This is just one of many ways that Tashlin, throughout his career, uses satire to criticize the very popular-culture industries that provided his livelihood. This criticism gets at the central dilemma of popular culture: if it’s mass art intended for mass consumption and mass profit, is it still artistically worthwhile, or is it too “debased”? (The very existence of this website should demonstrate my position on this matter, but I do think that the question is still relevant and worthy of exploration.)

But: if Hilda’s response to “Twenty-Flight Rock” is genuine and authentic – and, again, it is important to the scene and the film that her response is genuine and authentic – then the scene raises another ambiguity: is this a scene of racial stereotyping? There is no easy answer, especially at nearly sixty years’ remove from the film’s release: a topic as vast and complex as racial attitudes of the mid-1950s are difficult to reconcile with modern perspectives on race – which are no less fraught, of course.

Is Tashlin suggesting that Hilda’s authentic reaction to rock music is somehow related to the fact that she is black? Maybe. The possibility exists for this reading, and seems to be confirmed in several of the film’s other scenes of musical performance (of which there are many): Tashlin generally presents the Caucasian musicians as silly and frivolous, and the African-American musicians as somehow more authentic or even ennobled. (Doesn’t matter if the stereotype is a “positive” one; it’s still a stereotype.) White musicians like Nino Tempo and The Chuckles sing extremely lightweight songs in The Girl Can’t Help It; black musicians like Fats Domino and Little Richard sing, frankly, better songs, and are presented far more reverentially. The best example of this latter tendency is surely Abbey Lincoln’s performance of “Spread the Word,” which for me is one of the visual highlights of the film.

Lincoln’s astounding beauty is presented in a terrific, symmetrical composition, a choice that grants a certain gravity to her performance. (As well, her song is about religion: rather a more serious [albeit more swingin’] subject than the “cinnamon sinner sellin’ lollipop lies” that The Chuckles sing about.) Especially when Tashlin cuts between the shots of Abbey Lincoln and Jayne Mansfield herself, we get a sense of the different attitudes he has to these two women and what they represent in the story of The Girl Can’t Help It. Lincoln and Mansfield are dressed in similarly figure-hugging dresses: Lincoln’s is deep orange, and Mansfield’s red. Their body-types are in fact fairly similar. But Lincoln looks distinguished as she stands quite still, undulating only mildly: it is primarily her hands that sway. Mansfield accentuates, for comic effect, each thrust of her hip and dip of her shoulder: at this point in the film, Miller is “building up” Jerri Jordan, having her sashay through every nightclub in town in order to attract attention to her outrageous curves. (He is cynical enough to know that Jerri’s singing ability has nothing to do with her ability to land a record contract.) In other words, Jerri/Mansfield is an emblem of tawdriness: she is literally selling herself, all for the sake of the pop-culture industry. Whereas Abbey Lincoln, playing herself, is more restrained and elegant, and seemingly represents the good that can result when popular music focuses not on commercialism but on authenticity.

But maybe these meanings don’t really have anything to do with race. Perhaps the key word really is “authenticity,” but not an authenticity that is necessarily grounded in racial identity. Tashlin’s principal interest seems to be the exposure of cheap, crappy, in-it-for-the-money forms of popular art. Abbey Lincoln’s song is treated reverentially because it is a great song that depends on and exceeds vernacular traditions; Eddie Fontaine’s performance of “Cool It Baby” makes Fontaine look silly because it is silly: at best, this is a featherweight song. Eddie Cochran’s performance itself shatters the idea that authenticity is based in racial identity: Tashlin’s presentation of Cochran’s number — similar in its starkness to the presentation of “Spread the Word” — imbues it with a certain elegance and praise. The song is great; it’s the carnival-barker-style variety-show host (Peter Potter, an actual 1950s TV host) who comes off like a huckster; so, too, do Jerri and Tom, for their inability to access the meanings in the song that have to do with anything other than making a profit. Cochran may be weird, but his song is actually pretty excellent.

Still, the answers here are not easy to come by, in part because Tashlin directs some of that same criticism toward himself. After all, he was making a film for Twentieth Century-Fox that was designed in large part as a promotional tool for the many musical artists who appear in it. Tashlin was selling out, too, and he knew it. He just happened to have good taste in music, and in art in general, and decided to use his not-insignificant filmmaking abilities to give us clues about which of the performers he felt had some talent, and which of them were just cashing in on rock and roll, the biggest and most current pop-culture fad of the day. Such meanings would not be as accessible to us – nor as compelling – were they not presented in an ambiguous fashion. Ambiguities such as these are useful and worthwhile precisely because they raise troubling notions, a fact that can give a text some serious power.

 

Postscript

This is the first of my posts to have been written largely from a moving vehicle. When I wrote most of the above post, I was on a bus to Boston, where I presented a paper at the annual Society for Cinema and Media Studies conference. Apparently, they have the internet on buses now. Fascinating.

The paper I presented is unrelated to Tashlin, but it does concern an ambiguous text: Neil Young’s sprawling, utterly fascinating Greendale project, thoughts about which have been rattling around in my brain ever since I saw a performance of the Greendale stage show in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in March of 2004. I am happy to report that, once that presentation is significantly revised, a written version of it will be published in Broken Arrow, the venerable (125 issues and counting!) journal of the Neil Young Appreciation Society. My writing is, I suppose, mostly scholarly, though not forbiddingly so, I like to think. At least, I always try to write in an accessible and engaging fashion, to the best of my abilities. I have long had an interest in “fan culture” (and in fact gave a lecture on that very subject just last week in my class on Hong Kong Cinema), but most of my writing has appeared in academic journals of various types. So I am really pleased that an essay of mine will appear in a fan journal, especially one whose focus is one of my favorite artists of any kind. I’ll write more about the Greendale presentation here soon. Until then, dig into that Greendale site a bit. Weird, compelling stuff.

Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention, "We're only in It for the Money"
Why? What are YOU in it for?

The Lady Said No

Several years ago – a veritable eternity in Internet Time – Jerry Beck and Amid Amidi, the animation historians/enthusiasts who run the venerable and essential site Cartoon Brew, launched a subsite, Cartoon Brew Films, which they used as a venue for hosting and distributing, for a small fee, a number of cartoons that had slipped through the cracks of film history. The very first film featured on Cartoon Brew Films was Frank Tashlin’s unusual 1946 stop-motion film The Lady Said No, which had fallen into the public domain.

At the time, I was researching my dissertation on Tashlin, so I eagerly downloaded the film, and felt obliged to submit a lengthy-ish comment to Cartoon Brew Films. Alas, Cartoon Brew Films has gone the way of the dodo, taking with it my comments.

The very last of the Dodos!

The comments, I assure you, were no great loss, but I have nevertheless and perhaps ill-advisedly used them as the basis for my notes below on The Lady Said No, which you can watch below, via YouTube. It is not the highest-quality version of this film, but, then, we’re fortunate that it survives at all. I cannot account for the flickering between color and black and white.

The Lady Said No was made using a labor-intensive stop-motion process called “replacement animation,” whereby, for instance, animators would craft, for a single character, multiple heads, each with a different facial expression or lip-position. The heads would fit into the character’s body using some variation of a ball-and-socket joint, and would be swapped out as often as necessary, frame-by-frame, to convey changes in facial expression and/or lip movement. As indicated in the link just above, replacement animation is most strongly associated with George Pal, best known for his “Puppetoon” films, but most beloved by me for 7 Faces of Dr. Lao (1964), an oddball movie that gives the great Tony Randall (whom I interviewed once, not a year before he died) a chance to ham it up under layers of crazy make-up.

Modern audiences are most familiar with replacement animation from the films The Nightmare before Christmas and the works of Aardman Studios, makers of the delightful Wallace & Gromit films (notably the truly brilliant Wallace & Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit), and Chicken Run.

Here is a fascinating bit of film history: a photo essay, from a 1946 issue of Popular Science, about the process used to make this very film. I’ve scanned and uploaded the three-page spread as two (rather large) PDF files: one PDF of the two-page color spread, and one black-and-white page. Some edges got cut off and you’ll have to pardon the three-ring-binder punchholes. The article is really worth a look – the photos are great, and you get some sense of the massive amounts of work required to produce a film that has, 65 years later, been almost entirely forgotten.

The full citation information is:

Bob Newman [photgrapher], “Six-Inch Wax Dolls Are New Stars in Filmland,” Popular Science, Vol. 148, No. 5 (May 1946), pp. 108-109.

popsci_lady_said_no

popsci_lady_said_no2

Cantinflas has a better moustache than you do.

So The Lady Said No – whose main character, by the way, is meant to resemble legendary Mexican comedian Cantinflas – was made using an unusual animation process, but is also unusual for the ways in which it combines stop-motion technique with traditional 2D animation. Notice, for instance, the “motion lines” when the main character dashes away at around 1:12; the ripples that emanate from the bodies of the waterlogged singers around 4:33; and the smoke clouds at 5:44.

1:12: The setting and puppets are 3D; so far as I can tell, the streaky "motion lines" were painted onto a flat surface.

4:33: 2D ripples surround 3D puppets

5:44: 2D animated clouds cover up a 3D scene.

This was Tashlin’s first foray into stop-motion, which makes these creative techniques all the more impressive. One of my central claims about Tashlin is that he was unusually visually inventive, and The Lady Said No would seem to confirm that idea.

In that stop-motion animation can depict (not just represent) three-dimensionality, it is tempting to see it as “closer” to live-action filmmaking than is 2-D animation. Much of the literature on Tashlin accounts for his career within the bounds of an uncomplicated arc: his work “evolves” and becomes more sophisticated as he moves from animation to live-action. This is too simplistic; it is in fact one of the points with which, in my upcoming book on Tashlin, I take issue most strongly. Tashlin is usefully considered as a gifted visual artist. The print cartoons he did in the 1930s, for instance, are no more or less “sophisticated” than his feature films of the 1950s; they are all products of a restless, curious visual/comic intelligence.

One of the continuities between The Lady Said No and much of Tashlin’s other works is his reliance on tried-and-true comic forms, most plainly the gag/topper/topper-topper structure. Tashlin is a master of setting up gags, varying them, and amplifying them. One of the best in The Lady Said No has to do with the long-necked singer’s Adam’s apple.

The first time we see the Adam’s apple, in a close-up at 1:34, it is funny in its own right, as it slides up and down the singer’s neck.

 

 

 

The second time we see the Adam’s apple, at 4:37, Tashlin emphasizes the up-and-down movement by echoing it in the movement of the fish’s eyeballs.

 

 

 

The third time (5:59), the character sings from inside a cactus, and the cactus’s skin (hide? bark?) bulges and moves along with the Adam’s apple behind it: the gag is thus intensified.

 

 

The last time this gag appears (7:11), Tashlin treats it to a variation that ties in beautifully with the culmination of the film’s narrative. We have a new singer – one of the main character’s many, many babies – whose acrobatic Adam’s apple completes this gag cycle as it brings closure to the story: woo whom you want, but be prepared for the consequences. Tashlin makes his point about the dangers of romance (a theme common in his work) with, as is typical, a sight gag.

The camera is quite mobile in The Lady Said No, moving along all axes with great vigor. Tashlin often composes shots from unusual angles, but we should not take this as a sign of his becoming “more cinematic”: animation is film, too, and is therefore no less ontologically cinematic than any other film form.

I prefer to see the film’s several, striking moving-camera shots as fulfilling two goals. First, they are evidence of Tashlin’s interest in undermining animation’s reliance on the frontal, “proscenium”-style staging that made even some of the best Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies somewhat “flatter” than they might otherwise have been – see, for instance, most of Friz Freleng’s (generally excellent) 1930s films. The rapid camera movement onto the “stage” at 7:25 is a particularly witty gesture, in this context.

Second, and more importantly, Tashlin moves his camera and varies his compositions whenever such a gesture will clarify or intensify his film’s comedy. The several shots of the parade of waiters are fine examples of this tendency.

These shots are taken from “Dutch” angles, the better to render abstract the shapes of the dishes, and the better to emphasize the enormity of the meal ordered by the Lady. Another fine example: Tashlin tracks the camera to follow our hero as he is dragged behind the wagon – what better way to emphasize the humor that underpins his dilemma? Comedy was Tashlin’s great muse, and he followed it throughout his varied, fascinating career.

As discussed above, the basis for this essay was a long comment that I posted to the late, lamented blog Cartoon Brew Films. I would like to extend special thanks to Jerry Beck and Cartoon Brew for graciously granting permission for me to repost my comments, and to Mark Kausler, without whom The Lady Said No would likely be lost entirely.