Posts Tagged ‘television’

Photo: Warner Brothers.
Bugs Bunny.

My husband was watching the Met’s Götterdämmerung around 4:30 this morning, so naturally I was reminded of Looney Tunes. Really. Bugs Bunny and the gang provided the best introduction to opera anywhere.

An article by Jaime Weinman at the Walrus (excerpted from his book Anvils, Mallets and Dynamite: The Unauthorized Biography of Looney Tunes) reflects on the durability of the Warner Brothers series.

“I grew up in a period when it seemed normal that a child born in 1976 would prefer to spend his Saturday morning watching cartoons from the 1940s and ’50s. A lot of the people I know enjoyed the same experience. Why did several generations watch old Looney Tunes alongside new work and actually prefer the stuff made before they were born? It was partly a historical accident caused by television’s demand for endless material at a relatively high cost. …

“Every television station required was a supply of preexisting content, something that might cost money to run but not to produce. The broadcasting rights for pre-1948 Warner Bros. cartoons weren’t very expensive, and the show was far better than most of the programming available for the same price.

“So part of Looney Tunes’ enduring success reflects the simple power of money. They were made for the big screen, and while they weren’t lavishly budgeted compared to the cartoons of Disney, they had much more time and per-unit money than television cartoons. On television, the Looneys were up against shows that had to turn out twenty-two minutes per week and looked like it. … Looney Tunes seemed edgier and freer than the new material. …

“However much kids loved watching Looney Tunes, the cartoons never got the credit they deserved. There hasn’t been much mainstream film criticism about them. When they were being made, they were almost totally ignored by all but two critics: James Agee and Manny Farber. Later, after the cartoons started appearing on TV, younger critics got interested. …

“The case has sometimes been made for the great Looney Tunes characters as underdogs, but it’s never a convincing case because the characters aren’t actually struggling against anything. They seldom have to try hard: as long as it’s funny, they can produce a weapon out of nowhere, and the most horrific acts of violence cause them no stronger reaction than irritation. In a more serious comedy, the characters feel an exaggerated version of what we might feel in their shoes, whether anger, fear, or determination. We can’t usually identify much with a Looney Tunes character because we know that nothing has consequences for them. …

“Bill Scott, who co-wrote cartoons at Warner Bros. for several years and then moved to [United Productions of America, the cartoon studio usually considered the most artistic and ambitious] said that ‘the kiss of death at UPA was to be considered a Warner Brothers writer.’ Looney Tunes writers, he added, were dismissed as ‘clothesline gag’ writers, for whom a story was just a cheap, insubstantial way to support the gags.

“That description wasn’t exactly wrong. If Warner Bros. creators have a choice between telling a joke and giving the film a consistent style, they’ll almost always choose the joke. …

“Warner Bros. cartoons had arguably the best soundtracks in American film comedy. Mel Blanc, who voiced all the important recurring characters except Elmer Fudd, was so essential to the studio that he became the first voice actor ever to get credit for short cartoons; composer Carl Stalling, who essentially invented the art of animated movie music when he worked for Disney, spent most of his career at Warner Bros., working closely with the directors (and sound effects wizard Treg Brown) to set a tempo for all the animated action and make sure that the sounds and movements complemented each other perfectly. The result of all this is a series where the dialogue has the wise-guy tone and fast pace of radio comedy, the music is funny, the animation is funny, the sound effects are funny, and none of them ever do something that’s redundant. …

“Like music, the laughs come from timing and rhythm. The gag is divided into three basic beats: Bugs hands the firecracker to the parrot; the firecracker explodes; the smoke clears, showing the ashen but otherwise unharmed bird. This all happens in just a few seconds, but each of these beats is held just long enough for it to play properly.” More at the Walrus, here.

To return to where I started today, here are a few online reviews of the Looney Tunes opera themes.

On “What’s Opera, Doc?” … “Elmer Fudd becomes the hero of Siegfried as he woos Brunhilde (played by Bugs Bunny in drag–if a rabbit can be in drag). This is a classic animated feature with full orchestration. It integrates the eternal effort of Elmer to kill the wabbit while repeatedly falling for the smart alecky rodent. The singing, of course, is quite horrible, but great credit to Mel Blanc for carrying on and staying in tune. What a remarkable talent Blanc was!”

On “Long-Haired Hare” … “Here Bugs takes his revenge on an opera singer named Giovanni Jones and does so with hilarious consequences. The last few minutes are absolutely priceless and one of my all time favourite endings in a Looney Tunes cartoon. Mel Blanc is brilliant as Bugs and Nicolai Shutorov gives a bravura singing performance as Giovanni.”

On “The Rabbit of Seville” … Bugs and Elmer “wander on to an opera stage and continue their combativeness to the music of the Barber of Seville. Apparently, there was a time when the average citizen had a thing for opera and these cartoon presentations fed into that. Anyway, the pacing is masterful. Elmer is about as gullible as he can be, and Bugs takes advantage at every turn. The pacing of the famous musical piece works very well and our two heroes find their way to a masterful conclusion.”

Read Full Post »

When I was growing up in Rockland County, New York, my parents liked to buy art from artist friends and, when possible, offer other kinds of support. They hired the Hungarian-American artist André Dugo, for example, to paint a portrait of my brother Bo and me sitting in an armchair and reading one of the artist’s children’s books. We often read his book Pete the Crow or the books featuring a cardinal and a blue jay, or the one about the calf that ate the wrong kind of grass and puffed up like a balloon.

One day, Mr. Dugo came to our house to watch television with us. (We had one of the first TVs because my father was writing a story on Dumont for Fortune magazine.) We kept asking Mr. Dugo what he would like to see, and he kept saying he just wanted to see whatever we ordinarily watched.

As we worked our way through several programs, Mr. Dugo noted our reactions, sometimes asking questions.

Not many months after, a children’s book came out. It was called Tom’s Magic TV, and its premise was that a boy traveled through the TV screen and into adventures with sharks, circus clowns, puppets, cowboys and spacemen. Bo and I were not mentioned. The mother didn’t look like my mother. This was an early exposure to children’s-literature research — or poetic license.

I’m pretty sure that Gene Autry was the model for the cowboy adventure.


Read Full Post »

I heard something fun at the radio show “On the Media” this morning.

“The Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation has been creating some of the world’s slowest TV — shows like a 7 hour train ride or 18 hours of salmon fishing. Norwegian audiences are loving it. Brooke [Gladstone] speaks with Rune Moklebust of the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation about why he thinks so-called ‘boring TV’ is actually quite exciting.” Listen to the show here.

In case you want more detail, the Wall Street Journal covers the story, too.

WSJ reporter Ellen Emmerentze Jervell writes, “Executives at Norway’s biggest television company, the NRK national broadcasting service, have work on their hands trying to figure out how to extend a recent string of broadcast hits that have drawn millions of viewers in this small Scandinavian nation to their TVs for many hours at a time.

“One idea currently on the table is to launch a live show in which experts knit while spectators sit in their living rooms eagerly awaiting the next stitch.

“Another scheme is to produce a 24-hour-long program following construction workers building a digital-style clock out of wood, shuffling planks to match each passing minute.

“When the time changes from 09:45 to 09:46, the crew turns the ‘5’ into a ‘6.’ When the clock strikes 10:00, the job is tougher as each digit needs to be reconfigured.

” ‘That part of the show will actually be really exciting,’ says Rune Moklebust.” More at the WSJ, here.

Erik, someone needs to ask Svein if he (or the baby) has been watching. Apparently slow TV is soothing and meditative. I guess Norwegians need that as much as anyone else.

Nov. 9, 2013 update: Watching knitting.

Photo: Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation

Read Full Post »

Did anyone watch the television show Rin Tin Tin as a kid?

I thought of it today when I read this awesome AP story:

“The birth of a white bison, among the rarest of animals, is bringing Native Americans who consider it a sacred event to celebrate at one of the least likely of places, a farm in New England.

“Hundreds of people, including tribal elders from South Dakota, are expected to attend naming ceremonies later this month at the northwestern Connecticut farm of Peter Fay, a fourth-generation Goshen farmer.

“Native Americans in the area have come with gifts of tobacco and colored flags for Fay and the bull calf since it was born there a month ago, and Fay is planning to offer his hay field as a campsite for the expected crowds.

” ‘They say it’s going to bring good things to all people in the world. How can you beat that? That’s the way I look at it,’ Fay said.” More. (There’s a photo there, too.)

I knew I had to blog about it because I loved the Rin Tin Tin episode when young Rusty is in dire straights and is saved by the White Buffalo. I know the song from that episode by heart. It was one of my brother’s records when he was little, although I don’t think it made it into the website with his blues records.

“There’s an old Indian legend that I heard long ago.
“It’s about a special valley and the White Buffalo.

“The legend says you’ll find it if your heart is brave and true
“And you treat all men as brothers no matter what they do.

“I have searched for that valley since I started to grow.
“I won’t stop until I find it — and the White Buffalo.”

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: