Friday, February 18, 2011

Classic Cartoon Companions To Film Noir

"Even in the best film noir, isn't there always a moment when you ask yourself "what the hell is going on?" Trish, author of the entertaining and well-written I Wake Up Screaming film noir blog

Animation historian and prolific author Jerry Beck recently curated a program as part of his Tuesday night animation series at Hollywood's Silent Movie Theatre titled Cartoon Noir. Enjoy the following splendid promotional trailer, chock full of animated variations on noir essentials.



What's the Psychotronic Paul pick as the classic cartoon most in tune with the tension-inducing yet dreamlike visual milieu - the lighting, use of black and white, claustrophobic camera compositions - and underlying confusion-paranoia of film noir? The following Columbia Phantasy, The Vitamin G-Man, courtesy of the much maligned and ever-twisted Screen Gems Studio:



For the exact same reasons many historians absolutely loathe Columbia cartoons - its randomness and complete disregard for anything remotely resembling the fundamentals of story/sight gag construction (even as loosely practiced in animated cartoons) - I love this.

In second place by a molecule is Duck Pimples, an uncharacteristically wacky Disney cartoon, helmed by the studio's best comedy director, the criminally underrated Jack Kinney - with story by Dick Shaw and VIP Partch.



The only reason Flora, a very funny sendup of film noir directed by Alex Lovy for the Screen Gems Studio, as well as such hilarious whodunit spoofs as Bob Clampett's The Great Piggy Bank Robbery (starring "Duck Twacy") and Tex Avery's Who Killed Who? receive a mere honorable mention is because they're in color, not my preference for noir visual styling!

Comedy writer Merrill Markoe has pulled a "What's Up, Tiger Lily" with a Hanna-Barbera cartoon, and in so doing created a recent attempt at Cartoon Noir; it strikes me as much more along the lines of a European (Western or Eastern) existentialist road picture than a noir, but did make me laugh - and the Peter Lorre voice is a hoot. And besides, there are no Quick Draw McGraw cartoons that I know of involving alcoholism, mistaken identities, the urban jungle, chain-smoking, gangsters, psycho killers, impending doom or equine Joan Bennetts.




Reading the scholarly prose of many talented contributors to the For The Love Of Film (Noir) Blogathon - including David Robson's fascinating review of the recent anime noir by the creator of the Cowboy Bebop TV series - got me pondering yet again whether there actually such a thing as "cartoon noir"?

I'm not so sure that there actually is such a thing as a pure "cartoon noir", all the animated goodies referenced here notwithstanding. Cartoon characters, unlike the doomed denizens of noir, can only be killed or maimed for a gag; if an animated Gloria Grahame gets viciously blasted in the face with scalding coffee by a Lee Marvin caricature, she's back in the next scene, 100% healed - leaving Lee's jaw to drop to the floor and his bloodshot bad guy eyeballs to fall out of their sockets in utter disbelief.


Once conceding the obvious, that Tex Avery and Fritz Lang possessed wild, unfettered imaginations and totally opposite sensibilities - at that point, one forgets all about such comparisons and watches a DVD of My Name Is Julia Ross, just one masterpiece by B-movie and noir auteur Joseph H. Lewis (Gun Crazy, The Big Combo).

That is, after donating to the Film Noir Foundation.

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