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All Movie Talk

Welcome to All Movie Talk! In this audio podcast, Samuel Stoddard and Stephen Keller talk about old and new movies, famous directors, historical film movements, movie trivia, and more.

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All Movie Talk, Episode 31

Show contents, with start times:

  • Summer Movie Preview: 2007 (1:50)
    • May: Spider-Man 3, Lucky You, 28 Weeks Later, Shrek the Third, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (2:00)
    • June: Flatland: The Movie, Mr. Brooks, Ocean's 13, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, Nancy Drew, Evan Almighty, Live Free or Die Hard, Ratatouille (11:55)
    • July: Transformers, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, 1408, Hairspray, The Simpsons Movie (30:15)
    • August: The Bourne Ultimatum, Underdog, Rush Hour 3, Stardust, The Invasion, Halloween, Mr. Bean's Holiday (41:09)
  • Series Spotlight: Looney Tunes, Part 2 (53:22)
  • Closing: Preview of Next Week (65:18)
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Show Notes:

Summer Movie Preview: 2007

See this RinkWorks Message Forum post for Sam's alternate take on this summer's movies, including a few that we skipped in the podcast.

Series Spotlight: Looney Tunes, Part 2

There were quite a number of different directors that made the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies shorts during its long run. Although the series as a whole feels cohesive and cut from the same cloth, in actual fact each director had a distinct directorial style and added something different to the cartoons. This is particularly evident when different directors work with the same characters and treat them a little differently. Beyond that, each of the major directors had his own set of characters that only he would work with.

This week, we discuss four of the major directors, and next week we'll discuss three more.

  • Tex Avery

    While not hired until 1935, five years after the Looney Tunes series began, Tex Avery is arguably mostly responsible for steering the Warner Brothers cartoons in the zany, irreverent, anything-for-a-laugh direction that would ultimately distinguish it from the Disney cartoons and pretty much every other animation studio at the time, which were a lot gentler and more focused on the aesthetics of animation and music. Avery's cartoons were outright comedies with broad gestures and outrageous behavior.

    Avery is generally credited with defining Porky Pig's personality, and it was he who credited Warner's second superstar, Daffy Duck, initially conceived as a lunatic foil for Porky Pig. He invented a lot of cartoon cliches, where a character would hold up a sign for the audience to read, or a radio broadcast answering a listener's comments in conversation.

    Avery left the studio in 1941, clashing with it when he wasn't allowed to use a racy joke. He wound up at MGM, where he created Droopy, then returned to the Walter Lantz studio (where he worked prior to being hired by Warner) and created Chilly Willy.

  • Frank Tashlin

    Frank Tashlin, who worked on the Warner cartoons from 1932 to 1944, had a vivid cinematic sense. Cartoons at the time tended to resemble live theater, with long takes, conventional framing, and a neutral perspective. Tashlin was largely responsible for breaking the cartoons out of that and introducing dramatic camera angles, lighting, and editing techniques. He also gave the cartoons a sense of speed. They abound with kinetic energy. When characters run, they zoom. Backgrounds fly by, and the characters turn into exaggerated streaks of motion blur.

    But Tashlin was always looking beyond where he was. He started out as a comic strip artist, but when he really wanted to be doing then was making cartoons. Then when he was making cartoons, he really wanted to be making live-action films -- hence why his cartoons feel so cinematic -- and indeed he used his time with the Looney Tunes as a stepping stone to become a feature film director. After leaving animation, he would direct many Bob Hope comedies (Son of Paleface (1952), for example) and Jerry Lewis comedies (like It's Only Money (1962)). Many of these live-action films, interestingly, have a cartoon sensibility to them.

    Of course, while he was making live-action films, he really wanted to be directing live theater, and indeed, live theater was how he finished out his career.

  • Bob Clampett

    Many people think Bob Clampett was the greatest of the Looney Tunes directors. There are substantial cases for Chuck Jones or Friz Freleng, but Clampett is especially popular with animators, because of how relentlessly creative Clampett was visually. Though hired by Warner earlier than Avery, Avery was very much his mentor, and his cartoons continue the crazed, unhinged comic style of Avery's at a whole new level.

    His cartoons have a great energy to them. Even in moments where cartoons are speaking dialogue and not much else is going on, they do so with an amazing energy. In some cases, this is because the individual drawings that comprise the animation are not the least bit intuitive or sensible. Freeze frame Daffy Duck during his monologues in The Great Piggy Bank Robbery (1946), for example, and you'll see drawings that don't look right at all, that don't even look like they should animate together. But just like you can't make sense out of a pointillist painting until you stand far enough away, the animation only works when you play it through at the normal speed, but it's more lively and textured than if the individual frames were more conventional.

    Of course, Clampett's cartoons wouldn't be great without great animators working for him, and he had some of the best. Rod Scribner was particularly good at these exaggerated distortions of characters, and Clampett also had the future Looney Tunes director Robert McKimson and future Charlie Brown director Bill Melendez working for him. Clampett, in stark contrast to Jones or McKimson, was very free with his animators, allowing them the latitude to infuse their own visions into the cartoons.

    Clampett left Warner in 1946 and spent most of the career doing work on television.

  • Arthur Davis

    Arthur Davis took over the directorial duties for Bob Clampett, after Clampett left. Prior to that, he was an animator in Frank Tashlin's unit. Unfortunately, in 1949, just three years later, Warner did some cost-cutting and reduced the animation studio from four units to three, and Davis' unit was broken up. At that point, Davis once again became an animator, this time for Friz Freleng, right up until the Warner animation studio closed.

    Because he only directed Looney Tunes for three years, his cartoons aren't as well known as some of the others, but they have a cult following. His cartoons had an interesting edge to them, distinctive despite the Looney Tunes as a whole being generally more edgy than most other cartoons at the time. He also had a distinctive use of space, permitting his characters free reign of not just the entire frame but the depth as well, foreground and background.

    His post-Looney Tunes career was prolific. He spent time at the Walter Lantz studio, then at Hanna-Barbera, and ultimately he wound up working for Friz Freleng again, at DePatie-Freleng Enterprises, where he directed many Pink Panther cartoons.

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