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Chapter V Tex Avery’s Unique Viewpoint on Good, Evil, and Morality

Place-Verghnes, Floriane John Libbey Publishing ePub

In an era of normlessness (or anomie, according to sociologist Emile Durkheim), how can one give a precise description of what is good and what is not? After the deprivations following the Depression (for which, according to the Machiavellian doctrine, the aim justifies the means) and the horrors of the Second World War, morality was no more than a blurred concept, quite devoid of its theoretical meaning.

History is in the hands of blind and deaf forces, which will heed neither cries of warning, nor advice, nor entreaties ... Today the judges, the accused, and the witnesses are permuted.62

If such a permutation is possible, where does the boundary stand between good and evil? Such a matter is therefore highly personal, since no overall stance can be adopted (or else, the message would be more prescriptive than normative). It escapes definition because it is extremely relative; its value is both diachronical and geographical (bound by time and space). What is considered morally good in a certain society at a particular time may be considered immoral under different circumstances. On a less serious level, it is equally true that “morality in a comedy exists only to be denied”63. Even in the early movies by Charlie Chaplin, violence is rampant. Due to his later success as a naïve and poetic character, we tend to forget that Chaplin’s character has not always been the nice guy. “In the beginning, Charlot used to be fierce, cruel, and demonic.”64 His favourite accessory was a safety pin, with which he would prick people for no particular reason. Such senseless cruelty could be condemned by anyone possessing an ounce of morality. However, the result is comical. Why? Simply because

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Chapter VI Freudian Pansexualism: Concepts of Activity/Passivity

Place-Verghnes, Floriane John Libbey Publishing ePub

In his New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis (1933)106, Freud associated for the first time the notions of virility and activity, while attributing passivity to female behaviour. This simplistic theory is followed by the letter in Tex Avery’s cartoons. Freud’s impact on today’s world is immeasurable. Even nowadays, it is virtually impossible to tackle the subject of sexual urges without evoking or quoting the man. Just like Caesar’s “veni, vidi, vici”, Freud’s declaration “anatomy is destiny” has become a maxim famous world-wide, although few realise how innovative it was, and to what extent it shaped our understanding of sex and gender. Freud’s statement expresses the belief that biological sex affects not only the gender (what may be defined as cultural sex) of the person but also his or her entire life. Sex is thus a master trait, a label, a main variable on which all the others depend. This sexual solipsism (to quote Betty Friedan) is still pervading all our accounts on, and explanations of sexual urges.

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Chapter IV Facing Contemporary Politics

Place-Verghnes, Floriane John Libbey Publishing ePub

The golden years of American materialism as depicted in The Big Money seemed too good to be true. There could be no wild years without a possible backlash. The first hints of the potentiality of the American foundations to crack and finally collapse appeared in the late 1920s and eventually, the “Roaring Twenties” came to a sharp end in 1929 with the Wall Street Crash. Apart from the unprecedented financial results of such a blow, the mental consequences on the people were to be terrific, limitless, and (above all) everlasting. This is a common phenomenon to be observed among people: each time you undergo a crisis, you tend to shape your subsequent behaviour according to the initial blow, even if the danger has passed away and you are hence secure. This is precisely what I mean by “an osmosis between the past and the present” – and as a consequence, the future. That is, the capacity of human beings to draw conclusions from their past so as to adapt to an awe-inspiring future. In the midst of such a crisis, testifying becomes an urgent necessity, since it binds people to one another, by making them aware of the fact that they are sharing the same predicament. The act of bearing witness is a painful relief. Tex Avery’s subconscious aim was nothing more than relief when he depicted insecure behaviours linked to the aftermath of the Depression. The American people had indeed undergone a huge blow. After decades of growing importance on the international stage, after claiming the American soil was a land of freedom and opportunity for everyone (see the rags to riches tales), its people had been reduced to the scum of the so-called developed world in a fortnight. No wonder then, that such an experience shattered their hopes for the future, and that they consequently perceived matters in quite another light.

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Chapter II The Cartoon Before Tex

Place-Verghnes, Floriane John Libbey Publishing ePub

Even though the art of animation is often associated with innovation, it has to be said that it finds its roots as early as 1645, when Athanasius Kircher (1601–1690) invented his Magical Lantern (the method of which he described at length in a book entitled Ars Magna Lucis et Umbrae). It consisted of a

mere box in which a mirror and a source of light had been placed ... The light rays – reflected by the mirror – would come out of the box through a small slit, and go through a pane of glass on which an image had been stuck. The image was then screened on a white wall through a magnifying lens.15

Etienne Gaspard Robert – working under the pseudonym Robertson – used the same device almost 150 years later, when he gave a fright to the whole of Paris by screening the heroes of the Revolution in his Fantasmagorie show (1794).

This ancestor of the animated movies was therefore to be one of the longer lasting ones, since what other creators did afterwards was only to improve the original method by implementing it with two major principles of animation: the persistence of vision and the need for gaps between images.

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Chapter I The Cartoon-Making Technique

Place-Verghnes, Floriane John Libbey Publishing ePub

Provided that you have seen a few cartoons and you are rather curious, you must have wondered “How did they do that?” The magic atmosphere that pervades cartoons actually conceals a more practical side; that of the various techniques employed in order to achieve a maximum impact on the audience by constantly flirting with reality, without anyone noticing the amount of pain taken in timing the whole thing precisely. Five weeks of intense work, 8,640 frames and no less than 1,300 metres of film are required to create a six-minute cartoon. Cartoons in the 1940s had to be six minutes long, not more, not less, both for obvious financial reasons and because of their status of film preview: the duration of a cartoon, a set of commercials, a newsreel, and a film had to be precisely two hours long.

I now propose to follow the birth of a cartoon from its conception to the final result, by examining all the different departments that deal with its creation.

The very first thing you need to make a cartoon is obviously a screenplay. The script-writer (or storyman) is therefore the first person to put his shoulder to the wheel. Not only does he write the dialogue (unless a dialogue-man is appointed for this part of the process), but he is also responsible for the whole atmosphere of the cartoon through his detailed description of the characters, places, and forces at work in the story. He then works closely with the director to produce characters and situations that will work together visually. His role will be to translate the story in a limited number of sketches (from 50 and 150 for a six-minute cartoon), and to pair it with a few lines of dialogue, in order to see if the combination is effective. The drawings are very rough, not refined, and only depict extreme positions, behaviours, or physical expressions. “Extreme”, because knowing that a character, object, or landscape will gradually change (at a rhythm of 24 frames per second) between a period X and a period Y, the story-artist will not take the time (or the financial risk) to draw all the pictures between X and Y, but will merely sketch out the two extremes X and Y. The resulting story-board, which looks like a huge comic-strip, will then be pinned onto a cork panel so that the whole team (animators, model-makers, scene painters, etc.) can discuss potential modifications. The technique of the story-board has been used since the 1920s, but was significantly developed by Walt Disney.

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