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Chapter VIII Oedipal Relationships and Their Consequences

Place-Verghnes, Floriane John Libbey Publishing ePub

Tex Avery’s cartoons rarely stage happy, solid families. Absent parents – the kitten in Bad Luck Blackie (1949) – , mothers without children and consequently trying to compensate for this lack – the owner of Lenny in Lonesome Lenny (1946) – , characters carrying out an eternal quest for a mother-figure – all the adaptations of Of Mice and Men, with Junior parodying Steinbeck’s Lennie –, the family as an institution is often severely handicapped. However, despite this lack of mutual bonding, Tex Avery’s cartoons always take into account the contemporary need for a mother experienced by a whole generation of soldiers who had fought in the Second World War. As we have already seen, the feminine mystique did not explode without warning. The Depression, the Second World War, and the invention of the atomic bomb were all determining factors in terms of sociological impact. The nation being generally scared, the need for the assuaging, soothing force best embodied by the mother-figure suddenly became a sine qua non. What the GIs wanted was to re-create the peace of their boyhood homes. The increasing number of pin-ups in the postwar years is no coincidence at all: as mother substitutes (see the size of their breasts for further instance), they fulfilled a sociological function that would have otherwise left a representational void. This climate of sociological insecurity was definitely propitious to the feminine mystique boom. The next stage was unavoidable: from then on, the idea that femininity could only be sublimated through motherhood propagated swiftly. However, the concept was carried so far as to result in many cases of castrating mothers, either through aggressive behaviour motivated by revenge or through a process of maternal over-protection (a term borrowed from David Levy) motivated by extreme love. Maternal over-protection resulted from a feeling of being unloved, left apart, since the only prospect of self-fulfilment for a woman was to be connected with her offspring. A woman could not simply live for herself but had to live for (and through) her children, so that her behaviour often displayed traces of emotional blackmail.

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Chapter III Tex Avery’s Americanness: An Attempt to Retrieve the Past

Place-Verghnes, Floriane John Libbey Publishing ePub

Dealing with such a matter without evoking Tex Avery’s masterpiece in the genre, Symphony in Slang (1951) would be missing a crucial point. This cartoon could be set apart from the whole corpus. Its scenario is quite poor, the story being, in actual fact, nothing but a theme with variations on puns and American slang. However, from a linguist’s point of view, it displays an impressive richness. It is entirely built on set phrases, the meaning of which is always taken in its first degree (“I had goose-pimple”, “she had her hair in a bun”, “Mary’s clothes fit her like a glove”, “the law was on my heels”, “it was good to stretch”, etc.). See also Uncle Tom’s Cabaña (1947), in which “starvation was staring at me [uncle Tom] in the face” while the evil-doer Simon Legree is depicted as literally “two-faced”, “a low-down snake”, and “rolling in dough” or the brain-storming activity (clouds and lightening included) that takes place over the cat’s head in King-Size Canary (1947). It has been defined by Petr Kral as a succession of “puns translated into ... wacky idiosyncrasies”.33 This comic device is typical of the films by the Marx brothers. In Duck Soup (1933), Firefly (Groucho) addresses the portly Margaret Dumont piling up expressions with both a figurative and a literal meaning:

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Chapter IX The Burlesque Heritage

Place-Verghnes, Floriane John Libbey Publishing ePub

The ... American comedy finds its roots in the French comic
movies of the pre-First World War period, and – above all –
in the Anglo-Saxon music-hall, with all its acrobatics, pantomimes, nonsense, gags, and slapstick
.155

Georges Sadoul’s statement conveys a deep, analytical meaning – provided one knows what the slapstick genre is.156 Giving a precise definition is a rather difficult enterprise, even though it is easy to spot its characteristics while watching a film of the genre. The following section, although far from exhaustive, will concentrate on four of these characteristics which are among the most prominent ones. Firstly, a burlesque film stages caricatures, stereotypes, people who could not possibly exist in real life; it also displays elements of excess (to which the Marx brothers may own the copyrights). However, a burlesque film is generally best identified through its frantic rhythm, and not only because of the early techniques used in silent movies, but also through the mechanical gestures which its protagonists repeatedly make.

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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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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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