Thursday, June 25, 2009

From Tension to Tit Eyes

This was my first Clampett experience, and I don't even mean the whole cartoon; I mean just the opening. Right from the opening title cards I felt an uneasiness, like something weird and momentous was about to happen.
It starts out with a pretty normal pan of a farm, but layed out with odd angles that make it move in a slightly creepy way.

Then it just cuts to Daffy walking. I always assumed he was part of the pan, but no, it's a jump cut that I never noticed till now.
This walk is rife with tension, animated by Izzy Ellis. It's a double bounce - which is usually used to make a character seem happy. Something about this walk though is anything but bubbly or happy.
When I saw this for the first time, an anticipation of dread gripped me, like Daffy was expecting the world to come to an end. I never had weird feelings like this watching cartoons before.
And Daffy looked so different than what I was used to. He was more angular, scrawny and his poses were dynamic and really communicated what he was feeling - new more specific feelings. He's waiting for something that must be more important than life itself. What was it?






More great poses!
I was astounded at how clear and stark his poses were. Like a caricature of the cartoon principles of silhouettes, line of action, anticipations etc. No timidity like the poses in a Friz cartoon.
He says "sufferin' succotash!" which I had only heard Sylvester say before. I wonder who said it first. Clampett said that when they recorded Mel Blanc's voice for Daffy, he liked the way it sounded better than after they sped it up, so when he created his first Sylvester cartoon he suggested using the same voice and not speeding it up.
I love this action that really accentuates the dialogue.
Mel and Carl Stalling are in top form in the cartoon. It's amazing how Clampett coordinated all his talents to contribute to the unique intense feelings you only feel in his cartoons.


"Why don't he get here?" Listen to how the voice and music work together perfectly here.




This head shake is great too.





My eyes were bugging out of my head watching these unapologetic poses.
Nice ass anticipation there...
I think this was the first time I noticed smears too and they work perfectly here.
Here's a nice jump cut to the mailbox in a different position. Clampett's camera angles add a lot of dynamic tension to his cartoons.

I think this is a different animator.




Man was I creeped out by these realistic 3 fingered man hands - which Mike Fontanelli told me are outlawed in Japan.
Yikes! It's hilarious but really sick. Like a mutant from Hell has come to violate Daffy's sacred mailbox.
Another bold jump cut
...to reveal Daffy's eyes sliding around the post like living breasts whose aching needs beg to be sated.
All this is just the beginning of the cartoon and it made me feel like I was seeing - not "seeing" but feeling something different in a cartoon. I was used to laughing at my favorite Chuck Jones or Tex Avery cartoons and admiring the artwork and animation, but this was my introduction to a kind of comedy that had the extra element of intense feeling and empathy for the character. I was sucked into Daffy's emotions and felt everything he felt, instead of just laughing at him from the outside world. Clampett has this way of sucking you into the screen by making the story come out of the characters' emotions, rather than just stuffing them into a neat and tidy preconceived plot.

The Great Piggy Bank Robbery was a great revelation to me. It completely changed how I thought about cartoons and entertainment.

I've made a bunch of clips from it and will share all my revelations about it. I just had another last week as I was studying it again for the millionth time.

A CARTOON STARRING ONLY ONE CHARACTER

This cartoon stars only 1 character! It's just Daffy. No foil in the cartoon, except himself against his own urges and imagination! It's not Bugs VS Elmer, or Peter Pan VS Captain Hook; it's just a single extremely emotional duck. Doesn't this break every rule of (or cliche) of storytelling? Somebody quote me some rules out a film school book about character.

Today you can't have a cartoon without 80 characters, each with no charisma or personality, but who have to all take their turns eating up screen time by saying their cringe-inducing catch phrases or making arbitrary references to other films and TV shows.

Under Clampett's supremely controlled direction, Daffy is so charismatic that he can carry a whole cartoon by himself on the strength of his personality.

38 comments:

Matt Durand said...

This might be my favorite Warners cartoon, so I'm really looking forward to seeing it dissected here. Thanks John!

"From Tension to Tit Eyes" would make a good title for a self-help book.

J C Roberts said...

I had the exact same feelings about it from the first time I saw it. This was the one that really informed my sensibilities. It's a feeling I don't get from any of the other Termite Terrace "Supervisors" (not that I don't love those, too). When this scene was referenced in the "New Adventures" I knew I could expect a return of that feeling.

It's in "Man's Best Friend", "Stimpy's Invention" "Kilted Yaksmen", and dozens more. It's my cartoon wavelength as well, and it's great to know how much it influenced you as well, but I could have guessed.

Of course, Baby Bottleneck, Kitty Kornered, Book Revue & The Big Snooze followed right behind, but there's just something about Great Piggy Bank Robberey.

I wonder if Clampett felt it was one of his high water marks?

Isaac said...

Love this post! All good plots occur mostly in the minds of the characters, because all a plot is, is a device to confront the characters with their emotions and actions. Just like you say, a story isn't interesting when there's a lot going on but the characters just sail through it.

David Gale said...

Great post! Seeing R&S for the first time when I was 11 had the same kind of effect on me!

Gnat Brain said...

God I love this cartoon and all things Clampett. Ever since I saw this little gem for the first time, any time I saw any cartoon with the GOOD insane Daffy I always imagined that some kind of similar and equally bizarre fantasy was always playing out inside that tiny warped brain of his. That's character development. It's kind of tragic that all of the great character traits that Clampett and his unit instilled in Daffy (and Bugs.. and EVERYONE for that matter) was tossed in the crapper in the later cartoons when Daffy was just was just a static pissed-off loser.

Puh Puh Puh Puh PICKLE PUSS!

Ted said...

"but who have to all take their turns eating up screen time by saying their cringe-inducing catch phrases or making arbitrary references to other films and TV shows"

As opposed to the catch phrase you point out or that the whole cartoon is a reference to another property?

I might argue that my enjoyment of the cartoon (one of the few color Clampett WB cartoons that I really like) comes from the dream backgrounds being the main character, and Daffy being more or less a foil for the dream backgrounds. It differs slightly from how Tex Avery's MGM blackout cartoons star the backgrounds, as generally there's an even tempered narrator acting as a foil and they work in the blackout form of unrelated joke-joke-joke as opposed to the more traditional story form in Great Piggybank Robbery, but there's a certain similarity in form.

There is more to GPR than that section of course, but it's what I find to be great about it. That may be what makes it a great cartoon tho; it appeals to people for disparate reasons, making it more universal than something that only appeals to some people for one specific aspect.

David Germain said...

He says "sufferin' succotash!" which I had only heard Sylvester say before. I wonder who said it first. Clampett said that when they recorded Mel Blanc's voice for Daffy, he liked the way it sounded better than after they sped it up, so when he created his first Sylvester cartoon he suggested using the same voice and not speeding it up.

Sylvester says "Sufferin' Succatash" in Friz Freleng's Life With Feathers which predates The Great Piggy Bank Robbery even when you factor in the lengthy production time.

Yeah, I remember being blown away when I first saw Clampett's work as well. I didn't think he was necessarily better than Jones, Freleng, McKimson or anyone else, but his cartoons were definitely masterpieces worthy of praise from even the most pompous film scholars.

nktoons said...

Very insightful post, John. Thank You! I was not aware of this cartoon, nor its beautiful drawings and animation. It made me feel like a kid again!

Rick Roberts said...

I think The Great Piggy Robbery would not conflict with a film school book, the story telling has conflict and resolution. Of course some student or film critic would probably argue that the story isn't poignant enough. They would cite some boring ass cartoon made by Chuck Jones in the late 50's and how it's superior because it's not "wacky".

By the way John, I am surprised you didn't get into much detail about the brilliance of the Postman's hands. The animation combined with Stalling's music gave the Postman personality, laid back. Not a single CGI film today can flesh out personality in 90 minutes and this cartoon takes about 10 secounds.

Maurice said...

I love "The Great Piggybank Robbery". It is one of my favorite cartoons of all time. The layouts, the poses, the "character vs. himself" theme, the lusciously dark backgrounds, and great smears (the phone call, for instance), and the litany of named Dick Tracy-esque villains culminating with an unnamed payoff with "Flattop". Near perfection!

Dave Jacob Hoffman said...

Remember, the five narrative conflicts are:

1. Man VS Man

2. Man VS Nature

3. Man VS Society

4. Man VS Self

5. Man VS Cyborgs

Niki said...

That's awesome! It reminds me of this game i played last year that also had at the most 11 characters a but you only get to see one until you meet the others and kill them off. Most of them are monsters that don't talk anyway.

Trevor Thompson said...

You know, Izzy Ellis did that angular Daffy, as he did in a lot of Clampett cartoons ( Baby Bottleneck comes to mind ), but he also animated for Frank Tashlin by the time Tash was doing his 'Scotart Technique' which was also very angular.

He developed it right around this time. 'Piggy Bank' came out in 46 and 'Nasty Quacks', which I think was when it was fully developed, came out in 45. I wonder if Izzy influenced Frank at all in this respect.

Also, I think the shot of Daffy saying 'Shhhh!!!' was animated by Bill Melendez. Don't know though.

-trevor.

brad said...

THOSE HANDS!!! AAAARG!!!

Why do they only have 3 fingers??!??

Caleb said...

"Somebody quote me some rules out a film school book about character."

(in an authoritative, blustery voice): Clearly Daffy is the protagonist and his desire for his new comic is the antagonist. The 3 fingered mailman represents nature and divine will (3 fingers= holy trinity). The farm setting provides a safe haven for his journey into the depths of his own imagination, which he will return to once wisdom is gained. The mailbox is obviously the Christ figure here. When these elements are combined; the mind, body, and soul unite in hilarity.

Of course, I'm joking. More cartoons with ass anticipation!

Rick Roberts said...

Trevor: I think that is Bill's work too.

PeteyX said...

NEON NOODLE?!

Bob said...

haha I never noticed the three finger mailman! ugghh it is disgusting I just thought the wrinkles were enough already. And Mike F is right about how japanese cartoons cannot have 4 fingers I read it in a book about tezuka he had to change from drawing his characters with 4 fingers to 5. I forgot the religions name I could find out it had to deal with the animal spirituality.

bloatedsackofprotoplasm said...

I didn't remember seeing this cartoon, so I looked it up on youtube. Man, this shit is hilarious. It's so funny to me how artistic things like music and animation just keep getting shittier and shittier as years go by. People have been doing them so long, you would think that they would be much much much better now. But seeing older cartoons like this one really makes you realize that the stuff they put out nowadays is complete garbage. They're like "I know, let's see who can make the most money off of the shittiest product." Here's the link to the cartoon:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Dwvw_wMUC4&feature=PlayList&p=4310708D0E9F261F&playnext=1&playnext_from=PL&index=42

patrick said...

I've always thought this was a great scene, and reading your breakdown really drives it home!

Ryan said...

The reason the three fingered hands are banned in japan, is because it is a tradition for yakuza(dangerous japanese gangsters) To be punished my a superior by having their pinky finger cut off. At least this is my understanding.

Ed said...

John, in some of your more curmudgeonly, ragged, ranting posts I catch myself, being the young asshole I am, bunching up and writing you off as just a cynical old goat. However, as every good old timer who knows whats good and never have to fake being wrong I ultimately can't deny that you're right. I'm dumb, but I'm not stupid. To me you're the clint eastwood or jack palance of cartoons.
Those guys couldn't fake it either, it wasn't in their DNA.

HemlockMan said...

Um. You know what? I've never seen this cartoon. I thought that I'd seen just about all of them...but this one excapeded me somehow! How did this happen?! HOW?!!

Is this available anywhere? I'd like to see it.

One thing about Daffy, though:

I liked him much better when he was daffy. Who made him into a schmuck? Who, I ask ya? Why did they transform him from a mad hatter into a moronic victim? Why?!

Nicholas said...

Awha? Only one character? No foil? There were many other characters besides Daffy, most notably all the gangsters at the end (whom Duck Twacy ends up killing with a machine gun).

Pilsner Panther said...

Maybe the greatest of all the WB cartoons? I know I'll get shouted down by all the fans of "What's Opera, Doc?" and "One Froggy Evening," but I stand by my opinion.

Or beside it, or beside myself, or something.

No one under 40 or so will have any idea who Dick Tracy was, but it doesn't matter. Clampett and Chester Gould were, in an odd way, alike, and so this cartoon works like a collaboration. They probably never met, but they both designed some of the weirdest cartoon characters ever sprung on an unsuspecting public.

Frank Tashlin's "Porky Pig's Feat" deserves special mention as one other instance of Daffy being as totally daffy as he is here. And the Carl Stalling score (with plenty of Raymond Scott quotes) being equally great.

Lucas Nine said...

Someone should do a post about the intricate system of musical references in Stalling's scores: it covers the sound track of most part of the Clampett cartoons.
Some of it included: the "California Here I Come” motif, the “Kitty” motif, the “Arabian” motif, the "Chinese” motif, the “Dawn” motif (from “William Tell”), the “Bomb Girl” motif, etc.
All of it playing almost at the same time...

Will Finn said...

Such a great short. Mr. Clampett is on record as being a big fan our our old favorite comic artist Milt Gross and here you can see it as much in the BG's as in the characters. Milt's custom warped and wonderful layout dynamics are in perfect play in each scene, both on the farm and in the dream space of the detective story.

Apart from Milt Gross himself, I think Bob Clampett may have been the only cartoon director to incorporate this kind of layout without turning "whacky" and obvious.

jtstrocel said...

The three finger thing may have something to do with the fact that the numbers 4 and 9 are extremely unlucky, like our number 13. The word for 4, "shi", sounds a lot like "shin" or death. I think 9 is related to the word for pain or grievous injury. Many Japanese hospitals don't have a designated 4th floor for that reason.

Chris Wyatt said...

Hermlock Man - Go down the shops and get yourself a copy of Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume 2! John K also does the commentary for this short.

Zoran Taylor said...

This and Baby Bottleneck are the ultimate postwar cartoons. They portray the world's jittery, craven strides to "move on" in a poetically hilarious and deeply insightful way that still resonates. No explanation for Daffy's insanity is needed, of course, but Draftee Daffy is it. Just picture it - Daffy is so shell-shocked that the authorities send him to a farm to be peacefully isolated for a few months. They ask him what he wants to keep him company. "Please just subscribe me to Dick Tracy and have it delivered", he pleads. I never miss it!" And so begins the greatest cartoon ever made. (Tied with Stimpy's Invention.)
Manwhile, Baby Bottleneck seems to take place in what USED to be a munitions factory, given the way it's run. Now, of course, it has to deal with babies. You get the idea.

Waqas Malik said...

I always loved classic Warner Bros. cartoons, and with you, Mr. K dissecting it, I understand why. You can see how much attention to detail Clampett put in his cartoons, and this is before fancy computer effects and such. Daffy Duck is my favorite since I always felt he was the most down-to-earth character, I always pitied him, since no one understood his feelings, they just made fun of him. The opening scene from "The Great Piggy Bank Robbery" shows beautifully Daffy's bizarre thinking.

I grew up watching your cartoon "Ren and Stimpy" and I had similiar feelings about it. The animation was really unique, and made one want to keep watching. I noticed how your characters were made with detail to facial expressions and movements, much like Clampett's, while simultanously having a dreamy feel. I loved how you showed characters expressing deep emotions, including transitions of contrasting colors, like when Ren was trying to smash his helmet during the "Happy Happy Joy Joy" segments, with the record player stating just before, "why didn't you believe me?" - violent, but one really felt it. It kind of creeped me out as a kid, but now I truly appreciate it, with it's subtle adult humor. Its too bad Nickelodeon had to tone it down. I love your animation and I hope that you continue making cartoons. I would really love it if you continued where "Ren and Stimpy Adult Party" left off, since those episodes were apparently not received well by critics. I can give you suggestions if you like. =)

btw. I'm trying to draw in the same style of yours. =)

Rick Roberts said...

Caleb: You forgot to mention that Daffy's search for his Piggybank is a representation of man's enternal quest for potency.

Zoran Taylor said...

"btw. I'm trying to draw in the same style of yours."

Draw in you own style! That's what John does.

Nicol3 said...

My heart STOPPED when I saw these pics in the feed. This is my all-time FAVORITE Daffy toon. I'm a huge fan of the very wiiiidde range of emotional takes and poses that occur as the toon progresses.

And of course, things intensify as Daffy's imagination grasps a hold of him. I don't think I've ever seen Daffy so.. interactively inspired.

I especially love the part at the beginning, where Daffy's reading the comic aloud. He's giggling hysterically, then CUTS to a serious expression. The tension, as you mentioned, is thicker than steel.

Waqas Malik said...

I like to learn from the pros, but your absolutely right Zoran Taylor! :)

Doctor Jones said...

Cool poses.

Zaphod said...

Hi all. On the subject of Bob Clampett; does anyone know if there have been any biographies written about him?

I've had a look on amazon but can't find anything.

John, thanks for this fantastic site! Could you blog a bit about how you came to know Bob and about your adventures with him.

I think Clampett's Daffy is the funniest and most endearing character in the Warner Cartoons history. It's a pity they turned him into an asshole in the later shorts. I mean he's still funny but he's an asshole.

Zaphod2 said...

I just watched The Great PiggyBank Robbery again. It gets better with each veiwing when you can look for all the elements mentioned in this post and appreciate even more.