Monday, June 30, 2008

Bugs Bunny Made Me Do It

A former poet laureate discusses a prime source of inspiration.

....I am free to confess that my own poetry would have not developed in the direction it did, for better or worse, were it not for the spell that was cast over me as a boy by Warner Bros. cartoons.

I think what these animations offered me besides some very speedy, colorful entertainment was an alternative to the static reality around me that dutifully followed the laws of the physical world.

This freedom to transcend the laws of basic physics, to hop around in time and space, and to skip from one dimension to another has long been a crucial aspect of imaginative poetry.

Strange as it may seem, these cartoons also provided me with an education about things that were not part of the curriculum of a Catholic grammar school of the 1950s. The nuns at St. Joan of Arc in Queens were adroit at teaching me spelling, geography, and lots of catechism, but Looney Tunes cartoons (despite their frivolous name) introduced me to much that lay beyond the precincts of a fairly sheltered childhood. They gave me my first taste of worldliness itself.

As unsophisticated as any nine year old, I had never been to an opera when I saw Chuck Jones's Wagnerian parody in which Bugs sings Brünnhilde's role in a blonde wig stuffed under a helmet with horns. The first symphony orchestra I ever saw was a cartoon one with a fat man playing a tiny flute and a studious-looking dog with triangle duties -- plus, a conductor wielding a "baton" and wearing "tails." There I saw my first bassoon. Before I had ever been to a French restaurant, there on the movie screen was a canine waiter twirling his mustache and pouring wine for a poodle and his date at "Café de Paris."

I had a similar experience growing up in a small South Dakota town in the 1960s. I had never heard of Gary Cooper or Gina Lollobrigida until they were mentioned in a Looney Toon.

As a young viewer, I had no doubts about the superiority of this gang to the characters of Disney. Disney cartoons were tame, conventional, Apollonian. Warner Bros.' were manic, unnerving, iconoclastic, spastic, Dionysian.

I largely agree, although Donald Duck had that barely-contained rage that would enable him to fit in at Warner Bros. This statement caught my eye....

And a Mrs. Daffy Duck? Inconceivable.

I thought I recalled Daffy having a wife......googling.....yes,indeed. (I'm not sure what it says about me that I remembered that.) He is right that domestic bliss was pretty rare in Looney Tunes.

I agree with what he said about directors Friz Freleng and Chuck Jones.

Freleng's work was energetic and zany, but Chuck Jones was blessed or cursed with a touch of divine madness.

On many occasions I have annoyed my wife (who isn't a big cartoon fan) and daughter (who is into anime) with such sentiments. One of the few items I have seen on the Antiques Roadshow that I would seriously consider buying was a Chuck Jones drawing.

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