Book on sound in the cinema - in development
 


The Animation Of Sound
Paper presented at The Illusion Of Life: 1st International Conference on Animation, University of Sydney, 1991
Published in The Illusion Of Life: 1st International Conference on Animation, Power Publications, Sydney, 1994
Edited version reprinted in "Movie Music: The Film Reader", Routledge, New York, 2003

I. THE ANIMATIC APPARATUS - Some prefatory notes

Zombies... They're dead but they appear alive. You can pick 'em out though- their eyes are wide open. Too open. Seeing everything and nothing at the same time.

The cinematic object - invariably described as a motion picture - is ultimately a sight for sore eyes, eyes that can do nothing but be visually engaged: seeing, watching, looking, identifying, recognizing, interpreting, reading, etc. The cinematic object - invariably tagged as the definitive twentieth century art form - is a sign of a culture that knows only the visual, with its consumers resembling zombie corpses whose glazed open eyes continually gulp images. The cinematic object - invariably enjoyed with a sense of wonder - is perhaps best defined as the 'animation of illusion' 1 in that the processes of animation fabricate and generate their own illusion, one not of life but of visual primacy, of violently yet magically severing the visual from the phenomenological totality of life.

So let us leave the cinematic object as such alone for a while. Try a reverse tack. Considering that the cinema has been consistently used throughout this century to illustrate optical and visual principles of the real and the physical (conditioning us to relate life to cinema, consigning us to a 'visual world' which the cinema speciously reflects), let us attempt to recover the disorientation brought about by trying to relate cinema to life, to a pre cinematic/photokinetic reality an epoch of running out of the cinema as a train pulls up into the screen; of screaming in terror at the sight of a cropped head in close up on the screen; of suffering a mild form of epilepsy at the flickering of the screen. Impossible? Of course. The point is that due to (a) film's accent on visuality in its projection of a photographic reality and (b) film's capacity to thereby reinforce visuality in our cultural reality, we are likely doomed to treat film reality relationships as discursive rather than incursive - to illusorily travel between film and reality (because they mirror each other) rather than having one invade and terrorize the other (because they distort each other). The cinematic object (as specifically outlined above) is both the object of desire for that travel and the talisman to ward off that terror.

So let us quell the desire and fuel the terror. Forget optical interfaces, filmic substances, chemical interactions. Forget grain, light, texture, saturation, temperature, exposure. Leave alone the constricted readings of Len Lye, Dziga Vertov, Oskar Fischinger and Stan Brakhage and all the unfortunate pseudo scientific pseudo-neurological applications of their original optical explorations. Tell your eyes to shut up. If you do not, you are still stuck with film, with cinema, with a cinematic apparatus, with a line that projects (from a point) more than it flows (across points). Consider instead an animatic apparatus a means for constructing film (for and by both maker and audience) which is based on an understanding of the processes of animation rather than the principles of animism (Muybridge's da Vincian anatomical studies and the new century's 'age of wonder' inventions like Bioscopes and Vita graphs), principles upon which the early perceptual developments of film are founded.

An animatic apparatus would be a similarly generative machine of effects to that of the cinematic apparatus, but one that is interested in frames, images, cuts and parts more as events and occurrences than elements or components; attuned more to the speed and tempo of fragmentation than the formal sequencing or structural organization of fragments; concerned with film and photography more as a transition than a process; and focused on animation more as a method of caricature than an apparition of lifelikeness. The whole shtick of animism in the cinema and the confounding wonder of realism is more accurately the dissolution of the photographic and the realistic into one another - not a hyperreal zone but more conventionally an unreal zone. For where the bounds of cinematography can cover the gulf between Eisenstein's formalism and Bazin's realism by distracting us from the very processes and practices which maintain their difference, animation (which includes motion cinematography stop motion photography, time lapse camera work, step-printing, pixillation, multiple exposures, in-camera editing, rotoscopography) leaves the photographic and the realistic slightly displaced, allowing one a looser attachment to their demanding image modes and codes. One is reminded that animation describes all motion photography and is not merely a sub category of the cinema. It displays the potential (some grab it - some do not) for forgetting how to relate reality to film because of its overt and sometimes flagrant disregard for pictorial mimeticism and temporal logic; and it is only through such a forgetfulness that one could start to treat the cinema as an incursion or irruption of reality and not as an illusory recreation or simulation of reality. 2

While I am desperately trying to redress the history of the cinema in a few paragraphs here, a diagrammatic chart of the terminological development of the cinematic object could (a) help in simplifying the above and (b) provide a framework for how I wish to tackle animation under the terms of its peculiar sound-image fusion.

FLOW CHART 1 TO BE INSERTED HERE

I have constructed Flow Chart I so as to highlight the weird marriages that culturally contract the cinema - namely that (a) the cinematic apparatus is a machine derived from the perceptual model of animism while the animatic apparatus is a machine derived not from animism but from the perceptual model of dynamism; and (b) the fundamental differences between the cinematic and animatic apparatuses are conflated in the event and effect of movement, where movement is treated as in illusion rather than a force. The purpose of this chart is important to my attempts to clear some space to expand on the notion of motion pictures in order to perceive how the sound image fusion in the cinema functions in relation to the sensory totality of our physical reality. Thus, I am advocating that (a) we have to stop looking at films if we are to garner a full perceptual awareness of the materiality and textuality of cinematic objects; and (b) the conventions and techniques of the 'craft' we call animation initially provide us with the most appropriate means to stop looking at films.

... and then this car's coming right at me. Like it looks like slow motion or something, you know, but it feels like we're all going a million miles an hour. And then it's just like they say my life starts flashin' before my eyes... I'm forgetting where I am and just remembering when all those things happened. So now I guess I'm in hospital but, like, I really don't know...

Although we may have arrived at an animatic apparatus here, we should reflect upon how one treats the sensations of life (of one's 'physical reality') in order to explain the animatic apparatus further. Let me give an example: two people living their lives each in their own way. One person might construct their day out of things they saw, 'snapshotting' their experiences and storing them as impressions. The other person could just as easily construct their day out of the frequency, intensity and dynamics of all the things they experienced, totalizing and interconnecting them and storing them as events. An analogy can be struck here between looking at the single frames of the celluloid strip as framed image entities which are sequenced into a linear strip and looking at the gaps/breaks/fractures/distances between the images, where their arrangement constitutes the celluloid strip rather than the visual contents per se.

Let us extend the analogy further to the cinematographer and the animator, the former dealing with real time and the latter trading in artificial time, the former accepting or co ordinating the inherent and manifest rhythm of the action being photographed and the latter engineering, producing and orchestrating rhythms in order to make action happen. Obviously I'm talking about the rhythms in and of both life and film; but if we do not have an awareness of how rhythm informs and determines both our phenomenological perception and the cinematic tic/ animatic apparatus, then we are more likely than not doomed to only see things in life and film. This is why I am rejecting animism in favour of promoting dynamism. If we can entertain this type of animatic apparatus (as we have done so with a cinematic apparatus), we are better equipped to pass over the visuality of film to come to terms with the temporality of film where time is made extant.

Granting the above (dialectically at least), we can start to gain a working definition of the animatic apparatus. Two premises are thus outlined: premises which do not rely so heavily on visual discourses:

(1) Rhythm is the experience of Time: wherein the components of tempo, beat, phrasing, accent, etc., are the architectonic organizational means for structuring time, employed to fabricate a sense of temporality (i.e. the experience of time) when in fact it is the experience itself of time that provides temporal/rhythmic structuring of one's experience of any type of time span.

(2) Movement is the sensation of Space: wherein space can only be felt by traversing it, which in turn takes time (depth can be experienced from a static viewpoint), and that the consequent temporality of traversing space is effected by the movement of areas, parameters and dimensions in relation to the subject's movement.

Fortunately, just as all this is getting unbearably abstract (not to mention unfashionably phenomenological), we can relate the above premises to a technical invention: the Disney Studio's multiplane animation camera. First used in certain scenes in Snow White (1939), 3 this camera was designed to facilitate a contrapuntal approach to the timing and shooting of material so that a multiple of planes could be shifted and focused upon while maintaining a realistic effect of movement through space in time. But this 'realistic effect' is artificially generated by a counterpoint (the different levels being moved in a perspective ratio to the camera lens) which alludes to the sensations of movement. While Disney talked of the camera's invention in terms of the 'heightened realism' it afforded, the fact remains that the multiplane animation camera generates its effect of movement (of animation proper) through internal rhythmic interactions rather than outward visual relationships. As such, the multiplane animation camera can be posited as a strangely self reflexive metaphor for the animatic apparatus in that this machine of generative effects evidences animation as a techno-textual modus operandi: a realization of how technology and textuality are inseparable, of how concepts of measure/effect are more pertinent here than issues of form/content.

The importance of this invention cannot be underestimated, even though it remains largely unrecognized. In essence, it is the ideal relationship between two early cinematic drives:

(1) Abel Gance's obsession with freeing the camera so that it became an instrument rendered capable of moving across, travelling up to, inserting itself into and hovering on top of any static or moving surface or object; where the camera is a mobilized body, a vehicle for channeling sensations back to us through the photographic effect in motion (as opposed to Dziga Vertov's material dissection of the filmic process).

(2) Oskar Fischinger's fascination with the interface between visuality and rhythm, with optical effects resulting from the polyphonic play of positive and negative shapes; where the camera is a tool for constructing these rhythmic oscillations and vacillations through the pixillation of abstract forms (as opposed to Len Lye's operation on the filmic material).

These two primary drives in early cinema (historically submerged to a certain degree by defenses of the cinema as an art growing out of literature and painting) 4 are drives in every sense of the term: they are both desires for the sensation of movement (not its mere representation) and methods of dynamism. The animatic apparatus is thus one that keys us into the mobilization of dynamics: where space and time are in essence rhythmic reinforcements of each other. (This is proposed in direct opposition to the aforementioned notion of the cinematic object's 'animation of illusion' and the cinema's 'dissolution of the photographic and the realistic into one another'.) Furthermore, the animatic apparatus has been virtually dormant since these 1910-1920 origins up until the 1980s developments in computer animation and explorations of the Steadicam - two technological markers which display the ease with which seductive dynamism could be generated. But I say 'virtually dormant' because the synchronous sound animated cartoons/shorts from the late 1920s up to the mid 1950s demonstrate with most force, energy and intensity the dynamic drive of the animatic apparatus. 5

 

II. THE SYMPHONIC EXPERIENCE - Notes on early Disney animation

EXPERIMENTS, OBSERVATIONS AND CONCLUSIONS AT THE DISNEY STUDIO

While many people today are put off by the universal cuteness (not to mention the cultural imperialism) of the family fodder Disney foisted upon generations of moviegoers in the name of wholesome entertainment, 6 it should not be overlooked that the Disney studio is responsible for many inventions, devices and processes which have both defined and refined animation as we know it. This applies especially to how the Disney studio dealt with soundtrack manipulation, musical scoring and sound image narratology. While Disney might be singled out for nullifying the potential for the sound image explorations established by the European avant garde cinema prior to World War II, the Disney studio has left us a body of integrative and developmental works which constitute a precise and rarefied approach to constructing a cinematic totality founded on the interaction between sound and image.

The awkward thing about theorizing the narrative effects of Disney cartoons with attention to the soundtrack is that the aural/dynamic effects which constitute the cartoons' textuality are the consequence of Walt Disney's obsessive drive to create life through illusion: the point being that these effects are propelled by dynamism while the cartoons are founded on animism (dynamism and animism being, as I posited earlier, oppositional drives in the cinema). But even though we can accept Disney's creative or inspirational foundation, we are not forced to relate the cartoons' textuality back to his authorial drives. In fact, this contradiction illuminates a certain relationship between sound and image because Disney primarily saw the technique of animation as 'bringing images to life', from which he established a subsequent view that music (and to a lesser degree, sound) already has a 'life' of its own. An interesting problematic arises here (one not cited by Disney) of an organic life force - musical composition - being combined with an artificial life force - image animation. While this sounds like a philosophical reflection on my part, consider the technicality of the animation process, where separate images are being combined with continuous sound. Slow down the celluloid strip on the edit bench and you have still photography; slow down the magnetic tape and you still have the sound as recorded information in microscopic detail which in essence 'remains itself'. The real illusion here is not simply kinetic but more precisely the proto-molecular dissolution of two communicative modes into a single technological phenomenon. In fact fusion is the exact way to describe the marriage of sound and image tracks in Disney's animation because both are worked upon so as to distil each other, to effect a symbiotic relationship. Typical of Disney's penchant for the magical, the full narrative effects of the cartoons are only disclosed by fairly detailed and often lateral analytic approaches which conventional critical methods ignore. 7

This is where we now use our animatic apparatus: as a means for divining, realizing and articulating the textuality of these cartoons. The real trick, though, is that all the signs of dissolution and disintegration of the realistic, the photographic, the illusory, the sensational, the simulative, the rhythmic and the dynamic into the cinematic object are all clearly evident in the processes of animation as established by the Disney studio. Another chart will schematize it best.

FLOW CHART 2 TO BE INSERTED HERE

Flow Chart 2 simply relates physio musical aspects of rhythm, beat and time to the more established ways of articulating how the mechanics of motion picture technology approximate the motor mechanisms of the human body. As far as I can ascertain, the Disney studio appears to have been the first to employ such a strict scientific base for relating sound and image, mainly because of the problems they had to overcome in constructing and producing animated imagery in line with the demands of a soundtrack. As most writing on the formation of the Disney studio stresses, the studio was more a laboratory where the only way to develop animation techniques was to experiment. The main problem of course was one of synchronism. While the Warner studio flaunted the effectiveness of a synchronous recording process which simultaneously documented sound and image as a continuum (fixing both tracks as a fusion in playback), such a process had little bearing on animation which does not record a 'real event' because the 'animated event' is produced by the process of animation itself. The problem of synchronism also was twofold: (a) sound and image had to eventually match up 'in synch'; and (b) neither visual nor sound recording could be engineered without a concept of how each should relate to the other.

The solution - which apparently was overlooked for some years after the introduction of synchronous sound recording in 1927 - was the metronome. Here was an instrument designed to not simply measure time but to cut real time into fragments and thereby create artificial time: the ideal counterpart to the animation process. The Disney studio was the first to realize that the metronome could give a reading of time which had equal relevance to the animator and the composer, which subsequently meant that once both had agreed on a cue sheet with all appropriate beat indications for the storyboard action, the composer and animator could then go off and work separately. The ideal of a symbiotic relationship between the musical and the graphic was initially realized through an industrial relationship between composer and animator. 8

THE SILLY SYMPHONIES

The generic name Silly Symphonies (the main category of animated shorts produced by the Disney Studio between 1928 and 1939) covers and describes this experimental period where that symbiotic relationship was sought and struck. The Silly Symphonies collectively address the core dilemma of Disney's illusionistic aspirations of trying to join the organic (the sound of music) with the artificial (the illustration of image) by centring on nature and drawing upon 'man's relation to his world'. The grand history of mimeticism is founded on the cultural aesthetics of nature as visual, formal and material. Man's relation to the animated world was rhythmic, syncopative and percussive. The first official Silly Symphony The Skeleton Dance (1929) - features an array of skeletons coming to life to perform music upon themselves, where their bodies are the very instruments they play in order to make their bodies move. The deathly inertia of the graphic image is mobilized by the animation process and dynamized by the musical soundtrack, while the human skeleton (the matter that remains after death) is reanimated by rhythm, the 'rhythm of life' (remembering that the human body is basically a container for the rhythmic flow of fluids). This cartoon is profoundly symbiotic!

In much the same way that Pat Sullivan's Felix The Cat silent cartoons from 1925 to 1928 posited Felix as both constructor, effector, manipulator and subject of the cartoon text through all its visual puns, the first sound Disney cartoon Steamboat Willie (1928) posits Mickey Mouse as a textual seme in the construction of sound animation. His actions as both musical performer and sound generator are a distillation of Western music's traditional recourse to master nature to produce music (or rather a musical discourse on creation) from the natural occurrences of sound and noise. Picture, for example, Mickey lining up cats and pulling on their tails so that each cat produces a different pitch of screaming; and there you have the essential violence of man mastering nature in the name of creation. The late 1920s and early 1930s Disney cartoons (which were marketed as either Silly Symphonies or Mickey Mouse featurettes) 9 all have this general air of violence expelled by the explosive percussiveness of their mauling of nature (animals, plants, the elements, etc.). But still one must match this hindsight with the cartoons' original focus: to (a) represent music as the control of nature and (b) present animation as the control of synchronism. The result is like an aural version of M. C. Escher's graphic metamorphoses of changing perspectives and moebius strip dimensions in that all inanimate objects are brought to life by music being produced by all animate objects which are the producers of music which bring to life all inanimate objects, etc., etc. The sound cartoon world is one where every mark and squiggle is energized by rhythm, vibrating in reaction to the soundtrack. Such is the particular dynamic flow which constitutes the narrative mobilization of these early Disney cartoons, effecting a symbiotic relationship between music and illustration and a fused continuum of sound and image.

THE SORCERER'S APPRENTICE

Fantasia (1940) is the poetic peak of Disney animation as outlined above. This is not just because it capitalizes on the preceding 12 years of experimentation at the Disney studio but also because its narrative deals with pre composed musical texts. As such, Fantasia is not just an homage to a body of baroque, classical, romantic and early 20th century compositions, but also an honouring of the organic life of music to which the trickery of animated imagery could only aspire. The first section devised for Fantasia was originally intended as a short: The Sorcerer's Apprentice. While the cartoon's translation of the folkloric origins which inspired Dukas' work is fairly superficial (especially considering that Dukas' romanticist musical narrative emotes the myth's narrative form, providing Disney with an 'emotional cue sheet'), the resultant symbolism of the cartoon's narrative is dense.

The first image is of the sorcerer conjuring up shape and form out of vaporous nothingness. The first discernible form that arises is a weird hovering bat. Some more brow sweat from the sorcerer and the bat melts into a hovering butterfly, gloriously coloured. That sorcerer is Disney's aspirations personified, demonstrating his magical and mystical powers over the forces of nature to transform the ugly into the beautiful, the repulsive into the seductive, the fantastic into the natural and the dream into the realization, pinpointing the animism/animation conflation in the simultaneous event of mimetic execution and artistic creation. Mickey, on the other hand, is you and I: dumb humans living with physical bodies in a physical world wherein our reality is totally restricted by worldly forces. Hence, Mickey is carrying buckets of water, a slave to the burden of the weight of liquid in marked contrast to the sorcerer's play with vapours and gases, where the liquid has been liberated of its mass and weight, transformed into a dimension where we can experience its fluidity. 10

Once Mickey has set his broom in motion to carry out his task, he settles down into a dream. As he does so, the transition from reality to dream centres on the motion of conducting: Mickey is waving his arms to and fro, simultaneously conducting the ethereal forces which energize the broom and the musical energies which dynamize the soundtrack, giving us a development of the dynamic flow cited before in the early cartoons. Consider also the function of the orchestra conductor: one who simultaneously directs the music while experiencing it, where the experience and the direction determine each other. (The key figure of creativity within the diegesis of Fantasia is, of course, the famed conductor Leopold Stokowski.) 11 Mickey becomes a supreme conductor in his dream; standing atop the highest point in the physical world, making contact with the elemental forces and energies, experiencing them (conveyed to us through moving imagery) and directing them (conveyed to us through the synchronous Music). In his dream, Mickey is the sorcerer (the Disney/Stokowski merger): man in control of nature. For us - displaced here from our initial identification with Mickey to being subject to his dream - the aural/visual experience is one of sensational abstraction, with colours and shapes moving in a multi directional flow in accordance with the musical flow (shaped by harmony, tonality, rhythm, etc.).

A wonderful thing then happens: Mickey awakens into a nightmare, as the abstract sensations he experienced in his dream were actually the result of physical sensations. Mickey was having a wet dream, where the erotics of flow (of speed, of intensity) were being triggered by not only the dynamics of music but also 'real' water. The 'reality' of those triggers confronts Mickey: the speed and intensity of fluidity is now experienced as the movement of liquid out of control in the whirlpool, a liquid vertigo. Appropriately, the music starts swirling and spinning, simulating a dizziness through its increasing dissonance and softening of rhythmic definition. This strange blurring from reality to dream and back to reality is enforced by the musical score, which is at once a chronological development synching the narrative sequence of events and a meta narrative continuum which determines the overall dynamic flow of the cartoon. But this 'blurring of states' is an inherent function of musical discourse, where states are not only juxtaposed, sequenced or related to one another but also able to be evoked within and from one another via the practice of polyphony, transposition and modulation all ways in which tonality (the 'plane of the present' across which the Musical subject moves) is articulated.

The key figure for the articulation of tonality and the vehicle for travelling across this 'plane of the present' is the thumping bassoon ostinato which forms the base building block for Dukas' concerto. As an ostinato or 'riff', this main melody is designed as a selfregenerating form: that is, once it has finished the only thing it can do is start again, 12 a feeling derived very much from marching music where the left right left pattern seems capable of endless repetition. This riff, of course, is the musical suggestion of the 'breeding brooms' which commence their regeneration once Mickey has naively unleashed the mystical forces of creation. Thus the musical rhythm forms the base for an increasing hysteria as Mickey tries to halt their ceaseless reproduction. The visual architecture of the castle, with all its steps and corridors, illustrates the development of the musical score: up and down and across and through. In a sense, the subject/body/listener is mobilized within and throughout this (respectively) symbolic/architectural/musical space through the correlation of form/mass/gravity with rhythm/tonality/time. Each broom thus can represent a musical instrument in the orchestra while the changes in perspective and space can equate with the shifts of tonality in the music. This is combined with the visual detailing of water as the substance whose form one cannot control: it spreads everywhere, filling every space available. Remember the image of the brooms - totally immersed in water - continuing to execute the motion of emptying their buckets into the trough, which leads to the water filling the whole screen. The text here (as the symbolization of the dynamics of music) literally and figuratively reaches saturation point; all architectural space and all musical tonality are seemingly exhausted; water is everywhere, and every modulation of the ostinato has been covered.

The Sorcerer's Apprentice - itself a sign of saturation, of the ideal limits reached after all the experimentation in the Silly Symphonies - thus establishes a peculiar dynamic flow constituting the textuality of Disney sound animation right up to the 1950s. To sum up, it is a flow based on:

(1) a symbiotic relationship between the graphic and the musical,

(2) a fusion of sound and image tracks,

(3) the employment of nature as subject of the animation process,

(4) the duality of 'conducting' in creation and composition,

(5) the 'present tense' of music and its role in meta narration, and

(6) the symbolic function of architectural and/or material form.

Only at this point can we substantially employ the concept of 'symphony': as a marker of the nature, occurrence and development of the dynamic flow outlined above and as a general reference to narratological integration. Symphony is in essence a metaphor here because I am applying an aural/musical term not just to describe the performance of the soundtrack in Disney's sound animation but to detail more fully the cartoons' textuality in terms of the mobilization of their structural and temporal dynamics. 13 'Symphony' in this sense does not only denote a particular harmonic ordering and organization but also connotes a sonic form of symbiosis which deals with narrative/textual/ temporal components as much as musical/compositional/structural components.

A WORLD IS BORN

If The Sorcerer's Apprentice establishes a dynamic flow based on conducting and merging the above set of symbiotic codes, A World Is Born (another section of Fantasia) 14 speeds up the mobilization and condenses the flow, streamlining the whole symphonic process. This streamlining is clearly evident in the temporal spans and phases which tangentially connect the Stravinsky musical text with the Disney animation text, setting into motion an incredible networking of morphological and molecular microcosms and macrocosms. The main seeding here is between:

(1) Stravinsky's Rite of Spring - Scenes of Pagan Russia In Two Parts (1912): a musical narration (originally for ballet) of a Slavonic tribal ritual which celebrates planetary life cycles (determined by the passage of the four seasons) and centring on Spring as the key period of creation of life on the planet.

(2) Disney's A World is Born - A Narrative Interpretation (1940): an animated narration of a populist scientific view of the planet's own life cycle (determined by its passage through states of existence) and centring on the life/death cycles determined by the changing nature of the planet.

Here Disney exploits one of the quintessential marvels of music: how its relationship with time is never comparative but always relative. This means that any tempo musical unit (span, phase, development, passage, movement, etc.) in a musical composition will only generate a sense of temporality by its relation to other preceding/following tempo musical units. (The voice over narration alludes to such relationships through its description of stars: 'All stars are neither large nor small, except in relation to their neighbours'.) Whereas the literalness of the adaptation of Dukas' The Sorcerer's Apprentice is the result of the primarily chronological/ linear deployment of the narrative, the expansiveness of the A World is Born adaptation is the result of a temporal/lateral deployment of the narrative, where time is not only a sequence of events but also a state of transition. For this reason A World is Born concentrates on morphological development (of the physical animation of animal, vegetable and mineral matter) to highlight the existence of life as a state of transition (as the voice over states: "life seems to develop forever"). The Stravinsky score is equally focused on the 'state of transition' but from a different direction. While Rite of Spring uses the inherent symbolism of the ritual (which symbolizes the effects of nature) to re symbolize the intensities of creative forces, acts and events, Disney reverses the symbolic line so that the Stravinsky text (its manifest dynamics over its symbolic contents) is used to symbolize the creation of 'our world'. 15 A World Is Born is the most complex section of Fantasia, mainly because of its primary ordering of four textual levels which intensify the symphonic process and experience: the music score, the graphic images, the dynamic movement of the images and the voice over narration. In fact it is probably the voice over (by Deems Taylor, recognized then as one of the most popular populists of 'long hair music') which is the prime force in energizing the corporate text, delivering a literal content which transforms the cartoon into a dizzy hyper reflexive commentary on the whole 'illusion of life'.

This is because the spoken words have the strange effect of simultaneously describing the states of both the musical composition and its geographical analogy. Rite Of Spring commences with that distinctive swirling flute motif whose slight dissonance 16 suggests a delicate feeling of continual swirling movement for the reason that the form of the motif is never fixed but always reshaping itself. The voice-over text recognizes that no actual or extant form is present here and thus suggests that this motif is a virtual presence, the potential for the creation of life: "One bubble of froth in ten million miles of ocean". Once again we have Disney's accent on the fluid, on how the 'form' of liquids is never anything more than the potential and the means for gaining form. The voice over refers to pre planetary space as a dimension with "no up or down no forward or back", which is just about as perfect a summation of Stravinsky's angle on 20th Century tonality as you can get! This concept of continually reshaping a form in a formless dimension is an important feature of the Stravinsky work as a whole in that, due to its harmonic construction, nothing ever stays still - a precept echoed later in the voice over: "Life seems to develop forever". 17

The second section of A World Is Born is marked simultaneously as the advent of form and the event of rhythm. With the earth covered by volcanoes, the voice over refers to "the giant furnace of creation melting and pouring and forging a new world". With this occurrence of mass and weight (the start of the earth's solidity) comes the gravity of tonality (the feeling of being comfortably located in the musical text) and the strict marking of time in the heavy, thumping one note burst of the orchestra. Through synchronism, the earth is turned into a single instrument: a weird wind instrument whose surface is covered with holes (the volcanoes) through which bursts of creative energy are pushed, giving us the orchestral bursts. In comparison to 'man mastering nature' in the Silly Symphonies, we have nature performing 'by itself'unleashing an untamed violence to which Stravinsky's score alludes in its use of a pagan ritual to propel its atonality (noting that the two parts of Rite Of Spring are entitled 'Adoration Of The Earth' and 'The Sacrifice'). The key pagan figure here, of course, is the violence of rhythm and its links with barbaric behaviour and celebration, not to mention its Suggestion of reproductive and procreative activity. The earth at this stage is implicitly still involved in such acts: "a glowing ball, still hot with the fires of its beginnings".

If the volcano section and its coupling with those distinctive orchestral bursts is the phallic thrust of creation (tagged in Stravinsky's original ballet score as the 'Ritual Of Abduction'), the Disney text follows this with the combined visual and musical suggestion of the erotics of orgasm with the overflowing volcanoes that generate cascades and torrents of white hot liquid lava: a river of life which contains the molecular material "for me and you". Replaying the erotics of both Mickey's seductive dream and nightmare reality in The Sorcerer's Apprentice, the movement of lava is essentially one of liquid. Its heat factor is of little consequence, as the visual dynamics of its movement always conveys an intensity similar to any liquid movement. Hence, the lava flow is cooled by winds which are depicted with similar liquefied dynamics: clouds rise, swirl, sweep and disperse with an intensity similar to both the lava and Mickey's water. As mentioned before, Disney uses liquefication (as state and process) as a prime means for visually symbolizing the organic flow of music. A World Is Born indicates this most vividly in its correlation of dramatic states and musical intensities with various states of water : white hot and boiling, gushing and immense, nebulous and gaseous, swirling and evaporating, raging and torrential, etc. That particular dynamic flow of the Disney sound animation is here cited again as the state of transition focused on is qualified by the peaks and troughs of material transformations, where music outlays and traverses its 'plane of the present'.

These material transformations (of lava into steam into cloud into water, of the instability of the planet's evolving form) fully accommodate the temporal transitions of the music and do so by an inherent effect of the animation process: time lapse photography. This effect is ever so popular today (Koyaanisqatsi is virtually Fantasia revisited but that is another story), where clouds roll over the landscape at an unreal rate. While the effect is presented today mostly as a dislocated arty gesture, its formal origins are fairly complex. Firstly, such an effect symbolizes nature and its elemental forces marking their presence, making us more forcibly subject to their action and movement (a symbolic device used in countless mystical film scenarios, where the skies roll by just prior to some momentous event). Secondly, the mythological heritage of this figure is based on the ritualization of events where nature did go through such turbulent changes as to make its presence felt forcibly earthquakes, monsoons, tidal waves, eclipses, equinoxes, etc. Subsequently, this effect of clouds moving fast, of vapours swirling around, etc., evokes a feeling of imminence: of the suspense of something on the verge of happening, of the erotics of eventfulness. Following this line, there is something appropriate about Disney employing such an effect that: (a) textually captures such a lineage; (b) fully exploits the technological essence of the animation process creating the artificial movement of time; and (c) highlights some of his major underlying drives to depict the movement of liquid, to state movement as liquid, and to qualify movement as force.

Following all these ethereal and material impregnations comes the gestation period of the planet ("a warm ocean covers the earth") wherein cells divide and connect to give us an array of morphological developments (each development in essence a particular harmonic development of a figure in the Stravinsky score). Each phase here is marked by an ominous low frequency orchestral waver, combined with the wonderfully literal voice over: "Now, a million years roll over the earth like a rumble under the water". As corny as it sounds, the image of black swelling up and obliterating the screen in synch with the deep orchestral murmur conveys only too well the unstoppable force of time itself (in much the same way that water filling the screen conveys Mickey's lack of control over nature). All these transitions and transformations lead up to an actual eclipse which in turn marks the next major development of the earth's form: the earthquake that erases the surface existence of life, which at that point had reached its zenith (dinosaurs, etc.). This is the first instance in the scenario of architectural blocks and shapes marking their presence, as huge mountains pierce and rupture the earth's surface to the distorted alarm calls of blasting horns. The life cycle of material forces thus starts up again, giving us an escalating sense of dynamic transmogrification as "time and time again, whole continents fell in the fury of waves" - sonic waves, musical waves, material waves - waves being the most suitable approximation of structural division to constitute the dynamic text.

A World Is Born eventually ends on a disquieting note as the opening swirling flute motif lays itself to rest: "All that you have seen was but the brief twinkle of a star in the immensity of time". (Note: the original score does not repeat this motif at the end; this cyclical closure is only in the Disney 'Narrative Interpretation'.) Deems Taylor's voice even starts to quake slightly as he speaks of this time before as "a world larger than our own" a phrase which is now readable as a reflection on how the mimetic is eternally snared by the contingencies of representation, of creating worlds on the screen which essentially affirm the magnitude of other worlds, physical or symbolic. Be this effect one of awe, dread, terror or delight (or a confusion among them), the dynamic flow of these cartoons' textuality is giddy, dizzy, vertiginous, disorienting, unsettling an exacting conglomeration of all the schisms which aid in our identification between states, between zones, between phases. Whereas Disneyland and Walt Disney World manipulate scale and perspective to transform the real into a controlled environment which works upon and confounds our perceptual mechanisms, the Disney animated shorts and features manipulate sound image relationships to mobilize narrative construction and our place within the text. This is the 'frightening power' displayed by and in Disney's worlds worlds "larger than our own".

 

III. THE CACOPHONIC DESTRUCTION - Warner Bros. animation

OPPOSITIONAL STRATEGIES AT THE WARNER BROS. STUDIOS

If the Disney studios were the laboratory for animation, refining the craft and extending the medium, the Warner Bros. animation department was the demolition team working next door. 18 Disney strove for the creation of worlds, for the definition of realities and unrealities that could harmoniously be combined by a shared internalized logic of sound image fusion. Warner Bros. strove to destroy the very worlds Disney created. Looking at the Warner Bros. cartoons now (30 to 50 years later), they appear only superficially concerned with the mimetic surfaces of Disney's worlds (the cute, the kitsch, the cacky) as material to be sarcastically reworked for gags; they appear primarily attracted to the penetration of Disney's worlds to reach the internal rhythms and energies which invigorated those worlds' outward form. With hindsight, the textuality of the Warner Bros. cartoons (particularly their post war work) evidences a structural complexity which is intricately connected to the dynamic flows of the Disney cartoon texts.

The principle of destruction employed by Warner Bros. was deceptively simple: speed everything up so that things are so intensified they cave in on themselves. Inasmuch as the A World Is Born section from Fantasia is already an intensification of the dynamic flow in The Sorcerer's Apprentice, the post war Warner Bros. cartoons make everything (narration, sound, image, gags, references, etc.) come across so fast and/or with such force that the consequent 'world' created is virtually a world in collapse, where all possible logics (harmonic, symphonic, mimetic, rational, motivational, etc.) are negated in one grand, noisy textual explosion. In effect, they reshape the symphonic process into a cacophonic process. The important thing to remember, though, is that such an effect is strategic in that Warner Bros. cartoons were continually sourcing, referencing and then discarding the Disney cartoons. Warner Bros. quite probably had to go so far over the top in order to create their own identity in the seething sociological shadow cast in the light of Disney's 'universal appeal'. Warner Bros. likely exercised a rebellious option: if that is the universe, the world into which we are born, where we are the apprentices to the demigod pedagogy of the Disney studios, let us just push the button!

But reams have been written about the anarchic world view behind the Warner Bros. teams. I want to posit the workings of their cartoons in textual terms, to demonstrate in line with the animatic apparatus exactly how their work (a) reworked the state of animation as defined by Disney and (b) contributed to cinematic developments in sound image construction. As such, I wish to make clear the contextual, subtextual and countertextual connections between the two studios in order to define further a relationship between the animatic apparatus and the more obvious workings of the cinematic apparatus. 19

FLOW CHART 3 TO BE INSERTED HERE

Flow Chart 3 is an attempt to combine what has already been noted about the Warner Bros. work (namely, numerous published interviews with various Warner animation staff and assorted critical articles which outline certain dramatic and narrative theses for 'classic' cartoons by Tex Avery, Bob Clampett, Friz Freleng, Frank Tashlin, Chuck Jones, Arthur Davis, Robert McKimson et al.) with basic narratological and structural principles of operation. What follows will expand some of the categories and precepts in this chart and hopefully clarify their layout.

MAN AND MACHINE AND WAR

Economic, social, cultural and political conditions during World War II in America had an equalizing effect on the nation's entertainment industries, where all forms and figures had to meet, however precariously and uncomfortably, on the patriotic plane. The hard propaganda cartoons by both Disney and Warner Bros. from 1941 to 1945 met on that plane, with Disney dropping its niceties to hammer home its message and Warner Bros. redirecting its fractured absurdism towards a digestible holistic statement. 20 Sociological comparisons can be taken up elsewhere. I only introduce them here as a way of elaborating the textual ramifications of wartime icons, figures and effects in the post war Warner Bros. cartoons. The point is that the wartime era (starting with the rise of fascism in Germany in the early thirties, escalating during the late thirties while America questioned issues of involvement and peaking with Pearl Harbor) had an important effect on the consequent textuality of the cartoons produced by both studios. After the war Disney's work was 'hardened' so that the fluidity of its dynamic flows was contained and channeled into more readily defined and repeatable patterns while the Warner Bros. work was 'sharpened' so that the isolated pseudo dadaist jabs of their earlier cartoons were refined and arranged into more interlocked and compounded fractures. Just as the Silly Symphonies eventually gave birth to the 'symphonic' construction of Fantasia, Warner Bros.' wartime work gave rise to a sharply defined 'cacophonic' approach to animation and sound image fusion after the war.

How? Machinery. If Disney is splashing liquid, Warner Bros. is crashing metal; if Disney mobilized the animatic apparatus, Warner Bros. revved it up to full throttle; and if Disney aspired to the organic life of music, Warner Bros. capitalized on the unnatural presence of sound effects. Picture any post war Warner cartoon and it is highly probable you will be remembering either an image of an ungainly machine like propulsion of some sort or the deafening sound of a factory device gone haywire. Think Disney and you have pets and violins. Consider this in relation to America during the Second World War: a deadly cycle of the homefront saving scrap metal for the factory to make warheads, tanks and planes to fly over enemy skies and behind enemy lines to explode shrapnel on the battlefront from which casualties are shipped back as half metal/half flesh human scraps. People working machines to make machines to attack people with machines who attack people. This is a morbid replay of The Skeleton Dance; but instead of a symbiotic relationship we have an antibiotic one, where each level or component reacts against (rather than interacts with) the other. The 'unreality' of Warner Bros.' cartoon soundtracks 21 as they developed throughout the war can be laterally connected to a wartime reality - a social situation so radically transformed as to appear 'unreal'.

Conditions and priorities during wartime changed the orientation of many industries. While the 1930s virtually floundered with disc patents and processes (which required the mastering of live sound direct onto a disc which generated considerable amounts of surface noise, transforming the acoustic spectrum into tinny, nasally, scratchy slivers of sound), military demands for better fidelity speeded up the development of sound recording technology considerably. This is because World War II was the first war predicated on sound: where (a) sonar and radar and (b) short wave radio transmission were the primary means of, respectively, enemy detection and strategic communication. Sound technology had just about superseded the geographic terrain of lookouts, runners and general headquarters as airwaves connected the warfronts into a newly expanded set of perimeters and parameters. Fidelity was initially a military matter and would not become an aesthetic issue till after the war. Foregoing a listing of all sound improvements made by the Axis and the Allied Forces from the late thirties on, the key turning point came in 1944 with the Allied recapture of Radio Luxembourg where they discovered the sophisticated tape recorders the Germans had developed. After the war, the Germans' developments in magnetic tape technology formed the basis for tape recording as it still exists today (or up to digital recording systems).

The major difference between disc recordings and tape recordings was and is that tape affords a greater degree of fidelity control, technical manipulation and creative distortion. Film sound originates in disc applications and, typical of the visual priority accorded the cinema, is not really developed by the industry until the early fifties when widescreen experiments went hand in hand with tape applications (multi tracking, stereo, etc.). Otherwise, the medium was confined to the optical soundtrack: a process based on disc applications. But what industry ignored, art picked up. In 1948 Pierre Schaeffer fully exploited the medium of magnetic tape to produce the first musical composition made entirely of taperecorded sounds, initiating the form musique concrete, where sound is experienced for its musical aura.

Schaeffer's creative explorations eventually found their way into both radio production and film sound production which in a roundabout way brings us back to the sound of Warner Bros. post war cartoons. The combination of their sonic texture, structural formation and material impact is as much a creative exploitation of the tape medium (cutting up sounds, isolating them, collaging them, distorting them) as is Schaeffer's and others'musique concrete pieces. While Disney harked back to the classical and romantic epochs of music (typical of pre war idyllicism), Warner Bros. called up (via post war pragmatism and the consequent spread of German technological developments) the anarchic modernism of 20th Century machine music. This is best demonstrated by an earlier Warner Bros. short, Rhapsody in Rivets (1941), which is a halting realization in comic form of what the Italian Futurists waxed hysterical over thirty years earlier. In Rivets a foreman reads a blueprint for a skyscraper as a conductor would a musical score and thereby directs/conducts the project in dramatic synch with the original Liszt score, punctuated by an explosive sound effects track. The parallels are as straightforward now as the gags were then: bring the symphonic construction down to earth and you have the plain engineering of sound and noise.

The continuing parallels between cultural aesthetics and technological developments (and of how technology and textuality are inseparable at all levels of production) are discernible in the way that, while Warner Bros. were attracted to tape distortion and fidelity manipulation, Disney stuck with discs in more ways than one. To demonstrate this we must backtrack a little. The history of recording and sound engineering is based on what in essence are 'symphonic' concerns, where technical progress primarily considered the logistics of recording orchestras performing classical/romantic/operatic scores. 'Sophisticated' soundtrack recording for the first two decades of sound cinema was based on similar logistics: huge sound stages where the space was organized for a 'live' temporal spatial performance (orchestra, incidental sound effects, etc.) of the film's soundtrack. This state of affairs: an all-in-one-take grab of real time performance factors - both determined and was determined by the master disc recording process, where an ideal uninterrupted continuum was to be recorded after rigorous rehearsals, not unlike a symphony orchestra recital. The 'organic life of music' cited earlier thus extends to the 'real time' condition of early disc recording systems.

The economics of radio production in the late 1940s started to scale measures down to the recording of smaller musical ensembles and the reliance on tape libraries for sound effects, while studio recording in the fifties started to favour groups who performed and sang simultaneously (a folk tradition of music in opposition to the composer/conductor/performer paradigm of European high culture). The Disney studio had consolidated its modus operandi by the start of the war; and even though tape developments after the war were incorporated into its production methods, its output still favoured a symphonic approach to sound image fusion which privileged the musicality of sound effects (and their homogeneous submersion within the dynamic flow of the sound image fusion) over the sonic rupturing of the narrative. If hi fidelity meant anything to the studio's work, it would be more with regard to the clarity of a pianissimo flute sustain than a rowdy back fire of a jalopy. 22

ANTI-SYMPHONY AND ANTI-OPERA

After the war the Disney studio appeared to grow more desperate in their promotion of the harmony of life, for what was a rich dynamic flow in Fantasia gradually thickened into the sentimental sludge of the deliberately low brow Make Mine Music (1946), which hams, yams and yucks up popular postwar music styles by enlisting the likes of Dinah Shore, Nelson Eddy, The Andrews Sisters and Benny Goodman. Compared to Fantasia, Make Mine Music - with its commonfolk/plainspeak/consumerist title - delivers only the most skeletal, sketchy and obvious fusions of music with imagery. This is because each of the individual sections of the film (a) uses the voices of known identities and (b) uses the lyric content of songs to (c) speak from a pop culture level to (d) flatten out any substantial differences between jazz, blues, bebop, romantic, balletic and classical music. There is also a cathartic anti intellectualism released throughout the film, as if it is exorcising itself of the well meaning aspirations of Fantasia. Many scenes in Make Mine Music are painfully populist: a whale dreams of singing at the Met; cupid silhouettes move as ballerinas; and Prokofiev's decidedly educationalist Peter and The Wolf is 'modernized' for the post war child. The intention for the film to 'relax' one (in the environmental massage of a growing post war affluence) is perfectly carried out by the text's basic inability to mobilize the subject, to set in motion any narratological dynamism once the differences of the musical styles have been erased for the universal culture of 'entertainment'. This is further reflected in the homogeneous form and shape of Make Mine Music, which is in contrast to Fantasia's mixed and fractured sectional narrative. Ultimately, Make Mine Music is what many people falsely accuse Fantasia of being: a rush of pretty pictures set to a wash of lush music. While the latter carries out an intense investigation into musical form, the former essentially uses music as a social tool to absent any cultural clash in musical differences a strategy recognized as part of the Disney syndrome of fabricating its beautiful world.

Accepting Fantasia and Make Mine Music as the poles of Disney's symphonic territorialization of image music combination, Warner Bros. produced a set of cartoons which, when compared with those two Disney pictures, could be termed 'anti symphonic/anti operatic' in that they tear away at the musical, musicological and cultural barricades with which the Disney studios were fortifying their fabricated world. The most relevant cartoons here are Rhapsody Rabbit (1946), Long Haired Hare, (1949), Rabbit of Seville (1950), What's Opera, Doc? (1957) and Baton Bunny (1959). The term 'anti symphonic/anti operatic' does not point to straight parody and satire because that could only be the result of a narrow socio cultural reading of the cartoons in their handling of classical/romantic/operatic scores. (For this reason Corny Concerto (1943), a straight parody of Fantasia with Elmer Fudd actually recreating Deems Taylor's role, is not included with the above group.) All these cartoons use the musical score as the prime means for constructing their narratives so that the resultant textuality is strongly connected to the musical textuality in terms of flow, movement, mobilization and dynamics. While the visuals (the animated gags, puns, punch lines, jokes, etc.) orient the sarcastic and sacrilegious thrust of these cartoons, the soundtrack as a specifically constructed version, appropriation and condensation of the original scores provides a series of cues for what is developed in other cartoons as a cacophonic approach to soundimage fusion.

Rhapsody Rabbit has the weakest textual flow here because (a) the gags are arbitrarily laid onto the performance of the Liszt rhapsody, and (b) the dramatic shape of the narrative is equally arbitrary through its musical editing and juxtaposition. Basically, the dynamics of this cartoon are controlled by Bugs' performance of the music, with Bugs as the pianist who has to overcome the difficulties of performing the piece (exaggerated by the continual interruptions of a mouse wanting to play along with Bugs). In this sense the humour of the situation is very much derived from Chico Marx's piano performances, where gesture is transformed into ridicule and musical suggestion is blown up into comic display by Bugs' ironically mimicking the 'feel' of the Music. While this cartoon is an outright satire on the preciousness of concert recitals (Liszt even rings up Bugs during the performance, to which Bugs replies, 'What's Up, Doc?... Franz Liszt? Never hoid of 'im!', while later the Mouse Cuts in with a boogie woogie piano roll), the figure of Bugs distancing himself from the music in the act of performing it is epicentral to the other 'anti symphonic/anti operatic' cartoons and in this instance is realized textually through bringing the music into conflict with its performance. (This notion of distancing and conflict, of course, rarely appears in the Disney symphonic cartoons as they are mostly concerned with 'musicalizing' every aspect of their fiction.)

Baton Bunny is virtually the remake of Rhapsody Rabbit but this time with Bugs as 'guest conductor' of the 'Warner Brothers Symphony Orchestra performing Franz Von Suppe's Morning, Noon, and Night In Vienna'. (All this is detailed in special credit cards at the start of the cartoon.) The first gag is a replay of the first gag in Rhapsody Rabbit. Someone coughs as Bugs prepares himself: Bugs shoots offscreen and a body hits the ground in Rhapsody; Bugs holds up a sign 'THROW THE BUM OUT' followed by the sound of body being thrown out crashing backstage props in Baton. A few gags follow reading sheet music with glasses upside down/notes are shown upside down; picking and chalking a baton like a billiard cue. Remarkably, the first 30 seconds are nearly totally silent a rarity in Warner Bros. cartoons. This silence, though, is an introductory backdrop for the comic atmosphere which picks at the sacrosanct aura of the recital's environment. This whole preparation is also a direct reference to the fairly forced positioning of Leopold Stokowski within the Fantasia sequence, where he is presented as a godly director of the proceedings with his huge face occasionally filling the screen, illuminated by the menacing 'light' of the musicians beneath him energies he must control in the name of music. In Baton Bunny the conductor figure is depicted in more human terms as Bugs tries to control the forces of the orchestra (rarely shown in this case), of nature (that damned fly that buzzes around him) and even of his own costume (a sign of the ridiculous ritualization of musical appreciation). While Stokowski is a sovereign conductor of musical energy, Bugs is a manic engineer of musical force; where Stokowski calms and controls the sounds of nature, Bugs is enraged and controlled by its noise.

Bugs might be the synchronous 'performer' of the music in this cartoon, but perhaps even more so his body is both performer and performance. In contrast to the 'being' of Bugs (the perceivable character of Bugs Bunny as a formed identity) mugging the music in Rhapsody, Bugs' 'being' here remains in control of the score's direction while his body experiences the music in ways which confound his direction of the music. This is a perverse replay of Mickey in The Sorcerer's Apprentice, who is able to fuse direction and experience in his dream, which in turn symbolizes the symbiotic functioning of the musical conductor. Bugs symbolizes the inability of the conductor to fuse direction and experience - or at least to only do so under forces, terms and conditions which overcome the creative impulse and execution. Mickey rises to a mystical mountain top while Bugs writhes on the stage floor, each in response to the music's dramatics. The bulk of Baton Bunny's scenario is a succession of bodily attacks on Bugs by the music: his body virtually explodes into weird contortions to the opening orchestral bursts; his tail and coat tails are seduced into swaying by the waltz movement; and his body 'reanthropomorphizes' itself into the Cowboy and Indian figures as he mimes the galloping chase feel of the music. The finale is truly an ending to all possible symphonic control as Bugs chases the buzzing fly into the various sections of the orchestra, diving head first into the instruments to produce a cacophony of bangs, clangs and bum notes - musical noise resulting from his attempts to prevent non musical sound interrupting the music. While the Disney worlds are seamlessly sealed (like the doors closed once the recital commences), the Warner Bros. musical environment is always encroached upon by outside forces (the traffic outside the concert hall) so that its world is forever sounding crisis.

In the Warner Bros. world, struggles are replaced by battles, fights, wars. Such a clash of opposing forces is generally sited in the soundtrack, especially in terms of how sound effects are worked into the musical score and vice versa, where one is always impinging on the other's territory. In Baton Bunny the clash is sited in the body/being dichotomy of Bug's performance; in Long Haired Hare the clash is channeled into a character conflict between the lowbrow Bugs and the highbrow tenor practicing his arias in his country abode. What is most interesting is how Bugs' singing generates a musicological discourse which infects the refined lineage of the operatic arias of the tenor. This clash is in effect a metaphor for the 'infectious' quality of simple pop/folk melodies and how they are regarded as disease by a musical establishment which takes pride in its sanitary measures. The humour in this cartoon arises precisely when the tenor is infected, when he starts joining in with Bugs, for Bugs' choice of song and his delivery are clearly part of his character while the tenor breaks out of character, generating comic effect through inappropriateness.

The model of cultural clash through character conflict was previously developed in Back Alley Oproar (1948), which featured Sylvester as a tom in heat who expresses his desires through an incredible array of Tin Pan Alley hits (remembering that Tin Pan Alley is the industrialization of the 'popular song phenomenon' as it arose in the Gay Nineties, following it through to the Depression). The metaphor for the original pop music industry here references the origins of its name, where sheet music barkers would try to sell their wares by, paradoxically enough, banging on trash cans and the like to drown out their opposition an environment where the desire to seduce was confounded by the desire to sell: a music industry founded on the noise of competition. In one scene of Back Alley Oproar, Sylvester even performs a string of songs as a series of 'jump cuts' where each phrase or chorus is interrupted by the next, punctuated by Sylvester smashing bottles on his head, lighting firecrackers and blowing whistles. Here we touch on the sublime origins of Warner Bros.' approach and attitude towards popular song, for while Disney was always bent on communicating to the public his classicist preoccupations (from the Silly Symphonies to Fantasia), Warner Bros. was originally part of the pop music industry that developed from Tin Pan Alley. 23 A cultural stance is clearly reflected in Warner Bros.' pre-war work, a stance derived from and extending entertainment forms from that era, especially in regard to humour (Vaudeville), narration (Slapstick) and music (Burlesque). The higher cultural plane in Back Alley Oproar is ridiculed through Elmer Fudd's exasperated attempts to gag Sylvester. Surely one of Warner Bros.' most savagely anti operatic scenes is where Sylvester straps on huge bovver boots to stomp up and down the stairs outside Elmer's window to a can-can melody, bellowing out 'TRA! TRA! TRA!'. That famous 'quote' of Leon Schlesinger (which just about every Warner animator recalls in interviews) never found a more succinct realization here: 'Disney can make the chicken salad. I wanna make the chicken shit!'.

The shit really hits the fan in Warner Bros.' two most outwardly anti operatic cartoons, Rabbit of Seville and What's Opera, Doc?. Rabbit Of Seville sites the culture clash this time within the narrative's structural framework. The cartoon starts off, once again, not unlike the start of Fantasia's orchestral tune up, with people filing past a lobby card announcing the Rossini opera. At the sound of distant gunshots the camera is drawn towards small bursts of light on the distant hills. Eventually Bugs rushes in through the stage door and slams it shut. Elmer - literally - has chased Bugs into the cartoon narrative, into a scenario which at once should not have involved them but which could not evolve without them. In repayment of kind, Bugs raises the curtain on Elmer, pushing him into the fictional narrative (the operatic narrative within the cartoon), which was the original province of the cartoon narrative.

A weird narratological balance is struck by the intrusion of the Elmer/Bugs chase (a chase which travels across a whole series of cartoons). This distinction between the two narratives is carried through as the conductor (a Leopold look alike who glances at his watch when the curtain rises, shrugs his shoulders and starts conducting) maintains the narrative's 'original' score. The newly transformed narrative, though, is signified by the synchronous sound effects and replacement libretto sung by Bugs on top of the original score. The cultural clash is thus harmoniously combined, which, of course, only serves to heighten the absurdity of the clash being resolvable in the first place. The gags are thus thematically fractured and abstracted (hinged only on Bugs' crazy interpretation of the score through an overly literal understanding of the role of the barber within the operatic narrative) while being perfectly timed to the musical flow. This heightens the oppositional tack taken in preventing any ideal operatic blending of voice/lyric with orchestra/melody. By the end of the cartoon, both narratives (the cartoon meta narrative and the internal operatic narrative) cave in on each other as the music reaches its dramatic climax: as the music climbs high in pitch, Elmer and Bugs race each other upwards into the wings on their barber chairs; as the orchestration becomes more powerful, Bugs and Elmer confront each other with increasingly larger weaponry; and as the score starts its final series of cadences, Bugs rushes Elmer into a hurried 'shotgun' marriage in order to resolve the operatic plot by the time the music has resounded its final climax.

In What's Opera, Doc? we have perhaps the fullest version of a Warner Bros. world in opposition to a Disney world, for in this cartoon and this is almost never the case with Warner Bros. a totally homogeneous environment is created, where sound and image actually fuse but in such an overblown and distorted fashion that the end result once again is a world which can barely maintain the energy of its own presence. For a cartoon produced so late - 1957 - where it was the norm for characters to always present themselves at a remove from their own scenarios, What's Opera, Doc? uniquely starts and finishes within an operatic narrative, unlike the opening to Rabbit Of Seville. But there is still a feeling that the opera scenario is already encased within some other narrative which - in a proto-New Novel fashion - is not disclosed. The opera narrative thus resonates with the unrealized potential for Bugs and Elmer to somehow, somewhere and at some time break out of the opera and throw an aside to us - perversely delivered only seconds prior to the closing iris of the cartoon's ending. This is virtually a closed opera, with the right music and the appropriate spacing of the libretto, except that it is performed by Bugs and Elmer. It is almost as if this is actually a serious cartoon - which is precisely what makes it so comical.

The base of the 'harmony' between image and music is in Maurice Noble's incredible set designs, which do not simply replicate the gaudy excesses of Wagner's music but stylize even further conventional opera set design already replicating such formal extremes. To this end, Noble provides a set of images whose perspective exaggerations dynamize each frame so much that there can be no normal sequencing nor continuity between frames. This is a very good example of how the Warner Bros. cartoons intensify their formalism too much. The end result in this Cartoon is like over applying Eisenstein's theory of montage, applying it to the point of abstraction. Noble's designs are in fact based on instilling a sense of motion in a still design concept. He designs everything as if it were caught in motion or anticipating a move, a shift, a push, a turn some sort of dynamic encounter. Combine this with camera movement, character movement and editing and you have a narrative structure that would tongue tie Christian Metz! 24 Finally, compare the architectural design in this cartoon with The Sorcerer's Apprentice. In Apprentice the movement is basically dictated by the spread of water: too much water, too much for the eye to follow, so that the retina and corivea collapse into each other's fields of vision. In What's Opera, Doc? that overload of movement is conveyed by the set design (itself pregnant with motion) and compounded by the montage so that flow is turned to rupture.

At this point it might be helpful to summarize the ways in which the Warner Bros. cartoons mentioned (key examples of tendencies exhibited in a vast number of their cartoons) textually evidence an 'anti symphonic/anti operatic' sensibility. This musicological antagonism is realized by placing:

(1) the music score in conflict with its performance,

(2) the performer's body in conflict with its being,

(3) a character in conflict with another character,

(4) a musical style in conflict with another musical style,

(5) the cartoon narrative in conflict with the music narrative, and

(6) the music score in conflict with its realization.

THE ROAD RUNNER AND THE COYOTE

As one may or may not have noticed by now, I have generally stayed clear of cartoons which contain dialogue spoken by characters. This is simply because they get in the way of the area I am trying to centre on - that of the textual dynamism produced by combining sound and music with image. While one can take cues of textual reflexivity from characters' dialogue, I feel such readings rarely uncover the material and phenomenological machinations of the cinematic text. This is perhaps why the Road Runner and Coyote cartoons - through their total disregard of verbalized character interaction confront one with the dynamic flow so peculiar to the postwar Warner Bros. work, which I have labelled 'cacophonic'. 25

These cartoons say it all in one word: SPEED. Their world honours it, defines it, grapples with it, refines it, expands it, confronts it. Check their titles, the bulk of which tell it like it is: Gee Whiz-z-z-z; Whoa Be-Gone; There They Go Go Go; Going! Going! Gosh; Ready, Set, Zoom; Fast and Furry-ous; Stop, Look and Hasten!; Zipping Along; Zoom & Bored; and the most poetic and erotic title of all, Guided Muscle. Compare this with a similar percentage (around 70%) of Silly Symphonies whose titles directly mention something to do with either sound or music. Just as musical synchronism was the quest for early Disney sound cartoons, graphic speed is the quest for the later Warner Bros. cartoons, exemplified by the Road Runner and Coyote series. Disney gave us the music of life; Warner Bros. broke the sound barrier.

This major distinction between Disney's poetics of movement and Warner Bros.' effects of speed is evident in the abstract visual erotics of each. Just as Disney suggested a seductive beauty in the spreading and splashing of water (as a graphic allusion to musical flow), Warner Bros. just as seductively detailed smoke as a visual/kinetic abstraction, always with precision and presence. Its relation to the soundtrack was equally marked, punctuated by a sound of speed - a zip, ping, vrrooom - which ruptures the soundtrack to leave a visual scar - a puff of smoke - a sign for the Coyote of the absence of the Road Runner. The notion of 'breaking the sound barrier' surfaces here insofar as supersonic jet propulsion caused the first physical change to what previously had been our concept of acoustical physics, where an action caused an acoustic occurrence simultaneously, with delays in sound being the result of spatial refractions. But when jets were travelling faster than the speed of sound, delay was also effected by speed (such as when you look up to see a jet in the sky but the sound of it seems to be coming from a point well behind). In short, the paradigm of space causing a delay in time could now be reconstructed as speed causing a shift in space. This is summed up perfectly in the 'graphic speed' depicted in the Road Runner and Coyote cartoons, where most of the time the Road Runner is not even in frame.

This physical premise - a product of the rocket age - is the prime determinant of the Road Runner/Coyote world. In this sense, Maurice Noble's motion designs look as if they have been distorted and refracted by the speed dynamic which governs the landscape. Likewise, physical objects are always shown to be affected by speed: forever slanted, stretched, flattened and squashed. In such a world, drama cannot help but be sped up into its most intense, hysterical and imposing mode: violence. The impact of any action, act, event or occurrence in the Coyote/Road Runner series has to be intensified in accordance with the principles of rocket age speed: such is the logic of their world. 26 This is represented in two major ways: (a) the Coyote's body is drastically distorted, realigned, transmogrified into a new objectivity which puns the violent transformation (the body as accordion, frying pan, metal sheet, etc.); and (b) the speed of a force is so great that it passes through the body of the Coyote or a part of the landscape (the Road Runner goes through the Coyote, a mountain side, a drawing of a mountain side, etc.). There is a suggestion here of dimensional transitions, voids and zones where time and space are all screwed up by metaphysics which seriously question our 'physical reality', marking the world of the Road Runner and Coyote as metaphysical and not merely 'fantastic'. Disney's world deals with notions of matter and energy as prescribed by the pre war age; Warner Bros. live in a post war epoch: the atomic age, where matter itself is an explosive material.

Of course, rocket technology and its after effects are not just signs of the changing times. They are the result of military spurred scientific enquiry, carried over by World War II. Just as such discoveries are directly connected to military concerns, the Warner Bros. post war cartoons reflect those discoveries. And while tape technology and manipulation are a direct consequence of wartime explorations, so too are Warner Bros.' assaultive soundtracks which clang, pow and crash at every split second in a glorious cacophony. Interestingly enough, Disney's invention of the multiplane camera is itself the result of a certain wartime phenomenon because the effect of the multiplane camera is perfectly visible in reality when one travels in a plane and looks down onto the landscape through passing clouds. This is exactly how the Disney studios redesigned the camera in its vertical form so that you look down from above onto the world. Of course, this ethereal plane from which the Disney cartoons descend is in marked contrast to Warner Bros.' rooting their cartoons on the mobile ground of the new post war/atomic/rocket age, where everyone could now move by themselves in their cars, where the dynamics of speed were the province of everyone (thanks to the car industry, which in essence is the post war reorientation of the weapons factories). 27

The Road Runner/Coyote series contains the most machine-ridden scenarios of all the Warner Bros. work - mainly because its landscape is the most extraterrestrial southwest desert imaginable, where no life could possibly occur under such a graphically barren climate. Once again, the soundtrack gives us a cue to the perversity of such a narrative construction, for while violent machine sounds erupt upon the Warner Bros. soundtrack with great force, consistency and repetition, they are more often than not produced as diegetic occurrences: the sounds of those actual machines which the Coyote orders from the ACME Company. Where and who is the ACME Company? Its true identity can be revealed: the Warner Bros. Sound Effects Library. Just as we do not question the soundtrack's violence, exaggeration and distortion, we do not question how in hell the Coyote ordered all those gadgets and devices (especially as the Coyote also symbolizes the rise of post war consumerism, where anything can be ordered by anyone and delivered anywhere). Both objects and their sounds are subsumed in the logic of the narrative.

Finally, the music is the least prominent feature of the Road Runner/Coyote series because the cacophonic soundtrack, with all its musique concrete gestures and methods, replaces 'musical' dynamics with sonic structuring. The architectonics of harmony, rhythm, tonality and melody are already being outlined (with considerable force) by the use of sound effects which detail the dramatic shape and deployment of the violence of the scenarios so that the music essentially trails the action. This is clearly evident in the way that the musical blocking is totally arbitrary, following the action, the humour and the soundtrack as a set of cues. Still, this has a strange narrative effect because, while we are continually being made aware of music's ability to continue a 'present tense' (through the articulation of its tonality, its 'plane of the present'), there is a sense of tonality being an arbitrary concept (a la Erik Satie's short compositions) in that the music literally goes anywhere and everywhere. This is an interesting reversal of Schoenberg's concept of 'the emancipation of dissonance' because here we have the 'refutation of consonance', where melody is always being employed but only to demonstrate its arbitary nature. Music - its symphonic flow on the soundtrack - is broken down and overcome by a sonic assault, a cacophonic destruction of the narrative which establishes a textuality peculiar to Warner Bros. postwar work.

Warner Bros. cartoons are truly modern. They are violent, destructive and overpowering, replicating the prime modernist impulse of the 20th century: to destroy representation in the act of representation. In terms of cinema history they sit well alongside all other attacks on figurative form and formal realism (from Sergei Eisenstein and Dziga Vertov to Alain Robbe Grillet and Jean Luc Godard). But more importantly, the Warner Bros. cartoons' cacophonic destruction of sound image fusion (formal synchronism, acoustical realism, musical accompaniment, dynamic construction, effects generation, etc.) has left us with the material means by which they (as 'techno texts') follow through their modernist impulses.

Such is the legacy of the processes of animation and the animatic apparatus: displaced by whatever abstractions we entertain as governing our reality, these cartoons (along with their Disney counterparts) are, unavoidably and alone, material. Their own material, with their own dynamic energy and textual life. In the most straightforward way, they demonstrate the act of filming not as 'bringing something to life' but as 'film itself coming to life'.

 

NOTES

1 In reference to Frank Thomas' and Ollie Johnston's (veterans from the Disney studios) Disney Animation: The IlIusion of Life (New York: Abbeville Press, 1984) the title of which refers to the long standing axiom of the Disney studios to recreate life through illusion.

2 Most film histories note the amazement with which patrons fixed their eyes to the novelty of moving images produced by early nickelodeons and the like. The point often missed is that people were then not experiencing the wonder of movement (something which the eye could clearly relate to) but a totally unreal phenomenon: the absence of synchronous sound. Part of the disorienting effect of those early silent snippets of moving film was generated by the audience experiencing deafness.

3 Although employed for some scenes in Snow White (which is credited as being filmed in 'Multiplane Technicolor' in the opening credits), a short from the same year, Donald's Lucky Day, was officially promoted as being the introduction of the multiplane animation camera, while the opening sequence from The Old Mill (1937) utilizes similar principles. The camera was used more in Disney's second feature Pinocchio (1940) and most extensively in Fantasia (1940). In the documentary Tricks Of Our Trade (1957), made for one of Disney's TV shows, Disney cites Bambi (1942) as the best example of the camera's effect. Leonard Maltin also cites a 1938 description of the camera by William Stull printed in American Cinematographer which clearly outlines the role of mathematical ratio and rhythmic counterpoint in the camera's invention. See Leonard Maltin, Of Mice and Magic (New York: Plume, 1980), pp. 51 52. Although it is unclear in all the material I have read on the Disney studios, the camera's design was initially horizontal until it was developed into its finished form in a vertical frame, possibly for Bambi. This will have a bearing on points to be raised later.

4 Two historical misdemeanours: (a) contrary to the modernist art leanings which historically position the European avant garde cinema, Gance and Fischinger dealt with visual kineticism through an understanding of musical form and were largely compelled to investigate the narrative and/or non narrative effects of sound synchronism (live or recorded). This, however, leads onto a huge area of early experiments in sound which require a more detailed and separate analysis of the European avant garde from around 1915 to to 1933: Gance, Fischinger, Moholy Nagy, Ruttmann, Eggeling, Richter, Riefenstahl et al., all of whom concentrated on experimenting with either (i) fusing sound and music with image or (ii) alluding to sound and music through visual construction; (ii) as Alexander Walker details throughout his invaluable study of the silent/sound transition in the cinema between 1924 and 1930, The Shattered Silents (London, Harrop, 1986), while the requirements for recording synchronous sound froze the fluidity of silent camera movement by having performers cluster around a fixed recording source, the boom mike remobilized film form by providing a device that could move in synch with, or contrapuntal to, the camera's movements.

5 As Joe Adamson notes in his article 'Crabquacks' (Take One, January 1978, p. 22): "Where the soundtrack in live action destroyed an artform (and created a new one that took years to grow up), in animation it destroyed nothing, but on the instant galvanized a palpitating presence into active life".

6 Despite his attempts to redress the bias against tile socio political effects of 'the Disney State' upon American society, Jonathan Rosenbaum, in his article, 'Walt Disney', in Film Comment, Vol.11, No.1, January/February 1975, often tends towards sketchy sociological readings of the Disney cartoons as social artifacts rather than analyzing them in terms of their own textuality. Sometimes apologist in tone yet encompassing in its presentation of critical sides to the Disney debate, Rosenbaum's article is mainly insightful for its reflection of a prevalent 'post counter culture' attitude towards the frightening power of representation unleashed by the Disney cartoons (a fear which propelled certain undercurrents in Pop Art's political irony). The 'world' that the Disney studios created is of a totality that is both awe inspiring and dread inducing. We are clearly outside that ideal world; and the more we try to relate it to our socio cultural reality, the more forcibly we are denied access to its inner complexity. Conversely to Rosenbaum's examination of the cartoons as depictions and reflection of our world, I feel that Disney's 'power' of representation is worth studying under the terms of its own energies and dynamics, wherein one can be witness to the inseparability of technology and textuality, where perceptual mechanisms and political economy key us into the complex nature of mimeticism, representation and simulation. Could we not then 'return to our world' with a better understanding of the mechanics and machinations of cultural imagery? For a more balanced view than Rosenbaum's of technological development in relation to tile cultural impact of Disney's work up to 1932, see Robert Sklar, 'The Making of Cultural Myths Walt Disney', The American Animated Cartoon, eds. Gerald Peary and Danny Peary (New York: Dutton, 1980).

7 The Disney laboratory once again provides us with an insight to possible lateral analytic approaches. The main question Disney prompted his staff to keep asking themselves was: 'what happens when things move?' [my italics]. That question in fact sums up tile purpose, function and effect of the animatic apparatus, where happenings (events), things (subjects/objects) and movements (dynamics) meet. This is why I stated earlier that the animator 'makes action happen' and that the temporality of film is 'where time is made extant'. (Disney in fact termed their major study 'action analysis', which obviously is as much about time as it is about movement. Once again, see the Disney TV documentary from 1957, Tricks of Our Trade. See also Maltin, Of Mice and Magic, which contains correspondence between Walt Disney and Dan Graham Disney's chief animation instructor in the early '30s where Disney exhorts Graham to push the animators to discover 'what the force behind movement is'.) I must also point out that the only critical article I have encountered on Disney's work which centres on the function of music in the narratives is William Paul's 'Art, Music, Nature and Walt Disney', in Movie 24, Spring 1977. Paul writes: 'From its beginnings, film has had a natural affinity for music since both are art forms that move through time, but with cartoons this affinity is more like symbiosis.' (p. 44) And: 'What is striking is how easy it is to find similarities in structuring principles between traditional musical forms and [Disney's] cartoons. With the introduction of sound, Disney quickly developed a sense of organising dramatic materials that is really closer to music than to drama.' (P. 46)

8 A few technical notes: this industrial relationship was quite a fluid one, where composer and animator could adapt to each other's needs. Sometimes the animator could extend a scene if the music could not be shortened; sometimes the composer could add a few notes to the melody if the visual action could not be shortened, etc. (somewhat like a constructive temporization). The main practice established was to set a number of frames to equal a music bar, thereby establishing a correlative tempo for the film. The standard setting was for half a bar of music to equal 12 frames of film, making one bar equal to a second. The metronome setting of 12 gives two beats to a second, which is the standard setting for all marches because such a tempo is 'perfectly' suited to how the human body can pace its walking. (Walk down the street and you'll probably find that each footstep takes one second; the relative march tempo is thus 'left and right and left and right and etc.', giving two musical beats to each footstep.) For more technical information on how the Disney studios scored their cue sheets and limed their animation shooting, see Thomas and Johnston, Disney Animation The Illusion of life, Chapter 4, plus a two part interview with Thomas and Johnston by Dan Scapperotti and David I Hutchinson in Starlog, N.122/123, August/October 1987.

9 A suggested selection: Steamboat Willie (1928 first Disney sound cartoon); The Skeleton Dance (1929 - first Silly Symphony); Flowers and Trees (1932 - first colour Silly Symphony); The Band Concert (1935 - first colour Mickey Mouse).

10 Consider here the nature of water: a substance which has no characteristic shape or form which we can hold/possess but a material into which we can immerse ourselves and a substance which can only grant us power through its movement (e.g. consider the technical desire behind, on the one hand, dams and, on the other, hydroelectricity). In essence, water is the most visceral and tactile form of movement in nature, hence the tradition of describing music in terms of weight, mass volume, direction, intensity, density, etc., where 'flow' is essentially the movement of the wholeness, totality and indivisibility of water and music.

11 Note should be made of conductor Leopold Stokowski (one of the key archetypes in 'long hair music' who apparently was the first to urge Disney to seriously consider extending The Sorcerer's Apprentice into what became Fantasia. Stokowski did not just conduct the score but was also contributing his musical ideas at most of the production stages of the feature. For a detailed description of the production and reception of Fantasia see Maltin's The Disney Films (New, York: Bonanza Books, 1973).

12 This is one of the prime narrative effects in music effecting a sense of stopping and starting in appropriate or inappropriate places, of leaving one up in the air or settling one back on the ground.

13 This is what I mean by a motion picture: not the movement of visual stuff before my eye but the feeling of being set in motion by the narrative, with sound and music providing the prime devices, instruments and tools for effecting this motion.

14 The actual credit for this section of Fantasia is verbally introduced as Rite Of Spring; however, this section was released some time after Fantasia's initial release as a discrete short titled A World Is Born. Deems Taylor's voice over narration only appears in this short and not in the Fantasia version. I shall be discussing the short version, which is the same in every other detail (length, visuals, score). I take this liberty for two reasons. First, Fantasia is an anthology one conceptualized and formed as such only after completion of The Sorcerer's Apprentice. Only certain sections of Fantasia are relevant to the terms of my analysis and I therefore do not address the film as a whole. Secondly, since the inception of the Disneyland TV series in 1954, much of the Disney studio's output has been re edited and recompiled for television, 35mm European theatrical release and/or 16mm educational distribution. The Disney oeuvre is largely governed by fragmentation and regurgitation.

15 However, Disney's macrocosmic approach implies a desire to encompass the total symbolic potential of the Stravinsky text, thus failing prey to a certain literalness in its depiction of the effects of time (large scale time potential = the life span of the world). The year cycle of nature's processes in Stravinsky's work is symbolic of the more abstract relationships between time and life as expressible through music and thus already represents a latent intent to encompass 'big concepts' prior to Disney's graphic visualization of this symbolic drive.

16 This is in comparison with Arnold Schoenberg's more strident and disciplined approach to 20th century composition serialism which he defined as a means for 'the emancipation of dissonance'.

17 Compare this notion of 'no up or down, no forward or back' with the clearly defined architecture of The Sorcerer's Apprentice, where both Mickey and the music are forever going up and down, back and forth. Yet another obtuse connection can be made between The Sorcerer's Apprentice and A World Is Born: at the start of the latter the voice over ponders, 'Could you touch the sky from a mountain top?'. That is exactly what Mickey does in his dream in the former. Both these animated shorts (more than the other sections in Fantasia) reaffirm the Disney drive to feel the narrative in motion.

18 From here on unless indicated otherwise - 'Disney' refers to the whole of the Disney studios from the late 1920s to the late 1940s, and 'Warner Bros.' refers to the Warner Brothers' animation department from the mid 1930s to the late 1950s.

19 Undoubtedly the most exhaustive survey of the Warner Bros. work from a modern perspective has to be the Film Comment special issue on the Hollywood cartoon from January February 1975, with contributions by some of the most informed writers on the subject: Richard Thompson, Greg Ford and Joe Adamson. Still, the whole issue seems to dwell under the shadow of the Disney syndrome as bemoaned by Jonathan Rosenbaum in the same issue (see note 6). References to Disney are generally evoked only to demonstrate what smart arses the Warner gang were as most of the writing celebrates the unsung vitality of their adult aimed humour and social perspective. While the articles focus mostly on characterization as the means for illuminating, the cartoon's emotional, stylistic, artistic and dramatic complexities, I want to add to them an analysis of the cartoons' textual machinations. This is actually suggested in Richard Thompson's 'Meep Meep!' article in Film Comment, Vol.12, No.3, May/June 1976 (a reprint from 1971), p. 43: 'It seems to me that [an area] suggested by these works [would be] a semiological/structuralist analysis of the cartoons, which seem made for such work'. While not strictly employing such practices, my textual analysis runs a similar road.

20 Two occurrences (out of the numerous we could dwell on here) are worth mentioning: (a) Mickey Mouse might have been the darling yankee for over a decade, but the short fuse of Donald Duck seemed to fire up the wartime psyche, garnering him two Academy Award nominations and one actual award during this period (Mickey got his last in 1939 and would not score again until 1948); (b) the high keyed insanity of the Warner Bros. cartoons (which through the '30s had clearly rung with a slight Marx Brothers' resonance) was easily transformed into wartime hysteria, where morale replaced rationale and reason was tantamount to treason. For evidence of this 'wartime merger', compare Disney's Der Fuehrer's Face with the Daffy draftee/commando series (Draftee Daffy, Scrap Happy Daffy and Plane Daffy). However, when Chuck Jones was asked about the effect of war on their productions, he replied, 'I don't think there's much of a connection there' (Richard Thompson and Greg Ford, 'Chuck Jones Interview', Film Comment, Vol.11, No.1, January /February 1975, p.23). Take your pick.

21 1 am here referring to Adamson's 'Crabquacks' (see note 5) and its breakdown of the cartoon reality' in terms of its employment of totally 'unreal' sound effects. In his chapter on Disney in Of Mice and Magic, Maltin cites some insightful comments by Gilbert Seldes from 1932: 'The great satisfaction in the first animated cartoons was that they used sound properly the sound was as unreal as the action; the eye and the ear were not at war with each other, one observing a fantasy, the other an actuality...'(p. 35)

22 In their book Disney Animation: The Illusion of Life (pp. 159 161), Thomas and Johnston actually tell a story of a young assistant sound editor fresh on the job who submitted a sound effects track for a wartime cartoon in 1941. What he came up with was a totally over the top mix of wild and crazy sounds perfectly synched to every movement in frame (sounds like outlandish 'Boings!' and 'Pings!, etc.). But Thomas and Johnston tell the story to illustrate the inappropriateness of such a cacophonic approach because too many unreal sounds transform the comedy or drama into outright farce, destroying Disney's symphonic ride of the soundtrack mix. Warner Bros., via the bombastic approach to sound effects by Treg Brown, took the cartoon's aural unreality to its ultimate conclusion. At THE ILLUSION OF LIFE Conference, Chuck Jones described the sound mixers at Warner Bros. as maniacs who wanted everything up full volume in the mix. Apparently, if they had had their way, the cartoons would have been hypercacophonic!

23 Warner Bros.' Merrie Melodies (1930 1963) and Looney Tunes (1931 1963) were originated by two ex Disney associates, Rudolph Ising and Hugh Harman, who directed and produced both series independently for Warner Bros. from 1930 to 1933. When they left to head MGM's animation department, Leon Schlesinger produced these series as in house Warner Bros. cartoons with Friz Freleng as the initial series director. All the other major Warner Bros. cartoon directors developed here. (For a complete listing of all these cartoons with credits and dates, see Jeff Lenburg's The Encyclopedia of Animated Cartoon Series (New York: Da Capo Press, 1981) and Jerry Beck and Will Friedwald's Looney Toons and Merrie Melodies: A Complete Illustrated Guide to The Warner Bros. Cartoons (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1989).) Because of Warner Bros. diversification into music publishing and copyright, the focus of the cartoons under Schlesinger was to push songs and tunes to which they already had the rights. So while there initially was a side reference to the market success of Disney's Silly Symphonies, this angle was replaced by an internal industrial concern. Carl Stalling one of the major musical directors of Warner Bros. cartoons was originally one of Disney's prime musical directors, also acknowledged as having proposed the concept for The Skeleton Dance and having launched the Silly Symphonies series. With his shift to Warner Bros. in the early thirties, the Merrie Melodies and Looney Tunes cartoons progressed from the straight parody of Disney conventions to the bilateral development of key Disney concerns (percussive synchronism and popular song referencing). Many of the apparent oppositions between Disney and Warner Bros. are actually formed along similar lines of exploration. Furthermore, Stalling was originally an organist for silent cinema (like most early orchestrators and musical directors around this time), so he was well attuned to the role popular music played in the musical accompaniment to film. (This, however, leads us into the most forgotten epoch of film history: the relationship between Tin Pan Alley and silent film accompaniment. The Warner Bros. cartoons are the major surviving examples of such a legacy, considering how much early 'All Singing/All Dancing/All Talking' film musicals were competing with Broadway's hold on musicals.)

24 Some comments by Noble in a 1971 interview (Joe Adamson, 'Well, For Heaven's Sake! Grown Men!', Film Comment, Vol.11, No.1, January/February 1975, p. 19): '.. I design in motion... When you're on a panoramic shot ... your overall total has to balance out to be an interesting eye experience: your large areas and small areas are exhibited to the eye as the pan goes along, and the spaces and rhythms of this whole thing, this total over all, is a visual composition in motion.'

25 A few pedantic notes. The first Coyote cartoons had him talking as a character who was smugly self assured and continually referred to himself as 'Wile F. Coyote Super Genius!'. These early cartoons paint the chase scenario mainly in terms of a pride before the fall moral. When the Coyote becomes mute, the cartoons are then more centred on the traits and logics Thompson outlines in his definitive character analysis, 'Meep Meep!', in Film Comment (though as kids we always thought it was 'Beep! Beep!'). The Coyote as Wolf/Sam the Sheepdog cartoons are not totally mute (Sam and work mate Ralph converse) and are angled differently from the Road Runner scenarios, although derived from them. The closest no dialogue examples of a 'cacophonic textuality ' would be one off cartoons like Much Ado About Nutting (1953), with the squirrel trying to break open the coconut; To Itch His Own (1958), with the flea's quest for a holiday on a quiet dog; Caveman Inki (1950), the last of the Inki/Minah Bird series; and even One Froggy Evening (1955), where the lyrical songs are essentially the sound of the frog's 'other'. In these cartoons, the soundtrack is the prime energizer of the degree and intensity of each and every comic gag.

26 'The Road Runner series tries to capture the essence of speed of a body moving in space at incredible velocity'. Chuck Jones, interviewed by Robert Benayoun for Positif in 1963, reprinted as 'The Road Runner and Other Characters', Cinema Journal, Vol.3, No.2, Spring 1969, p.12.

27 A lateral connection between post war narratology and the speed of character action: consider any number of 'classic' Warner Bros. characters who literally propel themselves through their narratives like a rocket ('VVRRROOOOOMMM!'); encounter dramatic conflict in terms of all out war ('This means war!'); and end the story with one all mighty star spangled detonation ('POW! Right in the kisser!'). Genuine warheads.



Entire contents of this page Philip Brophy