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Thursday, July 02, 2015

Learning From Great Cartoons

What Transparent and Opaque Does For Window Cleaners (1940)

Must one be an artist to properly appreciate animation? Maybe not, but it sure helps. I drew lots as a child, even did flipbooks, which is sort of ersatz animating, no? (my flip, circa 1966, had Batman tied to a Pit/Pendulum device by the Joker) What counts is knowledge of paint as applied to canvas, or paper. Veteran artist Stewart MacKissick (he did the Blu-Ray covers for Gulliver's Travels and the 3-D Rarities one-sheet) gave me a tutorial at Cinevent last month. I had asked about terms he used in describing cartoon backgrounds, like transparent watercolor and opaque gouache. He explained these, and I continued inquiry at You Tube upon return home, goal being to overcome ignorance of at least these art concepts and enjoy better what Classic Era craftsmen achieved. It's made a difference alright, for much as I love backgrounds in 30's Disney cartooning, there's now rudimentary grasp of technique brought to bear on shorts too many (certainly me) take for granted.

Window Cleaners is no laugh fest. Donald had quacked long enough by 1940 to shed novelty if not tail feathers he (again) loses here. There's a menacing bee to get best of the duck, an always condition whenever Disney characters defied nature or its denizens. I wanted Donald to swat the thing and be done with it, even for knowing he'd be defeated as always (DD had real basis for temper loss, a reason I often feel sorry for him). Now about those transparent watercolors: They are all over Window Cleaners. Transparent means by which paint is applied permits white light from surface paper to come through, result a glisten, "alive" finish to the background. Window Cleaners gets this across in cityscapes that lend illusion of sunlit detail and, most vividly, heights from which Donald dangles. Several have observed that it was cartoon equivalent to thrill comedy Harold Lloyd did. Window Cleaners is just another WD cartoon on the one hand, but something remarkable for high-up illusion it creates. I'm finding Disney shorts a lot more rewarding for relax of humor expectation and greater focus on polish and beauty of backgrounds. Window Cleaners can be had at You Tube, and as part of The Chronological Donald: Volume One on DVD.


Blogger Reg Hartt said...

In this cartoon Donald utters the classic expletive, "F... You." I was screening it in a theater. It happened I was in the lobby when it came on. Undistracted by the picture the words loomed out large and loud. Later I ran it again at home. Yep. They are there. It occurs when Donald gets hot tempered in a fight with the main spring of the clock. Censored our of the cartoon since others found it here it is:

W. C. Fields slipped one in in THE BANK DICK as well.

7:38 PM  
Blogger Randy said...

Donald's alleged "F Bomb" is from CLOCK CLEANERS, not WINDOW CLEANERS. Oh, and he doesn't say "that" word at all. Donald is arguing with the spring, which echoes back, in a metallic "voice," everything Donald says. Donald's words to the spring are, "Says you." The spring answers back, "Says I."

The change to the soundtrack were made a few years ago when Rev. Donald Wildmon's American Family Association through a hissy fit about this, insisting that Donald was clearly saying, "Fuck you" to the spring. Disney, in a weak moment, caved and altered the soundtrack.

Given the premise, that the spring echoes back everything Donald says to it, it makes absolutely not sense at all for Donald to have said yelled anything but, "Says you."

9:18 PM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Er...As I said I was outside in the lobby of the theater in which I was screening the film in the 1970s long before Rev. Wildmon or anyone else heard it. Donald says it. I heard him say it. I played the soundtrack for others without telling them what I had heard to get their reaction. They heard it. Disney has had an awful lot of "weak" moments. One of the weakest is their decision to suppress SONG OF THE SOUTH. As well, I had the benefit of personally knowing Shamus Culhane and Grim Natwick. Were they alive now they'd back me up. Shamus told a great tale of the week the artists working on SNOW WHITE went wild. The drawings they did then will probably never see the light of day. And, yes,"Reverend" Donald Wildmon was a stick in the mud.

10:27 PM  
Blogger Randy said...

Well, Reg, we'll have to agree to disagree. I've run the soundtrack of CLOCK CLEANERS in slow motion and given it various changes in pitch and tone, off both video transfers and my own 16mm print, and I stand by my contention that Donald is saying "Says you," not "Fuck you."

It's not a point worth an ongoing argument because people tend to hear what they want to hear and are rarely inclined to change their minds about it once they're made up. Sort of like one scene in Disney's ALADDIN, where some people insist Aladdin is saying, "Good teenagers take off your clothes." What Aladdin is actually saying is, "Good kitty. Take off and go." As I say, though, if people think they're hearing something else, it's useless to argue.

Granted, Donald's indistinct speech lends itself to this kind of misinterpretation. One of the most outrageous claims I've ever heard is that during his piano duet with Daffy Duck in WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT, Donald uses the "n" word, directed at Daffy. I think even addressed that one.

12:39 PM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

I agree with you about agreeing to disagree. The only point I will add is that I was not looking to hear what I heard when I heard it the first time. I was outside the theater in the lobby when I heard it and was taken aback. When I played and play it for others I never tell them in advance what to expect. Thanks for the info on ALADDIN. Had not heard that. I don't think anyone working on WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT would have been callow enough to use the "N" word. Thanks for correcting me on the film being CLOCK CLEANERS. I knew that but, for the moment, got the two confused. The people who condemn these films for perceived unpolitical correctness be it there or not need to get a life.

2:18 PM  
Blogger Stewart McKissick said...

Hi John -
Thanks for the shout out, and I'm glad you found my little bit of technical info in the CINEVENT notes informative and that it inspired you to find out a bit more about it.

As I and many others have often said, a lot of the Disney shorts, especially after the late 30's, are weak on laughs compared to the one's from Warner's, MGM, etc. But their technical beauty is beyond reproach, and indeed, it's often the settings that are the star for me. Even when they "went opaque" they still had a high level of excellence.

TOM & JERRY's are favorites for me because they combined the Disney technical excellence with the Warner's laughs for what in my opinion is a perfect combination of visual and visceral entertainment.

Keep up the excellent work!

9:10 AM  

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