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Monday, October 23, 2017

Lots Of Porkys On This Plate

Can Porky Get Warner Cartoons Back In Gear?

Warner Archive has released all of the Porky Pig cartoons in a single DVD set. There are 101 of them here. I suppose a person could go mad watching the dollop at once, or even within a week. But then there are those who "binge" on streaming television, and Porky is at least more benign than The Sopranos or Breaking Bad. As potted history of Warner Bros. animation, there is no better starting place than this set. You can get the whole education plotting Porky progress from his debut in 1935 to however far these things go (I've a long road ahead to a last of them). Older Porkys were always rare for being black-and-white and so shunted into offshoot packages for TV use. Original titles were replaced by ugly substitute of "Sunset" or "Guild Films" or who knows what else to disguise fact they were WB product, this to keep theatres from catching the Shield in bed with tube rivals during early 50's run-up to TV dumping, all irrelevant since Warners put back openings as were seen in cinemas, this warming heart of Porky purists.

The pig morphed, went forward, backward, as he came toward familiar face and squiggly tail we know. Porky might make a good argument for evolution as fact rather than theory, Darwinists using 101 for course syllabus. Porcines are supposed to be fat, but Porky began very much so. We liked him robust, but not too round. Up from mere support to "Beans," a WB character floated but ultimately let go, Porky seemed a supplicant to the billed-first star he'd ultimately supplant. You could say Porky was Eve Harrington to Beans' Margo Channing, latter not imagining a mere piglet (and yes, Porky started out young) could steal his lead. To topic of age, Porky progressed from schoolboy of I Haven't Got A Hat (debut) to domesticity of the 40's and ultimate stubble assist to Daffy as Dragnet pair they'd play in a 50's Chuck Jones spoof. But again --- did anyone imagine there were so many Porky cartoons? An interesting survey might determine which of all this is great, good, mere watchable, or affront to time and patience. I began with the first, am pulling plow in order of release, but have found none to discard, which gives hope for balance of the 101 and shows how fine a standard WB cartoons kept right from the go.

It's sobering to sit alone and watch half-dozen or more Porky Pig cartoons in a gulp. Has life really come to this? And yet --- show me who would share such meal (recipe to lose friends: make them watch an hour or more of cartoons). Anyone of normalcy, or leastwise sense of proportion, would bail after one or at most three. Porky was not meant to be consumed in such quantity, being like serials best seen a chapter at a time. How much sausage would you have with even a most bountiful breakfast? Porky cartoons are bacon strips you must limit. A same moderation might profitably apply to any cartoon group (I recently looked at six straight Road Runners and am still in recovery). Significant is fact I'm also going through twelve-chapter Mystery Mountain with Ken Maynard, back-forth between the serial and cartoons. Serious mind slippage can come of this, and never mind academic interest served. Porkys aren't all the same, though. They were tweaked from one t'other, no pair truly alike. Part of that was assign of directors with squiggly tails of their own, like Fred "Tex" Avery and Frank "Tish Tash" or "Frank Tash" Tashlin starting out and applying sensibility like no one else's, followed by maverick of them all, Robert Clampett. You always know an Avery when you see it --- no names necessary, while Tashlin we can spot because his cartoons look like features, with busy foreground, swooping camera, close and closer-ups. He clearly spent time watching other people's movies (and knew, got tips from, Michael Curtiz?).

Porky 101 is animation history as full as you'd get from any collection dedicated to that. More than just Porky are woven through the mass, for here came screen debuts of Daffy, embryonic Bugs, plus characters bound for obscurity and footnote status even for fans dedicated to the line. I had heard of "Beans," seen him in a few before, was reminded again of how quick-forgot such dud of a cartoon creation could be. Same for "Gabby," a horned goat who is that plus off-putting in each particular, yet billed beside Porky in a group meant to make a star of him. Put Gabby down beside poison-alities Warners couldn't make us love, notable his having name sake at Paramount, a Gabby off Gulliver's Travels to a series of his own, also failing utterly to make the grade. Was there ever a cartoon goat we embraced? Of human staff who didn't last with the Shield was wandering Ub Iwerks, WB presumed last stop before he'd light at Disney to finish up a career. There are several Porkys Ub-supervised among the 101, none to compete with what Avery, Tashlin, Clampett did for the series.

One of the cartoons, I think it's Porky's Romance, spoofs a radio program of the day that, according to audio commentary, lasted but a year. This otherwise obscure broadcast, nothing of which is otherwise recalled, survives thanks to briefest parody of it in this eighty-year-old cartoon. Warner staff were sponges for popular culture. They didn't so much invent funny phrases as crib them from elsewhere, mostly radio. We have little way of assigning credit for humor nuggets beyond what deep research is done by cartoon historians. Most of music, infectious as it is, came of merry melodies that WB owned. Songs for a feature would sooner turn up in cartoons, from there best remembered as back-lay for Bugs, Daffy, the rest. Thank Your Lucky Stars, It's A Great Feeling, others of time-lock sort, seem dated as dinosaurs, except for tunes kept in our heads from long-ago and repeat exposure to cartoons. Who knew Max Steiner's principal theme for Captains Of The Clouds would serve over and again whenever WB animated characters took flight?

Warners' warning label says, "Porky Pig 101 is intended for the Adult Collector and May Not Be Suitable For Children," this like something you'd read on a cigarette package. But would youngsters be tempted? The Porkys seem languid beside madhouse that is modern animation, and then there's dreaded black-and-whiteness. What happens when all us "Adult Collectors" die out? Warner cartoons may by then have a same appeal as piano rolls from the 19th century (dare we ask a ten-year-old if he/she is familiar with Daffy Duck or Road Runner?). Would anyone not watching in yawn of time that was 50-70's follow WB cartoons now? They say nostalgia runs in twenty to forty year cycles, depending on strength of sentiment. Hard to imagine anyone mooning over 90's pop culture, but sure as flow of sand through an hourglass, lots do. I'd submit pave of memory lane among emerging adults for WB cartoons began around the mid-70's with Bugs Bunny Superstar, then college and revival house fests that followed (but query: Did those who saw them brand new in theatres cling as much to memories?). Childhood from mid-50's onward was revisited because that's when bulk of the WB's went to television, as in hundreds loosed at once during banner year 1956. Tubes fed non-stop, network and syndicated, lasted almost to a new century. Video cassettes, then laser disc, enabled ownership of cartoons, with peak that was "Golden Collections" Volume One through Six on DVD. These went from 2003 to interest flag by 2008. Now it's near a decade later and we could hope Porky will stem tide going out, sales to determine a next set ... or curtains down.

It helped when animators from the old days were still around to stimulate fans born since cartooning heyday. Chuck Jones sat for a ninety-minute documentary done in 2000, and venerable Friz Freleng reminisced clear into bonus segments for the DVD's. These and others were reassuring last link to when cartoons played first-run, but we couldn't expect creators to stay forever. What intrigues me are home historians who take upon themselves an ongoing task of restoring original titles to cartoons that till now lack them, result of reissues that long-ago lopped off art-enhanced openers in favor of boilerplate "Blue Ribbon" credits. It's a yeoman task, but there are those on You Tube dedicated to the doing of it, and I much admire their handiwork. Within a seeming thousand channels on satellite or cable to choose from, do old cartoons have a platform? Does Porky show up anywhere, that is, on free, streaming, or subscription basis? Little of WB animation has surfaced for the over twenty years TCM has been around. There's reason for that, but I'm not apprised of what it is. Effort was applied to "new" Bugs and Daffy cartoons, but we may assume those went down to defeat. There's bound to be value in the franchise, but then ... it's a long, and getting longer, road back to these characters. Are Porky, Bugs, and Daffy too remote to revive? Reception to Porky 101 may well answer that question.


Blogger Mark Mayerson said...

What are the odds that a theater-goer would see a cartoon more than once? Pretty low, I'd guess. For that reason, the cartoons were truly ephemera. See it once, get a few laughs and then it's gone forever.

The baby boomers watching TV saw the cartoons over and over again. Because of that, they developed favorites and began to notice director's styles. Animation history benefited enormously from TV showings. If TV had never been invented, I doubt that Hollywood animation would enjoy the attention that the boomers showered on it. I think that's also true for Universal horrors, Abbott and Costello and the stars of comedy shorts.

11:11 AM  
Blogger Dave K said...

Well, not ALL the Porky Pigs, John. The set has the 99 black and whites and two color films. None of the stuttering super star's color appearances from the 40's, 50's and 60's included. The little guy has quite the filmography!

1:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This whole post seems unusually impatient for Greenbriar. Many of us -- with good reason! -- would rather binge-watch Porky Pig cartoons than The Sopranos.

Seriously -- why the grouchy tone?

1:52 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Didn't mean to sound grouchy, James, and would certainly opt to binge-watch Porky over another round of "The Sopranos," episodes of which were so horrific (as in disturbing) that I would never want to sit through them again.

And for the record --- I sure hope Porky 101 sells through the roof so as to pave ways for more cartoon sets from Warner Archive.

1:59 PM  
Blogger Rodney said...

A big problem with this set is that so many of the cartoons are sloppily handled, especially with soundtrack issues (Porky's Tire Trouble plays over something like six different cartoons, where there is NO reason for it to be so). I also welcome the thought of additional releases, but only if they're handled better than this one, which was a keen disappointment.

2:53 PM  
Blogger Rodney said...

In my hasty typing I fear that I was too vague. I should note that it's the opening music of Porky's Tire Trouble that plays over the openings of six different cartoons. NOT the entire soundtrack.

3:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does anyone here remember a compilation titled PORKY PIG IN HOLLYWOOD that made the art-house rounds in the 1980s? About 90 minutes of b&w Looney Tunes, one after the other; and, for reasons that puzzle me still, several of them had NO opening music at all - just dead silence until the cartoon's specific title came on. They clearly came from 35mm material, as all the original imagery was there (WB shield and other elements cut from the Guild Films TV prints). I couldn't figure out how opening soundtrack elements could have gone missing, unless it had something to do with preparing the Guild versions.


5:16 PM  
Blogger Brother Herbert said...

To elaborate on what Rodney said, here is Thad Komorowski's detailed list of the issues on this set:

And because there was such uproar over his initial post, a follow-up:

6:22 PM  
Blogger Dr. OTR said...

My kids love Warner Bros cartoons, and in fact we just watched two Road Runners tonight, and 4 Tweety and Sylvesters on Saturday. But the early Porkies don't appeal to them. They love the 50s one, when he's a side kick. Perhaps he has broader appear as a supporting player -- a character actor, basically -- than as a lead?

10:26 PM  
Blogger DBenson said...

I'm about three discs in. A very mixed bag, but full of abruptly familiar bits recalled from childhood. "Porky's Hero Agency" is genuine nightmare stuff. And "Porky's Movie Mystery" has a long-remembered bit where the Invisible Man eats an apple, which reconstitutes in his stomach and floats there for the rest of the scene.

Interesting to reflect on old stuff that got a second and sometimes a third life via television, college screenings and opportunistic marketing (a revived franchise generally pulls earlier incarnations out of the vaults) -- and how some of us feel a certain panic because them darn kids aren't picking up the torch for our favorites. I've gifted Golden Collections on various younger relatives (adolescent and above); likewise some Kino Keatons.

I like to believe they'll suffer the same pangs when trying to make their kids watch "Seinfeld" ("It's SUPPOSED to be about nothing! That's the JOKE!").

2:43 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

When I had Bob Clampett in Toronto in 1979 Toronto for the most part passed (this is something the city does with everyone). Realizing I could not count on Toronto I opened the event up to the world with an ad placed in David Mruz's fanzine MINDROT. Folks came from England, France, Italy, Greece, Japan, Russia, you name it (a few even came from Hollywood).

In the evening Bob showed his color cartoons. I had promised 200 cartoons over the 3 day period. That included all the black and whites I then had. One person after another commented to Bob about the brilliance of those films. It's nice to see them on this set.

7:34 AM  
Blogger Beowulf said...

A guest reviewer over at Glenn's site notes the odd situation of Porky's sidekick Daffy coming so popular that it seemed at times as if they'd switched hero/sidekick roles.
The wolf, man.

2:01 PM  
Blogger Thad said...

The hostility over my negative comments and issues with the set are about as mortifying as the flaws themselves. Putting the wrong soundtrack over a film's head and tail (sometimes running into the film's action itself) is a legitimate problem, and pointing it out is not nitpicking. Someone really put fear of the wrath of God in a great many people, because while everyone agrees the set has issues, the solution seems to be to... ignore them? There has also been no answer on WB's end... no apology, no mention of replacements (they've done them before for mass market sets), no standard "we will not do this again and do better next time" message... Instead, I'm told to "fuck off" and called every name in the book from "cinewhiner" to "mentally ill." I'm afraid a great many people fall victim to the mindset John is condemning here: that these are just stupid cartoons, not real film, so who cares? Absolutely embarrassing.

4:34 PM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Thad, you're getting a taste of what I've been getting for decades. It does not matter how may people care. What matters is that you care. One person with the truth is a majority.

I had people at a screening of a film which, prior to my presenting it The Ontario Board of Censors had completely emasculated. The running time of their cuts took roughly twenty minutes out of the film. The ruling had been made back in the 1950s.

When I said, "I have not seen the film myself. Don't bother. I won't play it," they said, "Would you like us to review it?"

They reviewed it and let me show the film uncut.

I did a special intro based on what I had learned had been cut. One night a group of people said, "We don't care. Just show us the film."

I did. I also placed my hand over the lens when the parts that had been censored out came on. They said, "WE ARE NEVER COMING BACK!"

I said, "I don't want you or anyone like you here."

You did good. You did right. That is what matters.

4:02 PM  
Blogger antoniod said...

Was anyone else out there confused by the look of the re-traced LOONEY TUNES when they were kids and wouldn't know the backstory of the coloring over in Korea?

6:15 PM  
Blogger Neely OHara said...

Seemingly in anticipation of eventually releasing the "Golden" DVD sets, WB made this incalculabley bad mistake of making the cartoons unavailable on television for a major period of time, and the Saturday morning "Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Hour" disappeared forever -- perhaps the thinking was "we can't sell these if we continue to give them away every week."

But the net result was that my niece and nephew were well versed in Rugrats and Ren And Stimpy, but never developed a fondness for (or apparently even a tolerance of) "those old cartoons," and I fear there is no regaining that audience. They really shot themselves in their own corporate foot.

And Thad, I read both your pieces (as well as the vitriolic responses), and I second Reg's opinion that you're in the right.

And as to Warner's choices (and QC in general), before ditching Warner Archive Instant I was constantly chagrined that I was being offered "Flamingo Road" in SD, while those visually dead "Bowery Boys" programmers were restored and in HD. And the capsule descriptions on the website we inaccurate and full of what I'll generously call 'typos.' Is you can't accurately proofread a simple paragraph...

11:12 AM  
Blogger Neely OHara said...

HA! Hoist on my own petard -- I did a damned poor job proofing my OWN last paragraph above (but then I'm not on payroll and was typing on my phone)...

1:00 PM  
Blogger rnigma said...

@antoniod: That was true in my case. I only learned of the Korean color-retracing when I read Leonard Maltin's "Of Mice and Magic."

6:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love the set (my review: but I've never watched more'n three of 'em at a time.

Love that you're not binge-watching a serial. Good job.

As for the "errors" and "complaints": Bah, humbug. Those people wouldn't like a kiss from a pretty girl if her stocking had a little run in it.

Somewhere in the Balcony

9:29 PM  
Blogger Rodney said...

The only reason why anybody is okay with this set is because they're "just cartoons". If the same lackadaisical attitude were put into a live action release, as a community, we'd have the (proverbial) gallows ready for them.

Cartoons have always gotten the short end of the stick. Now we've decided that it doesn't really matter if the correct Carl Stalling music is on them. Just great.

7:57 AM  
Blogger Thad said...

Yeah, and your mocking of "errors" (quote, unquote, I see what ya did there) doesn't make those soundtracks any more correct and less amateur hour.

And with your ridiculous praise for this AND that Betty Boop laser abomination from 20 years ago (the one that ruins all the animation and camerawork with DVNR), you're confirmed as exactly the undiscerning buyer that studios love, because they can put out anything with no thought or work into it and you'll love it just the same.

But hey, they're just cartoons, who cares?

11:32 AM  

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