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Funny Pictures

Animation and Comedy in Studio-Era Hollywood

Daniel Ira Goldmark

Publication Year: 2011

This collection of essays explores the link between comedy and animation in studio-era cartoons, from filmdom’s earliest days through the twentieth century. Written by a who’s who of animation authorities, Funny Pictures offers a stimulating range of views on why animation became associated with comedy so early and so indelibly, and illustrates how animation and humor came together at a pivotal stage in the development of the motion picture industry. To examine some of the central assumptions about comedy and cartoons and to explore the key factors that promoted their fusion, the book analyzes many of the key filmic texts from the studio years that exemplify animated comedy. Funny Pictures also looks ahead to show how this vital American entertainment tradition still thrives today in works ranging from The Simpsons to the output of Pixar.

Published by: University of California Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5

Contents

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pp. v-vi

Figures

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pp. vii-viii

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Introduction: What Makes These Pictures So Funny?

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pp. 1-12

In Preston Sturges’s Sullivan’s Travels (1941) John Sullivan, a movie director traversing the United States in an attempt to define the soul of America, finds himself wrongly imprisoned and part of a chain gang. Invited with the other prisoners to attend a screening at an African American church in a southern bayou, ...

Part One: The (Filmic) Roots of Early Animation

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1: The Chaplin Effect: Ghosts in the Machine and Animated Gags

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pp. 15-28

Eighty years after these remarks, the problem Lejeune identifies — saying something fresh and insightful about Charlie Chaplin — has been multiplied manifold, as many have sought to do so. By 1931 Chaplin was already the darling of the masses and the modernists and served to virtually represent every social metaphor in his enduring figure of “the Little Tramp” or “the little fellow.” ...

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2: Polyphony and Heterogeneity in Early Fleischer Films: Comic Strips, Vaudeville, and the New York Style

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pp. 29-50

Most examinations of the early films of Max and Dave Fleischer portray them as failed narratives, despite their considerable virtues in other areas. Leonard Maltin has characterized the Fleischer cartoons as examples of “raw, peasant humor . . . that relied more on technical ingenuity and comical invention than artistic expertise. ...

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3: The Heir Apparent

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pp. 51-66

In the summer of 1933 the Walt Disney studio released a new Mickey Mouse cartoon short: Mickey’s Gala Premier [sic]. In this cartoon all Hollywood, in the form of movie-star caricatures, turns out for the opening of Mickey Mouse’s latest picture. ...

Part Two: Systems and Effects: Making Cartoons Funny

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4: Infectious Laughter: Cartoons’ Cure for the Depression

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pp. 69-92

It is axiomatic that cartoons from the studio period were made to make us laugh. Big belly laughs. Speaking as someone who attended the local “show” almost weekly for most of the 1950s, after the big producers had been forced to divest themselves of their theaters, but before economic pressures, changes in audienceship, ...

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5: “We’re Happy When We’re Sad: ”Comedy, Gags, and 1930s Cartoon Narration

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pp. 93-108

As this timely volume demonstrates, animated cinema has been undertheorized, particularly in the realm of humor and narrative. Some theorists and critics have concentrated their interest in the American commercial animated cartoon around the binary opposition between loose gag structures and more linear, developed narratives. ...

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6: Laughter by Numbers: The Science of Comedy at the Walt Disney Studio

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pp. 109-126

Most of us treasure cartoons for their ability to defy what is considered normal behavior. Roadrunners beep beep, rabbits sing opera, and ducks travel to Mars. Even animated films that don’t center on recognizable characters may play with spatial and temporal logic in ways that challenge our usual patterns of thought. ...

Part Three: Retheorizing Animated Comedy

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7: “Who Dat Say Who Dat?": Racial Masquerade, Humor, and the Rise of American Animation

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pp. 129-152

When it comes to cartoons, Sigmund Freud’s description of humor as the invocation of affect and its diversion speaks well to the existential horror we call the gag. Especially in the short subjects that fairly defined American animation until 1937, and still thereafter provided its bread and butter, life is an eternal cavalcade of pain. ...

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8: “I Like to Sock Myself in the Face”: Reconsidering “Vulgar Modernism”

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pp. 153-174

Published in Artforum in 1982, J. Hoberman’s “Vulgar Modernism” represented a benchmark in critical discussions of “popular art.” Hoberman constructed the case for the formal innovation and artistic importance of a range of popular artists who were seemingly locked out of the canon on the basis of their low cultural status, ...

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9: Auralis Sexualis: How Cartoons Conduct Paraphilia

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pp. 175-188

If cartoons were flesh, pornography would have to be reinvented. Pornography uses the body — its aura, its texture, its materiality, its morphology — to choreograph physical possibilities imagined through the dormant state of the inert (repressed) corpus. In this sense pornography animates the body into heightened states of arousal, erection, and expulsion. ...

Part Four: Comic Inspiration: Animation Auteurs

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10: The Art of Diddling: Slapstick, Science, and Antimodernism in the Films of Charley Bowers

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pp. 191-210

A little more than seventy years ago, in 1937, the French surrealist André Breton jotted down a crib sheet for a new history of film comedy, inspired by a screening of Charley Bowers’s sound short It’s a Bird (1930). A comedy about one man’s discovery of a “metal-eating bird,” the film prompted Breton to a fresh conception of slapstick’s role in the history of film. ...

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11: Tex Avery’s Prison House of Animation, or Humor and Boredom in Studio Cartoons

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pp. 211-227

There is a thin line between comedy and tedium. Anybody who has seen several Tex Avery cartoons in a row is probably very familiar with this boundary. The film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum once wrote, “To be sure, if you see as few as half a dozen Averys at a stretch, you’re likely to notice repetitions of gags and certain recurring obsessions ...

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12: Tish-Tash in Cartoonland

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pp. 228-254

If the name “Frank Tashlin” is recognized today, it is generally for the reason that the trajectory of Tashlin’s filmmaking career is characterized by a couple of unusual swerves. Once a print cartoonist, Tashlin parlayed his drafting skill into a career as an animator and then as a director of animation; ...

Part Five: Beyond the Studio Era: Building on Tradition

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13: Sounds Funny / Funny Sounds: Theorizing Cartoon Music

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pp. 257-271

Discussing the various means of showing speed in a cartoon, Kristin Thompson describes a device in which Daffy, in Conrad the Sailor (1942), moves so quickly that when he stops suddenly, several Daffys are used to show his movement across the frame, catching up to him, one at a time, as the director, Chuck Jones, makes explicit his means of suggesting speed.1 ...

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14: The Revival of the Studio-Era Cartoon in the 1990s

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pp. 272-292

In the history of the animation business there are two eras that stand out in terms of quality of animation and volume of production. The first is the Golden Age of Cartoons, which came out of the studio system in Hollywood; the second is the era that came on the heels of (and perhaps contributed to) cable television’s ascendancy to mass popularity. ...

Bibliography

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pp. 293-310

Contributors

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pp. 311-314

Index

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pp. 315-331

Production Notes

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p. 341-341


E-ISBN-13: 9780520950122
Print-ISBN-13: 9780520267244

Page Count: 344
Publication Year: 2011

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Subject Headings

  • Animated films -- United States -- History and criticism.
  • Wit and humor in motion pictures.
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