Tuesday, 21 October 2014

caught in the flash of the curious camera

In every precinct a golden mile
in every doorway stands heart's desire
but see him crouching running through the fire
cos he's the man who built America 

As a Film Studies teacher for the last twelve or so years but not being a film buff particularly, I have always taken it upon myself to "read around the subject". This is of, course the most sage advice I have ever given when asked by students, their parents and management. "Reading around the subject" is the easiest thing in the world to do, after all, shops and the internet are full of them. Books about film/cinema/da moovees have grown exponentially in the last few years. But do they listen? Do they . . .

When I used to teach Surrealist film as a subject area - which somehow seems to have been about six years ago now - I would always include some Chuck Jones cartoons, particularly the Roadrunner ones. I'm pretty sure that none of my students wrote about these cartoons in their exams. I presume - and hope, obviously - they chose to write about the main study films such as Le Chien AndalouLittle Otik, Alice  and Being John Malkovich. Mostly they hated them and I soon gave up the idea and started to concentrate on "Popular Film and Emotional Response", Mexican Cinema - I'd given up on Iranian Cinema too- and Vertigo as the close study film. Most of the students wanted to study Fight Club until they watched it and I showed them the sort of reading material and type of questions they'd get. The main problem here is that most students (occasionally there'd be one or two who would be interested enough to read around the subject) couldn't cope with the sort of texts they needed to read to have that greater understanding. I don't think that they could even read a book like 1000 Films to Change Your Life.

Still, in his autobiography Chuck Amuck, Chuck Jones included the nine rules that he claimed were always obeyed in the creation of each Coyote-Roadrunner cartoon.  These rules found on
page 225 were:

1. The Road Runner cannot harm the Coyote except by going "beep, beep!"
2. No outside force can harm the Coyote - only his own ineptitude or the failure of Acme products. Trains and trucks were the exception from time to time.
3. The Coyote could stop anytime - if he were not a fanatic. “A fanatic is one who redoubles his effort when he has forgotten his aim.” (George Santayana)
4. No dialogue ever, except "beep, beep!"
5. The Road Runner must stay on the road – otherwise, logically, reason than that he would not be called Roadrunner.
6. All action must be confined to the natural environment of the two characters -- the southwest American desert.
7. All materials, tools, weapons, or mechanical conveniences must be obtained from the Acme Corporation.
8. Whenever possible, make gravity the Coyote's greatest enemy.
9. The Coyote is always more humiliated than harmed by his failures.

This to me always showed how much craftsmanship went into the cartoons - by sticking to the boundaries, verisimilitude for this elastic and violent world was created.

Back in August the family were in New York and we had to go to Queens for a meal at the Himalayan Yak (definitely recommended) to meet some of our eldest daughter's friends. As the family were spread around NYC for the day we needed somewhere to meet before set off to find the restaurant. After consulting various guide books I noticed that the Museum of the Moving Image was nearby (about 35 minutes away) in the Astoria region, which seemed ideal. Even better was the fact that there was a Chuck Jones exhibition on at the time. That was a first - usually these things open a week or two later after I've gone home!

The exhibition was fantastic - artwork, scripts, memorabilia and loops of cartoons such as Duck Rogers in the 24½ Century * and What's Opera, Doc? Two of the best examples of his work. After wandering around the top floor where the exhibition was, we wound our way down to look at the rest of the museum. I was aware that there was more to the American film industry than Hollywood but to be honest, I wasn't quite aware of the rich seam of talent and film work that came out of these studios. I'll leave you to discover more for yourselves but here's a link to the Wikipedia page. 

To be honest, I think the rest of the family were just indulging me about the exhibition, but once we met there it took a while to get everyone out. The studios themselves whilst giving us in Britain the name Astoria for many of our cinemas, tend to concentrate on TV production. However, the Marx Brothers filmed there amongst many others. There is a whole history of film production there and if you're ever in NYC, it's well worth a visit. 

By having a deeper interest in film and from "reading around the subject" I was able to find somewhere unusual to visit and learn something new. Now that's a good day out.

*Erm, is it just me or are those "Evaporators" rather familiar? This was 1953 and a full thirteen years before the first Star Trek tv series.


Brendini said...

You jammy jammy jammy jammy BARSTAHD!!!

Dave Leeke said...

Yeah, fancy - me being a film studies teacher. Who would've thought it?

Brendini said...

Did you notice that one of the animators on "What's Opera Doc?" is Richard Thompson? Just saying.

Dave Leeke said...

Indeed I did. A very talented man, obviously. Imagine working on animations at 4 years old!

Kate the State said...

I seem to remember that it was my suggestion to go there - on Sara's recommendation. I agree that it was a fascinating exhibition though. X

Dave Leeke said...

Hi Katie - your comment was languishing in comment purgatory so sorry about that.

Yes, it was your suggestion and a brilliant one. Next time you see Brendan talk about it to make him jealous.