Posts from 23rd February 2002

23
Feb 02

It’s not music but…

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It’s not music but… I’m enough of a narcissist and a miserablist to note that Chuck Jones died the day after my birthday. For a person with few heroes – but heroes passionately revered and believed in – it’s a crushing blow. The shortlist Jones was on – Jack Kirby, Osamu Tezuka, George Herriman, Winsor McKay, Charles Schulz, Maurice Sendak, Hayao Miyazaki – becomes smaller every couple of years. If Jones is making me stumble about the house under a black cloud, Miyazaki’s death might plunge me into catatonia.

To keep things roughly on topic: he musical legacy of the Looney Tunes classics are well documented; Carl Stalling – whether or not he cribbed his compositional vocabulary from Raymond Scott…there was definitely something in the air of the times (Scott; Stalling; Dick Hyman/Enoch Light; etc.) – is anthologized in a number of Best Ofs and Box Sets. It’s a kind of gutter musique concrete (or maybe musique plastique?), characterized by the synchronization of the onscreen action with the music. An approach which seems horribly gauche in theory (and something most in Hollywood – animated or not – wouldn’t touch with a ten foot cattle prod), but in the hands of Stalling and the three major Warner Bros. directors – Jones, Friz Freeling, Robert McKimson – was a magical introduction to classic and jazz tropes for several generations of young people.

Jones was a genius, and still too little recognized, despite Oscars and retrospectives and his own show on Cartoon Network. He was involved in every aspect of the shorts he directed, working with a small, intimate cadre of animators, designers, and writers (mostly Michael Maltese, whose own contributions to these movies remains unacknowledged.) The result was that rarest of commodities: true popular, populist art.

The cultural capital of the characters he gave voice to is almost depleted; how many more Tazmanian Devil t-shirts or Michael Jordan “collaborations” can an already weary public take? Maybe – as tribute, as eulogy – Warner Bros. will slow the ugly grind of it’s commerce machine for a while, allowing us to catch our breaths, remember what made these funny little bastards (and like the Peanuts kids, bastards they were, and all too human) so great in the first place. We can hope.