Observation Of The Day Courtesy @LawrenceMiles

Alex Sarll on Facebook linked the infamous ‘last Doctor Who interview’ of Lawrence Miles (the one where he slags off everyone in the Doctor Who world except Jac Rayner, who he says is lovely and doesn’t have an enemy in the world, which is true). I reread it, and this bit struck me, which hadn’t before (possibly because I’ve recently been buying all the Looney Tunes Golden Collection DVD box sets and watching them with Holly):

Do you know much about Chuck Jones?

The cartoon man?

He created Road Runner. When people think about cartoons, nine times out of ten they think about Warner Brothers cartoons. When they think about Warner Brothers cartoons, nine times out of ten they think about the ones made by Chuck Jones. All the things we think we know about the Warner Brothers universe… the nature of Bugs Bunny, the nature of Daffy Duck, the rules of the chase as applied to Wile E. Coyote… they’re all down to Chuck Jones. He didn’t invent all the characters, but he defined most of them. He deliberately and consciously honed in on what made the characters work, on their most primal dynamics. The Bugs and Daffy cartoons that stick in people’s minds are almost all his. Then he did the same strip-down job to the cartoon medium as a whole, and the result was the original Road Runner series. Road Runner is culture in its purest form… I’m sorry, I’ve just realized how stupid that sounds. Never mind, it’s true anyway. It’s the whole cartoon medium in a nutshell, boiled down to one never-ending chase with rules that feel like they’re instinctive to us these days. Nobody seems to have noticed that Chuck Jones quite simply created the most powerful and inescapable myth of the twentieth century. Because when you get down to the fundamental truth of an idea, you’ve got something that’s got power. Genuine power. People sometimes talk about this in a very disparaging way, like it’s a case of bringing things down to the lowest common denominator, but that’s the opposite of what you’re doing. It’s like you’re honing the culture to a razor-sharp point. You’re creating something that’s primal and… kind of dangerous. Myths… real myths, not that wanky market-driven Anne-Rice-stroke-Neil-Gaiman shite you get these days… aren’t stereotypes or cliches. They’re just inescapable, which is why Chuck Jones is possibly the greatest creative genius who ever lived. And yes, the characters out of Queer as Folk are minor myths as well. Their environment’s quite a specific one, but the same principles apply. I mean, they should last a decade or two. Wile E. Coyote will probably survive for centuries.

I think this is truer than it looks (although we can argue if the true talent was Jones the director or Michael Maltese the scriptwriter and storyboarder). I’d argue that the Road Runner cartoons are *slightly* imperfect, though, in that in some — not all, but some — it’s made clear that the Road Runner knows that the Coyote is trying to capture it, and in some the Road Runner even causes the Coyote’s defeat. For the Road Runner cartoons to achieve true perfection, you need to have the Road Runner oblivious to the Coyote’s machinations, and have the Coyote defeated only by his own schemes backfiring. So the cartoons could be sharpened more than they have been, but they’re still magnificent.

And roughly ten quadrillion times better than anything Friz Freleng did.

(MindlessWho post will be up shortly)

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11 Responses to Observation Of The Day Courtesy @LawrenceMiles

  1. Tilt Araiza says:

    Chuck Jones started the slippery slide that eventually turned Daffy into Sylvester the cat with feathers. I’ll take Bob Clampett’s insane Daffy any day.

    • Tilt Araiza says:

      Y’know, it’d be like turning Harpo Marx into Edgar Kennedy. Weird little sore spot of mine, sorry.

      • Andrew Hickey says:

        I know your opinions on the subject of Chuck Jones ;)
        I think of the Bob Clampett and Tex Avery shorts as being totally different characters from the later ones, and while I agree that the Daffy of the Bob Clampett shorts is far better as a character, I don’t think any of the Clampetts used that character nearly as well as Jones used his version in Duck Amuck. Duck Dodgers and so on.

        The real problem, of course, came when Freleng and McKimson did their own even more watered-down versions of Jones’ version of the character, especially the uttery abysmal DePatie-Freleng shorts where he’s after Speedy Gonzales (because ducks are the well-known natural predators of mice…), which are among the worst cartoons I’ve ever seen.

        • Tilt Araiza says:

          I must point out that I do like Chuck Jones and I’ll even speak up for his stint on Tom & Jerry, it just sometimes gets to me when Jones is held up as *THE* Warner guy, which has lead to howlers I’ve witnessed like Jones credited as Bugs Bunny’s creator or even Bugs’s voice!

          • Andrew Hickey says:

            Oh, absolutely agreed. He only got really good in around 1950 — he spent years doing weak attempts at Disney while the rest of the Warner animation team were inventing the Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies style. But when he finally got the hang of things, I do think he made some of the best shorts they ever did.

  2. prankster36 says:

    For some reason, Chuck Jones (and Friz Freleng, and sometimes Robert McKimson) seem to be promoted by WB these days far above Clampett and Avery. Looney Tunes are always on TV here in North America, but it’s almost always going to be one of the former three than the latter two. I was a teenager before I even got to see one of the Clampett or Avery shorts, and it wasn’t until quite a bit later that I heard about, for instance, the character of “Egghead” (from whom Elmer Fudd evolved…sort of…) In that sense, I feel like Miles is taking the reality he’s presented with as natural and arguing backwards from it. He’s taking Jones’ versions of the characters as “definitive” simply because they’re the one we see most often.

    Not to say Jones doesn’t deserve tons of praise…but I feel like he had a lot of help from the gatekeepers of culture, and from timing (i.e. Jones was still working with WB when Looney Tunes made the leap to television, which is part of what cemented them in the public imagination.)

    • “For some reason, Chuck Jones (and Friz Freleng, and sometimes Robert McKimson) seem to be promoted by WB these days far above Clampett and Avery.”

      Jones was the consolidator. They were about deranged invention, not recognisable characters or repeatable formulas. It would be too harsh to say he was Roy Thomas and Clampett and Avery Kirby and Ditko, but there’s something in that.

  3. Hal says:

    Thanks for the link to the Miles interview, I’ve read many of his weblog posts and a few archival interviews and despite – or because of – his egocentricity and acridity (which can get a bit much, even for me) he, like his novels/guides, is usually extremely stimulating and interesting (even when [*especially when*?] he takes a sidetrip into the Land of Bollocks. Although he was wrong about the mode in which Doctor Who (but he isn’t a seer) would return he proved to be entirely *right* about other things; it’s fascinating that in a world in which fewer people seem able to see beyond the facade of what they are being *sold* be it a programme or a film or a person it is refreshing to read his comments on say Moffat or Cornell or Russell – and it isn’t as if his stance has changed appreciably, I don’t think – now yes they are bitchy, yes they are poisonous (and funny), and *yes* some will say it’s sour grapes *but* the odd thing is that it has the ring of truth, and I write that merely through observation of the behaviour, statements, and work of the bodies in question (yeeps, I sound like a stalker!). It’s certainly informative to note how Moffat, Cornell, and oddly enough RTD react to criticism, and particularly how RTD and Moffat seek to distinguish themselves from the”herd” and (notional) “nerds” in an arguably pathological fashion. The heroin of praise certainly hasn’t done them much good, note how they (and DWM) treat internet criticism – they are keen to demonize the internet because they’ve received some criticism there/here yet they somehow overlook the fact that millions of fans congregate online to *praise* even the most hideously illogical, incontinently “emotional”, or downright poor episode of New Who while acting as if all internet criticism is unreasonable or atrociously trollish which considering the way that not only their better stories but also their worst are praised to the hilt is pretty pathetic. I don’t think Lawrence Miles is talking out of his hat at all on that matter.

  4. Hal says:

    What brought me to finally comment on this post (you probably haven’t asked)? Well, it was seeing the latest batch of Target reprints and taking a gander at the Introductions, apart from Mike Moorcock and Stephen Baxter we get Moffat, Russell, and Gatiss(?) it brought home again to me the peculiar insularity and incestuousness of those with “power” in the Who community now. It does seem somewhat odd (and frankly creepy) that there’s such a cosy circle of people who get to “own” Doctor Who both old and new now. Sure, there are plenty of young people all starry-eyed over New Who but of the older guard there are strikingly few who are allowed to comment, all members of The Party. Certainly, Miles is irrascible at times but it isn’t just him, there are others who have markedly different ideas to the Who Politburo (or High Council) but they aren’t heard from. Of course, it’s all about the “Brand” (how I loathe that term) so one has to tow the line (apparently), it does distort what Doctor Who is though, turning all those many serials, novels, comics, and, magazines into so much mulchlike babyfood, and to see Moffat seemingly claim ownership to it all (dismissing or ignoring the mass that doesn’t fit his stunted conception) is very annoying, particularly considering his attitude to a lot of old Who not so very long ago. Ah, the perils of people trying to be kool and not remotely “nerdy” even as a physically and mentally healthy adult, not too mention a very successful craftsman, particularly perilous when we have internet and magazine archives, and our own memories to recall what the Gatekeeper once said (yes, anyone can change their mind but that doesn’t appear to be what we’re dealing with here, as he is defensive about crits *now* beneath the bonhomie, he like many modern media professionals and, well, “ordinary” individuals turns with the wind yet doesn’t like to admit any weakness for some reason). It’s probably silly to find this conformity and insularity depressing but I do.

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