Written for The Unquiet American: Transgressive Comedies from the U.S., a catalogue/ collection put together to accompany a film series at the Austrian Filmmuseum and the Viennale in Autumn 2009. — J.R.
RHAPSODY RABBIT (1946)
Bugs Bunny, dripping with mannerisms associated with classical music and attempting to perform Liszt’s Second Hungarian Rhapsody at a concert, is interrupted or distracted by problems with his sheet music, coughs from the audience, a carrot break, and a mouse living inside the piano with both a taste for boogie-woogie and a determination to outclass the rabbit and featured performer. James Agee celebrated this 1946 animated short by Friz Freleng at some length, calling it “the funniest thing I have seen since the decline of sociological dancing”: “The best of it goes two ways: one, very observant parody of concert-pianistic affectations, elegantly thought out and synchronized; the other, brutality keyed into the spirit of the music to reach greater subtlety than I have ever seen brutality reach before.”
WHAT’S OPERA, DOC? (1957)
Eleven years after Rhapsody Rabbit, in 1957, the joint ingenuity of writer Michael Maltese and director Chuck Jones once again demonstrates how Americans can neither feel entirely comfortable with classical music and opera nor leave it alone, resulting here in a love-hate relationship to Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen featuring Bugs Bunny in drag, a golden-helmeted Elmer Fudd, snatches of ballet and Nuremberg lighting, outlandish sets that exceed any possibilities of stagecraft, and what may well be the strangest assortment of abstract shapes to be found anywhere in Jones’s work.