Monday, July 09, 2007


I was recently reminded (by the Occasional Superheroine) that it's the 50th anniversary of Chuck Jones' majestic "What's Opera, Doc?" Which is, perhaps, the greatest of Warners' incredibly great Looney Tunes shorts.

A long time ago, when I wasted my time hatching ideas that I could never possibly in a million years do anything with (someday, I'll tell you about the Running Man screenplay—faithfully adapted from the Richard Bachman novella—I wrote for no good reason), I came up with this movie, a pseudo-documentary about Elmer Fudd. How he was the tragic hero of the Warner Bros. cartoon universe. But it'd be shot as if Fudd were a real guy, a flesh-and-blood actor. And the techno-trick of the Warners "cartoons" was that they built real sets and filmed them with a special camera that flattened the image into the 2-D world we're familiar with.

Fudd was the ineffectual villain, the butt of all the jokes, the idiot of that universe. But, like so many actors, he was frustrated at the pigeonholing. He felt that he had so much more to offer, but no one would give him the chance. Until, after years of dutifully showing up to the set to be the laughing stock, he got a script under the door:

"What's Opera, Doc?"

And for once–actually, the only time in any Warner Bros. cartoon—he got to act, he got to sing, he got to be the hero. Fudd carried the show, with all the Wagnerian heft he always thought he had. And, for the first time, he heard the applause for him. He had moved the audience to tears. (Hell, I cried at that short, and I dare you to deny that you did too.)

And it was bittersweet, because it was the last time he'd be allowed to show the kind of performer he really was. But "Opera" was his moment to shine. And that's where the documentary ended, an old Fudd, bones creaking, scar tissue evident, holding the Oscar that he won for killing Bugs Bunny.

One more for the pile.

No comments: