Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Sight and Sound in Long-Haired Hare

Just a quick note on Long-Haired Hare, a 1948 Bugs Bunny cartoon directed by Chuck Jones. No screen shots. Sorry.

The premise, as you may recall, is a simple one. Bugs is hanging out in his hole happily singing a song. Not so far away Giovanni Jones, an operatic tenor, is practicing. He hears Bugs, is annoyed, he clobbers Bugs, Bugs gets revenge. The End.

Now, it’s not merely that he hears Bugs while he’s trying to practice. The music Bugs is playing actually invades his body so that he sings the tune Bugs is singing and he moves to the beat. He can’t help himself. Bugs doesn’t know that Jones exists. He’s singing for his own pleasure.

So, as I said, he clobbers Bugs. Bugs declares war. And shows up at Jones’s concert that evening. After pestering Jones in this and that way, Bugs dresses up as Leopold Stokowski and mounts the podium. He destroys the baton the conductor had handed him, as Stokowski never used a baton. He conducted with his hands.

And so Bugs proceeds to conduct Jones with his hand. He raises his hand; Jones ascends. He lowers his hand; Jones descends. He holds his hand high in the air; Jones holds a high note. Bugs keeps his hand up there, at one point removing his hand from his glove and allowing the glove to stay up all by itself; Jones keeps holding the note until he falls over.

So, in the beginning we have Jones moving to Bugs’s song against his will, though Bugs doesn’t mean to do this. Now we have him singing to Bugs’s deliberate gesture, but this time willingly. He does so, of course, because he believes that he is being directed by the great Stokowski. In both cases, Jones moves as directed by Bugs. In the first case he moves as Bugs sings; in the second case he sings as he sees Bugs move.

I don’t know what, if anything, there is to say about this beyond simply noting that it happens.

I will, however, add one final observation. That is about the will. If we don’t want to see something we can easily avert our gaze or close our eyes. It is not so easy to not hear something. Turning our head won’t make much change in the sound and we can’t turn our ears off. We can put our hands over our ears. That will diminish the sound, but not very effectively. Beyond that, well, ear plugs can be effective; but they must be well-designed and fitted and they’re expensive.

So, we can control our sight, but not our hearing. Jones is playing on this asymmetry.

1 comment:

  1. What's especially comical about Chuck Jones' musical shorts is the irony in his choice of musics ('Return My Love' is set to the tune of a song intended to get Tannhauser to cease womanizing) - Just before Bugs enters as 'Leopold,' it plays the 'Beautiful Galathea' overture (no vocals), begging the question of what Giovanni would do - and while Bugs slams the shell (Lloyd Vaughan), Giovanni is singing a SEXTET. We never hear if he would just stop once the female voices came in or sing all the parts himself.
    A music nerd like Chuck would find it nothing but hilarious.