Sunday, July 2, 2017

Chuck Amuck by Chuck Jones

Why I Read It: Childhood obsession gone wild in college.

Summary: The autobiography of Warner Brothers animator Chuck Jones.

My Thoughts: The basics are simple. I was born in a time when Bugs Bunny was on TV every day. And that meant that so, too, were Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Wile E. Coyote, Speedy Gonzalez, the Roadrunner, Foghorn Leghorn, et al.

And so the foundation was set. Fast forward to UMASS Amherst, 1990 to 1993. I happened to room with some guys with the same memories of sixteen-ton weights falling from the sky, of gunshots to the face that did not kill, yet rather spun the bill of Daffy Duck around in a circle, and "smell-a-vision replacing television." We did more than watch reruns. We became experts. We came to know the directorial styles, even the particular whims of the background artists (I can still pick out a Phil de Guard at 50 paces). We were majoring in history (both my buddy Jay and me), physics, hotel, restaurant and travel administration, but we were minoring in Looney Tunes animation.

Now fast forward to the spring of 2017. I was walking through the Gaslamp Quarter in San Diego with colleagues one night when I looked up and saw the words "Chuck Jones Gallery." Wile E. sat in the front entrance. My friends kept moving and didn't notice at first that I had stopped, entranced. They asked why. I pointed to the Grinch. I showed them "One Froggy Evening." I said, "You know him, you just don't know you know him."

And so I sought more. I headed straight to Amazon for the ebook.

My first impression is that it's a shame that Chuck Jones was an animator; he could have been a writer. He has such a beautiful style, reminiscent of the 1920s era in which he grew up. One of the world's truisms is that many of the greatest artistic expressions spring from personal experiences. From the start, Jones explains how the cats he animated exhibit traits he saw from one wanderer who came into and meandered out of his life. And it struck me: the arid southwest, roadrunners. This was where he lived.

Much of this book is about inspiration, and much about family. Some of the content turns to almost inside jokes of his industry, and we learn a lot about how cartoons were made in the middle of the 20th century, how various producers viewed the work and how their idiosyncrasies affected the final products. We learn what Jones considered his top accomplishments.

While I loved most of what Jones did, there were a few stops along the way with which I did not agree (see Tom and Jerry). That said, this book was a memory lane type excursion for me. As he spoke to me through his prose, I could see the images in my head of Marvin Martian and Duck Dodgers, of Elmer, Daffy and Bugs during Wabbit Season.

The book opened a floodgate of memories for me that will result in a cascade of follow-up reading.

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