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Monday, March 4, 2002
Planet FOW,

Shazzers McTazzers. I've been off the heezy like ridiculous crazy busy the last few weeks. Work has been insane in the membrane, and on top of that I've also been spending time moving! More details to follow on that one (probably next weekend). I apologize for the lack of updates over the last two weeks, but thankfully another member of the FOW Nation has graciously contributed content to tide you over. This week's entry comes from Miss Jessica Jernigan, a good friend from my former life at Borders.com. I could wax poetic on JJ's mad writing skillz or her keen fashion sense, but instead I'll let her writing do the talking. Please enjoy, and look for some more HOT updates next weekend from yours truly. Props out to JJ for her fab essay on one of the most influential people of the 20th century, and I hope that the rest of you enjoy...

by JJ*

Please bow your head, light a candle, ululate: Do whatever is it is that you do when a genius passes away. Chuck Jones, one of the most generous and inspired architects of postmodern comedy, died Friday.

Jones began his career in cartoons as a cel washer for Mickey Mouse animator Ub Iwerks. His move to Leon Schlesinger Productions (just before it was acquired by Warner Bros.) is a signal moment of the 20th century. He earned his New York Times obit not just because he was a fascinating nut — which he no doubt was — but because he was a dedicated, prolific, and innovative genius. Jones and his colleagues invested the throwaway medium of the featurette with real writing and artistry. Under Jones's direction, Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck shorts would evolve from random lunacy to beguiling character studies, their humor drawn from the essential, irreducible qualities of these now-iconic stars.

Bugs and Daffy cartoons show the world as it is: crazy, dangerous, and predictably unfair. Both Bugs and Daffy are caught up in the endless cycle of rabbit season/duck season. In this universe, death is always afoot, and it's not the good who prevail, but the fearless, the canny, and—in the case of Daffy, who is neither—the lucky. In Bugs, Jones created a character that is both a classic underdog and a Promethean trickster. Forever pursued by inimical entities, Bugs survives by his wits. While the rabbit is ambiguous, Daffy is manifestly depraved. He's greedy, conniving, and ruled by his desires. He's a furious little duck: His fists are permanently clenched, and he walks with the tortured, zigzag posture of someone whose back is permanently bent by anxiety and rage.

Jones developed Bugs and Daffy, but he was the sole creator of another classic dyad. The coyote and roadrunner are silent ciphers, the bird an impenetrable blur of cheery speed. The coyote, for reasons never made clear, has only one goal. His inexplicable, yet implacable, desire to kill the roadrunner is both his dream and his downfall. He is eternally the victim of physics, shoddy Acme products, and his own irresistible bloodlust. In these cartoons, Jones stretched the time between set-up to punchline almost to the breaking point. He would extend an anvil's fail as far as the human psyche can take, even if 3 extra seconds of film meant 72 more drawings.

After Warner Bros. closed their animation studio, Jones moved on to Tom and Jerry, becoming the only director who ever made these mindless characters even mildly palatable. And, of course, Jones is responsible for "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." Dr. Seuss, in writing the book, anticipated the contemporary Christmas in its utter lack of religious content, and he balanced its potentially treacly message of goodwill and (utterly secular) redemption with a portrait of pure malice. By animating the story for TV, Jones created the perfect companion for that other holiday classic, "Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown!"

Chuck Jones taught me to laugh at things I didn't quite understand. Cultural references from the 40s were generally lost on me as a child in the 70s; I was mesmerized and delighted not by the reference itself, but by the way it was delivered. I remember the thrill of finally getting a gag that had previously been a hilarious mystery. Warner Bros. cartoons filled in a lot of the gaps in my cultural education. "What's Opera, Doc?" remains pretty much all I know of Wagner, and I believe it's all I will ever need to know.

Be Like Mark!


In My CD Player
*Whitechocolatespaceegg (Liz Phair)
*Flood (They Might Be Giants)
*We Love Life (Pulp)
*Refried Ectoplasm (Stereolab)

In My DVD Player
*Wet Hot American Summer
*8 1/2
*Buffy The Vampire Slayer - The Complete First Season
*Jeepers Creepers
*The Adventures of Buckaroo Bonzai Across The Eighth Dimension

On My Nightstand
*Something Of Value (Robert Ruark)

Twenty Word Reviews
In The Bedroom

Went in with very high expectations, but the last 45 minutes or so really let me down.
The Royal Tenenbaums

The team of Wilson and Anderson strike gold (again!) in what is easily one of my favorite movies of 2001.
Wet Hot American Summer

Recently released on DVD, it's due to become a cult classic and catchphrase generator of choice for hipsters everywhere.
Black Hawk Down

A technical marvel of bombast and intensity, it was ultimately missing that little something to propel it to greatness.
Gosford Park

Murder, mystery, and class warfare abound in another one of Altman's classics. And Kelly MacDonald's back!
A Beautiful Mind

Better than I had expected, largely due to the always excellent Russell Crowe and the extraordinarily radiant Jennifer Connelly
Series 7: The Contenders

A daring and stunning look at where reality TV may be heading in the not-too-distant future (NOW ON VIDEO)
Not Another Teen Movie

The parodies are somehow both wholly unoriginal AND pretty funny; more importantly, when did Molly Ringwald get so butt-uggs?
Lord Of The Rings

Peter Jackson is a visionary and (probably) a genius, but I was left wanting more (or was it wanting less?)