60s Popeye: Popeye’s Museum Piece, in which he puts nothing into the museum

It’s another Jack Kinney cartoon, this one from 1960. The story is by Carol Beers and Ruben Apodaca, names I don’t seem to have recorded before. Direction is by Eddie Rehberg, who’s been around a lot. Producer is Jack Kinney. Here, with Professor O G Wotasnozzle as the museum director, is Popeye’s Museum Piece. Wotasnozzle’s name gets a second ‘T’ in the newspaper Brutus reads. That kind of thing happens to him all the time.

My generic joke about the King Features Popeye cartoons of the 60s is that they were produced in less time than it takes to watch. Obvious hyperbole, of course. But there is the feeling at least that no one cartoon ever got much attention. Many stories feel like first drafts, not quite developed enough to where they fully make sense. (And there are a fair number that overcome this and have good solid stories anyway.)

Popeye’s Museum Piece gives that impression of being a first draft. The premise seems good enough. Popeye’s a museum employee. Brutus breaks in to steal a masterpiece. Eugene the Jeep sounds the alarm. Everybody slips some and falls over things they shouldn’t. It never quite works for me and I’m trying to think out why.

I notice the slapstick. There’s a steady joke about, like, Brutus tripping over a mop causing him to fall down the stairs. The thing is that he could hardly avoid falling anyway. Later he trips in a water pail as he’s crashing into a wall. And this feels emblematic of what doesn’t work. The characters tripping over stuff makes sense, for the plot and for the comedy. But tripping over something to send them into an accident they were going to have anyway? That’s sloppy writing. You can’t be running so fast toward the stairs that you’d have tumbled down even without the mop in the way. There’s another bit, where Popeye trips over Eugene the Jeep and they fall in a heap, with Eugene wearing Popeye’s hat. That works. That pratfall makes sense.

Eugene the Jeep bounds off down the hall. Behind is a painting or diorama showing an angry rabbit poked out of his head and glaring at a woodpecker or possibly a fox poking out of a tree. A jaguar in the tree branch and a bear behind the tree trunk are ready to attack the woodpecker. Also, there's a lion leaping onto the offended rabbit.
What … what is that mural or diorama or painting or whatever on the wall behind Eugene? (Brutus and Popeye run past it several times over, too, since there aren’t that many backgrounds.) I mean, besides a not-cartoony-enough rendition of the animal mayhem for a Slylock Fox spot-the-six-differences panel.

There’s the usual little animation errors. The one that did distract me is Popeye looking at the new masterpiece Professor Wotasnozzle’s declared is so important. Popeye declares he can’t see what’s so great about it. Perhaps because the painting isn’t anywhere on-screen and he’s actually looking at the space between two unrelated paintings. It’s not an error that wrecks the cartoon. But would it have been harder to use a background with the painting in it?

This isn’t a misbegotten cartoon, or even one that’s far from being good. I’m not clear why Popeye is the janitor-and-security-guy at the the city museum. I suppose because if he weren’t, we wouldn’t have a museum cartoon. Given that, Brutus stealing a painting makes sense. Why is Eugene the Jeep popping in and out and occasionally flashing his nose? Why is Popeye so determined to ignore Eugene freaking out over something? These answers might not matter. My impression, though, is the writers didn’t have any reasons in mind for all this. The story ends up sloppy, Brutus tripping over a mop he doesn’t need to as he falls down the stairs.

Popeye refers at one point to “the valuable painting!” which fell into his arms. He doesn’t seem to have reason to think it’s that. But I appreciate the Animal Crossing vibe of naming it “The Valuable Painting”.

60s Popeye getting stylish with some Fashion Fotography

I got to wondering this past week: what do I like about these 60s Popeye cartoons? Nostalgia, for one; I grew up watching these a lot and liked them in that way a six-year-old will like everything. This is sufficient reason for me to watch again, but why should anyone else care? Even the best-produced of these — and this week’s is produced by Jack Kinney, who’s done quite well in production — isn’t going to be lavishly produced. Animation director Phil Duncan may be doing his best, but it’s not going to compare to, like, a 1930s cartoon where Popeye’s on a skyscraper. What has to be any good about them is story. A good story can fit to a cheap cartoon as well to a pricey one. Do we have it here? This week’s cartoon has a story by Ed Nofziger. His past work has included Hamburger Fishing and Swee’Pea Thru The Looking Glass, pretty good fairy tale riffs. Also Jingle Jangle Jungle, not a fairy tale riff, but circling around being one. These have been interesting. So how is 1960’s Fashion Fotography?

I quite like the story here. It’s got texture. It moves in ways that Popeye cartoons don’t usually, but that still make sense. We start with Olive Oyl attempting to take her own picture. She’s confident she’s getting her picture in the fashion magazine — pardon, the fash-ion ma-ga-zine — but taking her own picture is hard. I did wonder if, like, she had an invitation to send a picture in or if she was just doing this on spec, but, no matter. When the camera falls onto her feet she tosses the stupid thing out the door.

This hits Popeye, who unfortunately couldn’t see the camera coming because cartoon characters can’t see stuff that’s off-screen. Also he was walking up the sidewalk with his eyes closed. But he figures it’ll be an excellent surprise present for Olive Oyl, because he’s not able to extrapolate why the person who lives in the house he was walking towards might have thrown a camera away. Olive Oyl’s unwilling to have visitors until Popeye promises presents, when her attitude changes; it’s a cute little filip that makes plot-necessary things into a joke. Popeye kicking the door open and knocking Olive Oyl over is also a good bit, adding something silly where it’s not necessary.

Olive Oyl declaring she hates cameras, until Popeye explains that he could take her picture, puts me in mind of Homer Simpson’s brain explaining how money can be exchanged for goods and services. So I like this line better than I would have in, say, 1980, but that’s all right.

Popeye attempting to get a picture ready is a bunch of sight gags built on premises almost surely passed from human memory. Someone might understand Popeye checking that there’s film by pulling the roll out is a self-destructive thing. But you need some deep memories of what film cameras were like to remember winding the film until you got to a frame number. Or symbols warning you were about to get to a frame number. Me, I like sign humor, so Popeye seeing a never-ending series of arrows and chicken footprints and cops directing traffic could not possibly go on long enough. I understand if people born this millennium think this is taking a long time to get nothing done.

Olive Oyl attempting to take a picture of herself. She's tied a string to her foot to pull the camera shutter. But she's pulled it and the camera is leaping off its tripod, to fall on her bare foot.
Look, selfies used to be hard, that’s why older people get so cranky about how easy the kids have it now.

Olive Oyl loses patience and kicks Popeye out, right into Brutus. They briefly compete to take her picture, and break the camera. So they go to learn how to take photographs properly and come back to compete for picture-taking honors. Which is interesting: Popeye and Brutus as rival professional photographers seems like the start for a cartoon and here it’s just one beat on the way to the end. They come back, taking cartoon flash photographs, which leave Olive Oyl dazzled. She sends them away, favoring instead a portrait painted by Alice the Goon. Which is a neat choice. This is the first time in my reviews of these cartoons that we’ve definitely had Alice in. (She possibly played the sirens in Golden-Type Fleece.) The King Features cartoons had a lot working against them, but they were happy to use the surprisingly big cast of the comic strip.

Alice the Goon does a Picasso-style portrait of Olive Oyl. Popeye and Brutus hate it, with the hatred that comic strips, surely the most commercial of 20th century illustrative art, have always had for fine art. They laugh at it until Olive Oyl smacks them with the painting, and they go off chuckling at themselves. They even figure a way to have a singing couplet that Brutus can sing with Popeye.

Oddball News Review: The Man Who Paints Cows

Based on the Reuters article The Man Who Paints Cows.

Headline: Well done. If there’s anything more immediately obviously amusing than painting a cow, it’s painting multiple cows. Oh, a jerboa has novelty value, but nobody knows what a jerboa is, and in any case they don’t have nearly as much material to paint, what with being small? I think? I’m pretty sure they’re one of those mutant little mouse critters in southeast Asia or Peru or something like that. Cows might be used a lot but they hit the sweet spot of promisingly funny to start with and not being strained. Rating: 6/8.

Story: Disappointing. The story reveals that John Marshall paints pictures of cows, not on cows directly. Well, where’s the fun in that? Anyone who wants to paint a picture of a cow can do so. We’re even encouraged to, with popular books in the arts and crafts stores with names like How To Draw Cows and 40 More Cows To Draw and Here’s Some Cows You Missed Before, Do You Maybe Want To Draw Them Too? and Why Are You Hurting The Feelings Of These Undrawn Cows.

If he were painting cows, that is, using cows as canvas, that would be remarkable. It takes something special to go up to a cow and dab paint on it. Mostly it involves being able to paint before the cow loses patience with the whole business. Also it takes some reliable paint, paint that can stand up to being licked by a cow (painted or neighboring). So the article content is most disappointing. Rating: 2/12.

Picture: This story of a man in East Sussex, England, United We Guess Kingdom is illustrated by a stock Reuters photograph of “Dairy cows [eating] gras in a paddock on the New South Wales south coast near the town of Nowra, Australia, September 5, 2014”. While they still remain cows, they are two-year-old photographs of cows on a continent that hasn’t got anything to do with the painting at hand. Rating: 7/4.

Overall: 15/24. May be re-submitted at the end of term.

Mother Of The Arts

I do worry in highlighting comic strips that I get too relentlessly snarky and downbeat on them. For one, I really do love comic strips, even though the syndicated newspaper comic strip is not a form of art that’s near a creative or commercial peak. For another, well, you can get high-quality snark about the comics from pretty near every blog ever on the Internet and I would like to offer something a little bit different.

So let me point out Saturday’s Momma, in which Mell Lazarus presents a joke that I find perfectly well-formed. It’s punchy, a little tartly mean, and worth a grin at least. I even like Momma’s offended look in the second panel. And I appreciate that the strip shows the characters doing something, when the joke would read at least as well if it were just a couple of two-shots of the characters standing in a featureless void and the strip would’ve been quicker to draw.

Momma and a friend are painting. The friend explains her children used to tell her everything. 'Then they stopped telling me *anything*, and our relationship improved.'
Mell Lazarus’s not-at-all baffling Momma for the 28 of February, 2015.

I admit I am a little distracted by how Momma is looking everywhere except the canvas as she paints a human head onto a potted plant, and that I do not know what form of art Momma’s Friend is engaged in. I’m thinking it’s some kind of sculpting done with hypodermic needle? Well, it’s something in the beret genre.

And as sort of post usually indicates, I talk about some mathematics-themed comics over on my other blog, where there aren’t any equations in case you worry about those, but there is some talk about the calendar.

What Is Art?

What is art? Is this some of it, and if it isn’t, then what is it? Is a painting of leaves art? Is a football game art? What about teams of men repairing asphalt? If not them, how about people going around painting asphalt? Can you artistically endure a snowstorm? If not, can you endure building a snowman? Is parking next to the university library? How can it be, if no one has ever managed to do it? Are hamsters art? If not, can they be part of art? And what of noise? In short, can we define art any more precisely than “I don’t know what that is but I know I don’t like it”?

These are questions which have plagued humanity since 1878, when the governments of western European nations found that art could serve a role in defining their national cultures, by telling the nations that they had a culture. With new forms of attempted art, some in fixed installations and some in public performances, people just got generally more confused and irritated. For example, cartooning looked promising, but it flopped when people discovered that there are about four poses total that don’t make the human body look ungainly and awkward and weird when drawn. Those four poses have since been fully explored and nobody can be bothered to look at them anymore. Some folks carry on drawing, because what else is there to do, and people still try standing around or sitting or lounging in the hopes of finding another pose in which they look attractive.

Initially this was seen as a good thing, as many public opinion makers were worried that the public wasn’t confused enough anymore, given the rise in literacy and the adoption of standardized time zones. However, now people began to wonder if this thing which was annoying them was some manner of art or whether, worse, these might be protest rallies from people trying to rally support to the idea that society could be made a little less horribly brutal in some fashion.

Some order was restored by the United States Commerce Department which in a series of meetings between 1925 and 1928 adopted a standardized definition of artwork which became as good as universal. According to this, art was officially standardized as “the stuff that was kept in museums where nobody had to look at it or have opinions about it through to 1925”. New art might be admitted if it fell into one of two accepted categories: watercolor paintings of sailing ships, or bronze statues of generals on horseback. These were adequate for most of the remaining 1920s, as people had not yet fully learned what exactly sailing ships looked like, and while there wasn’t all that much bronze to go around nobody really wanted to commemorate the generals of the most recent war anyway.

These standards are still in place, with the only major revision being a ruling in 1946 that the statues countries had put up to remember the horrors of World War I absolutely had to be repaired so as not to show any damage they sustained in the battles of World War II. But the old standards show their age: today it’s difficult to find anyone who didn’t know what a sailing ship looks like, and while the generals-on-horseback style was revitalized sculptors got fairly bored and tried horses-on-generalback and then the backs of horse generals before deciding they didn’t much like bronze anyway.

Meanwhile, municipalities started seeing their public spaces decorated with sculptures consisting of oddly-shaped jagged pieces of metal painted international warning signal orange, which serve as emblems of the way municipalities naturally form oddly-shaped jagged pieces of metal and how artists have a lot of international warning signal orange paint. These are generally harmless, with a few getting exorbitant price tags, good for a little scandal about the city council spending money for those times when there isn’t any real news to worry about.

Given this, plus two other examples I couldn’t think up right now, it’s best to fall back on the pragmatic definition of art. According to this, art is anything you see that it annoys you someone else gets to do. The definition isn’t perfect and it can be vexed by things you’re confident your niece and/or turtle could do better, but it will do until a new standard can be defined.

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