Sunday, 9 November 2008

Chuck Jones "The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics"

Sunday Classic
The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics
Chuck Jones

The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics was awarded the Academy Award for Animated Short Film in 1965. It is based on the book by Norton Juster published two years earlier, a budding romance between a dot and an initially unyieldingly straight line. The trigonometric love story has a third person (love triangle) involved - a rather unruly squiggle - with the dot attracted by the sheer unpredictability of the squiggle provoking much soul searching from the line. He has to change, discovers angles, whereupon she comes to realise the problems with anarchy and turns to the soaring line in his new role of parallelogram, polygon, quadrilateral: a case of Elizabeth Bennet casting out Wickham and turning at last to Darcy who she had first thought to be a square! Normally when I commend animations I do so due to the power of the art. One might believe there is only so much even a genius like Chuck (and co-director Maurice Noble) can do with dot, line and squiggle, more geometric than artistic, though abstract artists would I am sure disagree! This makes the visual inventiveness of the piece that more impressive. There is a narrative spell too via the voice of the great English character actor (in overly pompous mode here I feel), Robert Adolph Wilton Morley. The script is memorable for its deft use of pun and wordplay: she is the “perfectly curved” dot, though her first assessment of him: "you are as stiff as a stick". The final pun is worthy of a screenprint.

Biography: A filmography of Chuck Jones reads like the history of the animated movie: from his 1938 The Night Watchman and throughout the rest of the century. He was born in Spokane, Washington in 1912 and died in 2002, in Corona Del Mar, California. He worked initally on Loony Tunes and Merrie Melodies for Warner Brothers, though he subsequently formed his own company, Sib Tower 12 Productions. In fact he made over 300 movies in a towering career that began with the job of cel washer and went on to be forever associated with the immortal Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny. In addition to today's movie he won three other Academy Awards: For Scent-imental Reasons (1949), So Much for So Little (1949) and an Honorary Academy Award ® 1996, for "the creation of classic cartoons and cartoon characters whose animated lives have brought joy to our real ones for more than half a century." One of my favourite quotations was from Chuck : "The rules are simple. Take your work, but never yourself, seriously. Pour in the love and whatever skill you have, and it will come out."


André Camacho said...

Chuck Jones is to me like a missionary trying to show the world the true strength of animation. He was always developing for his cartoons a language of their own.

I think that he must have been often asking himself what it meant and felt like to be an animated character, and then tried to express it in his films. Almost like a manifesto of animated civil rights. He searched through and through in Looney Tunes and was a major force in establishing some of the most fundamental aspects of the life of an animated character: they are visual, rather than fully sensory. In other words, they feel pain when only they see they have been damaged. They feel the power of gravity only when they see that there is no ground below them. Just as they exist only as we see them on television/cinema and so forth. This is not as obvious as it might seem today, it required some thinking, some philosophy, even. Heh.

This short is a great example of what I am saying, because he had to find believable ways to express the feelings of geometric shapes. And he does so with great success. I think it is a statement of his art. And a question to everyone who watches it: "just how far can we take the mechanics of animation?"

André Camacho said...

This is del, btw...