Tuesday, 27 June 2017

SNAFU: The Home Front (1943)

Director: Frank Tashlin.
Release date: November 1943.
Starring: Mel Blanc (Snafu).
Music: Carl Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown.
Synopsis: A homesick Private Snafu complains about the easy life of civilians like his family. However, he discovers they're also contributing to the war effort as he does.

Wars have the tendency of highlighting soldiers fighting combat as well as bearing the burden of military life. It's a pivotal example of war duty - but so is the home front. For civilians who are uninvolved in combat (whether it concerns the elderly or folks with 4-F ratings), society can contribute to the war effort through various kinds of factors. It ranges from various resources such as industrial or human, so the home front is still significant to a cause. The Snafu cartoons themselves were a contribution to the war effort. Every bit helps!

In this entry, Private Snafu underestimates how other forces contribute to the war effort besides armed forces. With magical guidance from the Technical Fairy, Snafu observes the various home front duties that's all beneficial for the war effort.

An intriguing element in this short that's set apart from a lot of Snafu cartoons is the character's relatively passive role. A chunk of the cartoon focuses on Snafu's family, based on what he thinks they're doing in contrast to what they're really up to. Instead of calamities that characterises Snafu; he is portrayed as an observer in this cartoon instead.

Nevertheless, Snafu's presence is felt during the cutaway sequences surrounding his family. Each of his family members are stereotyped based on Snafu's observations. He assumes his father is casually playing pool at Kelly's. His mother is portrayed as gossiping away with her lady friends whilst playing bridge.

Frank Tashlin uses sight gags as little touches to personify their apparent nature. His father uses his cigar smoke to push a cue ball that's standing at the edge of the pocket. His mother and her friends visually dissolve into a flock of hens. Such gags are amusing in Snafu's unfair interpretations of their family.

Perhaps the most hilarious observation from Snafu is seen from his interpretation of his grandfather - who he claims, "never did a day's work in his life". He is stereotyped as a perverted old coot who pleasures himself of using his binoculars to watch stripteases at a burlesque show. Some great lustful exaggeration is prominent in a shot of his eyes erecting through the binoculars.

A more personal perspective from Snafu is his girlfriend, Sally-Lou. His paranoia kicks in at the thought of her already having an affair with a sophisticated philanderer. All those stereotypes are funny interpretations based on Snafu's homesickness - which makes him relatable as a character.

By the time the Technical Fairy arrives - he gives Snafu a special insight of his family's current activity through a telelvisor - which today, is a dated noun for a regular television set. Since television was a relatively new invention in 1943 - it's exaggeratedly portrayed as a magical device to watch people's current lives. As Snafu discovers; his father and grandfather are both contributing to industrial resources, his mother is planting a victory garden and Sally-Lou is working as a WAC. By the end of the short, Snafu comes to his senses when he realises his family are all "working in the old home town" - sung in the style of Tenting On the Old Camp Ground.

Frank Tashlin utilises some his knowledge of camera panning during the opening scene of Snafu inside a shelter during a blizzard. His only source of comfort is a phonograph ironically playing Home Sweet Home. The camera pans to the record player, then pans towards a miserable Snafu attempting to keep warm by sitting on a stove. The camera pans back to the record player, which violently malfunctions and breaks apart.

The camera pans back to Snafu when he expresses his homesickness by complaining about a possible luxury his family are having back home: "They don't even know there's a war goin' on!".

It's a complex use of camera pan that's consistently kept busy throughout the sequence. If you're aware of how cels, backgrounds and camera stands compile together, it's a great deal of effort. Frank Tashlin is fearless when it comes to taking the liberty of moving the camera much more freely. This allows the scenario to have more space instead of a claustrophobic atmosphere.

Frank Tashlin appears to approach some economic tactics in his direction - likely attributed by the smaller budgets the Snafu shorts provided. Economical or experimental, Tashlin utilises both in scenes that contain little or no animation.

Tashlin explores his timing abilities in sequences that contains no animation. This is especially evident during the victory garden sequence dug up by Snafu's mother and her pets. After ploughing the garden and planting the seeds; the crops grow rapidly to great effect.

This is achieved with no animation and the crops are likely drawn on separate levels. The effect would've been heavily reliant from the skills of Johnny Burton's camera department - who "animated" the crops growing. Not only did the department have to carefully time the effect; but also in rhythm to Beethoven's 5th symphony.

Snafu's girlfriend in a figment of the nightclub scene is drawn as part of the background. Only the seductive gentleman is completely animated in the shot. One could say it's merciful in sparing the animator from painstaking drawing skills. However, she is very passive and aloof to the gentleman during the scenario; so full animation would've been unnecessary. It showcases Tashlin's judgement of using economical factors to good use.

Elements of risqué humour are no secret in Snafu cartoons. Some of the more edgier gags surface in this short. For example, in the opening shot of a blizzard, the narrator says: "It's so cold, it would freeze the nuts of a Jeep!". The context needs no explanation, but effects animation is applied to feature two nut bolts from a Jeep actually drop and fall to the ground. Keeping the context subtle makes the delivery all the more hilarious.

The burlesque sequence probably has the biggest shock value in this cartoon. Snafu's grandfather is watching a trio of young ladies performing a saucy strip tease on stage. Stripteases have proven a fun source for gags in several Warner Bros. cartoons; but never as indecent or obvious in this Snafu cartoon.

The trio strippers are seen completely bare; save their breasts and genitalia which are covered. Sometimes Frank Tashlin underplays the racy scenario as the camera trucks in on a girl's leg whilst undoing a bra. The assistant and drawing work in those scenes are a tad sloppy, but otherwise the clarity's all there. The series of shots featuring full-frontal nudity indicates the freedom the Schlesinger studio enjoyed from the Snafu shorts.

The Home Front is an intriguing approach for a Snafu short that doesn't follow a story arc. The first half of the cartoon features Snafu's interpretation of how he sees his family back home; whilst the second half features them contributing to the war effort. Frank Tashlin would be an appropriate candidate for a cartoon that doesn't rely heavily on formula or structure. Not only is this cartoon one of the rarest occasions where Snafu doesn't meet disaster, but also the downplaying of his role. It's takes a different spin on the premise's usual formula, but it manages to clarify its message just the same.

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