Friday, 14 July 2017

SNAFU: Rumors (1943)

Director: Friz Freleng.
Release date: December 1943.
Starring: Mel Blanc (Snafu / Various voices); Frank Graham (Narrator).
Music: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown.
Synopsis: Snafu spreads a rumour about a recent bombing that grows more exaggerated - eventually leading a panic at the base.

The Snafu series utilise the message of "loose lips sink ships" satirically yet effectively, like in Spies, which exaggerates the potential threat of eavesdroppers. Rumors follows a very similar message; but it also illustrates the potency of rumours and its side effects.

Rumours and gossip might be a part of human nature, but it can be dangerous for a large number of factors. It's an endearing feature of the human psyche; evoking emotion and sparkling attention. The more spread the rumours are, the more exaggerated and ridiculous they become. Rumours that become misleading can potentially start panics amongst soldiers - creating distractions and weakening courage.

The opening sequence showcases Snafu's ignorance as he misinterprets a fellow comrade's remark, "Nice weather for a bombing" during small talk in a latrine. Diagram shots are applied heavily during the opening scenes; such as Snafu's mind visually portrayed as a hot stove, receiving and repeating: "Bombing weather".

This motivates Snafu to begin a rumour next to a man shaving. So, Snafu tells him about a possible bombing occurring at their base. The use of visual metaphors applied in animated form are innovative in its portrayal of how gossip travels - such as the "hot air" shown as steam ascending to the listener's ears.

So, the listener informs the rumour to another person - but more misinterpreted than Snafu's message. Frank Graham's narration supports the diagram shots of the human mind, as he remarks: "That's right, exaggerate it! Stretch it! Multiply it!". The diagram of a listener's head reveals its mind operating like gears; as mechanical hands stretch out a piece of baloney.

Consequences of travelling rumours are largely satirical throughout this cartoon. The rumours are personified through imagery as zany-looking characters who fly through the camp once the gossip spreads like wildfire. To begin with, the rumours are symbolised as "flying baloneys". The visual metaphor/pun literally features flying pieces of bologna with wings.

The layout work is stunning by portraying anxious soldiers speaking of rumours inside their tents. The soldiers are featured in silhouette - an effect used similarly for the celebrating clowns in Disney's Dumbo.

The rumours grow more exaggerated, as soldiers speak such tales like: "They blasted the hell out of Brooklyn Bridge", "What's the matter with our planes? They popped them off like kites!". In one tent, it sounds like Mike Maltese and Ted Pierce provided their voices to some of the conversing soldiers.

Much of the surreal imagery in this cartoon feels heavily influenced by Ted Geisel's (Dr. Seuss) work. Geisel had contributed to the earlier Snafu cartoons and his presence is felt as far as visual storytelling and character designs are concerned. Such analogies like the "flying baloneys" are used to represent false information taken seriously, and the possible consequences following.

Animation by Gerry Chiniquy.
Soon enough, the rumours begin to haunt Snafu in surrealistic fashion. In a sequence of Snafu eating breakfast inside a mess hall; the piece of bologna begins speaking to him - claiming it has "nothing to fight with". Once the piece of meat flies away, Snafu ignores it by cracking a boiled egg - causing a horned bird to arise, shouting: "And furthermore, the Japs are in California!" (line corrected: see comments below).

The following climax is a hilarious and yet surrealistic portrayal of Snafu's panic amidst flying baloneys or horned creatures taunting him of such rumours. The visual imagery represents how rumours can haunt the person who begun them.

So, Snafu runs across the army camp; attempting to seek refuge from the gossip; but he can't escape them. He attempts to escape inside dustbins and on telephone wires, but discovers even inanimate objects are plagued by rumours.

Much of the creepy imagery feels like a throwback to early 1930s cartoons produced by the Fleischer Studios or Van Beuren - the former's Swing You Sinners comes to mind. The use of inanimate objects briefly forming to life is certainly feels reminiscent of that era.

The climax involving Snafu attempting to escape the zany creatures are disturbing enough in execution. Friz Freleng's cutting style and the use of voice effects add to that effect. They haunt Snafu with more outrageous rumours concerning the war: "The Russians have surrendered", "The British are quitting", etc. Soon, Snafu falls to the ground after falling off a flying baloney - as he falls, a cloud of dust speaks melancholily, "It's all over. We've lost the war...", until Snafu crashes.

At the cartoon's resolution; it's been revealed that the army camp has been quarantined for "rumor-itis". The camera pans to a padded cell, which dissolves inside to reveal Snafu as a patient, driven insane by his rumour episode. Snafu wriggles and incoherently blabs "Rumours", whilst laughing hysterically.

Snafu stops wriggling and momentarily regains his conscience, remarking: "Nice weather for a rumour". A baloney arises from a patch of padding with both characters jumping across the cell.

After the cartoon's iris close, an additional gag is inserted of a cameraman rolling a film camera. He forces a piece of bologna inside the camera like a grinder - with slices falling from the lenses. The cameraman turns at an angle facing an audience, with the camera trucking in on the words: "Sees - Hears - Knows - Nothing". The gag is a nice little touch that sums up the unreliability of rumours. The composition of the scene serves as a parody for the closing newsreels featured in Paramount News.

All Snafu cartoons are built around morale and hard lessons, but Rumors remains unique for portraying an important message in surrealistic fashion. The use of "flying baloneys" are absurdist in its conception - but it's an innovative portrayal of how dangerous rumours can be, and the possible consequences that even a nation could suffer from. The themes are dramatised through both wit and nightmarish scenery. Friz Freleng enhances the zany imagery believably; enough to make the creepy imagery have a lasting impact amongst army recruits watching this short. Despite the cartoon's age; its overall message and theme hasn't dated at all. It remains a strong testament of how rumours can travel fast through word of mouth, and before the existence of social media or e-mail!

1 comment:

  1. The line is actually "The Japs are in California." Given the panic that California was in, in early 1942, that was a very realistic rumour. (California was, actually, shelled by Japanese submarines.)