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Brattle Theater hosts '96 Bugs Bunny Film Festival


Brattle Theater

40 Brattle Street, Cambridge

Friday through Thursday, matinee and night screenings.

By Ben and Stephen Brophy
Staff Reporters

Bugs Bunny rules at the Brattle Theatre for the next week, but as always he has some serious competition from the likes of Daffy Duck, the Tasmanian Devil, and, best of all, Marvin the Martian. New 35mm prints of twenty-four Warner Brothers cartoons will be screened in two different programs as the Brattle hosts the Bugs Bunny Film Festival '96 and adds the bonus of Tasmanian Devil Nights (which will be shown on Monday and Wednesday).

These cartoons are uproariously, hysterically funny, but they also serve as tiny, secular morality plays - meditations on all the variations of the Seven Deadly Sins that fall into the collective name of "obsession." They give us a chance to laugh out loud at our own weaknesses, to enjoy identifying with characters driven by some irresistible ruling passion, to contemplate the results when our passions drive us beyond the bounds of reason.

Marvin the Martian provides one of the best examples of obsession in the program, and one particularly suited to the mind-sets of the MIT community. Marvin has absolute faith in scientific truth and the power of technology. He tries to use technology to dominate the universe, but he also apparently loves it for its certainty and precision. He is totally baffled when his faith in technology is shattered, which of course happens time after time. But he doesn't give up; he just goes back to the drawing board.

Marvin loves technology so much he doesn't need contact with other Martians. In a post-modern world, he is a modernist who could probably defeat any other modernist in an even fight - even if he is completely helpless when facing the post-modernist Bugs. Marvin stars in three cartoons: "Hasty Hare" (1952), "Hare-Way to the Stars" (1958), and of course "Duck Dodgers in the 24 1/2 Century" (1953).

In contrast to the cool, calm and collected Marvin, the Tasmanian Devil is all id, and has a temper that explodes immediately when he doesn't immediately get what he wants. He drools, slobbers, and pursues the objects of his lust with single-minded concentration. Taz is apparently very popular with young men between the ages of 17 and 24, a period of unstoppable, unquenchable pursuit of food and sex. (The latter is often represented by Bugs in female Devil drag.) Taz also decorates a disproportionate amount of merchandise in the Warner Brother's stores. He too appears in three cartoons: "Devil May Hare" (1954); "Bedevilled Rabbit" (1957); and "Bill of Hare" (1962).

The main program, The Bugs Bunny Film Festival '96, focuses on Bugs and his friends, and delivers the work of the two most inspired directors on the Termite Terrace: Chuck Jones and Friz Freleng. Among the delights are the first screen appearances of Pepe Le Pew, the amorous French skunk in "For Scentimental Reasons" (1949) and the Coyote/Roadrunner duo in "Fast and Furry-ous" (1949).

Chuck Jones shows his amazing ability to dream up situations based on popular pieces of classical music. He then designs the cartoon to move with the rhythms of the music, as in the two timeless opera spoofs "Rabbit of Seville" (1950) and "What's Opera Doc? (1957). The former is arguably more funny, but "What's Opera Doc?" is very likely the most visually spectacular work of animated film ever created. On top of that, it shrinks Richard Wagner's 18-hour Ring Cycle into just 6 minutes and still amazes us with its absurdity.

Also on this program is the sublime "One Froggy Evening" (1956) with Michigan J. Frog, a singing-and-dancing sensation who only sings and dances for one person at a time. The only disappointment in this festival comes from one of the newest cartoons, "Carrotblanca" (1995). It is amusing enough for fans of the Bogart Bergman classic which it spoofs (and what friend of the Brattle is not a fan of Casablanca?), but it can't stand on its own. Most of the best work of the Warner Brother's animators stays funny even when the source of its inspiration has long been forgotten.

Through all the hilarity of both programs, Bugs Bunny, with his nonchalant poise, prevails. In a cartoon universe where the villains have all the interesting roles, Bugs is the only adversary as interesting as the bad guys. The Roadrunner and Tweetie are essentially one-note characters who only exist to be the object of a more captivating character's mania. Obsession does not rule Bugs; even his taste for carrots is usually under control. He is too curious and quizzical to give in to obsession; his imperturbable personality is perfectly summed up by his mantra, "What's up, Doc?"