Ignorance is B-B-Bliss

My critical post about Warner Archive’s Porky Pig 101 set has sparked considerable hostility in many corners of the Internet, some of it in my own comments section but mostly on Facebook.  Chief among my critics is Ron Hutchinson of the Vitaphone Project, who wasted no time blasting me as “cinewhiner” because simply wanting the cartoons as they were originally presented is “complaining about everything,” and that I’m upset because I wasn’t called in to work on it. (We were once Facebook friends, and then Ron blocked me some time last year for some unknown reason. So I can’t help but see his attacking me in a venue where I can’t directly respond to him, often on the pages of friends and collaborators, as cowardly.) He needs to work on being a less transparent corporate shill, and ponder if he’d be so complacent if his Vitaphone Varieties collections released through Warner Archive had been plagued with the same issues. I’m not sure what that kind of sniping and gossiping buys us, when the work speaks for itself.

Enough. The Porky set had a noble goal—to get all of the cartoons in one place—but was forced to be completed in a timeframe and budget that obviously precluded basic quality control, and resulted in a collection far below basic acceptable standards (never mind those of the wonderful Golden Collections). Since Warners has admitted that they will not be revisiting these cartoons in the future, the set at the very least should have allowed people to pitch their recordings from Cartoon Network, or in my case the homemade copies I compiled with fellow collectors decades ago. With the vandalism done by Warner Archive, they most emphatically cannot.

Without even getting into the directors’ choices, Carl Stalling came up with a unique opening cue and arrangement for every one of his Warner cartoons. Now his creativity has been sabotaged because people who shouldn’t have their jobs  did amateur production work. This is censorship, plain and simple. The copyright holders deserve no praise for following the model they’ve used for years for Hanna-Barbera dreck on material that obviously deserves better: dumping content (black-and-white or not) and putting out a made-on-demand set on the level of one on a dealer’s table at a movie convention. If people would rather have these compromised versions than nothing, that’s fine. I know the feeling of needing some copy, as I myself had to make due with compromised versions of certain films for years. (Although I almost always refused to grant any censored or colorized films shelf space.) But when this is being done in the modern era, when everyone knows better, if some of us choose to not be blackmailed by corporate thugs and say, “Fine, then nothing,” and hold onto our own old copies, we shouldn’t be chastised – particularly when the errors we’re pointing out are absolutely there.

Perhaps this is another side effect of Trump’s America. People seek anything, anything, to escape this nightmare, and for a lot of people, a set of cheery cartoons was just that. Point out the miserable treatment the films were given, on the level of Alpha Video, and what happens? We have our answer.

12 Comments

Filed under classic animation, wtf

12 Responses to Ignorance is B-B-Bliss

  1. Joe H

    Well, the Alpha Video comparison is pushing it, but I agree that the problems with this set are far beneath the usual quality of the Warner Archive, where in some H-B sets they spent a considerable amount of time looking for the original non-syndicated material, and released Monogram Westerns in near-pristine quality in 10 freaking volumes.

    That they didn’t take this kind of care after the Warner Archive has been around for 8 years is quite shocking. The early Warner Archive titles had some of these “pulled from the shelf” problems but that was rectified a year later.

    They did try for this set, as they at least made sure every cartoon was uncut (minus the ever-elusive Porky the Wrestler bit) and mostly found decent prints, but the music problems were amateur hour. Totally. The sort of problem that a sub-par 3rd party licenser would make, not a distributer like Warner Archive which typically puts care into sets like this.

    I don’t mind that they didn’t do full restorations. Warner Archive never does those anyway, but they should have delivered on offering the best available prints. Not only are there some analog-era prints (reminders of the 2009 dark age of Warner Archive) but those music issues are an embarassment, like no one who knew better bothering watching these before they were transferred onto the set.

    This is more of an issue of the “animation ghetto” where the cartoons get the shaft because they are just cartoons, not flesh & blood cinema. Like, if this was, say, a Edgar Kennedy collection done by the WAC would it be treated as shabbily?

  2. Joe H

    One last note is that Jerry Beck recently did an interview for Nitrateville Podcast and he goes more in detail on how this set got released.

    He says that they could not go back to the negatives because the budget was so small but then says that George Feltenstein was a stickler for using original negatives for his Warner Archive releases.

    He also says that George Feltenstein was “very nervous” because they did not go back to original negatives when releasing this set.

    So it would seem that this set is indeed an outlier and indicates that they simply chose too many cartoons for this set. They also don’t explain why they simply could not have waited a while longer until the budget was there. You already waited 5 years, why not another year to finance the use of the best existing prints? Feltenstein did that with Bowery Boys and other films? Heck, he put off The Sea Wolf for 8 years until 35mm elements of the the original cut surfaced (16mm was available but deemed unacceptable)

    In closing, it seems to support your theory that they either bit off more than they could chew by having too many un-remastered cartoons to deal with, or rushed the release too much after it was greenlit. I’m suspecting that Jerry Beck was a bit too overeager to get this one out the door ASAP

  3. Joe, Warner Archive has put out Remastered Editions on DVD and Blu-Ray, and not always for important titles. But I couldn’t agree with you more. The scope of this project was admirable, but really shouldn’t have been attempted given the accepted conditions.

    A more sensible approach would’ve been to take a subject that’s just as historically interesting but would encompass less material in need of remastering. Say, all of the cartoons with Porky and Daffy together, or all the WB cartoons directed by Tashlin. Most in either category have been restored, so only a dozen cartoons max would need to be done. Now everything can be QC’ed sensibly, and hey, they’re ready for Blu-Ray too. Now you have a perfectly acceptable set that can get lots of praise and pave the way for bigger and better things. Rather than do something hastily and sow doubt with those who’d be the line’s biggest supporters.

    I wouldn’t blame Jerry though. I’m sure if he had his say all of the issues would’ve been corrected at the very least. I can’t really understand why they can’t be, seeing as they’ve done far costlier replacement programs for mass-market sets in the past (Tom & Jerry, Looney Tunes, Tiny Toons, Batman). I don’t think more than 50 people would follow through with the replacement program anyway. And with it being MOD, they can just update the ISO file and that’s that, all future copies will be corrected.

  4. Ian L.

    It’s too bad that the quality control problems have overshadowed actually talking about the cartoons themselves. Not that you were wrong in addressing the many problems plaguing this set, of course. With that in mind…

    Personally, I thought the Porky cartoons started to get really good once Friz Freleng returned to the studio. If I had to be perfectly honest, I was kind of sick of the Bob Clampett Porky cartoons by the time the fourth disc rolled around. “You Ought to be in Pictures” is a bona-fide classic, and “Porky’s Hired Hand”, “Porky’s Baseball Broadcast”, “Calling Dr. Porky”, “Porky’s Bear Facts”, Notes to You”, and “Porky’s Pastry Pirates” are all good showcases of why Freleng should not be dismissed as a top tier director.

    • Absolutely true, it gets obvious Clampett was getting bored with his surroundings (the Katz unit) and the character. Of course, the ironic thing is Porky is barely featured in any of those great Freleng cartoons. They’re character comedies, just not about Porky’s character. Personally, I think Porky’s Hired Hand and Porky’s Bear Facts feature some of the best acting Mel Blanc ever did.

  5. Anthony

    In these later B/W shorts, Porky was in danger of suffering the grisly fates of Mickey (under Charles Nichols) and Betty Boop (under Myron Waldman); the “star” character who has to disappear for the actual funny business to happen.

    Porky’s decline towards the end of the set made me better appreciate what Chuck Jones and Mike Maltese were able to do with the character later on. By using him as a sidekick and straight man, they was able to use him effectively opposite Daffy Duck, Charlie Dog, Sylvester and even on his own (Wearing of the Grin) into the 50’s.

    • Ian L.

      Ironically, this is probably why I didn’t get sick of Porky himself when burning through this set: He’s not a constant presence in every short. As much as I liked the Super-Stars sets for releasing previously unreleased shorts, it did tend to get monotonous having a set of cartoons with the same character(s) over and over.

      But yes, most of my favorite Porky cartoons debuted after the cut-off date on this set (“Kitty Kornered”, “Thumb Fun”, “Riff Raffy Daffy”, “Daffy Duck Hunt”, “The Ducksters”, “The Prize Pest”, “Drip-Along Daffy”, “Fool Coverage”, I could go on and on).

  6. Vimacone

    During the black and white era, I thought Tashlin’s Porkys were the best ones (I’m glad that at least the previously unreleased Tashlin shorts had no issues on this set). I loved the fast pace of PORKYS BUILDING and PORKYS RAILROAD. I do agree though that Porkys best shorts were after 1943. Almost all McKimson’s and Davis’ Porkys are among his best. McKimson’s critics should look at the character animation and snappy dialogue of shorts like ONE MEAT BRAWL or BOOBS IN THE WOODS nd realize that he directed a good share of excellent cartoons. CURTAIN RAZOR by Freleng was also a solid entry.

    • Ian L.

      The Tashlin Porkys were replayed quite often on “Looney Tunes on Nickelodeon”, so I have a great deal of nostalgia for them. Luckily, they still hold up, although I prefer his ’43-’46 output.

      My favorite of the ’36-’38 Tashlin Porkys is “Porky the Fireman”. I love that lazy fireman; a great early example of a purposefully drawn-out gag.

      • Vimacone

        I remember those days of Nickelodeon. That’s were I first saw practically most of the Porky cartoons that are on this set. It would have been neat if WB did a set of Tashlin’s entire filmography, considering only seven shorts have not yet been restored. His shorts were the most intriguing of WB cartoons.

        Like Thad, I’m a big Tashlin fan. I would like to see him write some in depth analysis on his work. I’d like to read what he’d have to say.

        A side note on the early Porky’s, Tex Avery’s Porky’s of ’36-’37 were actually stronger in terms of comedy than his Merrie Melodies of the same period (something Tex even said himself in later years).

  7. As we know the sales on the b&w Fleischer Popeyes dropped off after the first set which, I guess, is why the color Famous Ones have not been issued. Perhaps it was felt that Porky could only handle one offering (and, if that is true, I agree with that thought). As to the issues Thad raises, they are legitimate, extremely legitimate. The problem now is that this set represents what will officially be there for the future. Those private restored copies people have made for themselves and their friends are going to become more important records. I have been in absolute awe of the work done by Thunderbean, Tommy Stathes and The 3D Film Archive. These people work miracles. It’s a minor miracle we got this set but a few dollars extra could have, based on the work these people have done, have made this set something to be truly proud of. Faulting Thad for pointing out how much this set misses the mark is shooting the messenger. He deserves better.

  8. LOUIS DICRESCENZO

    I agree with Thad !I have many of the nitrate originals this is censorship. If know one speaks up,Its lost forever Which seems fine when you don’t know any better

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