Tuesday, June 13, 2006

HEP CAT SYMPHONY (1949)

Okay, I'm getting just a little sick and tired of the mouse bias in the cartoon world. Cats get it in the ass over and over again, but no one ever seems to consider whether the little rodent creeps deserve the ill intentions directed towards them. Just like wolves and coyotes always getting cast as bad guys, cats always seem to be on the wrong end of most every slapstick situation. Just like Tweety Pie and the Road Runner (continually cast in the media as cute smiley-faced heroes, when they could just as well be, when seen from a proper angle, beings of casually evil intent), so goes the poor little supposedly "put-upon" mouse figure. Sure, Tom and Jerry are often very evenly matched, but theirs is an odd relationship, and in the end, they truly can't do without each other (as evidenced by the fact that they often team up near the end of many of their cartoons). But most cats, the broader-ranged Sylvester included, end up playing villain in our eyes most of the time, even though the service they are providing is one that has been put on their shoulders due to us, i.e. humankind. This service would be: removing mice from the house by any means possible.

I love the ReFrederator for the service that they are providing to mankind: the easy downloading and access to a wealth of public domain cartoons, all in files in the best condition that they can find, and free to anyone with or without a jones for rampant cartoon viewing. As I possess that jones, and am always searching for new cartoons for my collection, the ReFrederator is a must. (Channel Frederator, their parent website, is also pretty swell.) But even the nuts at ReFrederator have fallen prey to the party line of the movie-going world: mice are small and cute and therefore good, cats are predatory animals that want to devour the small, cute, good mice and therefore must be bad. They say so in their capsule set-up on their blog for this very cartoon: in describing the plot, wherein a jazz-loving cat has his hot solo swing session interrupted by a symphony orchestra made up entirely of mice, and while pointing out that normally it is the jazzbos who have their way by the end of these cartoons, ReFred's blogmaster says "this time the longhairs are the good guys." Why? Because they are mice? They are automatically the good guys because they are mice? Forthwith, the case against the mice, and why the cat has been unjustly considered the villain:

Exhibit A: Hep Cat Symphony, released by Paramount's Famous Studios in 1949, indeed has a hep cat as its lead character, Mr. A. Hep Cat to be precise, who lives in a disheveled building on the edge of Tin Can Alley, and which houses both the Jivey Music Company and the Swing Music Company. Mr. Cat lives on the top floor of the building, and appears to be a working musician who pays his rent in the building, because most landlords don't allow tenants to have their name etched on the glass of the window in the manner in which Mr. Cat has his displayed unless they have legitimate business interests on site.

Exhibit B: Mr. A. Hep Cat's music studio, where he happily engages in one-cat jam sessions by playing wild clarinet solos while keeping rhythm with his feet on a guitar and simultaneously tapping a brush on a snare drum, has its swinging mood interrupted in a most unwarranted fashion by a group of rodent squatters living inside the walls between offices. Without the permission of either Mr. Cat or the landlords, said squatters have had a miniature door installed in which they may gain easy access to Mr. Cat's studio. This is a clear violation of Mr. Cat's property and privacy rights.

Exhibit C: The noise caused by the rodent squatters due to the cacaphonous squalling of their "symphony orchestra", whose conductor shows signs of being possessed of a decidedly self-serious and demented mein, is loud enough to not only override the cool and mellifluous tones of Mr. Cat's playing, but is also shocking enough to send Mr. Cat jumping high into the air, and thus, to cause him to crash backwards through his snare drum. (Separate lawsuit for the lower back injury sustained by Mr. Cat pending.)

Exhibit D: While Mr. Cat may have shown personal impatience in his cry of "Shut up, ya buncha longhairs!" through the opening (an illegal opening, if I may reiterate) of the rodent's den, the mouse attendant manning the door made an unnecessary physical attack on Mr. Cat's person by callously slamming the door on Mr. Cat's face, flattening it out completely. It is this attack that directly results in Mr. Cat's blowing of his clarinet through the aperture at a high enough decibel level to send the mice flying from their bandstand. This is well within Mr. Cat's rights as a citizen who only means to protect his home and his sanity.

Exhibit E: After Mr. Cat returns to playing his music, thwapping out a cool beat on his bass while he scats along with the rhythm, he is again interrupted without even the slightest of neighborly considerations by the mouse symphonia. Mr. Cat means to send a message to the musical interlopers by securing his bass solidly to a floorboard where the vibrations that knock them from their stand will serve a reminder to the mice that they are unwanted in the building. But one mouse sneaks into the studio and sends a candle hopping across the board, which sets fire to Mr. Cat's bass while Mr. Cat is riding atop it in a jazzy reverie. Breaking and entering, arson, and if not attempted murder, then possibly intent to harm. After the bass burns up beneath him, the still lightly intact tailpiece springs loose with the strings and smacks Mr. Cat in the face, sending him flying out into the hallway where he bangs his head against a watermain. (Mr. Cat has complained incessantly of intense neck pain since the incident.)

Exhibit F: The mice have only themselves to blame for both Mr. Cat's self-defensive posture following the arson of his bass on his property, and therefore, are directly responsible for the firehose attack that follows. It is their relentlessly fastpaced and loud squalling that causes the firehose dangling over the watermain to tap against the metal and thus inspire Mr. Cat to exact his next measure of revenge. Credit must be given to the collective wits of the mice who are able to turn the possible drowning of their entire orchestra into a stalemate by sending the firehose back through Mr. Cat's telephone, but they are the ones to blame for his increasingly fragile state of mind in the first place.

Exhibit G: Is it clear enough that these mice are unwanted pests, both in body and in music; couldn't they just as easily move down the alley and play somewhere away from a perturbed tenant? While acknowledging that a call to pest control might be the more efficient manner in which to deal with the problem, the mice's decision to relocate on the floor directly above Mr. Cat's studio is nothing more than pure intentional aggravation. It is unwise, in any case, to ever cut a hole out of the ceiling above your head with a handsaw; it is even worse to cut a hole large enough to contain the girth of a grand piano, which the mice have obligingly placed atop said sawed-out area. (Aside for property damages incurred for the two floors through which the piano crashes, which the landlords will be issuing a separate suit, Mr. Cat has since been to three orthodontists to correct the damage caused when the entire of set of piano keys stretched his mouth to the ultimate extremes.) In any event, it is quite clear that Mr. Cat is no longer responsible for his actions due to the distress caused by the "long-haired" mice.

The next incident is clearly Mr. Cat's own fault, and it is out of his own carelessness that he fails in his mission to drown the mice in the sea through the playing of The Pied Piper Overture. It is not his playing that is at fault; even several of the mice admitted post-incident that his clarinet work was top-notch, if a little modern in its inflections. But his lack of consideration of his own footing on the dock causes him to fall into the waters first, and with his playing interrupted, the mice are able to collect their senses and concentrate on their final assault, which I shall label as:

Exhibit H: Mr. Cat, fresh from his near-drowning by his own witless engineering, ends up the victim of a massive assault force as the mice take to playing The William Tell Overture, using their instruments as weaponry against the unarmed, though admittedly, hissing and growling Mr. Cat, who, by this point, has reverted to his natural feral state due to his ceaseless torture at the hand of the snobbish rodents. The flautists bombard the feline with projectiles shot through their pipes; likewise, the string musicians fire bow after bow from their cellos like expert marksmen. A human-sized violin is obtained by several mice and used to shoot a bow at a beehive on a branch above the cat, which detaches and falls onto his head. Mr. Cat is driven into the ocean as the mice derisively march to the edge of the dock and finish their song in a manner that is usually only employed by the worst of bullies.

Mr. A. Hep Cat has been slow to recover from the collective scarring of this incident, both physical and psychological. He has been unable to support himself as a musician ever since, and as he has not paid his rent for some time, his landlords are eager to collect damages on the property so that they may recoup their losses and rent the studio out to new tenants. And poor Mr. A. Hep Cat is only one of many victims of "Antagonist Abuse", whereby the true perpetrator of slapstick-laden animated crimes is mislabeled by society's knee-jerk reaction to identify with the cute, small and whiny, and label those that stand opposed to the cute ones as immediate villains without really considering the situation as the deciding factor in who is actually right and who is actually wrong. On all counts, Mr. Cat is clearly not an intentional aggressor in this case.

And besides, the DIY attitude that Mr. Cat brings to his swingin' licks kicks major ass over the generic orchestral sounds of the snooty supposedly "superior" mouse orchestra. It's not what you know about music, it's how you play it... and Mr. Cat is guilty of nothing but a stone groove, daddy-o...

Hep Cat Symphony (A Paramount/Famous Studios Noveltoon, 1949)
Director: Seymour Kneitel
Writers: Jack Mercer and Carl Meyer
Animators: Martin Taras and David Tendlar
Scenics: Tom Ford
Music: Winston Sharples
Cel Bloc Rating: 6

No comments: