Ancient Propaganda Cartoons
A cherubic Porky Pig, a young one rather than the porcine pillar of the middle class he grew up to be, is dared into smoking a cigar. A few puffs and Porky starts hallucinating a song-and-dance number with a Cab Calloway-esque pipe cleaner and a big-bottomed ball of smoke named Nick O'Teen in Frank Tashlin's Wholly Smoke (1938), one of 11 "Ancient Propaganda Cartoons" screening at the Red Vic this Wednesday. This is an enjoyable program that may not educate about smoking or its other topics but will enlighten you about the different ways used to persuade. Several of the shorts, like Wholly Smoke, were made by Warner Bros. personnel, including Booby Traps, a "Private Snafu" cartoon made for the Army; Tashlin's wartime recycling extravaganza Scrap Happy Daffy (1943); and Bob Clampett's astonishing Russian Rhapsody (1944), with Hitler being driven mad by "gremlins from the Kremlin." (It's nice two Tashlin cartoons are screening -- the famed live-action director of the 1950s had no problem bending Tony Randall or Jerry Lewis into pretzels after practicing on Daffy and Porky.) Disney's The Winged Scourge (circa 1945) drafts the Seven Dwarves into a malaria eradication campaign, while Hugh Harman's Winky the Watchman (1947) was made for a dental association. Harman's Peace on Earth (1938) is a brilliant plea for pacifism, while Bob Cannon's Brotherhood of Man (1946), sponsored by the United Auto Workers, promotes integration in an intriguingly stylized way. Just about all of these cartoons are fairly PC -- viewers needn't fear a diet of the racially stereotyped cartoons being made at the same time by several of the same people. Rather, we have Ted Eshbaugh's propaganda-for-happiness Sunshine Makers (1935), with bottled sunshine banishing the Glooms. "I don't want to be happy -- I want to be sad," says one of the pessimists before his enforced conversion: What better propaganda for propaganda than this?
-- Gregg Rickman
"Ancient Propaganda Cartoons" screens Wednesday, July 16, at 2, 7:15, and 9:15 p.m. at the Red Vic, 1727 Haight (at Cole). Tickets are $6; call 668-3994.