FLYING FUR FRAGMENTS
6:30, 2013. Between 1981 and 2012 the drawings for "Flying Fur" were kept in a basement storage box. Before the drawings were carted off to the MoMA collection (along with all my negatives and other animation artwork), I played around with them: reshuffling, reflipping, reconstructing, rehashing, etc. The original funny animals have not aged well. Music accompaniment by Juan Tizol and Scott Bradley.
FLYING FUR FRAGMENTS
There are 3 funny animal characters, introduced rather haphazardly: rough cartoon sketches, interchangeable, provisional, indeterminate, unreliable, barely one generation removed from the racist stereotypes of the minstrel stage.
Pete, Peg-Leg Pete, Black-Pete, is the oldest surviving Disney character, dating back to the 1925 Alice Comedies, the generically menacing cat, shape-shifting from bear to bad dog, filling the role of the dim-witted, nasty bully. He is the original Willy Horton, a projection of white America’s deep fears of the menacing black male, lashing out from years of oppression. Here Pete evolves from a hooligan, bristling with penciled pentimenti, into an establishment enforcer in a suit, pulling strings, a manager of labor relations in the cartoon industry. He reads the newspaper, first as a cigar-chomping mogul, then as a generic rough sketch.
Our beloved Mouse, cast out of his inhibitive zoetrope onto a grander stage, is bound to his primitive anatomy of tubular limbs, ovate torso and swollen feet, with or without those perfectly abstract flat-black ears. He is missing a tail but otherwise has not evolved from a juvenile in red shorts with brass buttons.
The Wolf is a free-spirited joker dressed in jogging gear or a lavender business suit and sneakers; he likes to play outside the box, skipping and strutting, yet is still subject to the same pervasive forces of random anarchy.
The Square Man, a conventional, well-behaved innocent, alien to cartoon culture, is a neutral cipher yearning for a link with his more flamboyant companions. Their fur is flying, he’s clean-cut; they bound and scamper, he’s robotic, trapped in a rectangular carapace. His mask-like face is mirrored by a generic house which contains and constrains him — an omniscient, disapproving monitor that evolves into yet another predator in hot pursuit.
Other creatures briefly appear at random intervals: a tormented bluebird, a hesitant stork, a motivational researcher, and an enraged bulldog — minor distractions in the turmoil enveloping the primary group. Its social cohesion is strong due its members’ empathy, the leaky boundaries of their personalities, and the continual outside threat.
What does this riotous behavior signify? Does it merely illustrate Scott Bradley’s score, a discontinuous collage of rambunctious themes, which was itself tailored to accompany a 1944 Tom and Jerry cat and mouse cartoon. Does it reflect a rootless culture of arbitrary values and ambiguous distinctions in wartime? We can’t deconstruct Flying Fur: its animation technique so rudimentary, its design so inconsistent, its narrative already so fragmentary. Even after aging 30 years in a climate-controlled cellar, its vintage discontinuities remain incoherent; it’s an animated bridge to nowhere.