Frank Tashlin | Artists and Models
| Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? | It's Only Money
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Frank Tashlin worked both as an animator, and a director of live
Artists and Models
Artists and Models (1955) spoofs the comic book industry.
As a big fan of comic books, perhaps I'm a bit over-sensitive.
But the spoof does not seem especially on-target. The comics created
here by Martin & Lewis are mainly science fiction comics.
The satire suggests that their plot ideas are a bunch of nonsensical,
incomprehensible, over-elaborate gibberish. This is just plain
not true - such high quality sf comics of the 1950's such as Mystery in Space
and Strange Adventures had logically
coherent plots. However, science fiction was still a minority
taste in America in 1955, and perhaps the point of view in the
film is that of a bewildered outsider, to whom all sf is simply
meaningless gobbledy-gook. A point in the film's defense: there
is little malice here, and no attempt to paint the comic book
stories as harmful to children. Considering all the negative attacks
the comic book industry suffered in the 1950's, from the US Senate
on down, this all seems very gentle. It looks like a sincere attempt
at satire, rather than an attempt to jump on some sort of fashionable
The scenes at the comic book offices can be compared to:
- The pulp magazine headquarters where Danny Kaye works, in The Secret
Life of Walter Mitty (Norman Z. McLeod, 1947). Tashlin's offices
are sleeker and more modernist, resembling an executive suite,
and look forward to his big business satire in Will Success
Spoil Rock Hunter? (1957).
- William McGivern's crime novel, The Crooked Frame (1952),
set in a comic book publishing house. Unfortunately, this depressing
book is more interested in relentlessly psychoanalyzing its hero's
emotional flaws, than in painting any detailed inside look at
the comic book biz.
- Director Robert Mulligan
adapted The Crooked Frame into a good episode of the TV series Suspense (1952).
This episode offers a substantially more positive look at the comic book industry than
Artists and Models.
Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?
Tashlin's Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1957) is composed
almost entirely of long take shots that show considerable camera
movement. Tashlin uses editing only in a few ways. He sometimes
intercuts POV shots into his material. He mainly cuts to a new
shot only when the character enters another room. This happens
frequently: his characters are often on the move. They move constantly
within a room, and relative to each other, with his camera and
staging ingeniously following them. When they move into a new
room, there is a cut, and another long take sequence begins.
The stability of the staging, and lack of traditional editing recalls
Bazin, and such early 1940's directors as
Renoir and Welles.
Tashlin uses a huge repertoire of camera movements, large and small, to
track his characters. Sometimes these are small pans, other times
they are full scale tracks. Most typically they are at eye level,
and fairly lateral.
There is a scene at the rose garden toward
the end when Tashlin uses an elevated angle, to track his characters
against the beauty of the garden - and it is a very lovely collection
of roses shot in full color. This elevated angle recalls Mizoguchi,
and such films as Princess Yang Kei-fei (1955). This garden
has no separate rooms in it, being an open space composed of several
regions, and Tashlin sometimes cuts from one shot to another within
it. These cuts seem designed to focus on a different region of
the garden, from a different point of view. One gets the impression
that Tashlin works within the shot as long as it is graceful,
but if it is simpler and less conspicuous to cut to move to a
different region of the garden, he will do so. However, this is
hardly a full analysis. This sort of cut within a room to a new
perspective, also sometimes occurs in his interior staging.
Tashlin occasionally uses traditional editing as well. In two
tense confrontation scenes there is traditional cutting back and
forth between two characters: once early in the film when the
hero has a fight with the head of his company, and late in the
film when he has a fight with his fiancee. The cutting emphasizes
the hostility and lack of common ground between the characters.
Both of these scenes are surprisingly gut wrenching. However,
when he makes up with his girl friend, they are reunited within
a single shot. These scenes use the traditional eye-matching,
centered characters, camera in the middle, back and forth cutting
that such theoreticians as Noël Burch and David Bordwell
have described in detail. When this style shows up, all the joy
drains from the picture.
Tashlin uses a less traditional version
of classical editing in two outdoor sequences, one at the airport,
the other in front of Tony Randall's home. These combine depth
staging, with closer in shots of the characters. Editing is clearly
used, because Tashlin needs to get in closer to his characters.
A less conventional use of cutting occurs in the "You Got
It Made" musical number. Here, Tashlin executes a steady,
rapid succession of cuts, each one progressively closer to Tony
Randall's face. This stylistic device will show up later in music
Depth staging occasionally occurs. One memorable shot has Tony
Randall, dazed after an encounter with Jayne Mansfield, walking
from the back of the shot directly towards the camera, and eventually,
Links to Tati's Playtime
Frank Tashlin's Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter (1957) often
anticipates Jacques Tati's Playtime (1966). Both take place
in ultra modern office environments, whose sterile but clean and
fresh backgrounds form omnipresent environments for the characters.
Both satirize their settings, but with an underlying sympathy
and lack of malice. Both directors use long takes, and both keep
their characters in motion. The two films have a similar "look",
probably due to their settings, and watching Tashlin's film one
often feels that one is in Tati's.
Tashlin was a hero to early auteurist critics, such as Godard
and Peter Bogdanovich. However, he has practically been written
out of film history. While auteurists celebrated a common ground
between Hollywood and French cinema, such notions have become
anathema to contemporary critics who view French and American
cinema in oppositional terms.
It's Only Money
It's Only Money (1962) is one of Tashlin's many Jerry Lewis films.
Technology and Science
The electronic command center in the mansion, looks forward to
the high tech gags in The Glass Bottom Boat and Caprice.
Both of these works spoof spy films, by situating such devices
firmly in the realm of American industry. Similarly, here they
are part of over-done security precautions at the mansion. The
finale, with its automatic lawnmowers, anticipates similar floor
devices used by Rod Taylor in The Glass Bottom Boat. The
ones in the latter film are cuter, but still have an undercurrent
of menace. This was an age of deep anxiety about automation, and
its power to take away jobs. Tashlin's gags perhaps have this
as a sociological undercurrent.
Both in Artists and Models and It's Only Money,
Jerry Lewis is linked to advanced features of a modern scientific world:
science fiction in Artists and Models, electronics repair in
It's Only Money. The association between Lewis and science will continue
in the films Lewis directed himself, especially The Nutty Professor.