Wednesday, 3 August 2016

SNAFU: Gripes (1943)

Director: Friz Freleng.
Release date: July 1943.
Starring: Mel Blanc (Snafu / Technical Fairy).
Music: Carl Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown.

Synopsis: With help from the Technical Fairy, Private Snafu attempts to change the regulations of the army base under his supervision.

While Coming: Snafu!! was presented in the form of a trailer to set the standards of the series; Gripes is the first to make use the formula based around morals. The short represents as a satirical element on soldiers living away from their comfort zones. During their service in the army, the soldiers don't have the luxuries they once had in an easier life, and instead, complain about army life and its conditions.

Private Snafu is a prime example of those soldiers; by refusing to take his service patriotically and moaning about how unfair the army is to his human rights. The opening scenes are primarily exposition in illustrating Snafu's gripes on military life - and a satire on astonished soldiers enlisted in the army realising doesn't entirely consist of combat and action.

An effective layout depicting
the line / griping and moaning is
not a good sign!
This is evident in the opening scene of Snafu peeling potatoes, as part of his KP (abbreviated for 'kitchen patrol'). His multitasking efforts are nicely exaggerated as a gag. Theodore Geisel (known to many as the infamous Dr. Seuss), utilises the dialogue with his rhyming trait that emphasises Snafu's irrational perspective effectively.

Snafu gripes: "Ahh, I joined this here army to join in the fun / of jabbing the Jap and huntin' the Hun! / and look at the job they handed to me / KP! KP! KP! KP! KP!" Dr. Seuss' usage of the rhyme scheme to create informal, distasteful dialogue to an illiterate crowd is somewhat surreal; considering his reputation as a children's author.

In a sequence where Snafu is confined to a sickbay; Snafu expresses idealistic fantasies, as quoted: "If I ran this army, boy I'm telling you / I'd make a few changes, that's what I'd do!". At that moment; marks the first appearance of the side character: Technical Fairy, First Class.

Although stereotyped as a thuggish G.I. look; Technical Fairy plays a pivotal role in the Snafu series; as he grants utopian wishes for Snafu; only to deliberately wound up in disaster - to teach Snafu a lesson in the long run. To some extent, represents the unconscious mind of Snafu.

The grants his wish, "I heard ya say it, that everything stank / that you'd run things different if you had more rank / so as Technical Fairy, I gotta good notion / to give ya a chance, pal. Here's a promotion!". And so, Technical Fairy uses his wand to cast a spell on Snafu by promoting him as master sergeant ("The boss of the woiks!"). To add the right touch, Technical adds a high-ranking military insignia to adorn the sleeve.

The Schlesinger staff continue to take advantage of certain liberties by adding touches of risque humour that goes beyond the Production Code's control. Gripes has elements of scatological humour, as seen in the vaccination sequence, although it is kept in good taste.

The iron determination to entertain military soldiers is evident as the doctors give Snafu a jab directly on his tattoo of a burlesque woman's rear end. In reaction, the inanimate figure springs to motion as she yells in pain. The gag is successful in spontaneity and timing combined.

Psychology is used inventively and hysterically to deceive Snafu in getting his vaccination. A doctor hands Snafu a document to grant him a three-day pass. The doctor's hand deliberately drops it in front of Snafu, and as he bends down to retrieve it: a giant booster pricks his rear end. Freleng's comic timing blends well for the anticipation and reaction to the booster shot.

The use of risque imagery on women is also there; especially in a scene to emphasise Snafu's utopian fantasy. Snafu is seen treated with royalty as he's being comforted by the company of women dressed semi-naked. While the scenario has been depicted in animated cartoons beforehand, the girls' clothing is incredibly racy. Not only is this seen through the feature of the navel; but one girl is wearing a see-through veil around her naked body.

Snafu exploits his power and authority over the army; as he allows his privates to loathe around with women - without consideration on enhancing military training. His fun is other as he is warned by a sudden appearance of Technical Fairy, who warns him of an incoming German raid.

Thanks to Snafu's incompetence, he discovers his troops have become undisciplined for combat - leaving his predicament in turmoil. This builds to a suspenseful climax, as a German plane releases a bomb, targeting the army base.

Snafu turns to cowardice as he digs a hole in the ground and buries himself underneath, leaving his rear end sticking out. This marks the earliest use of Raymond Scott's Powerhouse, which has since been popularised in capturing the energy and spirit during Warners' golden era.

The gag escalates, as the Nazi bomb abruptly halts in anticipation; by pinning a target poster on Snafu's rear end and then, creating destruction all round. The impact cross-dissolves back to reality; where Snafu awakens from the nightmare his sickbed. And so, the morale is enforced on Snafu; who becomes even more motivated in performing his duties. The Technical Fairy appears in the last shot, informing him: "The morale, Snafu, is the harder you woik, the sooner we gonna beat Hitler, that joik!"

Gripes presents an exaggerated, yet believable representation of desires and idealism. Snafu's fantasy is visually well expressed in emphasising the sense of escapism that is otherwise not practical. The moral built around the short is very encouraging and patriotic, as well as a rare moment in Snafu not "fouling up" in reality. Friz Freleng's take on Snafu is sublime, as more depth is given to his personality, instead of a mere typical portrayal of a buffoon. The introduction of the Technical Fairy is a great addition; as the character adds some scope built around the series' environment.

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