The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Movie

(The Great American Chase, Chuck Jones & Phil Monroe, USA, 1979)


Chuck Jones knows what he’s up against in the battle to be taken seriously as an artist by high and middlebrow culture, and he reflects upon it in The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Movie – talking to himself at the start of the film, not to the audience who are elsewhere, at Star Wars perhaps (the credits of which Jones parodically mimics), not even to the smaller audience made up of fine-art film buffs.

This film helpfully provides a capsule history of comedy and its social functions. On one side: domesticity, boredom, repression. On the other: laughter, desire, liberation. The historical analysis is superficial, but the point is not. And we can take it further. Maybe the cinema that tells stories, that represents scenes, that does everything so professionally and cleanly (no spills, no excesses), this cinema that you and I have been brought up to love and respect, maybe its all too domestic, too parental, too well-ordered.

Where is my desire, my freedom, my jouissance, if not in these cartoons where anything goes and everything is possible? If Bugs Bunny wants something, he just has to whizz off-screen and get it. And what is off-screen? Nothing. Everything. There are a lot of things ordinary, normal films cannot do – can’t take a story apart, speed it up, slow it down, tell it a hundred times, blow it up (literally, figuratively) … cannot, at one moment, refine the frame and the narrative down to absolute purity and, at another moment, cram it with a hundred colours, shapes, lines, shadows, movements.

Give me Chuck Jones, a manic collector of bits and pieces, bits of stories, bit of culture, bits of images and music. True text-man, a master-chef: it all goes around and around, not blended but floating, distinct – and interacting, a fabulous space of connections and relations in time and space.

That’s a cartoon. Or rather: a good cartoon, a lovingly worked and crafted object, not those assembly-line Flintstones, or those skimpily drawn advertisements or arty European shorts: the real thing. We all need the connections Chuck Jones can help us make.

© Adrian Martin October 1980

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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