Monday, September 1, 2014
Melodrama in Cartoons and Silent Film
“Rocky and Bullwinkle” and “Dudley-Do-Right” have no reservations about imitating the conventions of melodramatic silent films. Each cartoon features a sinister, sneaking villain with a black mustache and a black hat-- a figure that appears in most of the silent film clips. Also, each cartoon's villain is attempting to transgress the law, stealing gold in one cartoon and smuggling furs in the other, while each cartoon's hero, particularly Dudley-Do-Right, works for the side of the right and the law. The same can be seen in the silent film clips, where villains attempt to have damsels run over by trains or to steal an official letter, and honorable young men work to thwart their nefarious deeds.
“Dudley-Do-Right,” though, goes especially far out of its way to imitate silent film, actually introducing Dudley by showing him rescuing a young lady tied to railroad tracks. It even interrupts the video from time to time with frames of only text. Such interruptions make sense in a silent film, since they are the only way to communicate words to the audience, but in a cartoon that has both talking characters and a voice-over to help the audience follow the plot, their main purpose is to imitate silent films for the sake of humor.
Similarities between the film clips and stage plays are harder to find, and the cartoons involve many rapid scene changes that would be impossible on stage, but I was able to find one device in Dudley-Do-Right that may be intended to imitate stage plays. The characters seem to over-enunciate their words, speaking slowly and exaggerating their consonants. Nell may do it the most, drawing out every consonant and maybe even adding a couple in sentences like “But Dudley, why must your horse go with you?” On stage, extremely clear speech can be essential to make sure people in the back of the theater can understand, but in a cartoon, such speech is again intended to have a comic effect.