Shrunken Cinema/Termite Terrace/Music

From Eccentric Flower

The Music

Throughout these listings I don't bother to note whether Carl Stalling or Milt Franklyn actually composed the score. By all accounts, before 1953 the work of actually composing the music was Stalling's, with Franklyn as an arranger and (possibly) occasional conductor; from 1953 until Stalling's retirement in 1958 it's anyone's guess who did what; from 1958 until his death in 1962 it was all Franklyn. The point is, from the beginning to the end, these two men were instrumental to creating the sound that we still associate with cartoons today. I don't credit them explicitly because it is implied that they are there.

Stalling came to Schlesinger shortly after the Harmon-Ising era (see chronology), but his work in defining the cartoon sound came well before then, when he scored cartoons for Disney (including the early Mickey Mouse short "Plane Crazy"). It was reportedly Stalling who argued with Disney over whether the animation or the score should come first, leading indirectly to the creation of the "Silly Symphonies" cartoons. Stalling was a pioneer in several innovations for synchronizing cartoon animation to a musical score, among them the use of "bar sheets" where storyboards could be shown alongside musical notation, and "click tracks" which played for orchestra members to keep their performance to the same tempo as the eventual animation.

In addition to the style of rapid, action-imitative scoring (butterfly darts around and we get a flute arpeggio; character stomps down stairs to a descending tuba scale; et cetera) sometimes referred to derisively as "Mickey Mousing," Stalling also punctuated his scores with hundreds of what could only be described as musical gags. The animators weren't always in favor of this, making comments like "For god's sake, don't put her in a red dress, or Stalling will use 'Lady in Red' again!" But for better or worse, this is what we now think of cartoons as sounding like.

We don't consider it odd that a snippet of the "Barber of Seville" overture will suddenly pop in when a barber comes onscreen, or that a hillbilly type will inevitably summon a few bars of "Arkansas Traveler." Stalling invented this language - or at least was one of the key people instrumental in inventing it - and Franklyn continued his work. Between them they laid down a considerable legacy (Stalling is estimated to have written a cartoon score a week for twenty-two years).

One of the main purposes of these pages is to pay special attention to sound cues, because many of Stalling's jokes are now lost on a modern audience. Viewers at the time didn't need footnotes to know "Beautiful Dreamer" or "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles" or "Some Sunday Morning" when they heard the melody; now they do.

Stalling had more or less unlimited access to the Warner music catalog. In fact, as noted in the chronology, since the purpose of these cartoons was originally to showcase that catalog, he was encouraged to use it. The side effect of this is that some otherwise obscure compositions have had a far longer life than they otherwise would have, due to these cartoons. It's doubtful that anyone would today remember the unlikely 1925 composition "A Cup of Coffee, A Sandwich, and You" (music by Joseph Meyer, lyrics by Billy Rose and Al Dubin) were it not for Stalling using it every time one of his characters was hungry or in a diner (and, in one notable exception, when Witch Hazel is making a potion, with June Foray singing it aloud).

The two most important examples of this are Stalling's extensive use of the compositions of Harry Warren and Raymond Scott.

Scott has had a bit of a renaissance in recent years, and he's well-documented in other places now, so I won't go into details about him. Suffice to say that Scott would probably be all but forgotten today - despite being a genius pioneer of jazz composition, recording technology, and electronic music - if not for Stalling. This probably would not have sat well with Scott (who was reportedly unimpressed by Stalling's use of his work), but it's a great boon for us.

[One note about Scott, if you haven't listened to the pieces Stalling used in their normal form: Scott had a tendency to write pieces in an A-B-A structure where his A and B themes had nothing whatsoever to do with one another. So if you see two cartoons mentioned as using "Powerhouse" and you can't hear the same theme anywhere in both, it's not an error; one of them is using the Powerhouse A theme and one is using the B theme.]

Scott has had his revival. Harry Warren is another story. Although you might get a look of recognition from Tin Pan Alley devotees and musical film fans, I don't think the average person today has ever heard of him. I certainly hadn't before I began working on these pages. Warren was unusual among songwriters of his era in that he wrote primarily for film. He was also astonishingly prolific. Estimates are that he had some 500 published songs in the span of his sixty-some year career. His songs appeared in more than three hundred films - not all of them the films they were originally written for, as many of them got reused (some have been reused many times). They were also reused - and this is where they are of significance to us - in more than a hundred of these Warner cartoons.

While Stalling's scores did occasionally reference some Warren hits you might still have a chance of knowing today - "Jeepers Creepers," "You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby," "I Only Have Eyes For You," "We're In the Money," "Forty-Second Street," "September In the Rain," "Shuffle Off To Buffalo," "Lullaby of Broadway," et al. - he was just as likely to pick on some of Warren's more obscure pieces of music, such as "Muchacha" and "In Caliente," two numbers from the film In Caliente which were used at some point in just about any cartoon set in either Spain or Latin America, or "The Latin Quarter" which is used as a "France" cue - including a can-can - in several cartoons, or "Boulevardier from the Bronx," which is used for several "stagger" or "strut" cues for various characters. His "songwriter" credits page on IMDb is so long it's difficult to find anything on it.

This page theoretically has MIDI files of many of Warren's songs, but since they use the horrible, unsupported <bgsound> tag, you won't be able to hear the music in anything but Internet Explorer, and you won't be able to turn it on and off. Pity.

For a far better exposure to Stalling's scores than I can provide here, I recommend the audio CD "The Carl Stalling Project" and its liner notes.

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