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Tex Avery: one hundred years of lively anarchy

On the 26th of February 1908 in Taylor, Texas, Frederick Bean Avery, nicknamed "Tex", was born to be arguably the most relevant genius among all the cartoon directors America ever produced. After an apprenticeship as an animator at the Walter Lantz studio, working on the seminal Oswald the Lucky Rabbit theatrical series (the character created by Walt Disney as a forerunner to Mickey Mouse), Avery began his extraordinary carrier at Warner Bros in 1935, hired by the great producer Leon Schlesinger to head an animation department that turned out character stars of the highest caliber, such as Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck (both developed by our man), and fostered animators the likes of Chuck Jones and Bob Clampett. On leaving Warner in 1942 following disagreements with Schlesinger, it was Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Fred Quimby who supplied Avery with the environment he needed to bring his unique style to the pinnacle of maturity, a style that has since never failed to influence anyone who ever tried to make a "classical" cartoon in the United States or elsewhere. Blind in his left eye as a result of an accident with a paper clip during some dangerous horseplay with his studio colleagues (he was still at Lantz at the time); his lack of depth perception may well have been decisive in the development of his approach. To Avery, animation was the realm in which anything could happen and in his films there are no rules that cannot be broken. This applied especially to the breaking of the fourth wall, the division between reality and fiction, between narrative and technical medium, between character, creator and the audience. A master of the meta-gag, of the film frame that reveals its true technical nature while disclosing the very nature of the image. Avery was also a master of craziness, nonsense, get up and go, of a violence both hyper-realistic and yet, at the same time, antirealist. His work also contained a sexual component completely and utterly impossible in affected, disneyesque cartoons and which required much softening even by Warner. Thanks to the new freedom obtained in the MGM period, the anarchic Avery produced his most accomplished masterpieces, giving life to characters whose names in themselves are not as famous as those of the great cartoon stars of the Golden Age but whose expressive and symbolic power remain unaltered today: the hot redhead and the bad horny wolf (Red Hot Riding Hood, Swing Shift Cinderella), the schizoid squirrel Screwy Squirrel (Screwball Squirrel) or the unflappable basset hound Droopy (Dumb-Hounded, Northwest Hounded Police, Señor Droopy) represent exemplary models which even decades later are impossible to ignore as is clearly demonstrated by the many imitations from Jessica Rabbit to the Happy Tree Friends series.