The first ever tilt was a big one!
The reverse tracking shot is born.
This was a film I featured on my Film Discoveries of 2012 list. Here is what I wrote about it:
Spinning off from No Greater Glory George Breakston, after his days as an actor, went on to be quite a prolific and successful B-Movie director and producer. At random I chose one of his titles the seemingly schlocky Manster and was quite impressed by it. It’s low-rent, there are downright mistakes in it, but most of the handling and the narrative is highly effective for what it’s attempting.
Only now did it hit me that it’s a public domain film, so if you’re curious watch and enjoy!
Yes, I’m late on the bandwagon, but here it is. It goes back to 1981. Follow the link for the whole thing.
The telescope effect on film precedes the binocular effect. Here it is introduced with a comedic design.
The first POV close-ups in film history. Naturally enough the technique is introduced in a short whose concept centers around this idea.
When embarking on blogathon I tend to opt between either of two extremes: either I pick a subject I know innately, preferably looking at it from a vantage point I’ve note yet attempted; or conversely picking a subject which to become more enlightened about, in short, seeking a moment of auto-didacticism. It was with the former intent I embarked to write an introductory sort of overview to the works of Germaine Dulac.
The collegiate experience doesn’t permanently affix one’s critical or aesthetic modality of choice but it does greatly influence it. As such, my reflex knowing that I was covering a writer/director was to take an auterist approach seeing how one of her films was already being covered in-depth.
As it so happens this decision, based on the facts of her life and career, was of providence more than of my own making. I discovered that not only did Germaine Dulac write, direct and shoot films but she was also one of the earliest pioneers of film criticism. One of my longstanding complaints: the French pioneers of film theory such as René Tabard or Henri Langlois are hard to find in print and translated to English are hard to find.
Aside from her inclusion in the forthcoming Early Women Filmmakers box set from Flicker Alley in May, Tami Williams, PhD, is preparing Pure Cinema: Selected Writings of Germaine Dulac, for publication through the University of Wisconsin Press.
So more in-depth knowledge of her life and works are on the way, allow me a brief introduction that I hope will inspire you to look further into her fascinating life and work.
I. SEARCHING FOR PATHWAYS FROM UNIQUENESS TO UBIQUITY
Typically when women are breaking into male-dominated fields their inclusion and acceptance seems to be almost self-congratulatory on the part of the gatekeepers of the boys’ club (“See we let the girl in, aren’t we great? ‘Men’ on three!”). Take for example this article pictured below which that starts with the phrase “Germaine Dulac is the only female director in France at the moment.”
The particular nomenclature had her bristling against it, whenever and wherever she could Metteur being a phrase borrowed from the theatre, it bears noting that the standard credit for film directors in France is now mise en scène.
In response to a journalist who only cited the novelist of the source material as the ‘author’ of The Seashell and the Clergyman (Le coquille et le clergyman). She said:
“les intellectuels et le cinéastes se rapproches, or, ce sont des nuances de mots qui les séparent irrémédiablement”
the intellectuals and the filmmakers should develop a closer kinship to one another, for it is only nuances between words that irremediably keep them apart.
However, her push against the status quo wasn’t just against the parameters and influences on film, but also one that was very sociopolitical in nature. Aside from her activism in socialist causes, the onset of the Great War had her urging women to make their presence felt and a difference. While World War II was seen as a sociological flashpoint in the United States where the war effort suspended typical notions about the sexes and work, Dulac sounded the rallying cry in the War to End All Wars as it was on France’s doorstep:
“international task of French Women.” She urged her audience to “create things anew and according to your own spirit”
Yet while being quite involved in activism this did not slow down her varied productions during this time:
From 1916-1918, Dulac produced and directed six feature-length films, a six-episode serial film, a ballet-pantomime set at a cross-dressing masked ball, and a series of journalistic shorts, all of which are lost, though Williams thoroughly describes and analyzes the existing related documentation. After the war, though continuing to produce films on her own, Dulac mostly worked with independent producers, including Ciné-Studios, Film d’Art, Société des Cinéromans, and Delac, Vandal et Cie.
One of the traps when discussing a female pioneer in a field is discussing the precedent she set, or the way in which she was an antecedent of those in said field in her gender. Make no mistake, there were many instances wherein Germaine Dulac was out in front of all filmmakers in many ways.
Not only was she on the vanguard of thought, but there was little to no precedent for it. In a wonderful piece on Senses of Cinema (see it for a more in-depth reading of her career and works) that Dulac was indeed ahead of her time in championed the notion of auteurism that Truffaut, Goddard, Varda and others would rally around and propel in France in the ‘50s and ‘60s onward.
“This letter addresses a concept—authorship—that was not prominent in French film discourse at the time.”
If one were to look at her filmography, be it what is still extant or it in toto, one will find that despite its at time varied stylings it her works are typically distinctively hers. Much as the scattershot styles and genres the great Michael Curtiz directed in part as a result of the Studio system, Dulac’s varied output was dictated in part by the marketplace in which she worked.
Since the end of World War I, French cinema was hindered by an economic and institutional crisis, struggling to counteract Hollywood’s emergence onto the international film scene. The fragmentation of France’s film industry into various film companies, many of them small and independent, and the crisis of the national system of film distribution and exhibition coincided with the expansion of alternative circuits of film production and distribution by avant-garde filmmakers.
She was a woman definitely marked by her era and some of her quotes underscore the very issues that arise when engaging in feminist film theory as Patrice Petro astutely observes:
As the history of feminist film theory so clearly demonstrates, the very attempt to ‘find’ a female subject has led to a paralyzing situation in some feminist film histories, which tend either to affirm a socially constructed feminine identity or to reject any attempt at self-naming at all.
Yet one must not fall too deeply into the trap of examining films that at this point in time are around ninety years of age by current social mores. Be it in telling a tale of a wife distressed by her relationship with her oafish husband with a different kind of tragic capper (The Smiling Madame Beudet), A farcical look at a cruise romance (Invitation to the Voyage), or the impossible conflict of clerical celibacy as seen through the eyes of a woman (The Seashell and the Clergyman), her vantage point on these dramas was unique in and of her perspective alone even if she did not have different aesthetic aims than many, but that she had too.
“It is unacceptable that half of humanity continues to be written off.” Despite her exemplary career, during which she was compared to such cinema luminaries and innovators as Sergei Eisenstein and Jean Renoir, Dulac experienced erasure both during her life and after her death. Over a century later, women directors are still grossly underrepresented in the film industry, women’s stories dismissed as unbankable by producers, and it is still unacceptable.
Flitterman-Lewis expanded upon that notion by saying The Seashell and the Clergyman was “a more intriguing field of inquiry, for it thematizes woman as a force of desire within the production of the filmic writing itself”.
If you get too bogged down in labeling you could be missing the textual intrigue in examination of the technical. If you want to label her as a surrealist impressionist, you can What ratio she filmed these stylings in, and whether this film fully fits the surrealist mode, and if in The Seashell and the Clergyman she gets to shout “FIRST!” rather than Un chien andalou, is not as important as having created the work itself and how she advanced the aesthetics of visual of storytelling, and engaged in an active dialogue both in her work, in her writing on film, which establish an exchange between high and popular culture, art and commerce.
“The avant-garde and commercial cinema, or the art and industry of film, form an inseparable whole.”
In this balancing act, Dulac found the equilibrium for other forms of exploration that paved the way for her presaging other cinematic developments.
Her filmic approach to sport in her documentary of the Tour de France anticipated Leni Riefenstahl. In 1919, Dulac set up her own distribution office in New York, becoming one of the first foreign filmmakers to do so. She also distributed several of her films through London studios.
Her dialogue between art and criticism and commerce and art she would foreshadow things not just like the The New Wave, where a group of young French critics viewed and studied film voraciously with the intent to study the landscape, but in embracing the avant-garde and popular cinema she anticipated not just one of the New Wave idols, Hitchcock, but in professing the auteurist belief can be found in more broadly accessible film types she anticipated the likes Spielberg.
III. QUESTING FOR DIALOGUE
Her insistence on creating and persisting upon a dialogue about the nature of film, challenging preconceived notions while the art was still in its youth, cannot be underestimated in its importance in affecting the form’s aesthetic development.
When the cinema was a purely visual art form there was truly more a case to be made against intersectionalism. With the advent of sound, cinema became the crossroads of all artforms, the cinema and its forerunners became much closer. However, seeking ones own voice, ones own means of creation, and standards of narrative and technique was a necessity. The only way to adequately establish such beliefs were to experiment and to share your thoughts with colleagues. This exchange of different ideas, especially when one has a unique view of cinema is a necessity:
I actually had the desire to become a dramatist, but when some pecuniary circumstances obliged me to abandon this first path to chose that, at the time more lucrative, of the cinema, I had no regrets. However, in the beginning I did not understand the importance of the cinematographic expression in its entirety. Only by using ideas, lights, and the camera was I able, by the time I made my first film, to understand what cinema was, art of interior life and of sensation, new expression given to our thought … an art non-tributary to the other arts, an original art with its own meaning, an art that makes reality, evades from it while incorporating it: the cinema spirit of beings and things!
And Dulac was certainly not one to run from nuance and say things that very nearly contradicted each other (but not quite), as this quote from the same interview proves:
I believe that cinematographic work must come out of a shock of sensibility, of a vision of one being who can only express himself in the cinema. The director must be a screenwriter or the screenwriter a director. Like all other arts, cinema comes from a sensible emotion … To be worth something and “bring” something, this emotion must come from one source only. The screenwriter that “feels” his idea must be able to stage it. From this, the technique follows.
Not only would this philosophy be embraced by the New Wave but further down the line would appeal to many modern day actors.
IV. NOUVELLES VOGUES
The French word vogue is now so synonymous with fashion that it’s full embraced in the English lexicon, the name of a magazine, and a hit song by Madonna all bear its name. However, it is one thing to introduce things as the latest trends, but it’s quite another to explore new notions so throughly that they tend to permanently affect an aesthetic landscape, which is what it seemed Dulac did.
She maintained an ongoing dialogue between different models of cinemas that the auteur and the European art cinema would later crystallize into oppositional clusters, despite their interrelations in the film industry and in the production and distribution policies of European governments. She established a more consistent correspondence between film theory and practice, personal view and formal expression, aesthetic and technical considerations. Although her filmmaking career ended relatively early and she subsequently pursued a more administrative role at Gaumont, she continued to write and lecture on film, maintaining her intellectual and aesthetic commitment to cinema until her death.
Dulac avoided the contradictory intentions of auteur critics and filmmakers by keeping the contradictions in check through a dialectical position in her filmic and theoretical practices. From this perspective, her auteurism also invites one to reconsider the conceptualization of the auteur in different historical and critical frameworks.
If one were to take too cursory a glance at the career trajectory of Germaine Dulac one might be too quick to dismiss it, as one where she transitioned from more literary-based traditional films to impressionist and surrealist works to newsreels. However, the back and forth of these works is more involved than that, and her interests even more varied than that as she also wrote plays that were performed and engaged in theatrical criticism.
One need look no further than her Wikipedia entry to see disinformation spread with a generic, unsupported claim that “Her career as filmmaker suffered after the introduction of sound film and she spent the last decade of her life working on newsreels for Pathé and Gaumont.”
As if this was some sort of failure on her part, running the nonfiction film department of France’s oldest film distributor and writing presciently about the importance the newsreel could hold. Poor thing. It made me nearly want to create a Wikipedia account just to flag that nonsense.
The title of this piece has been purposely been selected for its trace of irony. For Dulac was not seeking the next trend like a bandwagon to jump on but instead was seeking to introduce new concepts and change the paradigm wherever and whenever she could. First, let us look at that aforementioned, and scoffed at by some Wikipedians, newsreel work:
The team she headed at France-Actualités made and sold to distributors, including its patron Gaumont, a weekly compilation of about twenty minutes made up of short news items. In the 1930s, cinema programmes usually consisted of a short film, and a newsreel, before the “big film”. News theatres offering non-stop newsreels and cartoons were just opening. About five companies, including Pathé, Eclair etc., competed for contracts. A typical newsreel programme from the archives of France-Actualités, for 2 March 1934, ran for 20-30 minutes as follows :
- Belgium: accession of King Leopold
- Lake Placid bobsleigh competition
- ‘Paris-humour’: a taxi-driver’s strike, using a puppet
- Maiden voyage of the Normandie
- The mysterious death of local councillor in Dijon*
- General review of the army garrison in Algiers
- Children’s string band in Montmartre
- Police work: how laboratories help trace criminals
- Film awards at Harry’s Bar, Venice
- Two air force planes collide in mid-air
- Funeral of victims after a street riot
- Saint-Malo fisherman’s religious procession
When one characterizes working on newsreels as a career that is “suffering” the inference is that nonfiction films are less than, that person has without careful examination answered the question why film even needs to exist. Germaine Dulac examined that question, and make no mistake based on what little I read, and knowing there’s more to come, she never overlooked the basic question, which I’ve seen too few tackle:
When the cinema was first discovered and given mechanical and technical form by the Lumière brothers, it took by surprise a world by no means ready for it.
If we compare cinema with the invention of printing, that too had brought upheaval, by finding a completely new means of spreading the written word, but it did not create any new form of expression: on the contrary, it appeared in response to a need. […] Commercial entrepreneurs had created a “need” for cinema among popular audiences before artists had had a chance to reflect on its possibilities.
In fact many of Dulac’s crusades were not shortsighted in their aims but seeking to create a cinematic framework and reexamine definitions that were, in her estimation, too quickly set in place in the art’s infancy.
Her wish to unify creative responsibilities in the figure of the filmmaker insists upon the need to break away from the literary and theatrical notion of authorship in French culture. For Dulac, abolishing the expression metteur en scène (which she considered reductive because indebted to its theatrical origins) would have meant dispensing with a concept that at the time was, even more so than in literature, almost exclusively identified with male authorship.
The foreword-looking nature of her film thought was especially prescient when it came to the newsreel:
The public has learnt to notice any changes in their attitude, their appearance or their gestures. Familiarity starts to breed sympathy and perhaps understanding of ideas. Greater familiarity leads to more informed judgment. Walls come down. The vagueness of speeches can be harmful. The precision of the camera brings the clarity of truth.
Thanks to newsreels, we can enter into diplomatic discussions, into quarrels or alliances between peoples, and we can learn about their society.
The dialogue she was interested in was just not in traversing the divide of criticism and creation, but also in meandering from one style of filmmaking to another.
In remaining working on newsreels Dulac kept some of her focus always on what many (mostly men) thought the original function of the motion picture was going to be: the recording of real life events rather than staged, scripted dramas or comedies.
In her avant-garde work she focused on another major tenet of the cinema the juxtapostional relationship of images through editing technique, the quasi-musical rhythm it by itself could create, and the mimetic ability to reflect the workings of the conscious and subconscious mind, as well as the alchemical tricks that could be achieved by techniques in post production such as super-impositions split-screens and the like.
While traveling back and forth between the artifice and veracity of film she was able to underscore the impartiality necessary to accurately convey current events and what cinematic techniques could be manipulated to mold interpretation. In short, she put out a primer on how to interpret the influence of propaganda on newsreels and films.
The cinema, with its whirlwind of moving images, delivers what we all dream about, all the things that escape conscious thought.
What lessons could have been learnt if the cinema had been invented a hundred years earlier, if it could have captured the ancien régime and then the events and people of the French Revolution!
In future years, historians will unquestionably go to this source rather than to written documents, because thanks to film, they will be able to reconstitute an event not merely in the imagination, but with an exact visual image.
The result of this little survey was as follows: the items I had selected from the weekly programmes were actually dependent on each other: one thing had led to another. When stripped of irrelevancies, their graph told an inexorable tale. The cinema was truly in the service of history.
This is another example in which the cinema binds together the scattered forces of humanity and coordinates them into a single current which thereby gives them wider distribution.
If that isn’t enough to convince you that her aims were for the future and the overall betterment of the artform, perhaps nothing else could convince you, but in fact there is more.
From 1930-1935, Dulac was the artistic director and nonfiction filmmaker at Gaumont, one of France’s largest and oldest production houses. She also assisted Louis Lumière in creating France’s first major film school, L’École Louis Lumière, where she taught until her death in 1942. Dulac was fundamental to the 1935 nationalization of the French film industry and in 1936 helped establish the Cinémathèque française.
If you reached this point and are itching to see some of her work, my mission has been accomplished. Below is what was readily available online. Enjoy!
V. PURE FILM: Or, Don’t Take My Word for It Just Watch
First, what is one of her seminal works.
“Throughout the picture,” writes critic Nathan Southern, “Dulac uses such devices as slow motion, distortions, and superimposed images to paint Beudet’s various emotional states onscreen,” an intersection of form and substance that resulted in a picture that “instantly established Dulac as a force in world cinema.”
The Smiling Madame Beudet (La Souriante Madame Beudet) (1923)
Invitation to the Voyage (L’invitation au voyage) (1927)
The following quote perhaps describes this film best, for even through its experimentations in repetition, in shot length, even without the framework of the source material, and the tongue-in-cheek commentary keeping this quote in mind one will see it embodied on celluloid.
A film’s characters are not the only important things; the length of the images, their contrast and harmony, play a primary role alongside them. A new drama made up of movement, finally understood rationally, asserts its rights, magnificently leading us towards the symphonic image poem, towards the visual symphony beyond familiar formulas where, like music, emotions burst, not into deeds or actions, but into sensations.
Below you will find links to both a monochromatic and a sepia-toned version of the film. The monochromatic one features a more logical scoring option in my estimation inasmuch as I find jazz to rarely be fitting accompaniment to silent cinema, and is frequently anachronistic.
The Seashell and the Clergyman (Le coquille et le clergyman) (1928)
After more than seventy years, Germaine Dulac’s film The Seashell and the Clergyman surely merits that we take another look, as we reclaim Dulac’s rightful place among pioneering filmmakers of the early avant-garde. – Maryann De Julio
Spanish Dances (Danses Espagnoles) (1928)
Some of the earliest works of the silent cinema were merely cinematic records of particular dance styles or routines. In excess of two decades later, Dulac here pushes that idea forward with the technology available to her.
Celles qui s’en font (1928)
The music video was hotly debated innovation in the music industry in the 1980s. Today, it is such an afterthought it’s rarely discussed at all. More than a half-century before that Germaine Dulac already experimented with the form.
Étude cinégraphique sur une arabesque (1929)
This was the first of Dulac’s shorts I watched. Borrowing nomenclature from ballet and combining it with her shock of images she creates a study in motion created by both her mise en scène and editorial choices. It is a symphony of movement.
Retour à la vie (1936)
I could not find a subtitled version of this film unfortunately. Some of the drama is readily apparent and visual. It’s only the detail that is lost in this talkie. However, it is another example of Dulac’s preoccupation with the juxtaposition of city life in Paris versus the very different provincial existence in the rural areas of France.
This Paris-province conflict is still a reality of modern-day France, and the examination that Dulac was so fond of sees itself exemplified this very year as Disney in expanding the story of Beauty and the Beast for the live action version had Belle, Maurice, and her late mother as Parisians until she was taken by the Black Death.
This is the first film to consciously rack and lose focus for effect, in this instance the introduction of a break in perceived reality. Quite funny!
Episode Cast: Andrea Byrne, Amyas Godfrey, Abby Hagyard, Vanessa Lindores, Doug Ptolemy, Adam Reid
Running Time: 25 Minutes
Number of Sketches: 28
Number of Studio Segments: 7
Average Scene Length: 42.8 Seconds
The show always started with a cold open that usually riffed on a real TV show and claims that said program is what You Can’t Do That on Television (YCDTOTV), is pre-empting.
“The Huxtables put their kids up for adoption will not be seen today…”
One of the standard bits in this show is having one of the cast members, who rotated over time, standing before an (O.S.) firing squad. This execution was always set in some vaguely Hispanic country based on the Captán’s (Les Lye) accent.
The set-up is the kid would try to outsmart the executioners and either get their capitán shot and the kid off the hook. Here Adam (Adam Reid, all the kids essentially played themselves) claimed he couldn’t be shot because he had been put up for adoption. This is one of the instances wherein the ruse did not work. The firing squad adopted him and the order to fire is undeterred.
Firing squad – “I’m an orphan.” “We know that.” “A rich orphan.” “Shoot him.”
Opening Title Sequence
The second version of the intro was the one I was more familiar with:
And the prior, plus the second with a weird theme I never heard:
Rather Monty Python-esque n’est-ce pas?
Adam talks to Doug (Doug Ptolmey), who didn’t want to be at Summer Camp but it was that or adoption. The Camp Director (Les Lye) adopted him. The scene ends with them being out to skinny dip in leech-infested waters.
These brief interludes serve a few functions: firstly, and most notably in this episode they set the tone. Now, if one were to watch this show enough they would see that these kind of silly, outlandish gags; such that the humor is merely exaggerated rather than dark or existential; are commonplace. The difference in this episode, in what makes it my favorite, is that it takes its own brand of humor on to a topic most would not: you guessed it, adoption.
The titles of YCDTOTV episodes typically denote what the topic du jour would be. However, with this show’s infamy of certain episodes; as Nickelodeon aired this episode but once legend has it (which I saw), in that airing there was an edit; and there were such complaints that it never aired again, with it being the far less politically correct 1980s, with all this taken into consideration – even having seen this episode a few times – I forgot this episode did feature a disclaimer in its introductory studio segment.
In this episode the studio segments began with Adam Reid and Vanessa Lindfores and they stated the following this episode was “written, directed, produced, and performed by people who have no idea about adoption, and of course, haven’t bothered to find out,” this is acknowledged as par for the course for this show, TV in general, and they debate if it matters, Vanessa thinks it does and acknowledges that “some kids watching might be adopted.”
The cue card man (Les Lye) tries to stop them giving away trade secrets. They then apologize in advance, say “you know this is all meant in fun,” and “you have to have a good sense of humor to watch this show.”
Seeing this episode not only as a child, a still-rebellious young adult, and now father via adoption, I still appreciate it. Aside from the delay in beginning the introductory segment (it begins at 2:02, which is not unusual for the show).
Having said that I would show other episodes to my adopted son if I thought it might enjoy it, but it should be noted fewer jokes than one would expect border on even the realities of the fears of adopted children, seeing as how a lot of the gags deal with either a) the antiquated adopting orphans paradigm, whereas now nearly all adoptions occur through the foster care system, or b) the threat of being put up for adoption used in ultimatums and punishments.
#2 The Running Gag
It was not unusual for the studio segments to be threaded together by one running gag. In this segment Doug Ptolmey joins Adam and Vanessa. The suggestion that they might be brother and sister is mentioned and they bicker more about the possibility that they might be adopted.
#3 Introduction to the the Opposites
The opposite sketches were a bloc in every episode where a perception the opposite of reality would be presented based on the topic du jour. It would start in studio with a confusing bit of dialogue “Wouldn’t it be great if Vanessa and Doug were brother and sister?” Those in the studio would then say “This must be the introduction to the opposites!” There would be a vertical flip of the image as a transition, and the sketches would proceed. How this was handled in this episode will be featured later.
#4 Out of the Opposites
Doug proposes marriage to Vanessa before flip out of the Opposites. Hilarity ensues.
#5 Apparent Defeat of the Running Gag
Adam, Vanessa and Doug engage in another brother and sister conversation. “I’d die,” Vanessa says and Vanessa gets upset. Vanessa’s apparent defeat is conceding she may be Doug’s sister, this structure for the studio story applies to this episode, I’ve not tested it against other episodes.
#6 Slime and Water
One of YCDTOTV’s, and by association, Nickelodeon’s, signatures became green slime. These were prompted on this show by saying “I don’t know,” saying “water” lead to water being dumped on your head. This was always a feature of the show that just became a given that you knew. It’s not dissimilar to the secret word on Pee Wee’s Playhouse. One pedagogic use this has is it gets kids in suspense awaiting that surprise and thus paying close attention to the dialogue.
In this scene Vanessa calls her mom. Confirms she’s not Doug’s sister. The conversation causes her to say “I don’t know,” get slimed, which causes the phone to spark.
In this particular endcap to the studio segments Vanessa is on the phone telling a story about how story how she was born in Paris. She gets watered twice. Dough gets slimed.
It was not unusual for the show to “double-dip” in this fashion.
Amyas who do you think is in the burgers?
They all died.
The kids drop dead.
Barth was in the orphanage once, jokes about his parents. He worked there. Kids died of food poisoning.
This was another frequent set-up replete with Les Lye’s Groucho-like pediatrician.
Here one of the cast was playing a kid whom had just been put up for adoption and seeking comfort from his doctor, where there is none.
HOUSE – LIVING/DINING ROOM
Adam doesn’t want to eat his mother’s (Abby Hagyard) dinner. Little Orphan Amyas comes in to eat what she cooks. He is bribed into being adopted, and Adam is off to orphanage.
Sen. Prevort calls orphanage about Adam wants to give him back because he’s done what he had to do. “What do you mean adoption is forever? You get over here right now you damn bureaucrat!”
Aside from the use of the word damn, which reportedly was dumped from the Nick broadcast clearly this is the most problematic moment of the episode, inasmuch as it preys to humorous affect on the juvenile whimsy some adults treat adoption with and the adopted child’s worst fear: rejection.
TODAY’S CHILD – MOCK PSAs
The unique thread of this episode were the Mock PSAs created to lampoon news segments like the omnipresent Wednesday’s Child where local children are featured in hopes of increasing their chances of finding permanency. Clearly, on YCDTOTV these segments have a more acerbic and sarcastic slant.
The skits begin with a money-grubbing, insult-driven Vanessa.
Little Orphan Andrea makes her appearance in these as as well. She beats up the boys.
Amyas. Dissolve to get him and his sailor suit dirty.
Doug is advertised as reading Playboy, looking up girl’s skirts, and being a gross, typical boy. Since he’s a handful its advised that you can put him in cage, where you can keep “it.”
Todays child: Adam doesn’t stop talking . “And if you prefer we’ll cut Adam’s tongue out before you take him home.” This gag creates a great final image within skits for this episode.
In this other frequent setup Adam is chained up, Little Orphan Andrea comes in to beat up on him.
HOUSE – DINNER TABLE
At Dinner Dad starts off by saying “Your mother and I are complete idiots.” The kids are overjoyed to be adopted. Great vocabulary in this scene
Riffing on Today’s Kids we see two parents up for adoption.
Today’s Parents are Senator and Mrs. Prevort…
More on the Opposites later.
HOUSE – BEDROOM
As is common with fare tailored for younger audiences, many scenes are homebound in YCDTOTV. In an episode clearly many of them will revolve this locale. These scenes usually centered around three locations (i.e. sets) the dining room, the bedroom, and a façade representing the front door.
The first bedroom scene is:
HOUSE – BEDROOM
Amyas has a nightmare that his mother (Abby Hagyard) put him up for adoption. She wants him to clean your room. Then he welcomes adoption.
The second bedroom scene appears in the Opposites:
Mom (Abby Hagyard) and Dad (Les Lye) love that their adopted hellions are jumping about from bed to bed.
The final occurrence is a standard skit wherein Amyas dreamed I was adopted by a mother who let him do what he wants. He is mom’s nightmare.
This was a familiar setup which usually involved in copying an obscene number of pages out of the dictionary. Being a literal-minded child that always struck me as equal parts hilarious and horrifying.
There is one instance of this skit in this episode.
The principal (Les Lye) and Student (Doug Ptolmey) find out they are father and son. Principal adopts him. And as per usual there is further exaggeration with a kid chained up a dungeon-like technique toward the back of the room.
The library is frequent of equal fascination and revulsion to kids. The stereotypically stern librarian and fear of late fees had something to do with it.
In this episode the librarian (Abby Hagyard) scolds a student who is returning Little Orphan Andrea. It continues the running gag as Little Orphan Andrea comes out to wail on the student as a penalty.
HOUSE – EXTERIOR
Doug has been adopted and lives in a new home, he has been chained and put in the dog house to bark at intruders. The orphanage doesn’t charge anything at all for him they say gleefully, as opposed to a dog.
Of all the staples on this show, this was perhaps my favorite. There was more formula to these than all all other sketches but you really got used to the rhythm.
“Oh, (insert cast member name)!”
“Yes, (insert cast member name)!”
and so on and so forth.
Furthermore, in this particular episode it was the locker jokes that was the second attempt to address prior realities of adoption.
Among the things mentioned in these jokes were that: orphanages were mean, orphans are now protected (in the US and Canada anyway), and it ends on a serious note encouraging people to adopt a kid in a 3rd world country, in financial terms, which was a more common practice in the 1980s.
One running skit on YCDTOTV that also featured its fair share of humorous morbidity was the bus scenes featuring the character Snake Eyes (also Les Lye). Much like Barth, in which scenes ended in vomitus, presumed food poisoning, and perhaps death; the bus always crashed. Having only been on the bus a year, and sadly seeing more news items than I’d care to, the fear is quite real, sadly.
Snake Eyes reveals he was an orphan. He drove bus that killed his parents, after he tells this tale he gets into his daily accident.
Another traditional part of the show was a sign-off citing a faux production company, and riffing on the episodes theme, and then with Les Lye as a station Announcer complaining about the show on a hot mic.
“You Can’t Do That On Television has been an adopted production… All the kids on the show back to the orphanage.”
Essentially, when it comes to this particular episode, if it’s not for you due to the subject matter that’s one thing; but if it’s the style of humor you don’t jibe with then the show overall isn’t for you. It’s a fairly good litmus test for YCTOTV actually. This is the show at its most extreme, if you like it anyway you’ll want to look into seeing more.
You can catch it on the rare occasions when it is shown on TeenNick’s The Splat late-night programming bloc.
As you may know by some of my past posts, I am a bit of a Stephen King nut. Therefore, I am very excited and honored to announce that come June I will be co-hosting, along with Myron Schmidt of Ancient Slumber, a podcast entitled Guardians of the Beam, which concerns itself with Kings sprawling epic The Dark Tower that has repercussions throughout his literary universe.
With the first ever motion picture adaptation of the film coming from Warner Brothers in July, what better time to revisit this series that has fascinated Constant Readers, engendered a cult following, and of course been the writing quest of the man himself?
More information as the date approaches, but I hope you all enjoy it as much as we undoubtedly will.
Long days and pleasant nights.
Bernardo, The Tosspot of Calla Bryn Sturgis