Monday, February 18, 2008

Wanna See My Fingers?

(That extra dash of purple's for an extra dash of queer!)

Meet little Bartholomew Collins:

Bart has lost his father – no reason is ever given for his pre-story demise - and is now being raised by his single mother. In 1953, such a concept is reason to sound the alarms of course. Will Bart escape the nightmares of growing up in a feminine-vaccum? His mother’s mad idea of discipline is signing her son up for piano lessons – gasp! – to be taught by one Dr. Terwilliker, an effeminate monster obsessed with, well, little boy’s fingers.

Does it sound like this movie’s got some subtext going on? Oh you betcha.

The film begins already inside little Bart’s head – he’s wandering through some strange Suessian netherworld, all askew angles on monochromatic stark sets, when he’s suddenly being chased by a band of fiends dance-chasing him with rainbow-colored nets. I knew something was up already.

Thankfully, just as he’s surrounded, Bart's woken up. In the real world he’s sitting at the piano being lectured by the preening, sneering Dr. Terwilliker on the importance of taking his lessons seriously.

His mother, Mrs. Collins, reinforces this belief, and the film sets up the argument that this is her way of enforcing some sort of discipline in the boy’s life, sans any masculine influence. Enter masculine influence August Zabladowski, his mother’s plumber – apparently the widow Collins needs a lot of work done to her plumbing; thankfully Mr. Z is an expert.

Mr. Z and Mrs. Collins briefly discuss whether piano lessons are the right way to give a growing boy structure – perhaps he ought to be allowed more boy-friendly pursuits like fishing and tossing a ball around, the film asks. Mr. Z doesn’t trust this Dr. Terwilliker person – he’s a racketeer! But no, Mrs. Collins asserts – Bart must buckle down and learn his piano! This is her way, and how dare Mr. Zablodowski question it.

As Bart sits sullenly at the piano, he drifts off again into his Suessian netherworld dreamland. It should be mentioned that in this world that we’ll come to see is heavily populated there is but one lone female, Mrs. Collins, whom the nefarious Dr. T has hypnotized to do his bidding. And in Bart's little imagination, he sure does have a penchant for dressing his mother in some spectacularly avant garde fashions:

See, Dr. T is building an army of little boys – 500 boys with 5000 fingers! – to play at the massive, winding piano he’s constructed inside his Music School Prison. It must be said, the sets are some of the greatest visions of surrealism I've ever seen on film.

There are loads of prison guards - including a pair of twins hilariously conjoined by their beard:

And an entire dungeon of shirtless male slaves who, in the film's spectacular centerpiece, perform some sort of deranged Suessian take on a Busby Berkley dance sequence involving the usual Suess-inflected oddities of musical instruments:

Honestly, this scene is one of the craziest fucking things I've ever seen on film.

My point, though: obviously little Bart hasn’t reached that point of adolescence where little girls, or adult women besides his mother of course, get any traction in his dreams. Just loads of the fellas.

Dr. Terwilliker, in Bart’s dream-world, is an interesting figure – I called him an “effeminate monster” earlier but this effeminacy isn’t wholly obvious at first. In Bart's dream Dr. T does, after all, want to marry Mrs. Collins and become Bart’s father, but this is presented as the ultimate horror. He’s brainwashed Mrs. Collins and wants to imprison Bart to a life of ivory-tickling slavery.

It’s only once Dr. T’s plan is about to become fully realized on the morning of his great concert that the film reveals Dr. T’s full effeminate self – remember this was 1953, well before the modern-day dubious concept of "metrosexuality," so what else are we to make of Dr. T’s morning dressing routine, which involves a troop of handsome serving-boys sliding his clothes on for him as he sings a song called “Doe-Me-Doe Duds," which goes like this:

“Come on and dress me, dress me, dress me, in my finest array!
Cause just in case you haven't heard
Today is doe-me-doe day!

Dress me in my silver garters, dress me in my diamond studs
Cause I'm going doe-me-doe-ing in my doe-me-doe duds!
I want my undulating undies with the maribou frills!
I want my beautiful bolero with the porcupine quills!
I want my purple nylon girdle with the orange blossom buds
Cause I'm going doe-me-doe-ing in my doe-me-doe duds!

Come on and dress me! dress me! dress me!
In my peek-a-boo blouse
With the lovely inner lining made of Chesapeake mouse!
I want my polka-dotted dickie with the crinolin fringe
For I'm going doe-me-doe-ing on a doe-me-doe binge!

I want my lavender spats and in addition to them
I want my honey-colored gosset with the herring bone hem
I want my softest little jacket made of watermelon suede
And my long persimmon placket with the platinum braid
I want my leg of mutton sleeves and in addition to those
I want my cutie chamois booties with the leopard skin bows
I want my pink brocaded bodice with the floofy fuzzy ruffs
And my gorgeous bright blue bloomers
With the monkey feather cuffs
I want my organdy snood and in addition to that
I want my chiffon Mother Hubbard lined with Hudson Bay rat
Dress me up from top to bottom, dress me up from tip to toe
Dress me up in silk and spinach for today is doe-me-doe day!

So come and dress me in the blossoms of a million pink trees!
Come on and dress me up in liverwurst! and camembert cheese!
Come on and dress me up in pretzels, dress me up in bock beer suds! Cause I'm gooooo-ing
in my doe-me-doe duds!”

That is quite possibly the gayest thing I’ve ever read in my entire life. “Dress me in the blossoms of a million pink trees”??? His “peek-a-boo blouse” and his “undulating undies”? Jesus Christ!

Thankfully for little Bart's floundering heterosexuality, that masculine pipe-cleaner himself Mr. Zablodowski is also a part of Bart’s dream-world.

He asserts some ruggedness into the boy – pretend-fishing and blood-bonds that lead to his adoptive fatherhood that saves the boy from a swishy fate.

There is a brief scare when Dr. T's swishy fingers almost hypnotize Mr. Zablowdowski:

Which also includes a drunken (on pickle-juice, natch) dance sequence, thick with implications of frankly what would be a terrifically off-putting three-way...

Thankfully for Bart, Mr. Z is too much of a Man to fall prey to those sorts of insinuations. And in the end, with some assistance from Mr. Z, Bart is able to harmonically castrate Dr. T with the aid of a rather, let's just say it, phallic cap being slid back and forth into a bottle:

- and send Dr. T on his whimpering way.

Bart then leads the 499 other boys to play what he calls the greatest music ever written, a cacophonous foot-stomped version of “Chopsticks.” Cuz that's how real boys do it!

Well, make that 498 happy boys – the film does have the insight to show one little boy who seems terrifically depressed by this turn of events:

I think he really wanted to stay imprisoned with Dr. T and perhaps try on that “chiffon Mother Hubbard” one day. Alas. Not in 1953 you won't!

Bart is woken up soon after by his plumber Pa, whom he instigates into the quickest romance ever with his Ma, and as they happily ride off together, Bart jumps off the piano bench and heads out to play some boy-appropriate catch.

And all is right with the world!

Or is it?

This dude was scary.


Heather said...

Where do I rent this film? After all of that, I have to see it!

Jason Adams said...

I got it from Netflix. It's well worth seeing; so so bizarre.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for bringing this to our attention(s). I recall seeing part of this on a small b&w TV when I was 9 years old or so...maybe I was too put off by Dr. T. to appreciate what was going on (despite already admiring guys one grade older at school, with somewhat indistinct ideas about doing SOMETHING with them). Now that I'm a sexagenearian perv, it's time to have another look.

Doesn't the customary plumber's kit include something called a "bullcock"?

Trey said...

When I saw you posted all of the lyrics, I thought, "Surely *all* of the lyrics can't be that good," but dammit if they didn't deliver like Dominos! "Camembert cheese" really pushed it over the edge for me.

Jason Adams said...

trey, I had the same thought beforehand, that I couldn't possibly post the entire song. But then I read through the thing again and there was nothing I could've possibly edited out of that. It's just INSANE.

Agnes B said...

Honestly? This is a treasured film of my formative years. I'm glad to see other people realize how fucked up/amazing it is. I need to see it again, ASAP.

Anonymous said...

Is the plumber the tin man? What is that last frame?

SamuraiFrog said...

I LOVE this movie. It's one of the weirdest things I've ever seen, so of course I love it. I saw it on Turner Classic Movies a few years back and when I talk about it people look at me as though I've eaten their pets. Now I have pictures for them to look at!

Glenn Dunks said...

Wow. WTF was that?

Anonymous said...

I remember TNT used to show odd movies late at night on a little program they called "100% weiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiird"...the little guy with the hand on his head was their I know why...

Pax Romano said...

Wonderful! I have now added this to my Netflix cue. Might make a great double feature with Willy Wonka.

Jason Adams said...

Pax, that last screencap there - of the scary hooded man - is from a scene that actually reminded me LOADS of Willy Wonka. It's a creepy elevator ride that's reminiscent of the creepy ferry-boat from WW. I can't decide which is scarier, actually.

Glenn Dunks said...

It's not available here!

Needless to say, :(

El Gigante said...

I am netflixing this IMMEDIATELY!

Jason Adams said...

And no, homeslaughter, the plumber is not the Tin Man. But I thought they resembled each other as well.