Sunday, January 27, 2013

#22, At the Circus

Circus Episode!!

Opening contains 3 quick elements to set the scene:
1) The Monkeemobile on the road (i.e. we're not in the Pad this week, and they had to drive for an undetermined distance. There are trees, so at least we are out of the city)
2) Stock footage of circus & workers tending to elephants, etc. (Where is Bimbo for the rest of the episode, huh?)
3) Micky's line: "Man, I haven't been to the circus since I was a kid,"
What he didn't say:
"When my stage name was Micky Braddock and I played a kid named Corky on a show called "Circus Boy" and the set was a real live circus and . . . "
You'll notice how easily he juggles while walking on barrels, etc.

They apparently are there to see a show, but find a small sign on the ground which says "closed". (Although it is not imposing and seems to be an afterthought of the Prop Department)
Peter suggests a word, "snik", Mike corrects him with the word "sneak" and conjugates it. ("I sneak, you sneak, he sneaks) The Peter character then makes a joke which is based on a literal reading (hearing?) of what Mike said. "Great, then we can all get in!" As if he might have been baiting him from the beginning by mispronouncing a word.

As an aside, this made me think of Jean Berko Gleason, famous Psycholinguist, who created the "Wug Test".  It demonstrates that anyone (especially small children) can learn and conjugate words they have never heard before.   (Thus the joke could have gone in the direction of "I snik, you snik, he sniks")  This essentially refutes the theory that children (and adults for that matter) learn solely through imitation. If this stuff really turns you on, investigate what Chomsky has to say about Universal Grammar. Kids are essentially born with the brain software to learn language, they just need to learn the data sets (vocabulary) and rules (grammar/syntax) to plug in. Fascinating stuff!!

Back to our story, they walk right in and begin playing with the "toys"/props of the circus, like kids.  It's a common example of a director turning on the camera and telling the actors to wander in, without giving them specific lines or actions. Mike has nothing specific here and just ends up wandering, looking at stuff. Peter turns a megaphone into a machine gun (made more effective by a sound effect) and cracks a whip (ditto exaggerated sound effect). Micky's juggling and it's a setup to Davy getting into position to deliver his line about how the circus gives you a feeling that "everyone likes one another". And then the irony of the knife act starts. Davy and Mike (especially) offer great fright faces before the theme hits.

Another stock shot of circus horses, but cut to the inside of the tent and everyone (except the guys feeding the horses) are at what looks like a union rally. The knife thrower complains about not being paid and a lack of audience. (He should mention that Peter is scratching his back) A guy in a Fonzie leather jacket ironically wants to blame it on those crazy kids and their "discotechques". (That spelling is a joke, folks).

Davy gives a rousing speech about circus life, hope, etc. There are several fantasy sequences involving comedic circus tropes (Mike as the lion, makes Micky jump through the hoop, in a reversal of power) And later, when idealism isn't enough, they all lie and convince the pretty girl that they are a circus act.  

Madagascar 3 anyone? That movie involves a gang of animals from the first 2 films in the series, and in order to get home, they need to pretend that they are an amazing acrobatic act. (Although they DO consider themselves performers, at the NY City Zoo). Most of the movie is spent on a variation of this Monkee episode, where the fake performers "become" exactly what they said they were, although through luck rather than actual talent. Continuing with the asides, this movie comes up with new words to the universal circus theme (Da da circus/da da afro). Chris Rock has claimed that he came up with that phrase in improv, even though the writers appropriated & crafted it into a major recurring theme & gag. But he didn't get writing credit for it. The line between performing talent and "writing" talent blurs again!

But borrowing/appropriating/stealing and paying "homage" is subtle and common. When the Peter character picks up the megaphone to introduce the fantasy sequence, he turns it directly towards the camera for an edit. When he pulls it away, he's in full ringmaster costume. Compare this to a montage scene in "Singin' in the Rain" (film, 1952) The more famous clip of a megaphone turned to the camera appears during "Should I reveal/Exactly how I feel?" with a Busby Berkeley twist. The movie itself is a "trunk" musical for the songs of Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown, written by Betty Comden and Adolphe Green. The Jazz Singer is a major plot point. See it.

Micky begins singing the theme song to his old series, "Circus Boy". “It’s great, it’s terrific, it’s the best show on earth”. (This is him doing it in the series, with fellow cast members. "Calliope" is pronounced here as "cally-O-pee", vs the more acceptable (i.e.high-fallutin') "KAL-i-o-pee". Maybe it's a circus thing.) There seems to be a man winding a prop, which may or may not be representative of a calliope, maybe it's a hand cranked record player?

They appear as the French acrobats, the Mozzarella Brothers. How you Americans say it, "Help a lending hand?" Terrible accents and all. Even the fantasy costumes are outfits from the 4 Martians (who only added pantyhose on their heads) from a previous episode ("Find the Monkees")

Special attention is given to the practice/rehearsal/fantasy sequences of balancing on the high wire and on each other's shoulders, including a double-exposure effect used in an obvious, but surprising way. There is a lot of romp-type scenes, used without benefit of a song or directly relating to a realistic plot.

The 2 musical sequences come off sweetly, if a bit odd. "Sometime in the Morning" as a sincere love song done in clown outfits. "She" as a formal performance, with the 4 Boys in (Beatle-like) suits, performing for the circus crowd. The song itself is actually a mean-spirited breakup song, as opposed to a cheerful uptempo number for a family crowd. As if the Music Supervisor (yes, I'm looking at YOU, Donnie Kirshner!) expects to throw any old song into an episode without any actual consideration for dramatic sensitivity. Yes, we are eager to see whatever you throw at us, but we'd like it more if you paid more attention to your curating job,

The acrobat/performer lie belies the motivation of having the circus people be the real heroes. Davy does an act where he clowns with the knife-throwers' name & reputation, until he is compelled to perform. Audiences being directly lied to here is not an issue which really gets addressed. Davy claims the audience didn't even miss the Mozzeralla Brothers, which is maybe more of a comment on the uselessness of Marketing more than the ultimate quality of the show. The main theme is for the performers to raise their game, which returns you to the main theme of the entire Monkees project. It doesn't matter how these 4 Boys got onstage, in front of a microphone or on camera. Just enjoy their exhuberant performances and the positive energy they give off.

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