Friday, February 15, 2013

Don't just do something, stand there!

Ok.

Here is ONE scene from the 1996 Reunion Special, "Hey, Hey, We're the Monkees",  that is moderately watchable.

The Boys (yes, BOYS) are "rehearsing" and end one song and are about to go into another.

The meta joke here is that when they do launch into Clarkesville, it is the 1966 recording.  Even though it only lasts for a few seconds, they don't acknowledge lip-synching or playing along, mostly because they, themselves as actors do not hear the music overlaid when the piece is edited.  That is, there is zero playback of the music, or later the Laugh Track effect.

Ah, the Laugh Track.  It is probably the single most overused piece of sound in television.  Some sources point to one of the longest genuine laughs in the history of television or radio, cheapskate Jack Benny's response to a mugger's question, "Your money or your life?" ("I'm thinking!").  A clever sound engineer (Charley Douglass?) re-inserted the laughter whenever a joke seemed to fail.  By the 60's, when tv had switched to the Single Camera technique and no Live Audience, it was an industry cliche. In short, it was cheaper.  But just watch an "I Love Lucy" next to a "Leave it to Beaver" and you can instantly see & feel the difference in the energy level of the actors.  But it was in The Show from the beginning and did not disappear until late in the 2nd season, and the loss is barely noticeable.   

In the clip above, they all overact to something that they cannot hear.  This condition carries multiple symptoms, one of which being an insatiable appetite for scenery-chewing.  Unlike in the days of vaudeville, or theater going back 4000 years, the actors cannot exaggerate their act to liven up the audience. The audience is literally not there (yet).  The only people actually watching them are the crew. And they would NEVER laugh or crack a smile (See note immediately below).  This also happens during the romps when they are "acting" as if they are "playing" their instruments.  Micky will often stop playing drums to use his hands for a gag, yet the drums keep on playing.  The singing is overacted too, they mouthe the words in an exaggerated fashion.  Few people look as if they are over-enunciating in rock music.


DIGRESSION: TV CREW CULTURE:
By the mid-1990's, the industry standard was to NEVER laugh at anything.  The definition of "cool" was thought to have originated in New York City, sometime during the "Beat Generation", immediately after WWII.  Nothing was funny any longer and any person caught attempting to make a joke at a party was greeted by a cool stare.  This cultural norm percolated through the entertainment industry to arrive in full force on the sets of all television shows of the 1990's.  The ultimate inside joke was for an overeager comedian to offer the funniest gag in the world to a producer, who would then respond, "I'm laughing on the inside".  ALL technicians, stagehands and set people acquired this condition and to this day, stifle any genuine emotion while all set.  Ostensibly, it is not considered professional to utter any sound which might be caught by the Sound Department.  In reality, it is the way to determine social hierarchy.  The first person to lose their cool by actually enjoying a joke is low monkey on the totem pole and is demoted to Production Assistant in Charge of Traffic.


NOW, BACK TO OUR STORY
Micky and Davy are sounding as if everything they say has quotation marks around it, but mostly because at this point in their respective careers, they are performing in front of live audiences.  Micky in particular is and will be going through a Broadway resurgence, in which he will be shows like "Grease", "Aida" (not the opera, go ahead, click, I bet you'll recognize the Truimphal March) and "Hairspray".

So they can be somewhat forgiven.

But Mike's acting is terribly rusty at this point and it is painful to watch his reactions playing with the broken laugh track.  He looks a bit like an executive indulging in his own jokes, which essentially as the writer/director of the show, he IS.

Peter is the only one who is not trying to push.  The camera keeps panning back to him and his low-wattage smile.  He seems comfortable, and his last line ("I'm getting Thought Balloons") is understated and comes across as the funniest in the whole bit.

There is also a reference to Stock Footage, which gets at the heart of why this whole endeavor is so difficult to sit through. There is NO respect for the original show or for anybody's work on it.  The original use of stock footage (of planes, trains and ice skaters) was a delightfully nonsensical, Dadaist and Post-Modern visual creativity.  The character of Mike in this program doesn't get it, and explains a random shot of a lizard as a way to fill time.

Never once was a shot of a lizard used in the entire original series.  The stock footage was dynamic, interesting, full of action, and in retrospect, carries silent film into the modern era as an interesting bit of collage or pastiche.


NB:  DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT attempt to watch the rest of this program.  It may cause you to lose faith in the Monkees' brand, all past Monkee work, your fellow man and eventually humanity in general.  The ONLY known cure to get the bitter taste of overacting and cynicism is to cleanse the palate by watching an episode from the First Season.  Which you should do now.

Start here.

GO!  Before your mind is forever poisoned by the cynicism of middle aged men trying to do meta-commentary on a phenomenon they are too close to to fully understand!  Hurry!!!





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