Wednesday, April 3, 2013

"Salesman": Most Sophisticated Romp of the Series

The main trope of the Monkees TV Show is how happy the Boys are, even if they are not successful.  Money & success are seen as evil, as is selling out.  The ethos of the 1960's was presented as inherently hypocritical; the best musicians were praised for being poor and obscure by critics, whereas commercial success also brought audiences and secured a certain amount of renown. The TV show's inherent trope was that the Boys were not famous, even though all the actors were.  They knew both sides of the coin and embodied it most clearly in the "Salesman" Romp.

Good/Bad magic is used as an allegory to activate a plot.  One example of "good magic" is Boyce & Hart (and Phil Spector?) appearing on "I Dream of Jeannie", doing their song "Out & About".  Jeannie even plays drums, and B&H appear with violins in their hands.  The characters all seem to employ Harold Hill's "Think Method", from "The Music Man", (movie starring Shirley Jones); based on the idea that one can just think about the music and then will be able to play.  Eventually, this theory, devoid of good or bad magic is how Peter eventually "plays" the harp in the "Salesman" romp.

"Salesman", from the album, "Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, Ltd." and here from the "Devil & Peter Tork" episode combines a series of quick edits and various techniques.  In the first 20 seconds we have: stock footage of lighting with a pink filter, fisheye lens which distorts the face of the "Devil" (Monte Landis), rapid edits, fire, disco ball, Sci-Fi fake rocks, the featured throne from the first-aired episode, "Royal Flush"-which is an allusion to Micky's "used-car salesman" character, 4 background dancers in variously colored leotards and tights, all interspliced with a cheap-looking set complete with red curtains and a fog machine, through which the Boys walk in awe and bewilderment, completely in keeping with the plot.  Most romps leave the plot/situation behind and allow the Boys to improvise randomly, paying little or no attention to the storyline, other than to interact with the novel props & sets from that week's episode.

Eventually, the "Peter" character is brought in by the Devil-Chicks, ordered to kneel before the Devil, rescued by the other Boys, they are eventually cornered and attacked by the Devil-Chicks with pitchforks, and appear again in devil costumes themselves.  And then groove with the Devil-Chicks.  Mike appears as a singer, to remind us that this is a surreal fantasy sequence, and they are all aware of the distance from reality.    The Devil seems to hypnotize/control them; this can be variously interpreted as the seduction of money, fame, sex, drugs, immorality or what-have-you.  These shots in particular place the camera at a very low angle, looking up at the actors, which creates a dramatic effect of power.  The stage lights can be seen behind them, which add an interesting visual color, element and expose the viewer to the fact that "None of this is real, kids.  No nightmares!  We're just telling a story within a story!"  This use of Brecht's Distancing Technique is common throughout the series and the film, Head.

Peter and Davy see a (Playboy) Bunny waitress walking through the scene, carrying a single drink of alcohol and there is a quick cut to the "Daydream Believer" rainbow set sequence from another romp-a reference to more innocent days, perhaps?  Or a mere juxaposition to the Go-Go atmosphere they now find themselves in?  This shot is particularly poignant when one knows that it would be the Peter Tork actor who would openly discuss his addiction issues and support from Alcoholics Anonymous.

There is some sort of ongoing chase metaphor which involves the "sneaky bunny dance" and a conveyor belt, which has the Boys running until exhaustion and utter confusion kick in.

This sequence leads right into a more "realistic" scene back at the pad next to the golden harp, where they discuss the romp as if they had all seen/experienced the same vision.  The dialogue includes the use of the word, "Hell", albeit bleeped out.  And a direct insult to the censors and censorshp, who are  compared less favorably to Hades:  "You know what's even worse? You can't say Hell on television".  Even the Boys as actors are trapped in the show within a show, where the Devil character stands in for the men in charge.

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