Week in Review
What's not creepy about dolls, clowns, and puppets? Pupaphobia (the fear of puppets), Coulrophobia (the fear of clowns), and Pediophobia are all recognized phobias. It's only natural that these would appear in films, usually in a horrorific situation. There's one very specific phobia that I want to focus on: Automatonophobia. This is the fear of ventriloquist's dummies, wax figures, animatronic creatures, and anything else that is made to represent a sentient being.
One of the first Twilight Zones I ever saw was The Dummy. That's the one in which a ventriloquist has a dummy that is alive. The effects are hokey, nothing more than a PA carrying the dummy off screen to make it walk across the room, but the results effectively induce the willies. That episode freaked me out, and I ran to my parents, half in horror, half in excitement of one of the coolest things I had ever seen, and tried to explain the episode, but as it came out of my seven-year-old mouth, I realized it made no sense at all.
Shortly thereafter, another film came out that I just saw last Tuesday: Magic, starring Anthony Hopkins. The trailers for television remain one of the most evil looking things I have ever seen on TV. There's a bit of it on the menu screen of the DVD. It was little more than a dummy looking at me through the screen reciting this little rhyme: "Abra Cadabra, I play with his head. Presto Chango, now he's me. Hocus Pocus, we take her to bed, Magic is fun ... we're dead." Although I remember it as "Magic is fun ... WHEN YOU'RE DEAD."
I begged and pleaded to see it and my parents, to their credit, did not allow me to go. If they had relented, I am sure that by now I would not be blogging for KQED -- I would be painting puppet pictures while on death row. I did finally see Magic as a teenager and it was almost too much for me to handle (and that was back when I was in my gore phase!)
So I checked the film out recently, to see if it still had the same sting. Sure enough, it was still creepy. But the added level of Anthony Hopkins' performance was much more noticeable this time. Hopkins plays a ventriloquist on the brink of success. Right before the big deal comes through, he bolts for his little hometown in upstate New York. Burgess Meredith, his streetwise agent, comes to look for him. Hopkins' portrayal of his character's fear and failure is perfect.
I'm not sure how I would categorize this film, but I'm going to go with the thriller genre. But as much as I loved Magic, there was another dummy film that I have to recommend if I must pick one.
Pick of the Week
The Great Gabbo is a 1929 talkie starring Erich Von Stroheim as a ventriloquist who seems to hate everyone except for Otto, his dummy. What really creeped me out about the whole film is Otto's mouth moves the whole time. It's not a "the doll ... is alive!" film, but it kinda looks that way. It took me a while to figure out that no one else in the film's world worries that Otto can move his mouth even when sitting across the table from The Great Gabbo.
The film is set in a Vaudeville/Broadway setting, and the sets, costumes, dance numbers, and songs are worth watching by themselves. Add to this Stroheim's remarkable performance and the likelihood that you've never seen this, and it's my pick of the week. The Simpsons paid homage to this film by naming a dummy Gabbo, when in the original that was the name of the ventriloquist. This misnomer is much like the name Frankenstein being applied to the monster, not the doctor. But that's the nerd in me talking. And speaking of nerds...
My Comedy Nerd Weekend
I saw Patton Oswalt do four sets this weekend. Patton is currently in a supporting role in the sitcom King of Queens as Spence Olchin. He also had a series this past year called The Comedians of Comedy on Comedy Central, as well as a concert movie of the same name. Next year, he will be the main voice in the year's big Pixar release, Ratatouille, in which he plays a rat who wants to be a chef, from what I can gather. Patton has an incredible amount of material bouncing around in his head, and the ability to work spontaneously as well. But his delivery is so smooth and natural, that it's impossible to tell whether or not he just made something up right then or if it's a tried-and-true bit. Best of all, Patton always enjoys himself on stage, unlike many other comics that sleepwalk through the same sets over and over.
Patton sold out all of his Cobb's shows, as well as another show he did for AK Press in Oakland. He has one more show in town, before he comes back later this year, an 826 Valencia benefit that includes the talents of Sarah Vowell and Aimee Mann. Learn more about the Revenge of the Book Eaters benefit for 826 Valencia. For those of you who can't make it, or if it's sold out, queue up his comedy special, Patton Oswalt: No Reason to Complain and Comedians of Comedy: The Movie. They would both rate highly on this year's blog, but I already saw them last year, so I didn't re-queue them.
I watched 10 DVDs this week. 321 DVDs in 239 days. 179 DVDs left in the next 126 days for a pace of 9.94 per week.