Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Let's Face The Music And Wince

Chickies Galore!
Knocking down my door!
They chase me day and night
For I’m the one they adore!

Chickies Galore!
They love to hear me snore!
Their spectacular beauty
I find quite hard to ignore!

When I am gone
They cry on my lawn…

In the course of performing the ongoing work of The Screwlooseum Project, which involves archiving the contents of an endless collection of boxes whose infinitude would probably stagger the imagination of Busby Berkeley, I sometimes find objects I’d long forgotten ever existed or despaired of ever finding again.

In the case of the original sheet music for Chickies Galore!, for such was the name given to my musical film project, I barely remembered that such a thing ever was.

My friend Neil, who lived across the street from me and thus became the bookend of my neighborhood’s soon-to-be-legendary graffito, suffered from a lack of gamma globulin in the blood, reducing his immune system and requiring regular visits to the hospital for treatment. Despite this, he was a surprisingly good humored and happy person who I was able to crack up at the drop of a hat. Some people are like that – they just find you funny. Neil found me incredibly funny, which made him, perhaps, a little more tolerant of my idiosyncrasies than he might otherwise have been.

In addition to that, we shared a love of comic strips (we both drew our own) and, of course, old films. There was a piano in his house that made itself known as soon as you walked in the side door of his house and, to his frustration, I often never got any further than its bench.

As a confederate, he found himself reluctantly drafted into duty whenever my adolescent mind concocted another scheme. Being as fond of musicals as I was and having the ability to notate music, it was Neil who provided the actual music to the Chickies Galore! theme, while we collaborated on the words.

We then commissioned his younger brother Arthur to create the eye-catching cover on display above. Even these many years later, I find myself admiring its daring and innovative use of white space.

According to the notes provided, this was actually recorded by a trio that included Neil on piano, my friend Dayle on clarinet, and myself on kazoo and vocals. I think it would be something of a miracle if The Screwlooseum Project ever unearthed that fugitive bit of tape.

Having completed this task, we were halfway home.

Before continuing, however, I should probably try and explain just where Chickies Galore! sat in the context of my cinematic oeuvre, if you are to understand its somewhat privileged position in my memory.

Up to this point, I had only used the 8mm camera I’d appropriated from my family’s vacation equipment for the occasional one-reel comedy. Every family owned one of these at the time, a cold and heavy block of metal (ours came from Sears Roebuck) with three lenses whose job it was to capture that immortal moment when a family member took his turn rotating in front of it on an amusement park ride.

When I realized there was nothing to stop me from buying a roll of film and filming whatever I wanted, a new avenue of artistic expression opened up for me.

The details of these early silent films are best left for another time; suffice it to say that they involved much location shooting, which often resulted in strange stares from onlookers and occasional conferences with law enforcement.

Having taken the 5-minute medium as far as I could go, I envisioned Chickies Galore! as an ambitious attempt at something feature-length, say, 10 or possibly 15 minutes. During its delicate gestation period, it grew in my mind from an homage to the American Theater into a vast and phantasmagorical panorama featuring a cast of thousands, my Cleopatra or Ten Commandments.

All I needed was three rolls of film and, of course, the thousands.

Conclusion: It Paint Necessarily So, or: Moulin Stooge


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