Jesse Bullington and I have (perhaps foolishly) decided to embark upon a quest: watching “classic” adventure movies that informed one or both of our childhoods. These columns will run every Wednesday on our blogs, excluding the last post of each month, which will appear over at Fantasy Magazine. Today we kick it TV-style with some PBS programming from back in the day when it wasn’t all Barney and the apparent cutter-of-bootstraps and destroyer-of-American-meritocracy Mr. Rogers.
WHOSE RESPONSIBLE THIS??? Shelly Duvall, first and foremost, who came up with the show, served as executive producer, and is the narrator for each and every episode of this whacked out program. For Sleeping Beauty we’ve got direction by tv veteran Jeremy Kagan (Picket Fences—remember that one?), script by Jeffrey Alan Fiskin (the early 80s Dude vehicle Cutter’s Way), and some super campy performances from Christopher Reeve (Superman, dummy), Bernadette Peters (The Jerk, gobs and gobs of musicals), Beverly D’Angelo (National Lampoon’s Vacation series), and Carol Kane (The Princess Bride). Little Red Riding Hood is directed by Graeme Clifford (Gleaming the Cube, that episode of Twin Peaks where Agent Cooper finds out Audrey Horne is at One-Eyed Jack’s), with a screenplay by Rod Ash, Mark Curtiss, and David Wyles, who all worked on the series quite a bit but aren’t known for much else. Plenty more camp from the cast, which this time consists of Laura Dern’s mom Diane Ladd (Rambling Rose), John Vernon (a ton of cartoons and video games, I’m Gonna Git You Sucka), Mary Steenburgen (such time travel epics as Time After Time and Back to the Future III), Frances Bay (Wild at Heart’s madam, Happy Gilmore’s grandma), and a severely sweaty Malcolm McDowell (Tank Girl, Doomsday). The pedigree of these two episodes weren’t the exception to the rule, either—check out the episode list and see how many names jump out at you.
Note: Obviously this is a television show, not a film, but we tend to play fast and loose with the rules here at Films of High Adventure. Expect the occasional tv show or anime series to pop up from time to time.
Quote: “Use your teeth.”
First viewing by Molly: It was really weird watching this because I felt like I should’ve seen it. . . but I can’t remember watching it AT ALL. I mean, it was on PBS, which was considered wholesome enough for me to watch as a kid. . . but yet. . . it was oddly new to me.
First viewing by Jesse: In syndication on PBS, so younnnnnnnnnng.
Most recent viewing by all: A week or two ago
Impact on Molly’s childhood development: I mean. . . again. I have NO IDEA. I feel like this is exactly the kind of text that would’ve delighted/traumatized me as a kid. I loved fairy tales, and I know I watched the other Fairy Tale Theatre on Nickelodeon that was some sort of anime-thing. Ah, there we go. Apparently they used Rorschach from the new Watchmen movie to be the voice of the beast? Or something? Anyways, FTT is filthy and weird and by all accounts should’ve been formative. And yet, as surely as if I got really mad at Shelly Duvall after catching a minute of Popeye on Comedy Central (back when Comedy Central was the Popeye-and-Monty-Python Channel) and went all Eternal Sunshine on this show, I can’t account for not recalling it/ever even watching it.
Impact on Jesse’s childhood development: Decent—I was well addicted to fairy tales even before I saw this, but, as with Jim Henson’s The Storyteller, seeing them capably acted out was a treat, and the bawdy humor was a definite plus. I remember my mom had Cathy Hoover, a friend of the family, a Catholic, and my future-fourth grade teacher over for lunch and was telling her what a great show it was, how it revamped fairy tales and played with preconceptions—at which point I interjected “the wolf in Red Riding Hood is horny,” which got a laugh from Cathy but a rather mortified expression from my mother.
Random youtube clip that hasn’t been taken down for copyright infringement:
Molly’s thoughts prior to re-watching: Decently excited. The cast amused me, esp. the promise of a “horny” Malcolm McDowell.
Jesse’s thoughts prior to re-watching: Not exactly chomping at the bit to go back down this road, but I noticed they had the dvds at Video Station, our local purveyor, and since said establishment has a Wednesday special on tv shows I thought we could give it a try if we ever weren’t up to the task of a sword-and-sandal (or glitter-and-goblin) kinda movie. A few weeks ago, I think shortly after The Beastmaster, we found we needed such a break from feature length fantasy nonsense and so went for uber-kitsche. The clerk, who knows neither of us have kids and already thinks we’re the weirdest freaks in Boulder based on our rental history, raised an eyebrow when I requested “Shelly Duvall’s Faerie Tale Theatre, disc 3, please,” and informed me that “I think I may need to report you to some kind of agency.” The things I do for you people.
Molly’s thoughts post-viewing: My theory about this show amounts to Shelly Duvall convincing PBS that they could make this on the cheap, only having to pony up funds for sets and costumes and drugs. “We’ll get my friends to be in it, and we can pay them in cocaine,” she drawled. Something like that.
It’s good. I’m more indulgent of for-kids stuff than Jesse on the whole, but we both enjoyed this while thinking it was uneven, I think it’s safe to say. I wish heartily they’d made them half-hour episodes rather than the full hour. There’s just so much downtime. . . things drag. God, though. When the show is on, it’s on.
“Sleeping Beauty” was dirtier than I imagined it would be and I got a little misty-eyed over seeing Christopher Reeve so callow and handsome and having a good time as both The Prince and as. . . a weird French fop/rival for Beauty’s hand jumping into the arms of a servant when he gets scared. Gawd. I really wish he’d been cast as The Prince or really any of the Princes in a dramatization of Anne Rice’s Beauty trilogy, but maybe that’s something we can just let alone and move on. Woot! N-E-WAYZ the Russian aesthetic of “Sleeping Beauty” was pleasing, in a world overcome with the Medieval British sensibilities of damn near every fairy tale dramatization.
Little Red Riding Hood. . . not as dirty as it should’ve been. I would’ve liked to see a less sweaty-and-coked-up McDowell and a more lecherous-and-inappropriate McDowell as the Wolf, but thems the breaks. There is a scene where Grandmother beats the crap out of McDowell, in an amusing reversal of that scene in A Clockwork Orange (Jesse says: right down to the walking stick to the fruit stand).
Jesse’s thoughts post-viewing: Well, it’s a kid’s show, and there’s no getting around that—if you’re not the type of person to occasionally get down with entertainment expressly made for children then there’s little hope that this will work for you. That said, I’m not usually that sort of person, either, and I still found it an amiable watch, perhaps from the nostalgia factor, perhaps from the occasional but unabashed dirtiness of it.
One thing about this show is that the “theatre” in the title is quite literal—unlike Henson’s The Storyteller, for example, which has as much of a cinematic quality as the budget would allow, Faerie Tale Theatre is all about the stage and performing arts. The acting is exaggerated, the sets and costumes are stylized, and everything is generally as campy as possible. Like the best children’s entertainment, and like the original fairy tales on which these are based, the more so-called mature concepts are embraced rather than avoided. To stretch these stories out to fifty minute long episodes quite a bit of embellishments are added, though I found them to be overall faithful adaptations, and to avoid confusion I’ll talk about them each in turn.
I didn’t really remember Sleeping Beauty but found it to be a bit better paced that LRRH, though it did contain a rather painfully long musical number by Bernadette Peters. Reeves has a lot of fun as the Prince, hell everyone has a lot of fun, which is part of the show’s appeal—nobody gave a shit about how ridiculous they were, with the result being everyone on screen/stage trying like hell to out camp one another. Even now I’m hard-pressed to declare a winner.
Little Red Riding Hood was always one of my favorites as a kid, and unlike the Sleeping Beauty episode I remembered bits and pieces of it despite not having watched it in over twenty years. It actually wasn’t as dirty as I remembered, or as dirty as Sleeping Beauty, which is obviously a shame but can’t be helped. Steenburgen and then-husband McDowell have a blast in their respective roles, but it’s Malcolm who elevates things to the next level of possibly drug-induced cheesiness in his spirit-gum dripping wolf costume.
High Points: Man, this show. Other hilariously inappropriate episodes include Mick Jagger in yellowface for The Nightingale and Klaus Kinski in furface for Beauty and the Beast, but in regards to the two we did here I would say the obvious “I don’t give a fuck how coked up I come across” attitude of most of the cast is a big plus. The backdrops and sets are usually pretty cool, and Duvall often modeled them after fairy tale illustrations by specific artists she liked. The comparatively less white-washed treatment of the source material is pretty rad:
Final Verdict: A solid choice for kids, and depending on one’s nostalgia for the show, a watchable 80s dose of camp concentrate.
Next Time: The Company of Wolves over at Fantasy Magazine.