Sunday, August 26, 2007

From Monsterpiece to Gorey

A study in derivations and distractions: For reasons soon after forgotten, I was trying to explain a Sesame Street series of sketches over the phone. Moreover I was trying to explain a single sketch, "Upstairs Downstairs" (I believe this is the title), starring an increasingly fatigued and exasperated Grover who runs, true to the title, upstairs and downstairs, exclaiming each destination as he travels. The moronic repetition and Grover's frenetic, panting delivery endeared this sketch to me for life.

But in order to put the sketch that I was explaining (or attempting to explain) in context, I needed (or rather, my tangential brain required me) to explain Masterpiece Theatre, hosted by Alistair Cook, from which flowed the parody host of Monsterpiece Theatre, Alistair Cookie, played by the smartly smoking jacketed Cookie Monster.

Sadly, I couldn't find that exact sketch, the Monsterpiece Theatre parody of Upstairs Downstairs, though I was able to find the parody of "The 39 Steps" (the above "The 39 Stairs," similarly themed to the sought-after clip, though emphasizing teaching numbers rather than "up" and "down").

That film, parodied so succinctly by Frank Oz's hand up a puppet's rump (two puppets: as he is both Cookie Monster and Grover), was directed by Alfred Hitchcock (for an extensive overview of the film and an obsessive, ongoing dissection of all films in the Criterion Collection, you can peruse this blog), from the book by John Buchan.

I read the book sometime during my freshman year of college and it's been on my bookshelf since. Still, less than two years ago, I purchased another copy of the book. Not because I loved the book so much (though I enjoyed it), but because I came across an edition too beautiful too pass up. This hardbound edition is impeccably designed, with gold edged pages and gold foil stamping on the cover and spine, and, more importantly, is illustrated by one of my lifelong favorites, Edward Gorey.

Gorey is of course better known to some for his brilliant work on the introduction to the (for an appreciable run) Vincent Price hosted "Mystery!" That title sequence was one of my introductions to what animation could be, though I see it so rarely in American television and film: seemingly two-dimensional characters that, while moving and living in the world of sound so often reserved for the cute and the bumbling, are not clowns... these characters did not exist for sheer comedy (while not ignoring comedy at the same time). I have never been able to shake this minute-long revelation (following it with Vincent Price's dry throated greeting didn't hurt in insuring its impact).

Not to leave these out of the meandering path of this post, here are some other Monsterpiece Theatre parodies I came across while snooping in vain for Upstairs Downstairs:

The Sound of Music
The Postman Always Rings Twice
Inside/Outside Story

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