Friday, February 8, 2008

Hi, um, Mr. Twain? Your metafiction is showing.

See "The Adventures of Mark Twain." Now. If you need more description to understand, read this: (it'll only take a minute)

First of all, who ever decided it was okay to stop making Claymation? The opening seconds of this film involve a total deconstruction of the visual world and our attachment to the infallibility of bodies and objects. Nothing is as it seems. A book spills forth a river, moss and grass transform bookshelves into trees. In this world, a frog turns into a green droplet in the air as it jumps, then reforms itself as it lands. We are reminded that everything we "recognize" is made of malleable material.

Listen to the levels of reality here:

Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, and Becky Thatcher, all characters in Twain's books, find Twain about to sail away in a fantastical balloon/riverboat ship to catch Haley's Comet, in order to die with it. They stow away and find an Index-o-Vator aboard the ship, which transports you to (a) anywhere on the ship or (b) into any of Twain's stories, plus Twain's own notebooks.

Pirandello couldn't have dreamed up a more tension-filled situation, considering that all the while Tom and Huck seem completely unaware that they are Twain's creations. In fact, they perceive themselves as having mortality, and attempt to sabotoage Twain's meeting with the comet because they feel they are "too young to die." Hence, it's only sensical that when Twain transcends at the end (merging with his "darker half" and ascending to become part of the comet) the characters are free to live on, in the balloon (imagination? world of literature?). Characters too have mortality, and we forget this because we are so lazy and careless in our reading. We can condemn them to death by never opening the books, by not listening, by forgetting.

In addition to visual stimuli that delighted me as much as a mild mushroom trip in a rhododendron garden, there were moments in this movie where the statements about what is art and what is "real" were perfectly Baudrillardian. Huck, Tom, and Becky use the Index-o-Vator to find "The Mysterious Stranger." (If you want to completely derail your notions of what is authorship and what is the inherent identity of a short story, read the history of this piece.) The "man" they meet has a body but no head. He holds a white mask on a stick in one hand, which functions as an eyeless, but terrifyingly expressive, face. This "man" is named Satan.

"Come on!" says Tom, and the three kids play a game with Satan where they make little people out of clay (!) and then Satan gives them life. He grows bored of the creations, starts raining down lightning (like Zeus, guys, like Zeus) and the tiny clay people are sucked into cracks in the earth, while the "real" Claymation people, who are actually characters in another, more "real" character's imagination, watch, horrified.

"We can always make more if we need them," says Satan to Tom, Huck, and Becky.

Meta-claymation meets meta-fiction. Total, beautiful, insanity.

Tom, Huck, and Becky also stumble upon an alter-ego Twain, alone in a room stacked with manuscripts, loudly proclaiming to no one that he is "the only one who can explain human nature." The kids lock him to a chair with an enormous chain. Yet, when they return to the ship deck, "real" Twain is there already, reminding us that it's useless to punish genius for it's apparent hubris.

Indeed, Twain's "adventure" here is actually a beautifully orchestrated suicide, and in an incredibly anti-Christian, anti-American moment, he "goes out" with Haley's Comet, on purpose, melded with his Dark side, completely in control, uninterested in the rewards of heaven. That this movie was syndicated for many years on television blows my mind, and gives me hope.


  1. I read your blog! And I agree, that flick was crazy and awesome. I read Mysterious Stranger today, and marvelled that Skeets McGraw et al ever thought it needed to be claymated and broadcast to children.

  2. I LOVE CLAYMATION–always have, always will. I even did voices for several characters for a claymation film years ago. Great site, V. Love your photo and your grand and inquisitive mind!!

  3. i've seen this before! when i was a kid! and it totally freaked me out! that scene with satan was totally creepy. oh my god.