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30 NOVEMBER, 2011

The Hare and the Tortoise: 1947 Dramatization with Live Animals

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Slow and steady wins the race… or does it?

From Encyclopedia Britannica Films — the same folks who brought us this fantastic manifesto for the spirit of journalism (1940), a vintage lesson in democracy and despotism (1945), and a drug addiction PSA explaining how different drugs work (1951) — comes this 1947 dramatization of Aesop’s iconic fable, The Hare and the Tortoise, featuring live animals. A menagerie cast, including an owl, a fox, a goose, a rooster, a raccoon, and a rabbit, reenacts the famously ambiguous moral story in a narrative that’s so boring and redundant it quickly becomes comic, a piece of inadvertent, almost Seinfeld-like vintage comedy. But what makes the film curious is that while the Aesop classic leaves the question of how the tortoise beat the hare unanswered, inviting centuries of interpretation, here a very specific, seemingly plausible answer for what happened is given.

The film is in the public domain and available for free, legal download courtesy of the Prelinger Archives.

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30 NOVEMBER, 2011

Oscar Wilde: The Rise & Fall of the 20th Century’s First Pop Celebrity

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‘He had a musician’s sense of a sentence.’

111 years ago today, the world lost the great Oscar Wilde — poet, playwright, action figure. This fascinating 1997 documentary from Omnibus traces Wilde’s life, loves, and legacy, from his intellectual upbringing to his infamous imprisonment at the height of his fame and success for “for gross indecency with other men” — basically, for being gay and out in Victorian England — to his exile and untimely death. The film features cameos from Stephen Fry, who played Wilde in the film of the same title, Pet Shop Boys’ Neil Tennant, and prolific British playwright Tom Stoppard, who explore what made Wilde the 20th century’s first true pop celebrity.

He had perfect pitch, perfect touch. He had a musician’s sense of a sentence.”

[Prison] was where Oscar discovered that life does not imitate art, and that the reality of a prison sentence was miles away from the ivory towers of martyrdom he had previously assumed it to be.”

For a proper Oscar Wilde remembrance, you won’t go wrong with The Happy Prince and Other Tales and, of course, The Importance of Being Earnest. (Which, for some almost sacrilegious reason, is going for just $1.50, it seems.)

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29 NOVEMBER, 2011

The Curious Sofa: A “Pornographic Horror Story” by Edward Gorey, 1961

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A naughty illustrated tale of mad mid-century matinees.

I have an epic soft spot for Edward Gorey, mid-century illustrator of stories about mischievous children, mean grown-ups, and curious creatures, whose work influenced generations of creators as diverse as Nine Inch Nails and Tim Burton, and who even eleven years after his death managed to delight us with one of the best children’s books of 2011. In 1961, using his anagram pen name, Gorey published The Curious Sofa: A Pornographic Work by Ogdred Weary — a delightfully dark quasi-pornographic (that is, without actual nudity) quasi-horror (without actual blood and gore) “illustrated story about furniture.” Though none of the drawings are overtly sexual, plenty of innuendo and strategically placed tree branches, urns, room dividers, and other props ensure your imagination stays on the frisky side.

The story continues with charmingly naughty illustrated tales of Alice’s encounter with a “delightfully sympathetic” maid, a pool party of the unusual variety, a backseat reading from the Encyclopedia of Unimaginable Customs, some “remarkably well-set-up” young men from the nearby village, a terrace romp, and — it wouldn’t be Gorey otherwise — an out-of-the-blue, matter-of-factly death in between.

And then, of course, the “curious sofa” makes its much-anticipated cameo.

You’d have to read the rest to find out why Alice is so appalled and what happens next.

Wonderfully naughty in that nicely Goreyesque way, The Curious Sofa is like a children’s book for grown-ups — roguishly risqué grown-ups. And if this is the kind of thing that gets you creatively excited, don’t forget the charming Ancient Book of Sex and Science, a racy side project by four Pixar animators.

HT @MiaFarrow; cover photograph courtesy of VikingBanna

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