Showing posts with label Mannequins. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mannequins. Show all posts

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Guys and Dolls

Do dolls have souls? “All children talk to their toys; the toys become actors in the great drama of life, scaled down inside the camera obscura of the childish brain,” writes Charles Baudelaire. Mannequins and statues (and of course dolls, puppets, and other forms of simulacra) occupy an unusual space in our world, being neither living nor dead. Filmmakers for decades have often exploited the ambiguous cultural status of dolls, puppets, mannequins, and marionettes, often for horrific effect. “Statues are people waiting for their turn to come alive—as in the Pygmalion myth,” writes Raymond Durgnat (Films and Feelings, p. 233). Pinocchio is one such famous doll that became a living person. Durgnat cites the film One Touch of Venus (1948, based on the 1943 Broadway musical), in which Robert Walker falls in love with a mannequin (window model) of Venus. His love for her brings her alive, in the form of Ava Gardner. In Powell and Pressberger’s A Matter of Life and Death (1946) and in Les Jeux Sont Faits (1947, based on a story by Jean-Paul Sartre), the temporarily dead walk among the immobilized living: in eternity the living, paradoxically, are mannequins. Two films released in the Eighties, Weird Science (1985) and Mannequin (1987), also activated the Pygmalion myth, but Mannequin owes a significant debt to the earlier One Touch of Venus. Filmmakers the Brothers Quay generally prefer to work with dolls than live actors, becoming famous for animated films featuring dolls, such as Street of Crocodiles (a still from which is pictured).

In popular song, girls often become dolls, girl-women, adult but infantile objects of desire, their beauty likened to that of a doll (they are “placed on pedestals,” like statues). Baudelaire anticipated what he called the “puerile” future of little girls:

I am not referring to those little girls who put on grown-up airs, paying social calls, presenting their imaginary children to each other and talking about their outfits. The poor little things are copying their mothers; they are already preparing for the immortal future puerility that is theirs, and decidedly none of them will ever become my wife. (Essays on Dolls, 16)

The greatest song about a statue with a soul is Hank Williams’ “Kaw-Liga,” about a wooden indian made of pine (like Pinocchio) whose love for the beautiful indian maid in the antique store forever remains unrequited, just as one of those lovers written about in Keats’ poem, frozen forever on the Grecian urn.

Kaw-Liga was a wooden Indian standing by the door
He fell in love with an Indian maid over in the antique store
Kaw-Liga just stood there and never let it show
So she could never answer yes or no

He always wore his Sunday feathers and held a tomahawk
The maiden wore her beads and braids and hoped someday he’d talk
Kaw-Liga, too stubborn to ever show a sign
Because his heart was made of knotty pine

Poor ol’ Kaw-Liga, he never got a kiss
Poor ol’ Kaw-Liga, he don’t know what he missed
Is it any wonder that his face is red
Kaw-Liga, that poor ol’ wooden head

Kaw-Liga was a lonely indian never went nowhere
His heart was set on the Indian maiden with the coal black hair
Kaw-Liga just stood there and never let it show
So she could never answer yes or no

Then one day a wealthy customer bought the Indian maid
And took her, oh, so far away, but ol’ Kaw-Liga stayed
Kaw-Liga just stands there as lonely as can be
And wishes he was still an old pine tree

One would think the doll, the statue, the mannequin is above all the drama of life, but that is not so – yet it remains infuriatingly divine in its perpetual silence.

Required Listening:
Alisha – Do You Dream About Me? (from Mannequin)
Chuck Berry – Oh Baby Doll
Alex Chilton – Baby Doll
Foo Fighters – Statues
Larry Gatlin & The Gatlin Brothers – Statues Without Hearts
The Grateful Dead – China Doll
Buddy Knox – Party Doll
Johnny Mercer – Satin Doll
Mott the Hoople – Marionette
Oingo Boingo – Weird Science (from Weird Science)
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – Tesla Girls
Alan Parsons Project – I Robot
The Residents – Kaw-Liga
Stan Ridgway – Jack Talked (Like A Man On Fire)
Styx – Mr. Roboto
Hank Williams – Kaw-Liga

Required Reading:
Heinrich von Kleist, Charles Baudelaire, Rainer Maria Rilke, Essays on Dolls. Trans. Idris Parry. Penguin, n.d.