Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Girl Tent

"My own lovely sister."

"Right here. Mona! The beautiful Mona."

"She wiggles and she dances."

"And just like her six beautiful girlfriends inside..."

"You ever been in one?"


AMY: "Oh come on, it's three bucks apiece."

LIZ: "Sign says you have to be 21."

BARKER: "There she goes, turn them
around, darlin'. Give 'em a little, that's it."

BUZZ: "Come on, they always have holes back there."

RICHIE: "Come on."

LIZ: "Really?"

BARKER: "Mona! A wiggle and a dance."

Amy the Seer-figure has her final zoning-out of the evening here with Barker #3, played by Kevin Conway like the others. With his phony English accent and lingo he kind of resembles Oliver Reed. The creepiest element to this particular barker is the fact he's pimping "Mona" as his own "lovely sister." Could this be true? If false, why make it a barking point? Isn't it disgusting either way? Why is this what he thinks the marks want to hear?

So far as Amy goes, this is another funhouse-mirror reflection of her life playing on the fact that carnies do like to at least think of each other as family, and this pervy brother-sister act is a queasy joke on lil' Joey's willingness to exploit his sister's nudity during The Shower Scene.

"Six beautiful girls! They wiggle and they dance."

"They wiggle..."

"...and they dance."

Amy's knowing, amused reaction to the Girl Tent Barker's lascivious slow read of his catch phrase has gotten a laugh from both crowds whom I've seen The Funhouse with in a movie theater. Along with dropping her popcorn while kissing Buzz outside the food tent, it's another careful crack in the facade of coyness Elizabeth Berridge uses to conceal the young lust beneath her character's prim exterior. Hey, kid - wanna run away and join the carnival?

Put up against the two previous moments of Amy meeting eyes with the barkers where the loud scare chords are played, the silence here (and Amy actually smiling back) is stunningly alluring and grasping of a powerful maturity, and really deems the previous moments children's play in comparison to what is going on between the two here.

- JR

"Come on!"

"Step right up!"

"They wiggle and they dance."

"Right this way gentlemen, step right up.
They wiggle and they dance!"

MC: "Ladies and gentlemen -- "

"We have girls, girls -- "

"Beautiful girls!"

"And remember what Al Jolson once said!"

"'Ah-ha --'"

" -- 'Wait a minute, wait a minute!'"

"'You ain't heard -- "

" -- 'nothin' yet!'"

The only decent trivia I could dig up on this ham was that he was the voice of Baby Huey in the original 1950s Paramount cartoons. I've always found his jokes and impressions cringeworthy, but given the highly professional standards and originality of Marko and Zena elsewhere at this carnival of the grotesquely bland, perhaps that's the point.

MC: "For me, I can say you ain't seen nothin' yet!"

BUZZ: "Careful."

"The one and only -- "

"-- Liza!"

"Here she is!"

Note the simple use of an audience row in the foreground to ingratiate us the viewers into the crowd, just as in the other tent shows.

"My name is Marilyn."

Forgetting the stripper's name is a little mistake that feels realistic and is one of the little details that makes the carnival of The Funhouse so convincing. There is also the showbiz irony that "Marilyn" isn't this character's real name any more than "Liza."

"I'm sorry, her name is Marilyn, but a rose by any
name can smell!"

"Her name, is none other than --"

" -- Suzanne! There she is!"

Like Marko's magic show, this is essentially a live act played out in real time as a film scene. Unlike that prior scene, these girls aren't exactly William Finley and some of the featured extras in the show's crowd aren't exactly real actors either. The viewer's mind wanders inside this tent, compared to the far more interesting dynamics of the kids watching outside.

The inclusion of a Girl Tent is an omen of upcoming sex in The Funhouse the same way the Freak Tent preludes the monster horror. These girls don't actually strip completely nude, which plays into the reversal of expectations for slasher film nudity that Hooper is mucking with: we've already unexpectedly seen Amy nude in the shower at the start of the film, whereas here the focus of the scene is giddy arousal but we're forced in equal measure to look at both the tent girls and unpleasant leering buffoons.

This joker on the right is maybe my least favorite extra in any movie. Yeah, buddy, because that's what real guys at strip shows do: pretend to fan themselves. And he's not even done hamming it up yet.

MC: "And now, the piece de resistance,
the one and only, Terry!"

MC: "There she is! There she is!"

AMY: "What's happening?"

"You're not gonna like it."

LIZ: "Is it gross?"

Here's some more dating strategery from Buzz. If your girl wants to see something naughty, tease her before brushing the nerd aside so she can have a look.

This is the other gesture from that joker on the right with the bad hat which nearly ruins the scene for me: he takes off his glasses, leans back and rolls his eyes! Come on, would any actual strip show patron ever act so much like they knew there was a movie camera in front of them?

Relatively speaking, of course, The Funhouse has great extras because out of so many, this guy is the only one to take me out of any moment.

"That's disgusting."

LIZ: "What about me?"

RICHIE: "Wait your turn."

LIZ: "Shit. I'll find my own hole."

One consistent trait of Richie is that he's always more interested in the carnival attractions than his cute date. This behavior is acted out in his pot smoking and heckling habits as well. When he suggests spending the night in the funhouse after this scene, you've come to accept him as the voice of obnoxious teenage flippancy and the dare feels like the logical culmination of a progression throughout the evening.

"I can't believe I said that."

RICHIE: "Where ya goin'?"

LIZ: (Gasps)

"Jesus sweetie, you scared the shit outta me!"

"You made me drop my cotton candy, you creep!"

"What's a sweet little thing doin' back here, anyhow?"

"Keep away from me, you pervert."

Amongst the omens of sex and horror, the specter of old age and decay lurks disrespected nearby Amy and friends. In this brief and terse exchange, Liz gets a firsthand reminder of the clientele she and her friends are sparing themselves from officially joining on the other side of the tent wall. They intended to pay to get in, true, but Amy and Liz are doubtlessly more comfortable looking through Buzz's peephole than being squeezed into that smokey pen of horny adults who are old enough to be their grandfathers.

BUZZ: "Hey, what the hell's goin' on?"

"What's going on!?"

"There's nothin' goin' on!"

"Nothin', just you god damn kids here -- "

" -- Rousting everybody up here..."

AMY: (Laughs)

With youth and confidence, Buzz quickly dominates the situation and neutralizes the "old pervert" into a rambling, retreating clown. He and Amy share a laugh at the easy dismissal at what doesn't even constitute adult danger, but the mere idea of danger from these old pervs.

"I came back here to take a leak -- "

"And you take advantage of me..."

Be careful which peepholes you look into - and for how long - and who's looking with you. These kids are now well and fully foreshadowed all over. Just in time, because the next scene of the film will find them making the last, worst decision of their lives.


  1. Ah, the run-in with the old man, another wonderful thematic moment. As you say, it's a depiction of youth versus the old, and certainly of youth's advantage. All Buzz has to do is puff up his chest and say things loudly to get the guy fleeing, a "retreating clown," which has always struck me as a particularly sad and deeply pathetic sight.

    Your use of the terms "seer" and "specter" are highly astute, as is all the suggestions of character foreshadowing you point out. The Funhouse is a film made out of the accumulation of metaphorical zones, where characters and environments all function as seers and/or specters of past, present, and future conditions. What makes this moment particularly troubling is that these kids are completely devoid of foresight, for while they all have dates on their shoulders now, this old man is a clear specter of failed marriages, financial woes, burnt self-respect, and of course the cycle of aging and the constant resupply of youth (soon to be making cruel acts to their aged selves), that lie just around the corner for these now-teenagers, at the first sign of life misfortune.

    Not to mention, Liz's immediate contempt for the old man - her poorness of attitude, her fallacious blaming of him for her dropped cotton candy - has always terrified me a little bit. It's only further aided by the fabulous visual construction of having all her friends enter the frame and crowd around her in support, and even having her boyfriend sneak in for an easy, completely undiscerning snuggle in the midst of it.

  2. Yeah, thematically this film could really be summed up as "life is beautiful."

    It was Bruce F. Kawin who called Amy "the Seer-Figure," that's always struck me as a touching name for her passive yet anxious central role.

    I never thought much of Liz's altercation in this scene, but you're right, it's easily her ugliest moment. She's probably meant to be sincerely creeped out and a little scared, but the viciousness of her response underlines the sinfulness of her pride.

  3. Not to be too easy on the guy and his slimy vocabulary, of course. But it bears mentioning they're all doing the same thing back there. I'm sorry I'm overthinking this scene, but one can think of this guy as forever young! He really is worst-case-scenario Them 50 years into the future.

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