When the news vlog Rocketboom (Tilzy.TV page) commissioned three videos this summer from terribly creative Wreck and Salvage (Tilzy.TV page) producer Adam Quirk, the new media artist came back with intriguing, amusing, and playfully faithful adaptations of some rather serious, classic short stories. Of course, Quirk’s interpretations do have a few…errr…quirks.
Almost all the characters are stop-motion animated children’s toys and dolls, like Ken and GI Joe. And they’re all naked. Well, not all of them. Just the male characters, looking buffed yet castrated and with better abs than King Leonidus. ###
Henry Hikes to Fitchburg adapts a recent children’s book by D.B. Johnson, which itself was inspired by a passage in Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. A tale about two characters choosing different ways to reach a distant place, Johnson’s book introduces youngsters to Thoreau’s philosophy of self-reliance and living simply.
Quirk’s version is set in the present with basically the same story about one character walking to Fitchburg and the other one working odd jobs to pay for a train ticket. The walker enjoys getting there while the worker is miserable. Though not a raucous comedy, the video does have its funny moments, like when the “worn man in a crowd of worn men” collapses in a box of kitty litter from the exhaustion of menial and meaningless work.
Ambrose Bierce’s An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge is set during the Civil War. The original story is about a Confederate sympathizer who is about to be hanged but manages to escape and return home to his wife. As he rushes toward her, he feels a searing pain in his neck, and it’s revealed that his escape was only a dream and his death is the reality. This storyline and surprise ending have been reworked in such TV shows and movies as The Twilight Zone and Jacob’s Ladder.
Quirk’s adaptation is set in today’s Brooklyn with the condemned man about to be hanged for conspiring to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge. Most of this video chronicles a journey, this time through Brooklyn’s scenic parks and streets. When the man sees his wife, they rush toward each other and spin around in a gleeful romantic way that’s been parodied in a lot of other movies. As they go home, the image quickly cuts to a shot of him falling to his death at the end of a string.
The Metamorphosis is Franz Kafka’s famous novella in which traveling salesman Gregor Samsa awakens one morning to find himself transformed into a giant insect. In Kafka’s austere story of alienation and despair, Gregor can’t communicate with anyone and is neglected by his family members who care only that he can’t support their comfortable lifestyle anymore. His home becomes a prison where he dies miserably.
Quirk’s interpretation is shorter, simpler, and lighter than the original. Instead of a bug, Gregor awakens to find that he has changed from a robot to a human. He can’t move or speak, but his sister Greta fortunately has “a minor degree in tech support” and devises a way to communicate with him. Neglected, he sinks into a dream world, including fantasizing about having sex with an electric outlet. When Greta cuts off his foot for medical testing he dies from blood loss. But the family continues happily by selling his body for millions to “a tribe of necrophiliac lawyers.”
The nakedness of the manly, euneched dolls is one of the main topics of discussion in Rocketboom’s comments forum for the vids. Several people have wondered, “why are they naked?” One possibility: “To represent the purity of man? or just ‘wooo hooo! They’re naked!'”
Quirk says that their nudity is “important to me,” and if he had his way he’d be “naked all summer.” Fair enough, but why are there no naked females? Quirk answers, “If the part calls for a female, she definitely won’t be wearing any clothes. It’s how I roll.” But in fact there are some female characters (human and plastic) and none of them are in their birthday suits. What’s up with that?
Is Quirk reversing traditional depictions of men and women, this time making the men the objects of sexual allure? Does their being neutered further reverse that hierarchy? What about the possible homoeroticism of the male nudity? Quirk says, “Nothing homosexual about nudity. It’s how we’re all born, ya know.”
Regardless of the reasoning, the dolls and gender issues remind me of Barbie Girl as well as Jeff Foxworthy’s comedy bit about his daughters’ playthings being strewn around the house: “Naked-Barbie Woodstock…I have a fantasy of being GI Joe on a three-day pass.”
Just imagine what Quirk could do with his own Barbie video, perhaps adapting something like The Scarlet Letter.