Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Muppets Take Ulysses

I haven't been able to get this idea out of my head since Riss came up with it last week. With every stray brain moment I have I seem to be expanding the concept, refining i, developing it, exploring it. And it's pretty close to the only thing we've been talking about in that time as well. Riss doesn't talk sports, we're reading different books, and it's a whole lot more satisfying than talking about the state of the world. The thing is, once you make that first initial breakthrough, once you see that first character equivalent, the whole idea seems so perfect that it makes you wonder if there were some underlying intentions. The idea: A Muppets version of Ulysses by James Joyce.

Stay with me. You like The Muppets right? So I'll start the post where Riss started the idea. I'm going to describe a fictional female character for you. She's a confident, voluptuous would be the term, vibrant woman, secure in her body and her sexuality, with an almost aggressive sense of life, who happens to make her living as a singer. This, of course, is Miss Piggy. But it is also Molly Bloom. I'm going to say this again just so I can watch myself type it, Miss Piggy and Molly Bloom are essentially the same character. Really the only difference between the two is that Miss Piggy's volume is set to “vaudeville” while Molly Bloom's is set to “novel.”

If you're familiar with both, you're probably seeing how it all falls together, like in that last scene in The Usual Suspects, but, well, most people aren't so I'll go on to describe another fictional character, this one male. He is kind, decent, industrious in his own way, committed to doing his best and making the world a better place even if he's not entirely sure how to do it, and can be a bit of a know-it-all mixed with an occasionally annoying dash of milquetoast. Said character could be none other than Kermit the Frog. And Leopold Bloom!

Also, the central conflict in the relationship between Miss Piggy and Kermit is that Miss Piggy is always looking for a formal consummation of the relationship, getting married, and, for reasons that are never made clear, despite his obvious love for Miss Piggy, Kermit is never ready to go all the way. The central conflict in the relationship between Leopold and Molly is that they haven't had sex, consummated their relationship if you catch my drift, in nine years, and not for lack of Molly's effort. In both cases, there is an Odysseus wandering far from his Penelope.

What's especially interesting to me about this (not just because it allows me to combine two of my favorite things ever) is that this idea renders an unfilmable novel, filmable. The problem with Ulysses as a movie is that it is a novel of the interior. Bloom's character is developed and demonstrated through presentations of his thoughts, dreams, and fantasies. We are shown what kind of person he is by sharing his thoughts. But long experimental presentations of thought don't translate well in film. 

However, by having Kermit play Bloom, Bloom's character is established through Kermit's character. Kermit brings 40 years of character history to whatever work he is called upon to perform. You don't need to show his thoughts to show his character because his past does it automatically. Same thing with Miss Piggy, Fozzie, Gonzo, Sam the Eagle, Link Hogthrob and all the other Muppets. The unfilmable intellect doesn't need to be filmed when the character is assumed by the figure portraying it. 

Furthermore, the more visually bizarre aspects of Ulysses like the Circe episode where characters change gender, the setting changes, flights of fantasy are indulged, and inanimate objects talk, are already part of the Muppet universe. The director doesn't have to do anything special to create a scene where a belt buckle talks, because in the Muppet universe nearly everything talks. This inherent accepted strangeness also makes it easier to deal with the wild style of an episode like Oxen in the Sun. The language in Oxen in the Sun progresses through all of the stages in English literature, which is awfully hard to film without looking silly; unless you show Kermit the Frog and the other characters in costumes from the various time periods, or have other Muppets costumed from different time periods milling in the background. 

For some reason, Muppets in particular engender an imagination permission that allows us to completely accept the absolutely ridiculous. Furthermore, (yes, there's another furthermore) the Muppet archetypes also allow the filmmaker to communicate some of the complexity of Ulysses. For example, in one episode Bloom goes to a restaurant to get some lunch but is disgusted seeing all the men stuffing their faces with all manner of food. In a book you can describe the men and the food. You have time to build the impression of disgust. But movies don't offer that time and so you can never get to the essence of this moment. Unless, of course, you can show Kermit look into a restaurant filled with pigs eating out of troughs swilling steins of beer. You see! You see! And Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem playing in the bar in the Sirens episode. And think of the cameos!

If you do see, and I accept that many will not, you're already filling in the blanks. Stephen is played by Fozzie (more on that later in another forum), the Citizen is Sam the Eagle, Simon is Rolf, Mary Lou is Gerty, Gonzo is Bella/Bello (the role of a lifetime) and Wayne is Haines (and, it's an actual black panther of course).
So two things, since I like to try and find some kind of conclusion for the end of these posts. Yes, thinking about this is a ton of fun for me, but I legitimately believe The Muppets take Ulysses would be an excellent movie. And you'll be seeing more of this. I mean, if you want to you'll be seeing more of this, because Riss and I are going to pass some of our idle hours on a blog devoted to this. Drop me a comment if this is something you'd be interested in participating in. (Any storyboard artists out there? Brian Henson is that you.) So, introducing the, at least to Riss and me, the infinitely amusing new internet project The Muppets Take Ulysses.

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