Saturday, February 20, 2010

Boognish Sings the Blues: The Mollusk Musical

This week, in honor of Nina Paley's astounding one-woman tour-de-force Sita Sings the Blues, I would like to officially unveil the plot of my long-gestating film which in many respects shares an affinity with Sita.  Be forewarned that a passing knowledge of the Scotch Guard-huffing musical duo Ween is highly recommended.

Exhibit A: The Boognish

Before I get started I must confess that I am not a huge Ween fan.  In fact I think that they're one of the most hit-or-miss bands in the history of music.  Apologies to all hackey-sack-kicking Evergreen College alumni.  For every great song (and admittedly Ween has at least a few full album's worth) there is a song so annoying that it ruins my appreciation of their stronger work.  I know that this juxtaposition is the main appeal for many fans but it just doesn't work for me.  Plus, I'm just not much of a fan of poop/penis/fart jokes, a comedic road Dean and Gene Ween have trod far too often.  Lastly, Ween are incredible musicians who can take on any musical style with an amazing proficiency but for me, that doesn't mean that they should.  Over their twenty-year career they have written songs in the vein of Afro-Caribbean funk, speed metal, and Jimmy Buffett.  Just because.

That being said, sometimes the planets align, lightning strikes and Ween makes a thoroughly solid record.  In fact, they've done it more than once (I enjoy their version of Nashville Skyline, 12 Golden Country Greats, quite a bit) but the Ween album that I unequivocally uphold as a flat-out masterpiece, a flawless record from start to finish is 1997's nautically-obsessed The Mollusk.  Like ZZ Top's great Tres Hombres, The Mollusk is a collection of wonderfully realized songs by a group of master craftsmen.

Although the Mollusk has a decidedly oceanic feel, there is no overarching concept, the songs have no lyrical connection to one another, they do not inherently tell a unified story.  So I made one up.  I didn't set out to but after several months of intense Mollusk scrutiny, a story began to work its way out of the speaker, creating in my mind a highly realized world.  No, I was not smoking pot at the time.   I became so enamored with my concoction that I wrote out a film treatment in my notebook and even had a meeting with a roommate who was a film student at UC Berkeley and whose short film Fanny Pack I had scored with my band, in hopes that he too would fall in love and help me bring my Mollusk musical to life.  I pitched the following to him in a fit of unbridled enthusiasm.  I had no idea how impossible mounting such an insane project would be.  The whole thing takes place under water for goodness sake!!!  Anyway, since I have no drawing skills and my free time is occupied with writing inanities on blogs around the world, the Mollusk musical fell by the wayside.  I present it below as a means of cleansing my soul.  Enjoy.

The Mollusk Musical by Ween and Michael Strenski

Silent Short: "I'll Be Dancing in the Show Tonight"

The Mollusk starts out incongruously with a short little ditty composed in the 1920s called "I'll Be Dancing in the Show Tonight".  Since it is about entertainment and performance and it doesn't really fit with the theme of the rest of the record, I envisioned a black-and-white short comedy preceding the feature.  It takes place on a subway train (actually a BART train, since I was living in Oakland at the time).  A man gets onto a car and sits down.  He pops a cassette copy of the Mollusk into his Walkman (I told you I had this idea years ago, iPods did not yet exist) and he immediately falls asleep.

As "I'll Be Dancing in the Show Tonight" plays, he dreams that he is in a grand ballroom, dancing with an elegant and beautiful lady.  In reality he is precariously sleep-walking across the subway, in and out of the doors at stops, facing increasingly grave danger at every turn.  Passengers try to save him but he keeps falling out of their grasp, a beatific smile on his face the entire time.  When the song comes to an end, he dreams of taking the girl in his arms and kissing her.  Instead he awakens in the embrace of a cop who hits him with a billy club and hauls him away.

Prologue: "The Mollusk"

The camera scans the grey, desolate beach of Half Moon Bay.  It centers in on two figures who we see are a boy of about seven years old and an elderly man.  They are rooting around in the tide pools, poking at starfish and snails.  The boy finds something grand, reaches down hoists up a giant mollusk which he brings excitedly over to the old man who takes it up with great pride.  The title song then plays.

The old man pulls the boy aside and tells him that the mollusk had reminded him of a story that happened many, many years ago.  The yarn he subsequently spins makes up the rest of the film.

Act I:

Once there was a beautiful couple who were out for a leisurely romantic afternoon on their tiny boat.  The idyllic scenes of them fishing, sun bathing and snuggling are suddenly dashed when an unforeseen storm strikes, causing massive waves to capsize the ship.  The man manages to grab hold of a life preserver and find his way to safety.  The girl alas hits her head on the hull, going unconscious and falling ever deeper into the murky water.

She awakens on the ocean floor where her initial fear is quelled by the fact that she can somehow breathe underwater.  She walks a ways and comes upon a fantastic ocean city where strange anthropomorphized creatures move to and fro, including a whale with a polka dot tail and a man with eight-fingers on his hand.  Hence "Polka Dot Tail":

The girl makes her way into the city, looking for help getting her back home.  All of the creatures are uninterested in her plight.  She soon finds herself stumbling around the seedy outskirts of the city where at the moment when all hope is apparently lost, she sees a man dolled up like Marlon Brando in the Wild One, white T-shirt, black jeans; a 50's style greaser with a Cadillac to match.  He and only he, offers to help the wayward girl.  She is gracious, yet concerned for this man seems inherently dangerous.  He has a brusque, roguish attitude.  Having no other options though, she reluctantly accepts.  They get into his Cadillac and start heading out of the city into a panoramic ocean vista.  In the car she thanks him and asks where exactly they are going.  He tells her that he doesn't know how to get her home but he knows who would and he's taking her to them.  She then asks why he was willing to help her.  It's because this rebel is Johnny on the Spot:

They soon approach a fanciful house and as they approach it Johnny warns her that the two they are looking for are a trifle weird.  The door opens and two Tweedle-dee/Tweedle-dum characters appear.  They speak in gibberish and non-sequiturs.  This culminates in their duet on "Mutilated Lips":

After the song, the twins inform them of a wise sage many fathoms away who will have the ultimate answer of how to return to the surface.  Johnny and the girl leave the crazy house and pass by a raucous saloon called the Blarney Stone which intrigues the girl who wants to go inside.  She is discouraged by Johnny who seems to have a distinct dislike of the place.  The audience though is given a taste of the rowdy atmosphere within as a fight breaks out in the corner but is unnoticed due to the entire bar drunkenly singing "the Blarney Stone":

Act II:

We cut to the girl's boyfriend who is commandeering a rescue boat.  As they float above the deep waters, he looks down longingly.  Simultaneously the girl and Johnny drive quietly across the vast ocean floor towards the mystic sage.  "It's Going to Be Alright" plays:

Time passes and they reach a much smaller town where there are only a few buildings.  One of them houses the wise old man with a hideous visage.  After listening in silence to the girl's description of her plight, the old wizard stands, reaches for his giant aquarium which houses a mystical golden eel that will prophesy what must be done to get the girl home.  "The Golden Eel":

Following this performance, the sage tells the girl and Johnny that they need to break into the palace at Buckingham Green where they must steal the glass eye of the princess.  The eye will lead her to an escape route to the surface.  This and only this will send the girl home.

Now that they have been on the road for sometime, Johnny and the girl have begun to open up to one another.  She has penetrated his thick exterior and discovered a sensitive soul.  They talk often of her lover and now Johnny tells the story of how his mother pined for his father who died years ago and how it eventually drove her insane.  The traditional Chinese ballad "Cold Blows the Wind" narrates the tragic tale as shots of Johnny and his mother at his father's grave are shown:

Johnny wraps this story up by telling the girl that he vowed never to fall in love after seeing the damage it did to his mother.  Of course, he does not let on that his feelings for the lost girl are deepening.  The girl cries.  It is all very sad.

Act III:

We now reach the perimeter of the castle which is heavily guarded.  Inside, a child without an eye, wearing a patch, makes life miserable for her servants as she demands a number of things.  Her anger and hatred is palpable.  We cut between her evilness and Johnny and the girl who devise a cunning scheme to enter the fortress by digging under the sea floor.  They pop out in the middle of the royal garden.  After some close calls Johnny and the girl come across the throne room where the glass eye is kept in a bell jar.  As they lift the case and retrieve the eye the princess and her guards find them.  All the while the song "Buckingham Green" plays:

Johnny and the girl soon escape and he helps her get to the surface with assistance from the eye which points the way.  As she reaches the surface, there is a tiny rowboat, floating alone in the vast ocean.  The lone sailor aboard the ship is a younger version of the old man telling the story to the boy in the prologue.  He is the Ocean Man and he reunites the girl with her boyfriend.  All is happy:

We assume the story is over, with the happy couple reunited, but the little boy wants to know what happened to Johnny on the Spot.  The Ocean Man looks puzzled and says that he doesn't really know what happened to Johnny.  Cut to the Blarney Stone, where amidst the rowdiness, Johnny sits at the bar, nursing a drink and pining for the girl.  "She Wanted to Leave":

The end.  You can see why the prospects of completing such a picture were daunting enough to discourage me.  Plus it's basically Alice in Wonderland meets the Wizard of Oz meets Finding Nemo.  Where were the songs "Pink Eye (On My Leg)" and "Waving My Dick in the Wind" you ask??  Why they're running during the credits silly!

Disclaimer: I may be a lazy sod but if members of Ween, Pixar, Studio Ghibli or frankly anyone on the planet thinks they see potential in the above and want to give me tons of money, I will accept it all most graciously.  Salud!