lawrence welk, post-modernist
CLOSER TO HOME than your mailbox, more baffling than Kabuki, and far funnier than "Saturday Night, Live," comes that latest incarnation of TV's longest-running anomaly, "Memories With Lawrence Welk," resuscitated through syndication.
"Memories" begins like one of those deadly evangelical crusade shows, with an elevated tracking shot of Lawrence Welk Village, a country club cum retirement home, whose very blandness terrifies; as if it were some Jonestown for the terminally insipid. (The Man himself croons at show's end that you can visit L. W. Village "for a day, a weekend, or the rest of your life." Think about that.) Next, Lawrence appears in a stiff bust shot, to announce the particular year that we will be revisiting "through the miracle of tape."
His eyes compel you. They can focus on nothingness, just as his voice can deliver substance without style, color, or engagement. Lawrence has always been the deadpan master, the mage whose manner remains unchanged, whether commenting on Bobby and Cissy's little dance number, "Wasn't dat luffly?," or preceding an Ex-Lax commercial with, "And now, here is a message to you from another of our fine» sponsors."
Recently, Welk re-presented his 1966 "Imaginary Trip to Italy." Moderator/host was one Alladin (no last name given), an entertainer who rolled his eyes as well he might while singing of times "when de mune heats yar-i like a beeg pizza pie" and handing out pizza slices at the same time.
Such "A=A" literalism is the core of the show's appeal and visual style. Camera movement is nil the earliest, most belabored sound films were more generous with it and Welk guests never begin a speech or song before the camera has had at least 15 seconds to settle comfortably in on them. There is a definite flavor in this of Mom freezing her smile while Dad fumbles with the Kodak, and that homey unprofessionalism is cunningly deliberate: "just folks" is the message in every frame of Welk.
Like in the "Christmas Memories" episode (ca. 1964), where a band member and his five kids pretended to be toy soldiers. The children's klutziness and apparent lack of rehearsal, the close-up shot of Dad gnawing his lip over Junior's difficulty with a pair of crash cymbals, were not accidental embarrassments, but the point, the genius of the episode. Incompetence as entertainment is a peculiarly American notion, and while game shows and "Gilligan" popularized it, Welk certainly pioneered it. The more crew-cutted sons and dads who can sing out of tune, the better.
Similarly, in the Italian episode, Welk band members of Mediterranean descent were featured in a little number highlighted by a one-bar, four-note bass break played eight times, note for note (rote for rote) by two identically-costumed bassists who were also cousins. Note for note, mind you: "All this, and no surprises" is Welkian dogma for sure.
In introducing this segment, Lawrence reminded us that the Italian people are "a musical race, always wid a song in dare hard." You wonder how the Man might handle an "Imaginary Trip to Nairobi" episode, until you remember that, in Welkland, people of color are scarce indeed.
There's one black dude. He tap dances. In a "Thanksgiving Memories" episode, he dressed as an "Indian" and tapped to what sounded like an old Carl Stalling "Injuns on the Warpath" cartoon soundtrack. At the climax of his dance, he smacked his lips in rhythmic war whoops. Oh, the humanity. » » »
Copyright © 1995–2002 Jeffrey Zeldman Presents
Reset bookmarks to www.zeldman.com. Ahead Warp Speed.