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Meat Puppetry

This is an open-ended essay. It consists of a series of observations about a particular relationship but does not present an argument. I’ll add to it as further examples pop up.

One of the acts in Lumiere & Son’s legendary ‘Circus Lumiere’ featured the diminutive and remarkable performer George Yiasoumi running onstage carrying a crocodile. George would wrestle noisily with the croc up to the point that the beast would seize him by the ankle and munch its way along his body, eventually swallowing him whole. The gorged reptile lay twitching digestively until hauled off by other performers. The croc was the fruit of an early (1980) collaboration with the Theatre Design Department at Wimbledon School of Art. It was faithfully modelled on the real thing and lined with a rayon gullet for easy slipdown.

When I was at the Royal College of Art Film School, back in 1970, we were visited by the Chilean film-maker Alejandro Jodorowsky. A chauffeured Bentley pulled into
the courtyard and Jodorowsky stepped out, carrying a silver-topped cane. Half of the students were very excited to see the director, for they had marvelled at his extraordinary, surreal cowboy film ‘El Topo’ (1970). The other half of the students wanted to work in television and were not impressed by a man who could only show them how to make themselves unemployable. Jodorowsky, possessed of a Daliesque compulsion to show off, showed off to the young film-makers for an hour or two and was then chauffeured away. Some weeks later we were visited by Jerry Lewis.

Unlike Jerry, Jodorowsky had shot a sequence in one of his movies (was it ‘Holy Mountain’ (1973)?), featuring a man imprisoned within the carcass of a decapitated bull. It was shocking to see. The bull, standing on its back legs, was strapped to a wall so that the man’s head poked out of the neck cavity. One suspected that the dead meat was warm.

Despite my antipathy to the work of Shakespeare, ventilated elsewhere on this site, it is easy enough to recall that Bottom is magically endowed with an ass’s head by Puck, who contrives to make Titania love him. Usually effected in the theatre by means of a full-head mask, the transformation is to be understood, we must assume, as a form of fey transplant surgery in which the transplanted organ is animated by human blood pumped from a human heart. There is no question of Bottom having to endure the pressure of a donkey’s meat and muscle around his own head as he is pampered by Titania’s fairies. Puck gave Bottom a real head, not a mask. Bottom is able, nevertheless, to use the donkey’s vocal apparatus as his own. It’s a moot point, therefore, as to whether this vocalisation constitutes ventriloquism or just an enviable adaptability.

Leatherface, the sissy out of ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ (1974) who, having given them a nice tan, wore his mummy’s face and chest as an apron, had to compensate for such a sentimental move by getting back at his critics with a chainsaw. The guy was confused. He loved his mother and wanted to stay close to her – that much is clear. But in so doing he lost the power of speech. Is it worth it? Presumably there is great satisfaction to be had from securing mother’s indefinite proximity, especially when you’re on the inside yet still able to enjoy the perquisites of the outside.

Fisting, of course, should be recognised in the context that we are developing. A jovial reference to the practice proved the almost terminal undoing of
Julian Clary’s career in 1993. I will not, however, muse on the topic in any proctological detail here, for my purpose is simply to observe that certain jokes about ventriloquism touch on much the same ground as Clary’s unfortunate ad lib,
without liquidating careers. How many times have we heard a saucy ventriloquist, or their dummy, complain of ‘making a living with my/your hand up your/my backside’? It’s irresistible. As an image of manipulation suggestive of both demonic possession and parasitism it takes some beating.

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