Monday, September 28, 2020

JOSIE AND THE PUSSYCATS 2001

A couple of years back I remember reading an article about a social-media feud between two contemporary recording artists popular with teenagers. I confess to even now only having the most superficial awareness of either singer, but what drew my attention to the article was a specific aspect of the pair's very public internet beef. It seems one artist (a music industry "veteran" of all of 10 years) was questioning the career legitimacy of a rival upstart who, in approximately half the career time, had already amassed platinum records, Grammy nominations, and other bragging stats comparable to and (the real crux of the grievance) surpassing those of the complainant: the barely-out-of-diapers recording star for whom 10-years of iTunes downloads qualifies for Billboard Lifetime Achievement Award consideration.

To my geriatric ears, both “stars” are pretty much equal-opportunity music offenders, so their one-upmanship feud struck me as largely moot. But what stood out about their dispute was the degree to which each referenced things like concert venue sizes, number of awards won, Twitter follower numbers, and quantity of endorsement deals, as the final word, bottom-line determiners of credibility. Conspicuously missing from this materialism-fed back-and-forth was any mention of music. No talk of their love for what they're doing, devotion to craft, belief in the integrity of their expression, or even a commitment to its quality. The entire swath of recording artist legitimacy rested on which artist had the highest degree of fame, popularity, and marketability.  

The thrill that'll getcha when you get your picture on the cover of the Rolling Stone -  Dr. Hook

It got me to wondering whether this has always been the case. Have music, merchandising, and materialism always been bedfellows? After all, I remember way back in the ‘60s at the height of the anti-establishment, don't-trust-anyone-over-30 movement, pop star Donovan’s 1967 hit “Wear Your Love Like Heaven” was licensed for TV commercials featuring Geraldine Chaplin hawking Love Cosmetics products. The Beatles in their day were merchandised to the heavens, I remember when Blondie's "Rip Her To Shreds" was reworked for a clothing ad, and in the '80s David Bowie and Heart were featured as "The Coffee Achievers" in an ad campaign by the American Coffee Association.

Maybe music has always been used to sell us stuff...but at least in the old days, the con was kept on the down-low. With authenticity and rebellion as their buzzwords, recording artists were able to make reams of money by convincing their fans that money was the last thing they cared about. Then, the absolute worst thing you could say about a band or singer was that they had "sold out." Now,  music hopefuls by the thousands flock to American Idol and The Voice clamoring just for the mere opportunity to sell out.

The Year of the Cat

Music & Marketing: In 1967, the same year Donovan went Madison Avenue corporate while retaining his image as the ultimate flower child, the insta-fame, pre-fab commercialism of the music business was amusingly satirized in the British film Smashing Time: an ultra-mod, cartoonishly silly, proto girl-power musical comedy starring Lynn Redgrave and Rita Tushingham as pop stardom hopefuls. 
Set in London at the tail-end of the Swinging Sixties, Smashing Time tanked at the boxoffice due—at least in part—to its having been marketed to the wrong audience. Hoping to capitalize on the '60s mania for all things British, the film was pitched as a mad, mod, Carnaby Street romp for the youth market. But it was actually a fairly brutal satire of pop-culture, the easy gullibility of teenagers, and the whole media-driven “England Swings Like a Pendulum Do” thing. In essence, it was a movie that was taking the piss out of the very people it was being sold to. The targeted audience neither understood it nor appreciated it.

History Repeating: Hello, Josie & the Pussycats

Rachael Leigh Cook as Josie McCoy (Vocals & Guitar)

Rosario Dawson as Valerie Brown (Bass)

Tara Reid as Melody Valentine (Drums)

Alan Cummng as Wyatt Frame

Parker Posey as Fiona

Hollywood’s mania for cannibalizing its recent past hit a $30 million snag with the 2001 live-action film based on the Archie comic book spin-off, cartoon-inspired Josie & the Pussycats. A market-minded, going-to-the-well-too-often high-concept project born of the trend in cartoon-based movies flooding multiplexes at the time (The Flintstones, Casper, Mr. Magoo, The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle), it was also one of the few cartoon-based movies not to star Brendan Fraser (George of the Jungle, Dudley Do-Right). Still, Josie & the Pussycats had a lot of things going for it.

First off, it was about an all-girl band (Me: Hey!...just like The Carrie Nations in Russ Meyer’s Beyond the Valley of the Dolls!!) and they called themselves The Pussycats (Me: Hey!...just like the larcenous go-go dancers in Russ Meyer’s Faster Pussycat, Kill! Kill!). So despite being an entire generation too old for the tween demographic it was targeting, I was on board with the Pussycats movie from the start. 

Further upping the attraction quotient: the film featured an appealing cast of talented and charismatic up-and-comers; celebrity cameos (now so obscure they've become inadvertent emblems of the film’s “fickleness of fame” theme); a terrific soundtrack of original songs produced by multi-Grammy-winner Kenneth ‘Babyface’ Edmonds (Waiting to Exhale); and to counterbalance all that clean-cut Riverdale sincerity, a couple of edgy, indie darlings cast as the over-the-top villains of the piece. 

In an ironic twist that even Wyatt Frame would appreciate, a movie summarized (not inaccurately) by a cast member as "A sociopolitical statement about materialism and our hype-driven society," bombed at the boxoffice because it was so poorly marketed 

Under circumstances not dissimilar to those surrounding the release of Smashing Time 34-years earlier, Josie and the Pussycatshyped to the skies in shimmery shades of purple and bubblegum pink that all but dared anyone who was not an 11-to-13-year-old girl to take an interestsold itself as an ultra-hip, cartoonishly silly, girl-power musical comedy set in the rockin' world of tweenage punk-pop. In actuality, it was an adult-targeted, scathingly acerbic, subversively cynical, sharp-eyed satire that poked fun at the commodification of music; the synthetic fabrication of celebrity, and the omnipotent influence of advertising. More than a decade before the fact, Josie and the Pussycats delivered a tongue-in-cheek cautionary fable signaling where the music industry is heading (or arrived): a time when bands and recording artists have become little more than prepackaged commercials for their individual marketing brands.

Josie and the Pussycats was poised for success with a great release date (spring break), a well-publicized soundtrack album, and untold merchandising licenses lurking in the wings. By rights it should have spawned a hit single, a sequel (I sincerely would have loved a Josie and the Pussycats in Outer Space movie), and an inevitable TV series. But for some reason, 13-year-olds failed to warm to a movie that mercilessly mocked trend whores and teenage faddism and the effortlessness with which media and marketing can lead 13-year-olds around by their soon-to-be-pierced noses.

Gabriel Mann as Alan M (aka Alec N or Adam 12)

Written and directed by Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont of the modest teen hit Can’t Hardly Wait -1998 (for me it was Can’t Hardly Watch), Josie and the Pussycatswhile ultimately lacking any real clawsis cleverly-conceived, often hilarious, and delightfully offbeat in a way that should have made it as popular with 2001 teens as Heathers was in 1989 and Clueless in 1995. I most appreciated how the film didn't take itself too seriously and was willing to send everything up, including the whole rock 'n' roll musical genre.  
Alas, perhaps because the powers that be at MGM and Universal were so fixated on Josie’s broad-appeal, toy-friendly franchise potential, it entirely overlooked its niche appeal to an older demographic. After all,  Josie and the Pussycats had the highest name-recognition among parents and boomers who were likely tweens in 1970 when the Josie and the Pussycats cartoon aired on Saturday mornings on CBS.
Missi Pyle and Paulo Costanzo as siblings Alexandra & Alexander Cabot

Fear of looking like a middle-aged perv kept me from seeing Josie and the Pussycats when it came out (I envisioned being the only adult in a sea of little girls...little did I know, I’d likely have had the theater all to myself), but it appeared on DVD a scant four months later. Due to the near-unanimous pans it received from the critics, when I finally got my Netflix copy in the mail (red envelope!) I kept my expectations low. When it was over I was left wondering whether the critics and I had seen the same movie. I wound up watching Josie and the Pussycats three times before mailing it back, and by year’s end, it had made my personal 2001 Top Ten List
Gosford Park
In the Bedroom
Mulholland Drive
The Others
Training Day
Josie and the Pussycats
Pauline and Paulette
Moulin Rouge
The Piano Teacher
Monsters Inc.
(National year-end boxoffice charts for 2001 ranked Josie and the Pussycats very near the bottom at #123, sandwiched between those classics Joe Dirt and Freddy Got Fingered.)
A candy-colored, TV-commercial-glossy vision of consumer-culture on steroids, Josie and the Pussycats looks like it was filmed inside the head of a Madison Avenue ad executive. Lensed with flashy panache by Matthew Libatique (Black Swan, Requiem for a Dream), the film's comic-book version of reality depicts a hyper-stylized world where immersive advertising has been carried to a surreal, comically literal-minded extreme. A world populated almost exclusively by parentless, purposeless teens with nothing but disposable income and a fad-driven devotion to the almighty gods of Capitalism.
 
Its story sees us following the adventures of the titular small-town trio, a struggling female punk-pop group hastily recruited by oily Megarecords executive Wyatt Frame to be the anybody-will-do, last-ditch replacements for the recently-ditched boy band DuJour. Swept up in the world of instant fame and success, The Pussycats (now called Josie and the Pussycats thanks to a Diana Ross-esque ploy by Wyatt) have no idea they are really the unwitting pawns in a conspiracy to brainwash the youth of America through pop music. The scheme hatched by Megarecords CEO Fiona bears a slight resemblance to what the Future Villain Band (Aerosmith) had in mind for America’s youth in that other pop music movie bomb Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1978).
"They come and they go...pop stars." -  Performance (1970)
The soon-to-go boy band DuJour (Alexander Martin, Seth Green, Breckin Meyer, and Donald Faison) interviewed by Entertainment Tonight host Jann Carl


WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS MOVIE
Growing up, teen rock ‘n’ roll movies came in two varieties: One was the jukebox musical (Don’t Knock the Rock, Twist Around the Clock) aimed to promote rock and R & B while reassuring concerned (and racist) parents that rock ‘n’ roll wasn’t going to corrupt their clean-cut kids and turn them into juvenile delinquents. The second was the musical fake-out (Bye, Bye Birdie, The Girl Can’t Help It): these films featured rock ‘n’ roll but their overall outlook was so condemnatory of teenagers and their music that they wound up being essentially anti-rock 'n' roll musicals. 
I had most of the songs from Josie and the Pussycats committed to memory by the time I got around to seeing the movie. The songs remind me of the '80s/'90s sound of Blondie, Josie Cotton, E.G. Daily, The Bangles, & The Go-Gos. Josie's vocals are by Kay Hanley, lead singer of the band Letters to Cleo

The music of Josie and the Pussycats isn't kidding around, but much of the film's humor is at the expense of teenagers and the kind of manufactured, by-the-numbers corporate pop that was clogging up the charts at the time.

Since I’ve never cared much for teenagerseven when I was oneand the ‘90s represented for me the very last decade of listenable music (I've turned into my Dad!)...Josie and the Pussycats' riotously scornful view of ad-susceptible adolescents and the assembly-line practices of the music business quickly became my favorite thing about the film. I liked the characters of Josie, Valerie, and Melody, a great deal...the relaxed chemistry between the actresses going a long way to making them a likable trio of heroines you could root for. Personal fave-rave Parker Posey walks off with each of her scenes, playing the power-mad music CEO like a high school bully.
But the minute I saw him remorselessly decide to let a boy band perish in a plane crash, I knew Alan Cummings' Wyatt Frame would be the character I'd most identify with. 
Fashion-forward Fiona and snide Wyatt scheming, scheming, scheming.
As is often the case with villains, Posey and Cummings are Josie's MVPs

Movies whose concept threatens to veer too close into corny, sincere, or sentimental territory often defuse the situation by featuring a character who serves as the surrogate voice of those audience members least willing to suspend their disbelief. In Josie and the Pussycats that character is Alexandra (Missi Pyle, who is absolutely priceless), a one-woman Greek chorus of wry put-downs, and possessor most of the film's funniest lines. 
Another means of keeping potential fluff afloat is to keep the action moving so fast, no dust of doubt has time to settle on anything. I'm convinced one of the reasons Josie and the Pussycats was so misunderstood on initial release was because so many of the jokey asides and visual gags flew over all those pre-adolescent heads. For example, it's my guess that few teens picked up on the film depicting the character of Alexander as gay (in the comics he's Melody's boyfriend) because none of the indicators were underlined: In one scene, when under the influence of subliminal brainwashing, Alexander blurts out he wants a vintage tee shirt and Heath Ledger. Later in the film, he lets out with a muffled "I love you, Les!" to the DuJour boy band member when he makes a surprise appearance.
Pussycats manager & wannabe music mogul Alexander Cabot reading the biography of gay music mogul David Geffen penned by openly-gay WSJ writer Tom King

THE STUFF OF FANTASY
Where Josie and the Pussycats won me over and proved itself so persuasive as a cannily self-aware send-up of pop culture is in the way it established and sustained a consistent comedic tone and point of view throughout. The film strikes a chord combining the neo-nostalgia reinvention of Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie (We’re all new, just the way you remember us!) and the pop-group-makes-a-movie tropes virtually invented by Richard Lester’s A Hard Day’s Night (Slow-motion trampoline jumping! Success montages!). 
The Pussycats themselves arrive updated but unchanged. Appealing Rachael Leigh Cook assures Josie is still the sensible, charmingly nerdy redhead. Tara Reid keeps Melody’s sweet-natured optimism while subtly defanging the character’s archaic “dumb blonde” origins. And brainy Valerie is still perceptive & sardonic, but as embodied by Rosario Dawson, also drop-dead gorgeous.
To my dying day, I'll never understand how so many outraged grown-ass critics at the time failed to "get" that the film's blatantly exaggerated product placement was precisely the point. 

Since this film marks my first time seeing any of these actresses, for me, they ARE the real-life incarnation of The Pussycats and I can't imagine anyone else in the roles. But some fans—and with good reason—saw Dawson’s casting a problematic example of the filmmakers light-washing a Black character heretofore always depicted as being dark-skinned (Beyonce, Aaliyah, and Lisa Lopes lost out on the part, so it seems colorism was definitely on the casting menu). 
On a similar note, the character of Valerie is also ill-served by a story arc in the film that has Wyatt, in a divide-and-conquer move, singling her out for exclusion by constantly forgetting she’s around or part of the group.
Narratively, we get it: Wyatt wants Valerie gone because, as the smart one, she’s the one most likely to catch on to Fiona’s scheme. But since the erasure of Black women and women of color is common practice in Hollywood and the music industry (where the Black sound is coveted...but not from Black artists), it appears not to have occurred to anyone that with Dawson being the only lead ethnic character in the film, all these scenes have a slightly cringy subtext.
What's New, Pussycat?

THE STUFF OF DREAMS
I’ve little doubt that a movie version of Josie and the Pussycats was green-lit for its franchise potential and marketability. In which case, I suppose its eventual decimation at the boxoffice could be looked upon as a kind of corporate hubris victory. But now that the film has gone on to find cult success, it's nice that instead of being celebrated for how much money it made for the industry fat cats (hee hee), Josie and the Pussycats can instead be championed for being a female-driven major motion picture about three women in the boy-centric world of rock 'n' roll who ultimately triumph because of their loving, dedicated friendship.
 And the whole "Be happy with yourself as you are" message isn't bad, either. 
"Jerkin!"

BONUS MATERIAL

The first human incarnation of Josie and the Pussycats was a trio of singers assembled, Monkees-style, to represent the fictional band on an LP and to provide the singing voices for the animated series. Left to right we have Patrice Holloway as Valerie, future Angel Cheryl Ladd (then Cherie Moor) as Melody, and Cathy Dougher as Josie. The character of Valerie almost didn't get the opportunity to make TV history as the first Black female main character in an animated series. It seems Hanna-Barbera wanted to make The Pussycats an all-white trio. The album's producer (Danny Janssen) refused to cooperate, leading to a three-week standoff during which time Hanna-Barbara came to their bigoted senses. 
In 2017 another flesh-and-blood Josie and the Pussycats materialized, this time in the TV series Riverdale and portrayed as a Black female trio. Left to right: Hayley Law as Valerie, Ashleigh Murray as Josie, and Asha Bromfield as Melody. I've never seen Riverdale, a position that's unlikely to change any time soon, but let me tell you I'm here for a Black Josie and the Pussycats.
Any and everything you could ever want to know about the making of Josie and the Pussycats is available in the remarkably thorough Josie and the Podcats. But watch out for subliminal messages!


Copyright © Ken Anderson  2009 - 2020

14 comments:

  1. Hi Ken-
    What a fun addition to your film selections! I like many people was misled by the marketing and avoided the Pussycats at first, until a friend suggested we watch it together as it was really funny. I've been recommending it to whomever I can ever since. Anyone that has a soft spot for 2000-era pop music needs to see this, if only for DuJour's spot-on opening song.
    Witty script and hilarious product placement aside, the entire cast is excellent. As much as Tara Reed's filmography adds heavily to the argument that she can't act, she's perfect as Melody. "The walls are mushy!" I never fail to be amused when she displays being in more than one place at once. It's a shame Rosario is the one who keeps getting pushed aside, but she's so delightful here. It's awesome that she loves talking about the film!
    It helps tremendously that even though Miss Posey took the film solely for the paycheck (it bought her a house) she doesn't just phone in her performance. Cummings is obviously having a total blast, and if you hadn't already posted the screenshot, I certainly would have mentioned my favorite Missi Pyle line. My only wish is that she was actually in it a little more.
    I will always bemoan not knowing about the reunion screening until after the fact...I would have loved to have been there, if only to hear "Pretend To Be Nice" live!
    Thanks for posting the link to the podcast, I look forward to having a jerkin good time listening to it.

    PS. Is Smashing Time worth the time? Have you seen it?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Pete
      It's interesting how you, too, felt mislead by the film’s marketing, only to eventually come to it via the recommendation of a friend. It seems like no matter how hard studios try to self-generate them, cult films always develop by word-of-mouth. In this instance, Josie and the Pussycats has obviously been made with a great deal of care and thought behind it, I’m glad all the wonderful performances and witty art direction is getting the attention it deserves.
      I don’t really remember very much about the music or trends of the early 2000s but people young enough to have been immersed in it all say that the film is a great time capsule and its spoof targets are spot-on.
      I agree with you about Terra Reid and her performance as Melody she is very good. Indeed the entire is cast is so uniformly excellent and work off one another as if in an ensemble piece.
      I don’t know about you, but the fact that JOSIE had developed into a cult hit kind of took me by surprise. In a repeat of my XANDU experience, for the longest time I could never find anyone who saw the film or have anything nice to say about it. Then, practically overnight I find out that it has become redeemed and rediscovered!
      It's nice to know that you were already on the bandwagon.

      I own a copy of SMASHING TIME and it’s a big favorite. But like the 1967 CASINO ROYALE I’d have to say it’s a personal taste choice…a silly, almost slapstick film that appeals to me so particularly (I love Rita Tushingham, and I have a thing for that period of London) I wouldn’t recommend it easily to others. If you told me you were going to check it out, I’d say “You’ve been warned.”
      Thanks again for commenting, Pete!

      Delete
  2. Thanks once again, Ken, for spotlighting a movie that was never on my radar. (Heck, I was never even into the Archie comics even as a kid.) I gave it a watch and found it to be good fun - it seems clear to me that the filmmakers set out to do an American "Spice World;" both films share a whip-fast-paced playfulness with the subject matter and the movie medium itself.

    I'm familiar with many of these actors from other movies and TV shows - Cook (Psych), Dawson (Shattered Glass), Reid (The Big Lebowski), Pyle (several Tim Burton films and also Gone Girl), Mann (Dominion:Exorcist), and Costanzo (Royal Pains), so it was a pleasure to see them in different characterizations; I was particular charmed by Tara Reid's "adorkablity." I guffawed loudly at her "If you're happy and you know it" antics.

    Enjoyable silliness, with a still-potent slap at mindlessness in our culture.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Mark!
      I've never heard the word "adorkability" before! A perfect description of Tara Reid's winning take on the Melody character.
      So impressed that you took a chance on a film you had absolutely no interest in. Even more impressed that you seemed to get into the spirit of the thing (You're so right, it's very much in tone and spirt a Yankee companion to Spice World, one of my favorite releases of 1997...and I don't really care for the Spice Girls).
      I'm appreciative of the rundown of various other projects featuring members of this talented cast, some of whose work I've apparently seen without knowing it.
      Thank you for reading this post and taking the potentially risky step of responding to my own enthusiasm and checking the film out for yourself. Yours is a welcome and appreciated comment contribution!

      Delete
  3. I remember when the film came out. I had half-planned to see it as I had fond memories of the Saturday morning cartoon "Josie and the Pussycats". I think the movie version of "Scooby Doo" came out around the same time. (The two cartoons had similar premises). But the Scooby Doo movie was such a travesty and such a slap in the face for all who loved the cartoon that it put me off these kinds of films (who needs their precious childhood memories trampled on in such a fashion...life's already doing it). Yours is the first review I've read that has suggested it's actually better than I thought. Thanks for the perspective!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hey Ron
      I'd thoroughly forgotten about the 2002 live-action Scooby Doo movie (except my not caring much for it). Hollywood's predictable obsession with riding trends into the ground often means that worthwhile entries (like JOSIE is for me) get swept away with the rest of disposables.

      Movies adapted from popular, nostalgia-ridden TV shows (like the Dennis the Menace and Leave it to Beaver films) always seem to be created in the marketing department first, with no story meetings devoted to figuring out the central dichotomy: play to original fan expectations and memories, or ditch them all in order to strike pay dirt with a younger demographic.

      Perhaps no side can ever be pleased. Maybe that's why so many seem to enjoy a life after they've grown so old THEY themselves become the nostalgia.
      I'm convinced most of JOSIE's cult popularity is built around the memories of this specific film. Those 2001 tweens are now in their 30s and looking back on this movie as a stand-alone product.
      It works for me because it comes off as the most self-aware of the problems it faces in adaptation, and that level of good humor goes a long way towards making the film so likeable.
      Of course, I also like a lot of very weird movies!
      Thank you for reading this, Ron. Nice to have your comment contribution!

      Delete
  4. Sandra AKA Callie WantonOctober 7, 2020 at 12:28 AM

    Hi Ken,
    It's been way too long since I last commented on your posts. However I went on a long reading binge yesterday. I just wanted to let you know that I still visit your blog several times a month and savor every post, even though they frequently are about movies I have yet to see (such as Josie and the Pussycats, which I remember starting to watch one sleepless night years ago, but was not in the right mindset for). Your blog is the one place on the internet that I can get happily lost in for long stretches of time. Thank you for continuing to write so eloquently!

    Best,
    Sandra

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello Sandra
      Such a sincere pleasure to see your Callie Wanton handle again! Because I myself read so many blogs that I only ever occasionally post comments on, I take double pleasure from your words: not only your very kind comments, but for reaffirming for me that someone taking the time and trouble to post a comment on a blog is a considerate gesture, indeed.
      I'm flattered beyond words, and so happy to know you have been reading this blog for so long. It means a lot.
      And may I say your statement "Josie and the Pussycats, which I remember starting to watch one sleepless night years ago, but was not in the right mindset for" has an even-handed elegance about it that's the antithesis of most internet film discourse.
      You could have said you didn't care for it, or that you could abide more than a few minutes...but the way you put it reminds me that there is always a way to express a difference of opinion or aesthetic choice that is not combative or argumentative.
      Thank you for making my morning, sending you my best!

      Delete
  5. I never got around to this one at the time, despite seeing essentially everything else Parker Posey. (Party Girl!) That said, I will exhort you to try, say, the first two episodes of Riverdale. (I wouldn't suggest you go past season 1 though.)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I missed it too, and Parker and Alan together are must-sees (I sat thru a couple of less than stellar and stellar indies with them. Adam and Steve is one of my favorites with Parker). And in the boy band, Alex Martin is Olivia Hussey's son with Dean Paul.

      Delete
    2. Hi Allen
      Nice to see your name again after the demise of Google+. I know not a single soul who's seen Riverdale, and were I to take a guess at someone who might recommend it to me, I wouldn't have guessed you. So that intrigues me.
      I'll give an episode a look. Thanks!

      Delete
    3. For LouLou: Thanks for that fascinating factoid on the DuJour band member. Had no idea Alexander Martin was the baby bump Olivia Hussy hoists around through her dance numbers in "Lost Horizon" (1973)!

      Delete
  6. Dear Ken: Hi!

    I tried with this one! Although "Josie and the Pussycats" is cleverly written and the cast is appealing, somehow I couldn't connect with it. The thought I had, about 20 minutes in, was: "All these characters are so YOUNG!" Maybe I'm too much of an old fogey to be able to appreciate films like this. :)

    But, as always, I found your essay hugely enjoyable. For years I've been unclear about something: did the Pussycats group appear first on the TV cartoon or in the comic books? Thank to ever-helpful Google, I finally discovered that the Pussycats appeared in the comic books in late 1969, but the TV show didn't debut until the following fall. Prior to the Pussycats makeover, Josie in the comic books was just a regular high school student. And prior to the introduction of the character of Valerie, the third girl in Josie's group of friends was a short-haired white brunette who wore glasses and was named Pepper.

    Valerie actually was the first Black character in Archie comics. I'm currently re-reading my Betty & Veronica's from the late 1960s, and it appears that Riverdale High was not integrated until the 1969-70 school year. There was no story that I'm aware of that announced the change; Black students suddenly just started appearing in the hallways. The second Archie comics Black character, Chuck Clayton (who was a part of Archie's friend group, whereas Valerie appeared only in the Josie series), came along around 1971.

    I've never seen TV's "Riverdale" either, although I have a niece who watches it. But I think I agree with Ron above: there are so few things from my childhood that still carry a degree of joy and innocent escapism that making a "dark and twisted" version of the Archie gang practically feels like a sacrilege.

    One final, totally random note: you mentioned the late, openly gay WSJ writer Tom King. He and I went to the same high school; he was a year ahead oi me and was friendly with my sister. King was quite talented and also quirky; he was kind of like the Paul Lynde of Washington High School.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello, Dave
      I'm so impressed with all the Josie and Archie facts I just acquired from your informative comment! Just as I'm equally impressed that you gave this film a shot, even if in the end it proves not to be entirely up your alley. As I often say, I'm not nearly as adventurous when it comes to exploring films beyond my sphere of favored themes, genres, or players, so hats off to you for your adventurousness (or risk-taking!).
      You bring a perspective of someone at least a little familiar with the Archie universe, my memory failing me when it comes to the comic books my sisters and I collected as kids. I think I remember reading that Josie and her gal pals didn't actually live in Riverdale, some neighboring town, but I have no idea if it’s true or what the town’s name was..
      Also, I didn’t know the character of Valerie was the first Black character in Archie comics, or that Riverdale High didn’t even have any “atmosphere” Black students until 1969-70. Although I lived through it, it still sometimes catches me off guard how recent a phenomenon inclusiveness is in the arts. I mean the voting body of the Academy Awards is just NOW paying attention
      I've watched this film several times now (so many of the lines still crack me up: Fiona, sensing a lack of gratitude- "You should kiss my cellulite-free ass for all I've done for you!") Bruce has yet to watch it with me. Knowing my sense of humor, he’s understandably reluctant, but I'll let you know if he has a response in any way similar to yours. He enjoys camp villains, but he too tends to be impatient with casts that are very "YOUNG"!
      I’m surprised it didn’t bother me here, for the youth thing and my inability to relate is what made "Can't Hardly Wait" so excruciating for me.
      Since I survived a truly awful 1978 sitcom/musical version of the Archie comics called “The Archie Situation Comedy Variety Show”, I’m prepared for anything the new “Riverdale” TV show can throw at me. But as I said, I’m not exactly the most adventurous when it comes to recommendations.
      Lastly, that’s pretty fascinating about your having gone to high school with Tom King! And I love everything that comes to mind with the phrase “The Paul Lynde of Washington High School”!

      Thank you Dave for your comments and compliment. I'm pleased you enjoyed the post. I know I always get a kick out of hearing from you and having you contribute to the smart comments posted here. Take care!

      Delete