Richard Squires talks about Doozy
The director discusses animated re-enactment, hysterical male laughter and the othering of queerness…
In the 1960s and 70s actor Paul Lynde lent his distinctive - and identifiably queer - vocals talents to a series of villains for Hanna-Barbera cartoons. In Doozy, Richard Squires seeks to explore why Lynde’s voice was so desirable for criminal characters through expert analysis, personal biography, and animated recreation. This formally ambitious work eschews the trappings of typical biopic documentary and instead expands its scope, not only looking at the specifics of Lynde’s own troubled life as a closeted man in Hollywood, but also the mythologies surrounding queer men, their inherent ‘otherness’ and the spaces they are permitted to inhabit. The film’s most memorable element is its creation of a new Hanna-Babera-style villain called Clovis who is used to ‘re-enact’ some of the most salacious stories from Lynde’s life.
ALT/KINO: Where did Doozy begin for you?
Richard Squires: It was a variety of things, really. First off it was the fact that as a kid I’d been glued to Hanna-Barbera cartoons on a Saturday morning and a lot of the villains that Lynde voiced - The Hooded Claw [in The Perils of Penelope Pitstop], Mildew Wolf [from It’s the Wolf] - I was familiar with. Not that I was familiar with him as an actor but I was familiar with that very particular voice. So, about five years ago I came upon this article about Where’s Huddles? which is the primetime Hanna-Barbera cartoon which came out in 1970. Lynde voiced the villain in that cartoon, Claude Pertwee, and he was this archetypical confirmed bachelor type who seemed like the first closeted gay Hanna-Barbera cartoon villain, really. So when I started researching Where’s Huddles a little bit more, I realised it was this actor Paul Lynde who had voiced all of these cartoon villains and then I started to research him a little bit, having been vaguely aware of him in Bewitched.
Through that I came to read a biography of his story and became aware of him as what you might call a ‘castrated clown’. He’s one of these closeted, gay, 1960s figures who was very much on TV, was popular as an entertainer and actor, but was really struggling with 1960s homophobic Hollywood. So the research brought me to understand his real difficulties with alcohol and how as he ended up on Hollywood Squares and his career flattened off a little bit, he became frustrated. Then there are all these alleged stories about these semi-alcoholic escapades and these arrests and it became quite clear he was in a very compromised position and was struggling with the tension between his public and private lives. That was the catalyst that enabled me to start putting an idea together and I’ve always been interested in the intersection between non-heterosexual behaviours and criminality, queer villains as represented in cinema, and ideas around hysterical masculinity as well. So it really brought all of this stuff together and the idea was to make a film that would start off as a case study of Lynde voicing these particular cartoon villains, and would ask why Hanna-Barbera casted him as these villains, but would then expand outwards and look at other areas like hysterical masculinity, questions around the voice and the way its used to signify outsiders, and the relationship between the character and the actor and how they subsume one another.
A/K: And I assume you always wanted to play formally with ideas of reality and character - particularly in the way you handle the alleged stories about Lynde - and were never interested in a straight biopic as a launching pad for your other ideas?
RS: There was no interest in doing a straight biopic, no. The alleged stories about him were the things that I came across quite early on and to me they seemed really interesting - to start with because some of them are quite extreme in nature. So originally the idea was that we could use these as an expression of the fact that there was this tension between his public and private worlds, but I always wanted to go somewhere else with it. There are lots of stories about people who’ve had difficulties with celebrity so that doesn’t particularly interest me, I was much more interested in exploring Lynde, exploring cartoon villains, and the questions that those stories raise. I was also keen to use a variety of approaches which are somewhat unconventional, or which could possible lead the viewer down different roads. So the idea came about quite early on to design my own cartoon villain, Clovis, and for him to - in a way - be inverting the normal process, where the actor voices the cartoon character. The idea here is that the character would play the actor. So I wanted a cartoon character who was distinct from Lynde. I think often in documentaries, animation is used as a filler, and I didn’t want this to feel like that. I wanted this be that we have a cartoon character here who is a cartoon villain but who is re-enacting the events in the life of the voiceover artist.
A/K: It’s interesting that you talk about inverting the normal process because I thought you also kind of do that in using Clovis to represent Lynde’s most excessive moments. In the same way that Lynde’s queerness was used to ‘other’ the villainous characters, Clovis is here used to vilify - though that’s probably too strong a word - Lynde’s queerness and these infamous moments.
RS: It links him to criminality in a way - what I would call mild criminality, but still that’s definitely there. It’s the way for me really that one effects the other. There’s a sense with Lynde sometimes that he’s playing; he developed a TV persona, he developed a very particular type of character that feeds into the original animations. But it’s his voice, of course, that is so ‘other’ - so yeah, this is an inversion of the process but also a way of reevaluating these coded meanings.
A/K: And the animated segments with Clovis are just one element of many that you’re tying together here - there’s also archival material, interviews, expert testimony via a recreated Hollywood Squares set. They feel very disparate, but seem to coalesce really well. How did you go about structuring everything?
RS: To start with, there were three strands, or chunks. The first would be the Clovis animation - the alleged stories from Paul Lynde’s life - and these would be short animated segments that would be interspersed throughout the film. So, in a way, that really helped me to develop a structure right from the starting point. The second chunk was the gameshow with the interviewees where they’re offering their opinions on their various areas of specialism. And then the third chunk was the most conventional in some ways, but it’s the documentary portraiture element. We needed a certain amount of biographical information about Paul Lynde in order for people to be able to make the links. So I started with these three chunks, but having said that, it was very much an exploratory project. I mean, we decided quite late in the process to actually go to Mount Vernon, which is where Paul Lynde was born, and we had an enormous amount of serendipity when we got there. We shot for three days and all we’d actually organised was at the museum where they have Paul Lynde’s old car, this beautiful yellow Thurderbird, and a small exhibit. But we shot that early on and the curator of the museum was this sweet guy who set up these things for us and quite by coincidence, the Mount Vernon Players were premiering their version of Bye Bye Birdy which is the stage show that made Paul Lynde famous and they invited us to the premiere and through that we met other people.
A lot of the actual working out of how things could fit together happened in the edit, as is always the case with my work. For example, at the beginning of the process we were going to go with Fair Use as it was unlikely we were going to get permission to use the original Hanna-Barbera clips. Originally we were working with clips from the TV series’ and the new animation [of Clovis] but there was a kind of weird aesthetic clash between the two, so the decision came about not to show the original Hanna-Barbera clips but for us to just hear them in the film. Apart from anything else that solved the aesthetic clash between the two different types of animation, but it also allowed the interviewees in the gameshow to take on a slightly different role in the film and become participants rather than just talking heads offering their opinions. So there were lots of things which happened during the process which helped to structure the film but from the beginning it was clearly set out to make it more manageable.
A/K: Leading on from that, I wanted to ask about the reaction shots you have from the interviewees in the gameshow - the slowed down footage of them watching the cartoons - was there a particular effect you were looking for in doing that, or was it just a case of the time you had to fill and the footage you had?
RS: No, no. It’s funny, no-ones asked that question before, it’s great. So all of the interviewees are essentially academics from various different spheres and they were very up for being playful - some of them got dressed up in 60s clothing and they sit in their boxes with their name in lates - but I’d also said to each of them ‘I’d also like to shoot some sequences where you’re actually watching some of clips from the Hanna-Barbera cartoons where Paul Lynde is voicing these characters and we’re going to shoot that as well.’ So we shot that on 16mm and we shot in slow motion so their responses to the viewing of these clips is accentuated. But it was something that I thought about at the beginning - you know we interview them but I also want them very much to respond to Paul Lynde.
A/K: And was that before you’d decided against using the original footage in the film?
RS: Yeah. It was something which at the beginning was just a thought of something which might be useful in the edit, there wasn’t a clear plan on how it would actually be used until we came to the edit and decided to use only the audio clips.
A/K: It reminded me of that Kiarostami film Shirin in the sense that you’re watching the viewer as opposed to what’s on screen, and it works really well in this context because you don’t miss the original footage, the film doesn’t feel like it would benefit from it being there because we have this substitute.
RS: I hope so. I do think it makes the film a bit more niche - for people who have no idea who Hanna-Barbera are, don’t have any relationship to them at all, perhaps it becomes more difficult? But I do agree that actually watching people responding to Hanna-Barbera clips and hearing them helps to draw the audience into the film. And also there’s the other aspect of this that the memory of these shows - certainly for me and I think for other people as well - is the thing that hooks you. It’s the voice, and the memory of the characters and scenarios rather than the actual experience of watching them, because when you do actually sit down and watch them, as I obviously did for this, they’re incredibly formulaic and quite exhausting to watch. So the film is trying to hook on to people’s memories of these shows.
A/K: So finally I just wanted to ask you about one more formal thing. You put the animation into actual footage of real places and I wondered if you speak about what your intention was with that?
RS: Again, this was another strategy that was very much planned from the beginning. What I didn’t want to do was have these 2D animated characters and then use animated backgrounds and so in order to accentuate this idea of the characters reenacting these episodes we decided to actually shoot contemporary live-action backgrounds, mostly in LA and San Francisco and sometimes in the actual places that these alleged occurrences happened. But of course there’s also an aesthetic problem to solve in that the characters reference 1960s limited animation design and techniques - they’re very much animated using the same styles and strategies as the original animation. In order to make it work better we decided we’d shoot on Super16 so that the live-action backgrounds, although they’re contemporary, do refer back to an earlier period. And of course sometimes things just look better if you’re shooting on film, but it was really about this sense of reenactment.
A/K: The reason I asked about this is that the film strikes me as an interesting portrait of place in the sense that you have the scenes back in his hometown which are almost like a landscape documentary and you have these places where these later events actually happened - if you took Clovis out of those shots they’d have a similar urban landscape quality. I wondered whether you were looking to explore queer spaces and places - I think I perhaps thought this given your previous short Homo Zombies (2000) and a similar vein in which it engages with the marginal spaces queer men are allowed to inhabit.
RS: Definitely, definitely. It was another decision for instance that everything shot on the west coast, everything filmed in Los Angeles and San Francisco, is shot at night and everything shot in Lynde’s hometown in Mount Vernon, Ohio, was shot in the daytime. That was very much a conscious decision. Some of footage in Mount Vernon was, I think, very much intended to bring texture to the film, to allow the audience to inhabit this place for a while but I think the big point of shooting day and night was to accentuate the idea of the tension between the public and private worlds - to have his hometown as one thing and LA and almost another aspect of him. In terms of thinking about the spaces queer people are allowed to inhabit - the bars, Santa Monica Blvd, these places where he did actually hang out in the 70s - it was very much a conscious thing and which I think, hopefully, allows Clovis to be allied to an outsider world. It’s interesting that you mention Homo Zombies because there was something there about the dawn, the dusk, and how that is this in-between time and in-between world that foregrounds the idea that there are certain people that are part of these spaces.