Dr. SeussLove. No Wait—Dr. StrangeSeuss
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There are a few choice examples of pop cultural relics that reach such squirmingly exquisite depths that they—like the shaggy-dog “dig through the core of the planet to China”—improbably invert their critical standing and ascend to an unstable pinnacle of flashing-popping brilliance.
With its stream-of-consciousness plot, Escher and Dalí-influenced sets, and hands-down freaky musical numbers, Dr. Seuss’s The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T. is the champeen.
Ted Geisel was inspired to write this (no other term for it) revenge fantasy by recalling the piano lessons he’d endured as a boy “from a man who rapped my knuckles with a pencil whenever I made a mistake… I made up my mind I would get even with that man.” Enter the foppish and maniacal Dr. Terwilliker, an authoritarian piano teacher who seduces willing moms to entrust their sons to him, imprisons them in his barb-wired “Institute,” then forces the boys to play his Seussian, snake-shaped piano—his “5,000 Fingers.”
As a dreamscape-essay on adolescent angst, Dr. T. is unsparingly incisive, foaming with Oedipal weirdness and dysfunctional gender-bending. The film is virtually pounding “Chopsticks” with subterranean, assbackwards sexual energy. As a “laugh till you get it” metaphor for Eisenhower’s America, the film mines the public’s hot-and-getting-hotter anxieties about a second Hitler, an aggressive Russia, and the omnipresent Bomb. It sneakily tickles the ivories with a Stravinsky-like darkness.
Miles from being an “innocent” fantasy romp, The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T. is a Cubist gene-splice of Never Never Land and internment camp. Tonight—employing stills and clips from the film, reviews, analysis, and primary colors—we’ll tour both terrifying alternate realities.