Category Archives: Convention

Movie as Doggerel: “Plan 9 From Outer Space”


The entire glorious thing is available at the single link above

We’re following the science fiction thread begun with Solaris and followed by Fahrenheit 451 the week after that, but with a twist: Edward D. Wood’s Plan 9 from Outer Space.

Frye in “Rhetorical Criticism: Theory of Genres,” Anatomy:

The characteristics of babble are again present in doggerel, which is also a creative process left unfinished through lack of skill or patience. . . . Doggerel is not necessarily stupid poetry; it is poetry that begins in the conscious mind and has never gone through the associative process.  It has a prose initiative, but tries to make itself associative by an act of will, and it reveals the same difficulties that great poetry has overcome at a subconscious level.  We can see in doggerel how words are dragged in because they rhyme or scan, how ideas are dragged in because the are suggested by a rhyme-word, and so on. (CW 22, 259)

From this description we can see that any verbal structure might be generically considered doggerel if it lacks skill and patience, is not associative, is self-consciously rather than subconsciously processed, and generally betrays itself as the undressed word salad it invariably turns out to be.

Plan 9 from Outer Space is known as “the worst movie ever made” — so bad that you can’t look away; so bad that its unintentional hilarity provides zen instruction to anyone who thinks funniness is a specialized form of spontaneous combustion. If you haven’t seen it, please do.  It rewards in ways that are unique to it.  If you can’t bear to watch all of it, then at least take in the brief “Criswell Predicts” sequence that opens the movie — which will likely make you want to get to Criswell’s closing remarks at the end, and, just like that, you’ll have watched it right through.

The entire thing, every miscast word of it, is pure doggerel: the tautologies and non-sequiturs, the Dadaist moments of found comedy, the jack-knifing problems with continuity, and the absurd randomness of the elements of “terror” promiscuously thrown into the mix with winning confidence. (“Ah, yes, Plan 9: The resurrection of the dead.”)

Here’s a sample from Criswell’s opening remarks:

Greetings, my friends, we are all interested in the future because that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives. And remember, my friends, future events, such as these, will affect you in the future.

That’s got to leave you hungry for more because only people who can’t make ’em can make ’em like this.

The Mikado


The closing sequence of Mike Leigh’s masterpiece, Topsy-Turvy, about the writing, development and first performance of The Mikado, including the beautiful “The Sun Whose Rays Are All Ablaze”

Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado premiered on this date in 1885.

Frye in one of those extraordinary lucid moments that send a shiver up the spine:

The element of play is the barrier that separates art from savagery, and playing at human sacrifice seems to be an important theme of ironic comedy.  Even in laughter itself some kind of deliverance from the unpleasant, even the horrible, seems to be important.  We notice this particularly in all forms of art in which a large number of auditors are simultaneously present, as in drama and, still more obviously, in games.  We notice too that playing at sacrifice has nothing to do with any historical descent from sacrificial ritual, such as been suggested for Old Comedy.  All the features of such ritual, the king’s son, the mimic death, the executioner, the substituted victim, are far more explicit in Gilbert and Sullivan’s Mikado than they are in Aristophanes. (CW 21, 162)

“Three Little Maids from School” after the jump.

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Thomas Campion


A real treat: countertenor Alfred Deller sings Campion’s “It fell on a summer’s day”

Thomas Campion died on this date in 1620 (born 1567).

From The Educated Imagination:

Here’s a poem by a contemporary of Shakespeare, Thomas Campion:

When thou must home to shades of underground,
And there arriv’d, a new admired guest,
The beauteous spirits do engirt thee round,
White Iope, blithe Helen, and the rest,
To hear the stories of thy finish’d love
From that smooth tongue whose music hell can move;

Then wilt thou speak of banqueting delights,
Of masques and revels which sweet youth did make,
Of tourneys and great challenges of knights,
And all these triumphs for thy beauty’s sake:
When thou hast told these honours done to thee,
Then tell, O tell, how thou didst murder me

This is written in the convention that poets of that age used for love poetry: the poet is always in love with some obdurate and unresponsive mistress, whose neglect of the lover may even cause his madness and death.  It’s pure invention, and it’s a complete waste of time trying to find out about the women in Campion’s life — there can’t possibly be any real experience behind it. Campion was himself a poet and a critic, and a composer who set his poems to his own musical settings. He was also a professional man who started out in law but switched over to medicine, and served for some time in the army. In other words, he was a busy man, who didn’t have much time for getting himself murdered cruel mistresses. The poem uses religious language, but not a religionthat Campion could ever have believed in. At the same time it’s a superbly lovely poem; it’s perfection itself, and if you think that a convention poem can only be just a literary exercise, and that you could write a better poem out of real experience, I’d be doubtful of your success. (CW 21, 451)