"Many of our ideas are in some way inspired by the imagery we have been exposed to."
Interview by Manon Girault
Doozy is the debut feature documentary of British visual artist Richard Squires’, having already directed and animated a number of shorts prior. It is an ambitious, experimental project that explores the particularities of voice-casting: how voice can be manipulated to signify Otherness and symbolise an ongoing identity conflict between character and actor.
Through the example of American animation studio Hanna-Barbera and one of its chief cartoon villain voice-actor, Paul Lynde, Doozy considers the psycho-social relationship between villainy, voice and hysterical masculinity. Lead by an original antihero, Clovis (voiced by The Kids in the Hall & Superstore comedian Mark McKinney), the film uses Clovis to investigate one of Hollywood’s hidden queer stories.
For a film that uniquely mixes animation with reenactments, biographical detail and expert testimonials, we wanted to speak to Squires' about his fascinating project. A phone call, from me in Zurich and him in Paris, is what granted us access to Squires' creative mind. His notable level of enthusiasm and curiosity is instantly magnetic to an otherwise new and blind receiver. He is scholastic and articulate, with an attractive chattiness. We talked about the line between performance and reality, villainy, homosexuality, and much more.
You chose to introduce Doozy with a provocative motto: “Where does the character end and the actor begin?” In Paul Lynde’s case, do you think that his cartoon incarnations overtook him as an actor or was he able to find a balance?
I definitely think that Lynde had problems with the relationship between actor and character, but his cartoon characters were a very small part of his work. He had a wonderful way of injecting subtext into the voices he did for animations. To me, he had one of those unique, fascinatingly bizarre voices suggesting access to some other world. For example, on the Hollywood Squares game show. He would often make these double-entendres that were really quite outrageous for the time but were only understood by a part of the audience. The tension between actor and character is what actually made his characters very rich in some way. I think that Hanna-Barbera deliberately employed him for his very queer, castrated clown persona.
"He probably felt constrained that he could not 'come out' and the more he became infamous for his drunken, sometimes tragic, escapades."
The subtext is what exemplifies the identity conflict that Lynde was dealing with at the time, between his characters and his self, the extent to which he could publicly expose himself as a homosexual. Do you think that these cartoon characters were enabling to him in that sense?
It’s difficult to know because he didn’t say much about the work he did on these animated characters. All I could find was that, generally, he enjoyed the opportunity to play animated villains, which was not the case with his live action work, as his film and TV characters were not generally baddies. Though, in both the Mildew Wolf cartoon and The Perils of Penelope Pitstop (1969-1971), he didn’t receive any screen credit for the work that he did. This may suggest that Lynde regarded voice work as less important than the work when he was visible on screen.
Though, in some way, having a firm opinion on his voice-work still shows the effect it has on the actor and is psyche, be it in a private and public context.
Indeed. The first thing that I found out about during the research were the alleged stories behind the episodes that Clovis reenacts in Doozy. It seemed as Lynde’s career progressed, the more frustrated he got with the fact that he was not getting the roles he wanted, the more he probably felt constrained that he could not 'come out' and the more he became infamous for his drunken, sometimes tragic, escapades. These leaked stories placed him in this semi-criminal world. At the time, queerness and criminality were completely juxtaposed. As a queer figure of the 1960s, he was, of course, subsumed into this night-time world where he could exist.
At the time, I don't think these animated characters that he voiced were widely celebrated. He was known for doing them, but I don't think it was a big deal for him. It’s also important to remember that his incarnation of Claude Pertwee in Where's Huddles? (1970) is the only human cartoon character he voiced and most apparent queer figure. It ran for only one season.
Picking up on the character of Clovis. You have deliberately chosen to depict him as a villain similarly to Lynde’s incarnations. What role does this anti-hero carry out in the film? What are you trying to say by him re-enacting episodes of Lynde’s life?
In many documentaries, animation is used as filler due to a lack of archive. What I did not want to do was animate Paul Lynde. With Doozy, Clovis references the particular character design specific to Hanna-Barbera, the company’s reduced animation style. I wanted a character to re-enact these episodes in Lynde’s life. Inverting the cartoon villain so he plays actor, and not vice-versa, allows us to look back at Lynde’s case, and also of course points to the intersection between criminality and homosexuality.
If I am getting this right, this also has to do with the fact that, when you are dealing with biographical content, you can never reproduce the reality of the event?
Partly. There was never any question for me of using a live-action re-enactment. The film, for me, is not a biopic about Lynde but about his voicing of cartoon villains at the end of the 60s and the possible reasons why he might have been employed to voice these characters. The film then expands to think about the issues that are raised by this: hysterical laughter and hysterical masculinity, as well as the voice-casting as a means to signify otherness. In a way, Doozy is as much about animation as it is about Lynde. It seemed obvious in that sense to include animation in the film, as a means to explore the form.
"When you are looking at it in terms of representation saying 'this is one of the first queer human figures', there are going to be stereotypical traits to the character, as we're talking about a time when many people harboured deep prejudices."
A few experts within the film express that some of Lynde’s animated depictions are harmful to his image and identity, that they imbue his homosexuality with a negative quality. Yet the documentary uses Clovis to re-enact various moments of Lynde’s life. How come the animated dramatisations were used in light of the comments made by some of the talking heads?
The views of the contributors are of course their own and I don’t think anyone suggests that Lynde was harmed by these representations, but that we might regard some aspects of these representations as negative when we read them nowadays. John Airlie particularly picks out the Claude Pertwee figure in Where's Huddles? as a character who he finds more problematic than others, and which seems to him to be the most similar to Lynde. When you are looking at it in terms of representation, saying ‘this is one of the first queer representations,’ there are likely to be stereotypical traits to the character, as we’re talking about a time when many people harboured deep prejudices about homosexuality.. Claude Pertwee reminds me of other queer figures in pre-Stonewall films where homosexuals were particularly battling with self-destructive urges, such as one of the characters in Boys in the Band (William Friedkin, 1970). To look at these characters present day, you do feel like it is not a positive representation. John makes a distinction between Claude and the other more complex characters Lynde plays, to show that the latter also engaged with queerness but in more subversive ways (e.g. they drag up all of the time, their snideyness). I think Clovis inverts the process by using that acerbic male stereotype, drawing attention to the stereotype, as he re-enacts these alleged events in Lynde’s life.
The voice of the interviewees was often dislocated from the image — you’re not seeing the interviewees talking on screen. Was there any specific intention to this choice of editing, something in parallel to the significance of Lynde’s voice in his career?
I wanted to limit the use of the ‘real’ Lynde in the film until Clovis actually encounters him, in the hotel scene at the end of Doozy where the character watches the actor on TV. How the interviewees respond to the original animation in the film was something that came about in the edit. We did try to use some of the visuals from the Hanna-Barbera cartoons in the interviewee sequences but there was too much of a visual clash with the Clovis sequences. So we decided to replace the clips of the original Hanna Barbera with our montage of interviewee reactions instead. When we were shooting the interviews, at the end of each interview, we would show the expert a montage of Lynde’s animation work and film their reaction to it. So, in the final film, we see the experts watch the original cartoons and we hear the audio from the cartoons but we don’t see them, and this seemed to work nicely as it was a way to make our interviewees more like participants. It’s also, I think, fascinating for an audience to watch people watching something that you cannot see. Placing the experts in the Hollywood Squares, for me, is a playful way of working with ‘talking heads’ and drawing attention to ideas of status and perhaps celebrity.
Clovis often makes appearances often on dead landscape backdrops, providing him with an immortal quality. Is there anything we are supposed to make of the animated character’s particular superpower?
It has a factual purpose to a certain extent. We were very selective about where we shot. Clovis makes his appearances at night-times, in the queer landscapes Lynde used to visit, in which he partially existed. It also contrasts with the more bustling day-time landscapes of Mount Vernon, Lynde’s hometown and a completely different world.
You brought in academics as interviewees. Do you have high hopes for animation in regards to what it could address as a means?
I am interested in animation as a medium partly because it has all these elements to it that are otherwise non-existent and un-locatable in live action. Animation has its own language, its own codes and conventions, in which character-design relies on the simplification of things, on stereotypes in that sense. It has these strange, difficult problematics and weird histories attached to it which I find fascinating. For example, if you look at the birth of animation, many of the early characters inherited their design from the American Blackface Minstrelsy practice. In Doozy, Paul Wells talks about how we determine the behaviour of characters from their physical structures; we trust the chubby, avuncular characters rather than the lithe, narrow ones. Everybody has grown up with animation and it is something most of us can relate to. Many of our ideas are in some way inspired by the imagery we have been exposed to.
"I hope that this film will give people the opportunity to consider how voices are used to represent otherness, to create a space for further thinking around the subject."
Penultimate question: any new project that people should know about?
I already have a couple of ideas but both are still in their early stages. I am looking at another documentary about a colonial exhibit that took place in Paris in 1931. And an experimental live-action fiction, but it’s very early stages at the moment.
At Electric Ghost Magazine we try to ask ourselves is: “What wisdom has the film given us?” I would like to return the question to you. Is there anything in particular about Doozy that has meaning as a guide to life?
I hope that Doozy will enable people to look in detail at something that previously they were maybe only vaguely aware of in detail and to not necessarily feel the need to come to any firm conclusion. In Lynde’s case, we still don’t know the exact reasons why Hanna-Barbera hired him or whether Lynde saw Claude Pertwee as a queer character. But that is okay. I hope that this film will give people the opportunity to consider how voices are used to represent otherness, to further create a space for further thinking around the subject.
You can follow updates of Doozy screenings by following them on Twitter or heading to their website
Published June 10, 2019