musicals

The innocence of pink, the decadence of aubergine


To the women of America…

No, wait: to the women everywhere:

Redoubtable?

Banish the black! burn the blue ! and bury the beige! From now on ….

Think Pink!
Think Pink when you shop for summer clothes!

Think Pink!
Think Pink when you want that "quelque chose"!

The redoubtable Kay Thompson, who ought to be inducted into the Homo Hall of Fame as an honorary gay man, was Judy Garland’s vocal coach, which tells you a lot, and, when not flailing her arms about while talking and calling it “cabaret singing”, also wrote a series of children’s books called “Eloïse”, about a little girl who lives at the Plaza Hotel in New York.

Yep, the Plaza Hotel. From these humble beginnings, Eloïse sallies forth to have Pirate Adventures, among others, though we must forever regret that Thompson shuffled off this mortal coil before updating us with “Eloïse Gets Shtupped While Unconscious At Studio 54”.

The opening musical number of Funny Face, “Think Pink”, features Ms Thompson, plus her swirly-skirted minions—who for reasons never explained speak in unison, like borg—and a virtual steam room’s worth of  butch-dancin’, Bronx-talkin’ “we’re not gay, no way!!” male dancers dressed in overalls.

Please, I beg you, before watching, turn out the lights, put down your Bayeux tapestry restoration work and resolve to give this gem your full attention.

For this is not just another musical number, oh no.

This is one of the supreme camp moments in cinema. It is the Sistine Chapel ceiling, it is the Cellini “Perseus Holding the Severed Head of Medusa” of camp.  

Often imitated, usually by me around 3 AM when I think everyone’s left, but never equaled——except by the crack-addled ad whores of the late Eaton’s department store who, in their desperation for another ball of hard, not to mention their jobs, churned out an eye-popping parody, “Aubergine” (see below), a paean to the deep purple Pantone© spot color used in the soon-to-be-dead-as-a-beaver-tail Eaton’s branding.

And look at what they came up with: A spectacular invitation to absolutely nothing that covers just about every frame of the original, including the then-hi-tech process photography mixing action and freeze-frame, and even going one better with nods to Salvador Dalí and a fully-fledged Ziegfeld Follies finale, featuring a dancing chorus of Freds and Gingers and a curvaceous stairway to the stars.

What must this have cost, in hours of filming, in budget, in planning and script writing, set-building and costume sewing, in editing and orchestrating with original music, lyrics and choreography! (One point three million, as a matter of fact.) The color aubergine is indeed seductive here, both nostalgic and spiritual, earthy and celestial; it bathes its ravishing models and their swirling ball gowns in a decadent, sickly glow.

But what are they selling in this commercial? Vague promises that ladies will find whatever their hearts might desire, but where, and what if a designer-label gown or a gymnastics leotard aren’t on the shopping list? The whole concept is so abstract, the joke so esoteric except to Hollywood historians and gay males, and in its execution straying into overstaying its welcome at nearly five minutes, that I wonder if any of the millions of perplexed TV watchers of the millennium figured out what they were watching and why.

And I wonder if most of the perplexed viewers who weren’t Hollywood historians or gay males simply switched the channel when the singing started. You’re either into movie musicals or you’re not; there’s rarely a neutral opinion.

I have the oversized white soup plates to prove I was there at the deathbed of an iconic brand, a Canadian institution that began as a tiny storefront on Yonge Street just two years after Canadian Confederation, an astonishing success story whose strategies were copied by aspiring shopkeepers all over North America.

On the underside of each plate is a single, bold lower-case “e,” in rich deep purple, the stillborn wordmark of the short-lived Eaton’s rebrand. This now reads like a desperate message found in a time capsule, a caution-overboard, go-out-with-a-bang cry for help from the immensely loyal but ill-fated crew of a swiftly sinking ship.


The stillborn word mark of a short-lived rebrand.

The T. Eaton Company, Limited, 1869—2000


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