Sunday, August 24, 2014

Video Cheese: The Video Edition

Note: These reviews were written for Video Cheese, a feature of They have been published here by the kind permission of Mr. Ken Begg. God bless him.

Today, we'll be examining some materials packaged exclusively for home video...

" Cloris Leachman acts as host for a series of videos from Schoolhouse Rock!"

   And really, it's not any more complicated than that.

   This video is a themed collection of segments from the popular Schoolhouse Rock! series, played with the addition of newly-shot wrap-around footage depicting famous actress Cloris Leachman dancing and singing with some very peppy kids.

   Okay, Schoolhouse Rock! was an infamous collection of cartoon shorts aired on kiddie block television beginning in 1973. Although the animation and design were very crude, the show used music to help kids remember basic principals like history, grammar, civics, and, in the case of this collection, math. With an aggressively modern and largely urban aesthetic, the shows used catchy pop-like tunes to help kids grasp what they were learning in school. And it seems to've been very effective. Not only does the program remain a broadcasting staple to this day, but it's memorable tunes and distinctive style have kept it in the hearts and minds of many adults who count it among their top ten on the nostalgic hit parade.

   The show was an ABC staple until 1986. A year later, this video was created (presumably as part of a series) to bring the classic show into your own home (I understand a definitive collection has just been released by Disney, which gobbled up ABC some years back. I wonder if they thought about including the wrap-around footage from these videos as an extra feature). 

   For whatever reason, they don't just compile the cartoons and let them speak for themselves, feeling the need for this new footage to write a jazzy new theme song. This does make sense, as it was common practice to fill kids' programming at the time with energetic kids who would sing hopefully-catchy songs (likely due to the example set by The Mickey Mouse Club decades earlier). That's provided you feel new footage was needed in the first place, which even as a child, I wouldn't have.

   (Kiddie show hosts become stars to most children, but I always thought they were eating up time in which they could be showing cartoons, which I thought was the main draw of such shows. I was a bit of a jerk at times, yes.)

  When the actual snippets from the original show begin, we're taken through a series of mathematical songs devoted to the numbers 2 through 9, and then a special tribute to Zero. We're obviously looking at a different time, here. Not only are kids shown running around outside, but the '2' song even uses Noah's ark as the means to demonstrate the power of 2. 

   I notice '1' isn't included in the parade. I guess it really is the loneliest number...

   The box makes sure to promote the involvement of Cloris Leachman, who I'm sure the kids were all crazy about in 1987.......

   I assume the actress was involved behind the scenes in some capacity. Maybe the videos were her idea to begin with, and one of the other producers suggested she appear in new footage to give the videos some extra juice? Whatever the reason, she's there in all her glory twisting around with a bunch of kids, towering over them like King Kong in a native village. 

   They've done what they can to make her look glamorous, but it's still Cloris Leachman, in 1987 yet, so she's still going to look like Cloris Leachman. I don't wish to sound rude or unchivalrous, I've just never found her to be all that attractive. Seeing her early work, in fact, is like watching a completely different actress.

   Born in 1926, Leachman was Miss Chicago of 1946, and competed in the Miss America contest! She later found decades of employment as a television actress, doing just about every major show you could think of. This includes parts on Ironside, Adam-12, Dr. Kildare, Perry Mason, Gunsmoke, Hawaiian Eye, The Big Valley, and many, many more! Her first major part was as the Mom on Lassie back in the 50's (the version of the show, I believe, which was alternately titled Jeff's Collie), and of course she would later become a part of Mel Brooks' stock company. She may be best remembered in the long run for playing Frau Blucher in YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN.

   For genre fans, she had a small part in KISS ME DEADLY before doing a One Step Beyond ("The Dark Room") and a Twilight Zone ("It's a Good Life"), as well as three Alfred Hitchcock Presents episodes! In the 70's, she did two Night Gallery shows and played Hippolyta in the Wonder Woman pilot movie for the Lynda Carter series which followed (where she was replaced by former Morticia Addams, Carolyn Jones). She did a Muppet movie, a Herbie movie, and provided narration for the 1991 Richard Keil-scripted and starring THE GIANT OF THUNDER MOUNTAIN, but that's among countless other things. She even won an Oscar for THE LAST PICTURE SHOW

   She really doesn't do anything of note, here, though. No more than we see, her scenes could have been given to any actress, or removed altogether! Adding to the pointlessness of the new footage, a lot of it just has one of the kids shouting the title of the next song at the camera before it starts in earnest. They even flash the name of the song we're about to hear.

   Although MULTIPLICATION ROCK isn't without it's charms, it seems an odd format for a learning tool. The skits should have been placed on the tape by themselves, although I have my doubts that I, as a grade-schooler, would have retained all this. I think the songs might be stronger if seen one at a time, allowing for reflection on the principals of one number before launching directly into another piece. And if one of these songs could be screened right before a test focused on that particular number, even better!

In the end, I don't think it'll replace DONALD DUCK IN MATHMAGICLAND.....


  1. Jess Franco did something that was faithful and accurate? Will wonders never cease!