Richard Squires explores the outsider, hysterical masculinity, and non-hetero stereotypes in his creative documentary Doozy. Taking Hanna Barbera cartoons and Paul Lynde as a starting point, the film is a visually rich exploration of the issues raised. We were fascinated, so sent our pigeons off with questions about main character Clovis and who is Richard’s fave Hanna Barbera villain, plus more…
D&CFilm: Could you tell us a little about yourself, what attracted you to the Hanna Barbera animations and where the idea for Doozy developed from?
Richard Squires: I’m a London-based artist-filmmaker who has been making short films, animation, comics and the odd performance for about 20 years. My work often involves appropriation and plays with characters and stereotypes. I’m probably best known for animated shorts like ‘Homo Zombies’ and ‘Francis’ and for the live work ‘The Uncle Hans-Peter Party’.
‘Doozy’ came about for several reasons. I’ve always been interested in the links between non-heterosexual behaviour and criminality. There’s a long history of stereotyping in relation to queer people which we still see the vestiges of today. If you think back to 1960s / 1970s cinema and TV, you have queer characters who were criminal and highly stereotypical – sissies, inverts, treacherous homos, etc.
As a kid, I was glued to Hanna Barbera cartoons on Saturday mornings and I was fascinated by the villains. I didn’t understand it at the time but the way the villainous characters were designed is highly suggestive and frequently reliant on these coded stereotypes.
A few years ago, I discovered that a closeted, American actor Paul Lynde had voiced several of the cartoon villains I liked when I was a kid. We’re not so familiar with Lynde in the UK although people might remember him from sitcoms like ‘Bewitched’ and ‘I Dream of Jeannie’. In the States, he became very popular as the ‘centre square’ on the ‘Hollywood Squares’ gameshow. Given that Lynde himself was an outsider working in Hollywood at the end of the 1960s, it seemed important to ask why Hanna Barbera might have cast him in these roles.
D&CFilm: Doozy seems pretty unconventional why did you take the approach you did what are the themes you explore in the film?
Richard Squires: I wasn’t interested in making a bio pic of Lynde, that’s important to say. ‘Doozy’ is more akin to a creative documentary or essay film, where the starting point is Lynde’s casting as the Hanna Barbera villains but the film moves on to consider some of the issues raised by this.
So we investigate representations of what you might call ‘hysterical masculinity’, the way voice is often used to signify that a character is an outsider, the hysterical laughter of cartoon villains and the relationship between character and actor.
From the start, I wanted to use a number of different, experimental approaches to do this, rather than making a conventional documentary. Research and aesthetics are key in my filmmaking and I wanted to create a very visually rich piece. So I decided to create my own animated character ‘Clovis’ who would re-enact some of the alleged stories from the actor Paul Lynde’s life. I also set up a kind of curious ‘Hollywood Squares’-style gameshow where specialists from various fields – animation, neurology, criminology – would offer their opinions.
And finally, we went and filmed in Mount Vernon, Ohio where Lynde was raised, to get an idea of his past life and to add texture to the film. ‘Doozy’ mixes these different elements and I hope informs, stimulates and entertains the audience in the process.
D&CFilm: ‘Representations of sexual ambiguity and criminality’ sounds pretty sinister – is it of its time or something that endures?
Richard Squires: Researching ‘Doozy’ I found some incredible material. At the ONE archives in Los Angeles, I discovered an article by Norman Mailer called ‘The Homosexual Villain’ from 1955, in which he discusses how he intentionally chose bisexuality as a character trait for his villains. Given that homosexuality was a crime then, it’s not surprising there’s this long history of queer criminality.
As a kid, I remember watching villains like The Child Catcher from ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ (1968), Mr Wint and Mr. Kidd from ‘Diamonds are Forever’ (1971) or Michael Caine who played the cross-dressing psycho in ‘Dressed to Kill’ (1980). In all these representations, the character’s sexual difference was really played up. Nowadays, with a more developed awareness around sexuality, cinematic representations have changed but I think you still sometimes see the remnants of older representations of ‘deviant sexuality’ in some villainous characters.
D&CFilm: As you were working on Doozy, did you find yourself picking up traits of Clovis?
Richard Squires: Ha ha, I think it was actually the other way round, he picked up my traits! Or atleast, his design incorporated bits of me. He has many of the traits of the 1960s ‘limited animation’ acerbic villain – the lithe frame, the pointy nose, the sneaky eyebrows, the shark grin, the tiptoeing – but there’s also a bit of me in there I think. Madeleine Molyneaux, co-producer, and I had long discussions about Clovis’ voice. The Canadian actor Mark McKinney who voices him did an American and a British version, and in the end, we decided to go for the British one. Partly because American villains often have British accents but also I guess because Clovis is channelling his creator. I haven’t started streaking down streets in the middle of the night or getting chucked out of bars yet though!
D&CFilm: Doozy is your first feature – how does it fit with your earlier films and what’s next?
Richard Squires: Character has been a key concern in much of my work for a while. In 2007, I made ‘Francis’ an animated short for Animate TV on Channel 4, in which a defective cartoon character is created and analysed by a psychologist narrator. With ‘Francis’ I was thinking about representations of ‘dumb kids’ and feeblemindedness and how they play out in cartoons. Disney’s ‘Pinocchio’ is a good example, with its representations of cartoon children who misbehave and sprout donkey ears. There’s a moralistic undertone to the way children are represented in this type of animation.
Over the past ten years, I’ve worked predominantly with animation but I’ve also continued to make non-animated films. In 2008, I completed a a medium-length hybrid documentary called ‘Programme’ that looked at the history of the Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris, where the neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot treated women diagnosed with ‘hysteria’ at the end of the 19th century. The focus of the film was really the manipulation and collusion involved in their diagnosis and treatment, so that’s another recurrent interest, the engineering and underlying motivations behind cultural representations and phenomena.
In terms of what’s next, I’m developing a documentary work about the 1931 Colonial Exhibition in Paris and I’m also thinking about an idea for an experimental fiction.
D&CFilm: …and finally, who’s your favourite Hanna Barbera character?
Richard Squires: I think it would have to be the Hooded Claw from ‘The Perils of Penelope Pitstop’. He’s such an interesting dualistic character. One minute he is Penelope’s guardian, Sylvester Sneekly, but the minute he dons the cape, lilac eye mask and ostentatious hat, he becomes the Hooded Claw. He exhibits all the traits of the typical Hanna Barbera acerbic villain – he is fanatical, lithe, sneaky, he runs at double-speed, he breaks the fourth wall, he has bouncing eyebrows and of course he drags up constantly. As academic John Airlie says in the film, there’s all sorts of things suggested by his appearance and behaviour, but you also have the incredible voice work that Paul Lynde does, which really brings the character to life and injects all this subtext.
I also really like Mildew Wolf because he’s silly and fanatical and voiced by Lynde and I’m partial to Mr Peevly, the snide zookeeper from ‘Help! It’s the Hair Bear Bunch!’ There’s something about those late 1960s acerbic males that I really enjoy, I think it’s their antagonism to the boring, All-American, regular characters!
sed at the Exeter Phoenix on 30 April, where there will be was a post-screening discussion with director Richard Squires and and Dr Benedict Morrison.
There’s more information about the ‘Doozy’ tour on the website www.lmfyffproductions.com