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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Bed Sitting Room

A bizarre member of the post-apocalyptic sub-genre, The Bed-Sitting Room (BSR) is a comedy portrayal of Britain, three (or four) years after a nuclear World War III. The humor is very British, which often doesn't translate well to other cultures. The structure of BSR is very "free form", consisting of strings of vignettes, skits and sight gags. The various characters attempt to carry on some sort of "normal" life despite the near-total destruction. The story (such as it is) is told more in the manner of a long Monty Python episode than a conventional story.

  Quick Plot Synopsis
Note: Since the form of BSR is so eclectic, this synopsis is more of an overview than condensed narrative. The story (such as it is) follows two clusters of characters as they go about their lives amid the rubble. One group is the family: father, mother, Penelope and her boyfriend Allan. The other group is Lord Fortunum and his "doctor", Captain Bules Martin. Fortunum seeks help, as he thinks he's turning into a bed-sitting-room (a small apartment). He does, eventually morph into a lone, shabby single room, out on the desolate wasteland that was England. Penelope's family lived on a subway car which apparently just circled around beneath London. Penelope is pregnant from her pretty (but dim) boyfriend Allan. Father decides it's time to go up and live on the surface, so they do. They slog around the piles of rubble and fetid ponds running into various odd characters. Eventually, the family's path and those of Fortunum and Martin, cross. Mother turns into a wardrobe cabinet. Fortunum does turn into a bed-sitting-room. Martin courts, then weds Penelope over Allan's vacuous objections. Penelope has her "baby", though it is some small vague "monster" which dies shortly afterward. iFather turns into a parrot, kills himself "for science" and is cooked and eaten by the others. Even more chaos ensues. Fortunum pretends to be the voice of God. The police inspector delivers the good news that the queen (Mrs. Ethyl Shroake) has decreed that poisonous nuclear fogs were no longer necessary. Penelope and Allan, with a late-born "twin" -- this one a normal baby -- walk off over the green meadow. The movie closes to a few lines of "God Save Mrs. Ethyl Shroake" with her mounted on a horse, in a tattered QE II outfit, standing in front of an arch made of old washing machines. The End.

  Why is this movie fun?
BSR is full of very-British style humor (humour). The run time amounts to strings of skits and gags with only a very loose narrative connection. Some of the gags and jokes are quite funny, most of them in "The Absurd" style of humor. The visuals intriguing.

  Cold War Angle
This is raw Cold War satire. Where Dr. Strangelove told the story of nuclear doom from the beginning, BSR tells it from after all the bombs have dropped. The war is accepted as just something that happened, with no one quite knowing how it happened, who started it, or who won.

Star Gazing -- Look for Spike Milligan as the bearded postman. Peter Cook plays the Inspector. A very young Dudley Moore plays his sergeant. Also note Marty Feldman in what must be his first movie role, as the credits say "Introducing".

  First, We Play -- BSR started out as a one-act play in 1962, written by Spike Milligan and John Antrobus. It had some success as a play. The timing of the theatrical version coincides with others of the doom genre. They helped it be adapted to a film, but whatever "magic" the play had, did not translate well enough to the big screen. It could be that post-apocalyptic doom (in satire form) was losing its edge with audiences.

  What's Your Point? -- Co-writer Spike Milliagan said: "Nobody ever got the point about what it was about. What we were trying to say through all this laughter and fun, was that if they dropped the bomb on a major civilisation, the moment the cloud had dispersed and sufficient people had died, the survivors would set up all over again and have Barclays Bank, Barclay cards, garages, hates, cinemas and all…just go right back to square one. I think man has no option but to continue his own stupidity." We clearly see that satirized in how the characters continue to refer London addresses amid the gavel heaps, still having a queen, and a prime minister, etc. when there were only 20 people left in England.

  Gags Galore -- Running gags, such as the police floating along in a balloon, always telling people to "keep moving", recurs throughout. Before leaving the subway, Father insists that they take a heavy steamer trunk with them. Without luggage, they could be cited as vagrants, you see. The encumbering trunk spawns several running gags. Sexual innuendo gags abound. One of the better ones is that Father had his measurements taken (they are all 22", as that was the rule the sergeant had. Father's inseam is referred to as his "inside leg" being 22" long. The skits and gags are too eclectic to categorize.

  Radiation Mutates! -- Everyone knows that, but into what? One recurring gag, which supports the plot (such as it was), is the notion that nuclear fallout mutates people. But, instead of turning into monsters (as was more typical), people turn into odd "things." Fortunum turns into a shabby apartment. Mother turns into a wardrobe cupboard. Father turns into a parrot. The Sergeant turns into a dog.

  What IS a Bed Sitting Room? -- The term is a British one for a single room apartment -- Bedroom and Sitting Room, all in one. It's smaller than an American "studio apartment" in that it has no kitchen and shares a bath with other rooms. It would be typical of what a rooming house might have, or a hotel converted to longer term occupancy.

 Bottom line? BSR will not be for everyone. Viewers expecting a cohesive narrative are likely to be confused and/or frustrated. Being eclectic humor, it often makes no sense. Fans of Monty Python's Flying Circus program are less likely to be put off the by the format. It is also full of British humor. Much of it will go over non-British viewers' heads. BSR does amount to an eccentric cousin to the more staid doom-genre, so can be appreciated on that level.

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