Friday, February 17, 2006

TARTS AND FLOWERS (1950)

I'm imagining a time before television when a person would actually listen to an informational radio program giving detailed instructions, and then that person trying to duplicate the steps within the comfort of their own home while the show is still going on the radio. I know people to this day foolishly try this with their televisions, and more often, with a tape, DVD, or Tivoed version of such a show, to this day. Some people seem to believe that they learn better from seeing or hearing, rather than simply reading such instructions and then performing the task as written. To each their own; I much prefer having a hard copy written down in front of me on those rare occasion where I might try a folly of this sort. But cooking shows, the preeminent example of this type of show, have been extremely popular throughout the history of broadcast radio and television, and there will be no end to this flood.

[I, myself, love Iron Chef and Good Eats on the Food Network, but the former I watch because it is basically a Japanese martial arts movie only with chefs instead of ninjas and samurai, and the latter I watch because it is both informative and amusing, and both are certainly not meant to be cooked with in unison in your home. I suppose you could cook along with Emeril, but I always have a problem with these studio audience cooking shows: you never see anyone declare a dish to be a piece of crap; everyone is so civil when tasting their dishes, so in thrall they are to be tasting one of the celebrity chef's dishes, that if he/she took a dump on one of their plates in front of them, they would surely smash their faces into the plate and call it a masterpiece. ("I liked the way the remnants of peanuts mixed in almost a jauntily saucy fashion with the rest of the dish...") No one ever has an adverse reaction to any of the dishes proffered to them; I'm sorry, but in real life, even in a 5-star restaurant, someone (probably me) is going to have the sac to tell someone that something sucks. Big time. It just happens. I know that they undoubtedly remove any negative scenes from these shows in the editing booth, but come on... just once show me that someone projectile-sprayed Emeril because he "kicked it up" one "notch" too many.]

In Tarts and Flowers, Little Audrey, at a time where television was slowly pervading most American homes, has her radio set on a cooking show.
Audrey is set on making a cake according to the show's instructions and she mainly acquits herself remarkably well, though she struggles somewhat to keep up in a time-honored comic fashion. One of these time-honored gags is to correct the listener when they make a misstep, which Audrey naturally does and to which the radio announcer follows up. Another good bit occurs when the announcer tells her to "Beat it!", and Audrey sadly and sheepishly resigns herself to leave the room, but the announcer calls her back. Audrey finishes mixing the cake batter, and slides it in the oven. But because Audrey is either caught in another one of her sugar-high crashes, or is actually narcoleptic, she falls asleep in a chair by the oven.

Suddenly, the timer goes off, and Audrey awakens to find the Gingerbread Boy kicking his way out of the oven. He tells our heroine that he is off to Cakeland because he is late and he's "got a date with a cake!", and Audrey, of course, chases after him on the journey.
(It is her dream, you know; what is she going to do? Stay behind?) A cloud of flour is kicked up on his escape, and Audrey follows him blindly through the haze. She finally arrives at Cakeland, entirely built and populated by desserts, where the streets have names like "Breadway"; striding out of the "Garden of Eatin'" is the Gingerbread Boy accompanied by his bride, Angel Cake, a red-haired hottie with a human body and angel wings, though draped about her lower half is a skirt-shaped piece of angelfood cake. Gingerbread Boy tells Audrey that they have to get ready for the wedding, so Audrey goes off with Ginger to prepare her. She uses powdered sugar and cherry juice to do Angel's makeup, and squeezes icing on Angel's head to do her hair for the ceremony.

Outside, the populace of Cakeland are holding a wedding parade, with cupcakes and other treats singing of the joy that will happen on this most festive day. French pastries dance a can-can, a Maurice Chevalier-type escorts two ladyfingers to the wedding, and a rumcake staggers drunkenly after them. The parade leads to the wedding chapel, and the happy bride and groom enter it on a red carpet of rolled dough. All seems to be going well...

...then Devil Food Cake pops out of his box! He interrupts the wedding with a flash of hellfire, and kidnaps poor Angel Cake! Audrey rings the alarm; the Cop Cakes run to the rescue twirling their batons; and the Gingerbread Boy runs to a box of animal crackers and rides after them atop a horse, followed by other animals. Devil drags the kicking and screaming Angel to a sugar boat awaiting them on the Old Milk Stream (after first taking the Strawberry Short Cut); Audrey takes out a hand mixer and makes the stream too thick for their vehicle to escape. The Gingerbread Boy easily defeats Devil Food Cake, and the Cop Cakes cart the villain off in the Pie Wagon. The wedding can go on as before, but Audrey wakes up in time for the real timer to go off on her oven. She opens it up to discover, in a neatly arranged row, the Gingerbread Boy and Angel Cake, with a baby version of each set in between them.

This, of course, is amazing not only because they were characters in her dream, but because Audrey simply poured a huge brick of batter into the pan before she placed it in the oven. How she managed to get not only two entirely different recipes to separate within the oven, but also to come out already decorated is a feat that would have taken Julia Child half a vineyard's worth of wine to figure out. But it brings me to something I noticed when watching this cartoon: given that the year was 1950, I find it amazing that no one picked up on the interracial marriage taking place in the dream sequence. Not just that they are two different recipes, but that they are two different colors: Gingerbread Boy, as expected, is fully brown throughout the proceedings; Angel Cake, naturally, is white with red hair. When they enter the chapel arm in arm, it is hard to miss this distinction. If this were done in a live-action film, it would have raised a tremendous controversy in 1950; apparently, their animated pastry bearding got them past the censors (although they never do kiss, which is unfortunate, they do get to have offspring by film's end). I have no way of knowing if this was intentional on the part of the filmmakers, but if it was, my touque's off to them. And also, my hearty congratulations to the Gingerbread Boy for scoring such a five-star dish.

Obviously, I'm going to eat angel food cake a little more sensually from here on out...

Tarts and Flowers (Famous Studios/Paramount, 1950) Dir: Bill Tytla
Cel Bloc Rating: 6

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