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An excellent American Playhouse production written and directed by Julie Taymor, adapting the Edgar Allan Poe story "Hop Frog."  Blending fantasy and surrealism, this is an eye-popping mini-masterpiece enhanced by the Taymor's effective use of puppets and miniatures.

 

 

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The Package

"Hop Frog" is one of Poe's meaner tales, a compact and nasty account of a dwarf jester who enacts a hideous revenge on his corrupt superiors at a costume ball.  In stretching the story to an hour's length, Julie Taymor includes selections from Rableis' GARGANTUA AND PANTAGRUEL and a number of Lynchian dream interludes.

Taymor seems destined to be remembered for her Broadway production of THE LION KING and the features TITUS (1999) and FRIDA (2002); FOOL'S FIRE deserves a place on that list, being the unprecedented achievement that it is.  David Lynch regular Michael J. Anderson (who appeared in MULHOLLAND DRIVE and FIRE WALK WITH ME, and played TWIN PEAKS' "Man From Another Place") is the dwarfish Hop Frog, who, in a stunningly audacious touch, is presented as the only human in a kingdom of puppets.  Correction: there is one other non-puppet character, in the form of fellow dwarf Mireille Mosse (THE CITY OF LOST CHILDREN) as Trippetta, Hop Frog's true love whose humiliation inspires his apocalyptic revenge.

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The Story

The diminutive Hop Frog is a sensitive Jester trapped in a kingdom of monsters (literal and figurative).  One morning the practical joke-obsessed king orders Hop Frog to come up with a trick to be played on the guests of an upcoming costume ball.  Before he can properly decide on an appropriate gag, a young woman locked in a giant birdcage is wheeled in.  It‰'s love at first sight between Hop Frog and the "freakish" Trippetta, but when the King and his minions torment Hop Frog, events take an ugly turn.  Trippetta, trying to halt the bullying, breaks out of her cage and gets doused with wine for her efforts.  This in turn sends Hop Frog over the edge, and later that night he frees Trippetta from her cage to assist him in carrying out his plans for the costume ball.

His conceit is a strange one, but the King and his men readily accept it: they'll be covered in fur and pretend to be apes connected by a lengthy chain and, most appealing to the King's sadistic nature, scare the you-know-what out of everybody.  The night of the ball arrives and the plan is carried out; the illusion is a flawless one, so much so that none of the guests complain when Hop Frog lowers a rope down from the ceiling, hooks it to the chain connecting the beasts, hoists them into the air and sets them all afire.  He and Trippetta then escape into the air on a makeshift flying machine as flames slowly spread through the kingdom.


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The Direction

No mere plot description or even a reading of the original story, for that matter can do justice to the poetic and seductive aura Julie Taymor imparts.  Some portions of the film are baffling and others curiously touching.  I didn't much care for the tacky high definition film stock (a mainstay of American Playhouse productions), but the visuals are so striking they nearly overcome it. 

Taymor acted as character and costume designer in addition to writer/director, and has crafted a number of striking figures.  Foremost among these are the King and his minions, presented as leering, distorted, Gerald Scarfian creatures.  Equally striking are the guests of the ball, all represented by walking artists' mannequins.  The city they reside in consists of a series of deliberately artificial castles and turrets set upon a spinning globe.  The effect is a silly, even campy one, but Taymor utilizes camp in a manner you likely haven't seen before, to enhance rather than subvert the story's underlying poetry.

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Vital Statistics

FOOL'S FIRE
American Playhouse Productions
Director: Julie Taymor
Producers: Kerry Orment, Julie Taymor
Screenplay: Julie Taymor
(Based on a story by Edgar Allan Poe)
Cinematography: Bobby Bukowski
Editor: Alan Miller
Cast: Michael J. Anderson, Mireille Mosse, Tom Hewitt, Paul Kandel, Patrick Breen, Thomas Derrah, Glen Santiago, Patrick O'Connell, Kelly Walters

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