Saturday, November 22, 2014

Naked Ventriloquism

Naked City was a ground breaking police detective tv series that aired from 1958-63. It was filmed on location on the streets of New York City. I remember watching some of those episodes as a child growing up on the outskirts of the city in Little Neck, Queens. Recently, as I watched some Naked City episodes on DVD, a flood of buried memories burst out of the recesses of my mind. A nostalgia tinged with more than its share of the sadness that is intrinsically part of the bitter-sweetness that is nostalgia.

My troubled childhood did have moments of joy, moments of connectedness to my parents and sister amidst the more pervasive feelings of sadness and alienation. Moments of hope. I remember feeling as I watched Naked City as a child that the show presents an experience of life that mirrored my own. Though I didn't have the words to express it then, I would describe it now as a dark, melancholy noir-like world of forlorn people struggling to escape from being trapped. Whether trapped by the consequences of their own misdeeds, or by circumstances beyond their control, the characters in Naked City episodes were invariably lonely, desperate and alienated.

The series got its name from the iconic noir movie of the same name from 1947. The name is apt as the series strived to strip its characters of their usual layers of psychological and sociological cover, and show us their gut-wrenching emotional vulnerabilities. The characters, including the lead police detective, were psychologically and emotionally naked in a way that was unprecedented in any tv series before and (I believe) since.

This feeling of psychological and emotional nakedness is also reminiscent to me of what drew me to ventriloquism as an art form and career. All my puppet characters are expressions of aspects of myself, whether readily apparent or deeply hidden. So when performing ventriloquism I have the feeling that I am revealing parts of myself that would otherwise always remain hidden or latent. Ventriloquism allows me to do this in a safe way. As I create the illusion that my puppets are real I also give myself permission to reveal parts of myself that I otherwise never would. And by making my audience laugh I get their permission - and encouragement - to push the boundaries ever further between reality and illusion.

In this way I feel that ventriloquism is a means to transform dark feelings into joyous ones, alienation into human connections, hopelessness into hope. This is also a key element of the film noir genre: when done well, a noir film transforms its own gloominess into something greater and larger than itself. There is a coziness, a solace that the viewer feels, if only in his or her empathy with the characters' inner psychological struggles and outer struggles against relentless unbeatable forces. As I now watch and re-watch various episodes of Naked City I feel that this feeling is conveyed consistently throughout the series.

The Naked City tv series - or my vague memories of it - also helped inspire me to create the Trillo & Suede characters of my mystery novel, While the Village Sleeps. The lead character, Van Trillo, is both a detective and a ventriloquist. So I feel that with this novel I have incorporated the two forms of "nakedness" that are the most exciting and meaningful to me...noir and ventriloquism.

Dummy Noir. I hope that this new genre that I am creating will do justice to the heritage of Naked City, and to the spirit of Naked Ventriloquism.
Trillo & Suede introduce While the Village Sleeps:
Trillo & Suede intro video

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