Paul Hayes (Permalink)
Director: Jim Henson Year: 1969 Add Comments
This topic is riddled with copious misnomers. By mentioning Jim Henson you will think of Kermit and Big Bird and the nefarious world of kiddie puppet comedy wherein exaggerated animals prance about singing ABC-123 la-la-la’s; the likes of which will drive you crazy given exposure for any lengthy period. The second of the glaring misinterpretations is the title of this piece; “Cube”. Most of you will now be thinking of the 1997 sci-fi thriller by Vincenzo Natali of the same title, maybe even of its reprehensible sequel – Hypercube; with regards to this I’d personally prefer a final “Honey I shrunk the kids and they are stuck in a Rubix cube,” at least then I might learn how to complete one and there’d be pretty colours and Rick Moranis. Now, if I may permit myself to use this pun: please think outside of this confined little box – the cube idea, this original notion of being stuck in a cell is certainly not new.
A one hour teleplay – entitled The Cube, born 1969 from the mind of a twisted young Henson is possibly the first of the “get me out of here” efforts. It is an experiment in television that was cautiously aired on NBC in February the same year; from there it became ingrained in the sub consciousnesses of the youth as like-minded teachers replayed it in sociology, psychology and English classes alike. Then it disappeared; forgotten it lay quietly at the back of people’s minds until a telecommunications revolution came about and all those with blurry childhood recollections could gather and discuss this weird thing they saw as kids – in eventuality they formed the “Cube Yahoo group” dedicated to bringing The Cube and the ongoing search for copies to a whole new generation.
Actor Richard Schaal awakes as the man in the cube, no doors, no windows, no nooks no crannies – only white panelling. He has no idea how he got there, he has no idea where he is and he has no hope or clue about how to escape. If you’re lucky enough to have the contacts, a VHS sourced downloadable black and white version of this twice aired non-commercially available feature is circulating the internet, complete with muffled sound and those in-vogue grainy lines that were so commonplace in the nineties. While this may dissuade you, it is the perfect setting for this metaphysical and psychological dark comedy.
In the meantime however, “Hello, can anyone hear me?” the man, in the cube, is calling. “This is weird” he mutters, and continues asking “Can anyone hear me?”. Now begins the deflating existential experience played out through a number of comic vignettes. Three panels give way to reveal an opening and in strolls the janitor, he brings in a stool for the man – though unfortunately it has a strawberry jam stain - “phew, I thought I was going crazy” the man says before he realises that the janitor is gone, the door is sealed and he is still trapped. But now he is going to be late for the show, as from a new opening come three unknowns – one claiming to be Margaret his wife, they enter and quiz the man as to why he is here and what this place is, “Come with us Ted, the fresh air will do you good – don’t forget your coat” and the door is sealed and he is alone again. And so on it goes, this lengthy diatribe continues through a diverse cast of characters and circumstances each serving to insight frustration, confusion and desperation whether benign or malignant; the helpful manager; the recurring janitor “this is not your door, this is my door”; a police enquiry and search warrant that reveals uncut diamonds in a chocolate rabbit, microfilm, arms, gold bullion and hostage; an interior designer that decides white is pure and spiritual; a practicing guitar band rocking out to the catchy number “you’ll never get out ‘til you’re dead”; and so on. Subtle and not so subtle messages of eternal incarceration lace each visitation beside “a certain amount of dramatic suspense through a touch of the macabre” (as the manager puts it).
Professor: Excuse me, I know this is a bad time but I just wanted to congratulate you and shake your hand.
The Man: Oh? On what?
Professor: Well, as I interpret what you’re doing here, this is all a very complex discussion of Reality versus Illusion. The perfect subject for the television medium!
The Man: What do you mean, television?
Professor: Well, this is a television play.
The Man: What?
Professor: Oh, you don’t believe that?
The Man: Of course not!
Professor: I should have thought you’d want to. After all, there’s only one other possible explanation.
The Man: Which is?
Professor: Hallucination. That you are altogether insane.
Insurmountable frustration spliced with absurdly dark comedy in this self admitting television experiment generates a sublimely brilliant, laughable and devastatingly claustrophobic horror akin to the recognised masterpieces of Brazil and The Prisoner. Track this down and subject your peers to an hour of something long lost. Let it haunt the back of your mind and then forget about it for 20 years until the next revolution.
It’s Strawberry Jam.