Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Set Decoration Odyssey, Part One by Greg Dziawer

Dig those dandy lions: Some interesting set decorations from Ed Wood's Necromania.

A pair of "Foo Dogs."
A new year seems a good time to start a new Odyssey. And truth be told, the set decorations in Ed Wood's films had preoccupied me—obsessed me, in fact—or the better part of the last half of 2016.

In this week's Ed Wood Wednesdays, we're beginning a journey into the next level of Ed-phemera. Beyond credits and collaborators, beyond paperbacks and Poughkeepsie, beyond all sanity, there lies the inanimate objects decorating sets in films involving Ed. 

Set decorations, in common usage, are there to assist in creating verisimilitude, a semblance of reality. When a headstone in a cemetery falls over and calls attention to itself, the illusion of reality is utterly shattered. When those objects become most invisible is often when they are most successful. I don't know how many times I had watched The Young Marrieds before I finally grasped it, consciously aware of it and not just experiencing it as a functionally invisible set decoration. In retrospect, maybe it wasn't even me who noticed it—and certainly not in the bigger picture—as porn archaeologist Dimitrios Otis had brought up the subject of set decoration in Ed's work to me numerous times. And right here at Ed Wood Wednesdays, Joe Blevins previously noted set decoration in his brilliantly exhaustive article about The Young Marrieds. However the idea got into my head, there came an eventual moment when, watching the film, I truly saw the objects for the first time.

The statue upon the dresser along the right-hand wall in Ben and Ginny's bedroom in The Young Marrieds finally clawed its way into my consciousness. For a bit, not really thinking it through, I mistakenly thought it had a resemblance to a tiki idol. Just as I quickly came to my senses, a gracious poster in a private Ed Wood forum politely set me straight, informing me that it is a Chinese Imperial Guardian Lion

From Wikipedia:
Since the introduction of the lion symbolism from Indian culture especially through Buddhist symbolism, statues of guardian lions have traditionally stood in front of Chinese Imperial palaces, Imperial tombs, government offices, temples, and the homes of government officials and the wealthy, from the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220), and were believed to have powerful mythic protective benefits. They are also used in other artistic contexts, for example on door-knockers, and in pottery. Pairs of guardian lion statues are still common decorative and symbolic elements at the entrances to restaurants, hotels, supermarkets and other structures, with one sitting on each side of the entrance, in China and in other places around the world where the Chinese people have immigrated and settled, especially in local Chinatowns.
These lions, sometimes referred to by Westerners as "Foo Dogs," are usually depicted in pairs. When used as statuary, the pair would consist of a male leaning his paw upon an embroidered ball (in imperial contexts, representing supremacy over the world ) and a female restraining a playful cub that is on its back (representing nurture).

Is there meant to be symbolism, the lions guarding the marital bed? If so, they are doing a poor job, sitting idly by as Ben and Ginny's marriage is sorely tested. 

A lion (far right) shows up in The Young Marrieds, guarding the marital bed.

A fascination with these lions now set ablaze, I then saw them again for the first time, upon an umpteenth viewing of Necromania. Perhaps I am the last to the party and this was obvious to all, but for me, it was a revelation. Once again, they guard a bed occupied by the married protagonists. Their marriage also crumbling, the Guardians bear mute witness.

While that reading might sound plausible, and a readerly text produces a unique, shared meaning while being experienced, in all likelihood it's just another set decoration from storage, on hand at the studio. Why do I think this? 

As I've poured through 8mm SoCal porn loops, looking for clues of Ed's involvement, the Foo Dog(s) turn up again and again. The usage is often the same as in The Young Marrieds and Necromania, another piece of bric-à-brac  as aesthetic enhancement. Yet there are times that I often feel that one of the lions is placed this way or that for a reason, seeming to judge these debauched and morally vacant couples, a new breed capable of exchanging mere words at the car wash before quickly arranging a hook-up via black rotary phones, ending in a male-fantasy facial. When I spot one of the statues now, I refer to it—in a "Bela-Lugosi-as-God" whisper—as The Guardian. 

Ah, yesss...The Guardian.... 

The lions have supporting roles in Necromania.

In future episodes of the Wood Set Decoration Odyssey, we'll revisit this curious pair of lions, and shine a light on numerous pairs of table lamps. We'll stare at furniture, ashtrays, wall hangings, blankets and pillows, all the while looking at everything except the sex. Nothing else is safe from our scrutiny.

And in case you're wondering what all of this has to do with Ed Wood and why any of it even matters, just be patient. All shall be revealed to those pure of heart.

P.S. Incredibly, I found Chinese Imperial Guardian Lions in Bride of the Monster (1955). Officer Kelton (Paul Marco) has them in on the shelf behind his desk. You can see them behind drunk Ben Frommer.

Guardian Lions in Bride of the Monster (1955)

Bonus: A gallery of Chinese Imperial Guardian Lions has been added to the Ed Wood Wednesdays Tumblr.