Sunday, November 1, 2020

Donovan is here to take the children

I wasn't even aware that this movie existed until this morning! A bit lost in the sands of time, it's 1972's The Pied Piper, directed by Jacques Demy, a famed filmmaker who was married to another filmmaker who should be even more studied and celebrated — Agnès Varda.

But, getting back to this film of a half-century ago, it sounds bonkers! The Scottish musician Donovan plays the titular character, and his presence as a hoped-for box-office draw is driven home by the movie's tagline, "Come children of the universe, let Donovan take you away, far far away."

Nothing creepy about that, no sir!

(Additionally, it should be noted that's Donovan's "Hurdy Gurdy Man" was turned into the creepy anthem of David Fincher's 2007 film Zodiac, which features a short appearance by Donovan's daughter, actress Ione Skye.)

Demy's film, from what I've quickly read, is considered a fairly faithful retelling of the legend, which is to say that it's ultimately more dark than whimsical. (I mean, it was a purported mass abduction of children, so there's only so much Disneyfying you can do to that plot. Radu R. Florescu's 2005 book In Search of the Pied Piper is an interesting historical examination of the legend.)

The movie also stars Donald Pleasence, Roy Kinnear, John Hurt and H.R. Pufnstuf's Jack Wild, but it's really all about the psychedelic folk star at the center of the celluloid, and it should be noted that some (not all) of what I've read makes it pretty clear that Donovan cannot act. Which, as you might imagine, could be troublesome for a film such as this.

Writing for the blog Every '70s Movie, Peter Hanson summarizes the film thusly: "It’s not a mess, per se, but it’s not really much of anything."

Still, if one is interested in the eclectic cast, film oddities and Grimm (pun intended) folklore, it seems like it would be worth at least one watch.

Writing for MOOF in 2017, Melanie Xulu places The Pied Piper every so slightly alongside movies such as Witchfinder General, The Blood on Satan's Claw and The Wicker Man, which have been retrodubbed Folk Horror by modern enthusiasts. That's interesting company, for sure.

Finally, it's the above poster itself that initially drew me down the rabbit hole of Donovan and the Rat-Catcher. It was a fun diversion for a rainy Sunday, but I am sorry to report that I couldn't determine the identity of the poster artist. There are some elements of Peter Max lite in there, I think. I'll update this if anyone ever finds an answer.

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