Before I get to today’s topic, won’t you take a moment to read my most recent Prudent Pantry columns? Last week I gave out the recipe for the Best Cookies Ever™ and this week I have 8 Ways To Eat Your Veggies, a response to a New York Times article on Americans’ relationship with vegetables (in short: we don’t eat them). Please read both! I really love writing them.
On Saturday at the Republic Pictures Anniversary Event, we saw two episodes of the Zorro serial. It was tremendous fun and also really terrible. It was unquestionably art (remember, art can be bad) while at the same time not art at all.
As far as I can tell, having seen and listened to a variety of serials from Commando Cody (watch the series here) to The Adventures of Sam Spade (listen to the radio show here*) to Flash Gordon (listen here), the idea was to crank the episodes out quickly and cheaply, with very little regard to pesky things like story. In that way, they are most assuredly not art.
*Will and I borrowed the Sam Spade series on cassette from the library eleven years ago. He used to call me Effie. I think he stopped after we rented The Thin Man and he started calling me Nora.
But I think you can make art by mistake. (And really, it may be that the intention was art, but the execution says otherwise.) There is something in the ridiculous formula–hero and girl in peril, huge climax they can’t possibly escape from, next episode starts with them far away from the peril and no explanation of their escape, rinse and repeat–and the silly special effects that makes the adventure serials of the past rather darling today. They would certainly be almost impossible to recreate.
George Lucas has tried twice, with Star Wars and Indiana Jones, and I think he came pretty close to succeeding with Indiana Jones. Of course the movies are not serialized, but the atmosphere is similar, especially in Temple of Doom. The over-the-top villains, pretty girls, high stakes, and fantastical McGuffins certainly fit the formula.
With the vast array of web series right now, I’m hopeful that someone is making an adventure series in the style of the old serials right now and I just haven’t found it yet.