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Just whaaat exactly is the deal with Betty Boop? I'm sure there have been plenty of scholarly articles published about her cultural significance—she's what, a flapper? A hydrocephalic prostitute? Seriously, why is her head so big? Is a gigantic dome a hallmark of Depression-era sexiness, because of all the corn you could fit in there? I'm sure it's all extremely interesting. But from this modern lady's perspective, Betty Boop cartoons don't accomplish much besides weirding the fuck out of Lindy West. If that's your goal, then mission accomplished, Boop.
At the Sprocket Society's Secret Sunday Matinee this weekend (every Sunday at noon at Northwest Film Forum through November 23), they kicked off the afternoon with a 1933 cartoon called Betty Boop's Hallowe'en Party. In said cartoon, old Jack Frost putts around in an airplane of ice and drops a party invitation upon a terrifying, faceless scarecrow: "Hallowe'en dinner party at Betty Boop's house RIGHT AWAY! P.S. Bring your lunch."
When Boop throws a party, it is not humans who come to dine. No, Boop's only friends are wiggly, bug-eyed forest creatures: cats and dogs and miscellaneous fur-beasts who stare, stare, stare into the viewer's most vulnerable depths. "HELLO, FUNNY FACE," bellows a monkey-monster, crashing the party. Then the Boop creatures destroy him with glee. What. The fuck.
Next up was The Red Spectre (El Espectro Rojo!) a technological marvel from 1907 about a skeletal magician and his subterranean magic show. And then, chapter two of Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe (they're showing one episode serially each week), entitled Freezing Torture, in which Dale Arden falls limply off a cliff. "Eeeeeee!"
Finally, the secret feature! A friendly guy came out to introduce the film and said a few words about the Sunday matinees: "All the features are great classics, or should be classics, or close enough." I was secretly hoping for a "close enough," but what we got couldn't be more entrenched in the "classics" category: James Whale's 1931 Frankenstein. I had never actually seen Frankenstein (am I fired?), but its influence on 20th-century pop culture is heavy enough that any of us might as well have. Still, the film yielded a few surprises—it was prettier ("This storm will be magnificent. All the electrical secrets of heaven!") and funnier (old Baron Frankenstein) and more subtly sinister ("Crazy, am I? We'll see whether I'm crazy or not. Come on up...") than I expected.
As the first frames of Frankenstein filled the screen (with a caveat: "I think it will thrill you. It may shock you. It might even horrify you"), a woman hurried out, two children in tow. Apparently Frankenstein was too chilling for tender young brains. Whatever, lady. Karloff might be scary, but he is no Boop.