9 February, 1971: Little Murders

Anna and Ben venture into the heretofore unknown territory of 1971, and investigate Jules Feiffer’s and Alan Arkin’s Little Murders. They forensically dissect the romantic power dynamics between Elliot Gould’s and Marcia Rodd’s characters, but come to very different conclusions about the essence and impact of Donald Sutherland’s satirical preacher. If they agree, fine; if they disagree, also fine! He will not put them down for that.

Sources and References:

Ben begins the episode by claiming that the concept of “little murders” enters the vernacular after Feiffer’s play. This is based on a search of the New York Times archives, which revealed no uses of the phrase prior to the existence of the play, but a couple key examples subsequently, in particular, this article about a vogue of assassinations from 1973. Google’s Ngram viewer of scans of Google books partially corroborates this, by showing only a few instances as early as 1963, but a significant spike between ’67 and ’69, and a semi-continuous usage thereafter.

Images from a couple eBay listings of the Little Murders pressbook give an idea of what Ben was trying to show Anna as to how the film was being marketed. Not specifically the Feiffer dancing/writhing people in the giant 3-column ad, and the photo of Sutherland and Gould implying, without stating, a M*A*S*H connection. Another version of the first image can be found here.

Karol is a perfectly ordinary “Polish, Slovak” name for a man — not quite “Slavic”, as Ben had it in the commentary, but that’s also because he’s not quite sure about the appropriate terminology. Derived, according to Wikipedia from the same roots as “Karl” and therefore “Charles”, Carol as a man’s name also makes perfect sense. Amusingly, in the “Men named Carol” section of Wikipedia, the lead actor from All in the Family whose name Ben couldn’t quite remember, Carol O’Connor, isn’t mentioned.

In Feiffer’s memoir, Backing into Forward, he begins his chapter about hitting the breaking point of being frustrated and blocked with the initial novel version of Little Murders as located in April 1965. The brief chapter, “Into Exile”, is about preparing to go to the writer’s colony at Yaddo, in Saratoga Springs, and meeting a young man who is violently disillusioned with the world. The next chapter starts with Feiffer arriving in Yaddo in February, which would seem to be the following February, 1966. In between that disillusionment and the inspiration to switch formats from novel to play, Charles Schulz publishes this Peanuts strip in September of 1965, where Linus encourages Charlie Brown to light a candle instead of cursing the darkness.

Alan Arkin is credited prominently on the Mercury Records album Comedy from The Second City, and is name-checked in the sketch from that same album that is part of the selections from the two-disc Second City: Backstage at the World’s Greatest Comedy Theatre compilation. The entirety of the album has been ripped to YouTube, but the key sketch, “Football comes to the University of Chicago” was also filmed, and Arkin can be seen in it here. While we’re linking to videos, the post-screening lecture about Little Murders given by Feiffer at the Sag Harbor Cinema can be found here.

Ben would like to point out that he misremembered many things about the “Everything is permitted; nothing is forbidden” quotation. This blog does an excellent job of sourcing the original, disentangling it from Crowley’s phrase, “Do what thou wilt” — although that is quite close to Anna’s summation of the Reverend Sutherland’s ethos —and defining its scope and context. I feel quite humbled.

And lastly, we know that tracking down a copy of Little Murders is not simple. The Blu-Ray is currently only available in the UK. The poster above came from a blog that imagines a future Criterion Collection release of Murders, but the Indicator release is already quite heavy on context and special features. The wonderful DVD Beaver has a collection of stills from the film and also captures of the wide range of supplemental materials.

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