I’ve been thinking quite a lot recently about my penchant for fantastical aesthetics and surrealistic landscapes, and what, if any, part my upbringing may have had in inculcating those preferences.
I was always a creative child, and that creativity was fostered by my parents sending my to Waldorf School, where art, music and all things creative are inseparable from the instruction of less artistic skills like history and mathematics. I also loved reading, even before I could read on my own–my parents used to read to me before bed every night, lush picture books, C. S. Lewis, and later, the Prydain Chronicles and His Dark Materials. And once I could read on my own, I devoured books. Just to give you an idea of my voracious literary appetite, my sixth grade English teacher challenged my class to read and track 50 books over the course of the school year; imagine her surprise when I turned in my list after barely a month and asked for another sheet on which to keep track of my reading.
But among all the amazing art and fiction I consumed in my childhood, one particular thing stands out as having had a huge impact on my delight in all things phantasmagorical. That thing is a musical film, entitled ‘The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T.’ Released in 1953, the movie is created and written by Theodor Seuss Geisel (better known to the world as Dr. Seuss) and is the only live action feature film Dr. Seuss ever created. And did I mention it is a musical? Featuring a bizarre fantasy world right out of one of Seuss’ picture books, the film follows a young boy by the name of Bart Collins, who stumbles into a nightmare world where his strict piano teacher, Dr. Terwilliker, rules with an iron fist.
At the surreal Terwilliker Institute, Dr. Terwilliker is an autocratic madman bent on ruling the world through piano music. The grand hall of the institute features a massive 500 person piano, on which Dr. T intends to force Bart and 499 other boys (hence the 5,000 fingers) to play with no respite. Furthermore, Dr. T has imprisoned all non-piano-playing musicians in a vast subterranean dungeon, where he systematically tortures them for no better reason than they picked the wrong instrument. And worst of all, Dr. T has used his ominous powers to hypnotize Bart’s beautiful mother, Heloise, into being his assistant and bride-to-be!