Sunday, March 29, 2015

Outré Intro: H.R. Pufnstuf (1969)

H.R. Pufnstuf (1969): kid's show, drug trip, or both?

Please, discuss among yourselves...

All joking aside, H.R. Pufnstuf is an extremely imaginative work of art from producers Sid and Marty Krofft. 

In the tradition of The Wizard of Oz, this Saturday morning TV series is the story of a boy, Jimmy (Jack Wild) who makes a magic journey from our world to a fantasy world. 

In that fantasy world, he is taunted and chased by a Witch (Billy Hayes), and befriended by strange talking trees, dragons, owls and other representatives of "The Living Island."

The question of H.R. Pufnstuf's true nature -- as either drug trip or pure entertainment (or both) -- is usually raised because of the program's trippy imagery, but also because of the series title, and song lyrics. 

Specifically, "Pufnstuf" seems a reference to smoking weed, and the line "can't do a little, cuz he can't do enough" also seems like a drug reference about getting high.

Clearly, too, there's the trip angle.  

Some of the imagery featured below seems indicative of a good trip gone bad, especially given the dual-nature of the boat that transports Jimmy to this "other world" of H.R. Pufnstuf.

The title montage begins with snow-capped mountains, a beautiful forest, and a boy running alone in slow motion, enjoying a warm, happy "summertime" with his "magic golden flute." 

Is the flute actually representative of a bong or pipe?  The very thing that makes the trip possible, and is coveted by Witchiepoo?

It seems like that could be the case since as the intro commences, Jimmy lives in what seems to be the real world, except for the presence of that magic talking flute.   

After just a few blows on that pipe/flute (as you can see in the opening frames), he sees a magical boat on the shore, one ready to whisk him away to another place.

Did I mention that the boat is psychedelic, and seems to be alive?  

In the frame below, the boat's eye moves.  

And the title song notes that the boat beckons Jimmy.  "Come and play with me, Jimmy, come and play with me.  I will take you on a trip...far across the sea."

Again with the trip imagery!

So Jimmy boards the boat and takes that trip, only to find that the boat belongs to a witch, Witchiepoo. It reveals its true, evil, demonic form to Jimmy, and she cackles with glee.  The boat actually wrestles Billy and tries to kill him.  

The ocean turns mean, the boat loses its psychedelic, colorful qualities, and we are asked to contemplate a trip gone very, very bad.

But Pufnstuf comes to the rescue with his rescue crew, and races to save Jimmy from the witch, providing a safe harbor for the boy.

Hand-in-hand with Pufnstuf, Jimmy explores the wacky weirdness fantasy land of the Living Island, and the credits roll.  Please note the living tree in the last frame, wearing a head-band and sun-glasses.

Weird, huh?

So what do you think? Is H.R. Pufnstuf really about drug culture?

Or is it just a really weird product of the year 1969?  (That's the year, incidentally, that I was born...).

I feel that the drug culture aspects of the show, from the title to the flute, to the song lyrics are absolutely intentional, though the individual stories featured on the show are kid-friendly and innocuous in the extreme.   

Why go about a program in a fashion like this?

Well, it creates interest among older kids (and TV  cholars...) for one thing, so that not just children will watch the series. 

Indeed, by featuring drug culture references and images, a kind of parallel narrative is created here. Suddenly, you start watching the episodes on competing tracks; looking for clues as to intent and purpose.

Here's the intro in living color:

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