Bill and Coo: The film that heralded in the Great Depression.

I'll admit that watching some movies are inherently a struggle.  I bunker down to watch some undeniably atrocious cinematic attempts and usually fight an uphill battle to keep my sanity or, at the very least, force myself to keep watching.  This is going to be a short article because really I don't want to talk about this but it'd be criminal not to say something about it.  Today I'm going to talk about one of those select films that officially destroy me.  "Bill and Coo", made in 1947-48, was the first film to officially defeat me.  I just couldn't watch it for more than ten minutes at a time.  Over the period of a week I finally was able to finish the damn thing and still my brain is throbbing from the pain.  So, what, pray tell, is Bill and Coo?  I'm not even sure how to go about explaining it.  Let me show you images from the film's soundtrack (on record) and see if you can figure out why this may be the strangest and most brain-damaging thing I've ever seen:

I know what you're thinking.  At first glace you'd think this has to be a cute animated thing.  That's when I need to bring your attention to the words "REAL BIRDS" on the picture above.  It also informs you that the record is "Non-Breakable"...letting you know that once you're cursed with a Bill and Coo record you're Damned forever.  Bill and Coo is eternal and will outlive our mortal lifespan.  If you look closely enough you can even spot a pirate parrot , which is weird all by itself.  Even more frightening is the back of the record:

Dear God, you really need to look at that picture for a while.  It's like a reverse Magic Eye won't stop showing you things you weren't looking for.  The entire film is live-action and everything you see in the above picture ACTUALLY happens in the movie.  They've got trained parrots riding on the back of hamsters, Chihuahuas being used as horses, budgie acrobats, parrots riding around on tiny motorcycles, birds pretending to be pirates and sweet mother of Christ enough strangeness that it should be criminal.  The film is shot almost completely through voice-overs...The narrator tells you what the birds are thinking and, in some cases, even does their voices (much like the movie "Look who's Talking").  Admittedly those illustrations may be the best quality images of the actual birds, mainly because the only video I could get of this monster was of terrible quality.  To make up for it, I'll throw in a few illustrations of the scary things my image capture method fails to do justice to. 

Trivia Time:  You'd think this film would be one of those obscure footnotes in the world of cinematic history and most likely was only seen by four people when it came out.  Well, maybe more than that, but YOU never heard of this thing before so why should we believe anyone else has?  The sad truth of this is that this film was actually honored in the 1948 Academy Awards (you know, the people who give out those phallic golden Oscar statues) stating the flick was one "in which artistry and patience blended a novel use of the medium of motion pictures."  So apparently this film was good enough, back in the day, to get mainstream acclaim.  That hurts me.  A lot.  Even better is a little superficial research into the director, Dean Riesner.  While he wouldn't direct again (for the good of mankind), he would continue to write screenplays for the next thirty or so years.  While I want to point out that the man who directed a film about birds wearing tiny hats also wrote "Dirty Harry" (the Eastwood film, not the porn star), I'm more disturbed that he's the man that originated the line "Tie you to a chair and get medieval on you."  While my generation thinks of Pulp Fiction as the film that described torture as "getting medieval", it's still kind of educational to know the line supposedly originated in a 1973 film called "Charley Varrick" (which starred Walter Matthau and Joe Don Baker).  So what exactly did Dean direct?  Let me give you a little more information on that.

Fundamentally Bill and Coo is a film where they recorded a bunch of trained birds doing stupid tricks while wearing hats and made a movie about it.  It sounds innocent enough, but after ten minutes of it your brain just shuts down and you start wondering what your couch tastes like.  Literally every five seconds you're assaulted by something terminally cute but very random, like a cockatiel washing tiny pants just to name one example.  While the pictures are terrible, enjoy what you can.

I should have known something was wrong when the film showed the movie's stars, Bill and Coo, right at the beginning.  It's one thing to have a film about birds that can do tricks, it's another universe of madness when you build them tiny little chairs and make one of them wear a necktie. 

I think the image of a bird delivering ice cream is a pretty good example of what goes on in Chirpendale.  Oh, no one told you?  That's the name of the sick little world where this story takes place.  Admittedly it's less of a story and more of an excuse to watch trained birds, but hey, you get to see a parrot deliver ice cream....not that you ever wanted to.  But that's beside the point.

This was also the year that Disney got acclaim for its incredibly racist "Song of the South" movie, so it's not surprising that the great evil in "Chirpendale" is known only as "The Black Menace."  I don't dare say anything else, but I think anyone who's watched any old cartoons understands how White folks get to be whatever animal they want but anyone Black in an animated feature had to be represented as a jive-talking evil morally corrupt Crow.  But I don't dare point that out.

Birds aren't the only animals covered with sugar dancing on the screen for you.  While you get to see birds of all shapes and sizes, you also get to be exposed to rather dapper-dressed puppies, kittens, and, well. "other."  Chirpendale runs off of "Chinchilla power"...which really just means somewhere out there a Chinchilla is running like a madman just so that you can bake a burrito.  This movie obviously takes place in a magical kingdom where everything is cute and sweet like sweet, sweet candy.  The problem is that it really piles on to the point where you can't take it.  I don't know if I'm properly conveying how much this film hurt me with it's sweetness. 

While they don't show him writing in chalk, you do get to see this stupid fellow put on a dunce cap and sit in the corner.  "Hot Corner Sitting Action!"  :sigh:  Maybe I'm going about this the wrong way when it comes to conveying how twisted accessorizing an avian like it was a Barbie is.  Let me try a little harder....

Huh.  While I think a fuzzy image of a budgie riding on the back of a guinea pig is pretty close to conveying the infinite pain Bill and Coo has caused me, it's not quite right.  You see, the creepiness isn't all about what's happening on-screen.  There's a lot that's going on off-screen that is just kind of unsettling to think about.  For example, there's one scene where Bill has to rescue Coo from a burning building.  He ends up saving the day but ultimately it comes down to one thing:

People just off-camera poking birds with sticks.  While that's sort of an exaggeration and none of the tricks they get forced to do seem inherently dangerous (the "fire rescue scene" is undeniably tame), it's still creepy to think about exactly why this film was made.  Was there one guy that sat around all day making tiny pants for all his birds and teaching them to do push-ups with their tiny weight sets?  Did he wake up one day and say "I'm going to make a tiny motorcycle for my Cockatiel!" or what?  That's a big chunk of the creepiness of the film.  The other thing that shakes makes me start munching on my futon is this:

You should feel very lucky that I couldn't take a decent picture of it.  Imagine this:  The scene is a tiny circus.  You've already seen the trapeze act and the guinea pig-riding parakeet.  Suddenly, like a small army of skittering spiders, cowboy parrots start running around the circus tent.  Now, just so you understand what I'm talking about, let me tell you what kind of cowboy parrots my sanity can tolerate.

That's not TOO weird right?  Fine.  That's pretty freaking strange...but after you've already watched a half hour of parrots dressed up as anything and everything, that's pretty tolerable.  In the movie, birds are people.  The concept grows on you like a pearl growing out of a grain of sand.  But what you see above is NOT what started running around on-screen.  What appeared was something worse.  So what's so freaking nightmarish about the cowboy parrots?  Look at this artist rendering and see if you can tell me.

Parrots come out with reins in their mouth while tiny cowboys in tiny boots ride around on them.  While it may not be the strangest thing I'll ever see, it was that extra bit of weird that broke me.  Just the fact that someone had the IDEA of putting tiny cowboys on the back of their pet bird, not to mention the fact that they obviously spent a lot of time making said tiny cowboys, wounds me deeply.  I'm done.  The point of this article was to just show you another realm of bizarre that I hadn't mentioned before.  Before I start my drinking binge that'll allow me to forget this sin against God, let me point out one thing:

When a film says it was inspired by ANYONE'S blackout, it's a bad sign.  Trust me.  On that note, I'm going to drink until the world fades into a nice happy place where people don't sew prom dresses for their parakeets and win Academy Awards for it. 

I think I'm just bitter because I know I can never hurt this movie as badly as it's hurt me.



 Bill:  It's True!  I'll Swallow your Soul, Swallow your Soul!


Take me Home!

I want more Articles!


Copyright 2006 jared von hindman, except for the images which are from Bill and Coo.  Those belong to their proper (and unholy) owners and are used here via Fair Use review purposes.  God Damn it, why am I so frightened of birds in party hats?