Friday, March 5, 2010

A "WTF?" Explained

Those of you who are among my Facebook friends and/or Twitter followers know that earlier in the week I posted this wonderfully odd clip, challenging anyone to watch it without finding that same goofy grin as the singer has plastered upon his face plastered upon their own:

Those who found the words with which to comment after seeing this responded with the same mixture of horror, joy, and just general WTF?-ness that I did when I stumbled upon the clip in the first place. I declared that it would henceforth be my personal theme song, played whenever I enter I room, which I would do with glazed grin and mannequin-like wave as our singer does here, if not always clad in a similarly outdated brown suit as his; this declaration prompted at least one friend to state that I would be shot should I walk pass his porch one day singing the song! (No worries - no vocalizations I can muster come anywhere near the realm of what sane people would deem "singing.")

Weirdness experienced and chuckles had by all, we all moved on with our lives, likely never to encounter our fashion-stunted but joy-filled Russian singer again. And then...

Today I came across this in-all-ways-wonderful post written by Justin E. H. Smith, which not only seeks to explain what in blue blazes the clip was all about, but provides remarkable historical and cultural context for it. A brief tidbit:

"The man singing is Edward Hill, also known as Eduard Khil', or, better yet, Эдуард Хиль...The song he is interpreting, "I Am So Happy to Finally Be Back Home," is an Ostrovskii composition, and it is meant to be sung in the vokaliz style, that is to say sung, but without words...Recent interest in Hill has to do with the perceived strangeness, the uncanniness, the surreal character of this performance. There is indeed something uncanny about a lip-synch to a song with no words, and his waxed face and hair helmet certainly do not carry over well. But once one does a bit of research, one learns that the number was not conceived out of some desire to cater to the so-bad-it's-good tastes of the Western YouTube generation, but in fact was meant to please --to genuinely please-- Soviet audiences who were capable of placing this routine, this man, and this song into a familiar context."

Smith goes on to provide, as counterpoint, a rendition of the same song performed in a 1960 film, and then begins a fascinating dissection/celebration of Hill's performance. It is an informative and entertaining piece, well-written and appreciated by those of us who, while enjoying the clip at face value, still wondered...well...WTF?!?

However explanatory Smith's piece may be, a reading of the comments left for Smith by his readers again brings about the cloak of oddness: an ongoing, scholarly discussion of Hill's performance as symbolic of the wide cultural gaps between peoples of the world?!? When one commenter declared this clip to be a reflection of "the ethos of the Brezhnevian era: hell hidden behind pastel tones," I began wondering whether this wasn't all some big put-on. Heck, why not summon the ghost of William F. Buckley to debate with Gore Vidal the value of Edward Hill's performance as allegory to the rise and fall of the Soviet Union and the perceived elitism of America by the rest of the world while we're at it?

Still, a fascinating read, and the very fact that such a blog post as Smith's and such responses as those of Smith's readers would be inspired by so downright goofy a clip as this amuses me to no end. That I find myself inspired to write this blog post about that blog post is somewhat frightening; if any of you reading this feel compelled to write a post about this post about that post about that video, I recommend seeking professional help.

Or, just scrap the whole thing, put on a bad brown suit and a silly grin and sing along with Edward Hill. "Tra-la-la-la-laaaaaaa......"

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  1. My Khil remix:

  2. Nice job! Posting on our Facebook Fan Page now...