Title: Animals R Us
Written by: Robin Green
Directed by: Nick Marck
Aired: October 14, 1991
Log Line: Maggie is confronted with the strange possibility that the late Rick has been reincarnated as a dog; Maurice sees big profits in big eggs when he discovers Marilyn owns an ostrich herd; and Ed seriously considers getting out of show business.
Listen to the podcast episode here.
This week, we’re going to try something we haven’t done before: discuss the differences between a filmed episode of Northern Exposure and its script. The episode we’ll be looking at is one that foregrounds film and the creative process: 3.4, “Animals R Us.” We’ll be comparing the final aired episode against the “final draft” of the script (dated August 14, 1991). There are a number of differences between the two works, so we will focus on some of the things that we found most interesting.
Brink of Emptiness
Perhaps the biggest change is the omission of the first two pages of the script, which was to have been the scene that opens the episode. We see Chris and Maurice, dressed in black turtlenecks and tweed jackets, and The Brick dressed up as a New York brasserie. Chris is drunk and depressed, musing about life: “It’s all the same to me. The same faces, the same conversations. I know what people are going to say before they even open their mouths” (p. 1). Holling, on the other hand, is trying to convince his friend of the beauty of life. This is, of course, a scene from Ed’s possible “Neo-realistic classic” (p. 4), a movie that he’s been presumably working on for a while prior to this episode, “an exploration of the meaning of life” (p. 13). Later in the episode, we see Ed tell his actors, Chris and Holling, that he’s calling it quits on Brink of Emptiness.
Why was the prologue scene cut? Of course, there are practical reasons, like the length of the episode, but we would venture that the suggestion of Ed’s first movie is much more powerful than actually showing excerpts from the movie itself. Viewers are left curious about the existentialist film, about the idea of Holling and Chris as actors in such a film. Are the scenes that have been filmed that bad? Or is this the thoughts of a budding movie director who is doubting himself? There is, after all, sometimes more power to evoke something that is not there than show it explicitly.
To those curious, this deleted scene was actually filmed, and you can see it in the bonus section of the Northern Exposure DVD. After seeing it, we definitely think that leaving it out was a good choice.
Young Woody and The Seventh Seal
One of the main differences between the aired episode and the script is the centrality of Ingmar Bergman’s 1957 film The Seventh Seal in the script. During the podcast, we talked about the disconnect between the discussion Ed and Grandma Woody have about the film they are seeing and the actual film being projected. Clearly, they are meant to be watching The Seventh Seal. That’s why they mention Bergman, his Swedish guilt, and the appearance of Death on screen, points that make no sense when we see them watching Carl Dryer’s 1955 Danish film Ordet. The script states that “Bergman’s ‘Seventh Seal’ [is] playing on their faces” (p. 29).
Interestingly, in the script Ed is actually sitting in the theatre with Woody Allen (in an earlier draft of the script) or “a young boy who looks like a young Woody Allen” (in the “pink” revision of the script; p. 28). This explains why some of the dialogue doesn’t make sense for Grandma Woody. Does it really make sense for her to mention, “Probably he shot in daylight and pushed the film”? This seems like a technical aspect of cinema that Woody Allen’s mother wouldn’t likely be aware of. In fact, that’s the case for much of Grandma Woody’s dialogue; it sounds more like Woody Allen talking than his mother. In the script, Ed asks Young Woody what he does when he doesn’t get any ideas. Young Woody replies, “Well, if nothing comes to mind, I’ll do a few homages, one to Bergman here, one to Fellini there” (p. 30). Here, Ed knowingly points to Allen’s films Interiors and Stardust Memories.
In a later scene in the script, we see Ed editing his movie while The Seventh Seal plays on his VCR in the background. The scene is written so the film on the TV is shown first. As the English subtitles appear on screen, we hear Ed in a voiceover say each line aloud. Eventually, it is revealed that Ed has his back to the TV as he edits his film. He “recites the subtitles verbatim as they appear, though he can’t see the screen” (p. 42). This scene illustrates that Ed has seen this film so many times that he has memorized its subtitles. It’s astonishing that he would be able to watch this film (in his mind), speak its subtitles (based on the Swedish dialogue) and edit his own film simultaneously. Talk about multi-tasking. The scene also emphasizes something that is in the script, but not in the aired version of the episode: that he includes Bergman in the list of influences he gives to Ruth-Anne. In the aired episode he mentions Godard and Malle, while in the script he says, “I owe alot [sic] to Godard, certainly Bergman. But I think my greatest influence has been Louis Malle” (p. 4).
A lobster, a harmonica, and the glass in Bruce Willis’ feet
In the scene where Joel visits Ed, there are a number of small differences between the script and the aired episode. When Joel arrives, Ed is shown in the script to be watching TV rather than playing the harmonica. In the script, the page from a script Woody Allen sends to Ed is from Hannah and Her Sisters rather than from Annie Hall. (Both scenes are about food and animals, which reinforces the title and themes of this episode: the lobster scene in Annie Hall and the turkey scene in Hannah and Her Sisters.) In the script, Steven Spielberg’s baseball cap is from the film Jaws, rather than one for Universal Studios. It was somewhat confusing when Ed says in the episode that the cap was “from a few movies ago”. With the Jaws cap, this makes a nice little joke because everyone knows when that film came out. It was arguably the first blockbuster. Interestingly, legendary film critic Pauline Kael wrote that “Though Jaws has more zest than an early Woody Allen picture, and a lot more electricity, it’s funny in a Woody Allen way” (When the Lights God Down, 1980, p. 195).
In an earlier version of the script, Shelly said she would make a movie like like Die Hard, mentioning that “Bruce Willis has all that glass in his feet and he kept on fighting” (p. 24). This was an intriguing reference because it was a blockbuster starring Bruce Willis that was produced by Joel Silver a few years before the two of them worked on the flop Hudson Hawk, a film Ed mentioned earlier in the episode when giving his reason for giving up on his film Brink of Emptiness. (By the time of the “blue” revision of the script, this had been replaced by the Terminator speech, which appears in the filmed version.)
Beta vs. VHS
Marketing is a theme that appears in “Animals R Us”, particularly in scenes involving Maurice. One scene that appears in the script but not in the episode involves Maurice talking to Marilyn about the importance of marketing, using Beta and VHS as his example (very appropriately, we might add, due to the importance of cinema throughout this episode). He says, “Show me the finest goods in the world, and if you don’t have marketing you don’t have squat. Take for example Beta and VHS video equipment. Betamax? Better sound, better picture. But Sony got the shellac kicked out of it. Why? Marketing. In the business world, it’s ten percent product, ninety percent product perception” (p. 24). This scene ties in nicely with the nods to VHS tapes in the script (neither of which are in the filmed version): the VHS tape of The Seventh Seal that Ed watches and the detail that Ed films his movie using a Camcorder (mentioned on p. 2 and p. 36), which is likely loaded with VHS tape. In the final version of the episode, he appears to be using a Bolex camera.
Lush music and a turkey carcass
In the script, Rick’s favourite beer is Narragansett. In the filmed episode this has been changed to Hamm’s beer, a nice detail for an animal-focused episode. (Remember also that Joel says dogs are basically “pigs with fur”, echoing somewhat Grandma Woody’s suggestion that humans are just “monkeys with car keys.”)
The montage with Rick the Dog that appears in the filmed episode while “Natural Woman” plays is written very differently in the script, which calls for “Lush, romantic classical music” (p. 45) to play during the scene. The script features a “turkey carcass” at the picnic and includes a few shots of Maggie peeling a “strip of meat off the turkey” while the dog “licks his chops” (p. 45). She then “tosses him the meat” and the dog “snaps it up mid-air” (p. 45), which causes Maggie to “laugh delightedly” (p. 46). After she gives him another piece of turkey, she lets the dog “lick her fingers” (p. 46). Eventually, they “run in SLO MO — ‘ELVIRA MADIGAN’ music playing” (p. .46). This is the only specific music listed in the script and it doesn’t appear in the episode. Neither does the slow motion shot.
There were clearly quite a few differences between this script and the filmed version of the episode. We’re not sure how many further revisions this “final draft” underwent. Regardless, it’s interesting to see a snapshot of what this episode may have been and compare it to the version that aired. Some of the changes were for the better (e.g., scoring the picnic scene with “Natural Woman”), while others were stronger in the script (e.g., including footage from The Seventh Seal playing in the theatre rather than Ordet; Maurice’s brief speech about VHS and Beta).
Themes / Recurrences: Film; artistic process; death; animals and humans; transmutation
The Good: This was an easy pick. Ed’s movie was definitely the highlight of the episode. Now that we think about it, it was very courageous to show the entire movie, because this is the first time that we’ve seen any of Ed’s filmmaking. It is risky, because it could have been embarrassing, and we would have felt bad for Ed (just like the townsfolk would have, we guess). But the short film is lovely – artistic, accessible, and charming.
The Bad: It’s a shame that the episode did not include scenes from Bergman’s The Seventh Seal. It was strange to see an entirely different film (Ordet) in the theatre scene when Ed and Grandma Woody were obviously talking about the Bergman film. With the appearance of the Clue-loving Death (a.k.a. Mr. Streisand) dressed in a black robe in “What I Did for Love” (2.4), the inclusion of the Death character from The Seventh Seal would have made this episode more meaningful.
The Notable: Rick the dog is the cutest dog ever! And he is a stand-out actor.
The Linkable: We read a few brief excerpts from David Scott Diffrient‘s article “For the Love of Film: Cinephilia in Cicely and the Cross-Media Intertextuality of Northern Exposure“, which is definitely worth reading. It was published in the journal Critical Studies in Television (2006, 1.2, 81-95). (D. Scott Diffrient is Associate Professor of Film and Media Studies at Colorado State University.)
On’s Rating: 9 out of 10
Shane’s Rating: 9 out of 10