Groucho Marx has taken his place in court, where he will be the unlikely advocate of a mysterious entity known as the “surrealist woman”.
” You are late ! Growls the judge.
âPlease forgive my delay. I was in the yard hiding evidence, âGroucho told him.
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âHiding evidence is illegal! Â»Replied the judge.
âIllegal, you say? How am I supposed to get my client out then? Groucho asks.
Josh Frank, the author of Giraffes on Horseback Salad, an adaptation of a lost collaboration between the Marx brothers and Salvador DalÃ, spent his life preparing such a project. This preparation consisted mainly of watching all of the Marx Brothers films until the rhythms of their jokes and the details of their sensibilities were etched into his brain; Now the author, who also operates a one-of-a-kind city cinema in Austin, TX, has taken on the ultimate challenge: writing his own Marx Brothers movie.
He had a little help, of course, with the help of artist Manuela Pertega and contemporary surrealist comic Tim Heidecker, a Temple University graduate. Since the Marx Brothers themselves often received help with their scripts, he was more than happy to seek out collaborators. âThey didn’t even write a Marx Brothers movie on their own,â Frank said.
A few years ago Frank learned that there was supposedly a long lost screenplay written by DalÃ starring the Marx Brothers, which the famous Spanish artist called “the greatest surrealist comic book that ever existed.” “. There were photos of sketches DalÃ had made in preparation for his pitch that could be found with a light Google search, but for Frank, a determined “pop culture archaeologist,” that wasn’t enough.
So he continued to dig.
He wrote to the Gala-Salvador DalÃ Foundation in Spain to see what it could bring, and on condition that it did: DalÃ’s Notes on Giraffes, in Portuguese, translated from the original French and kept in Paris. A Craigslist post later, Frank asked a translator to send him page after page of exactly what he was looking for. âAmazing visual ideas, clear story, specific characters,â Frank writes in the introduction.
While that still wasn’t enough for a full movie, it was’ all fuel [he] necessary âto continue searching. He was rewarded, after more research into DalÃ’s personal life while composing the screenplay (1936-1939), with an attachment containing DalÃ’s full screenplay notes, with doodles and jokes. That was all Frank needed to move on and turn it all into something more.
With the help of Black Francis of the Pixies, the legendary alternative rock band Frank had previously written a book on, he was directed to Heidecker of the Tim & Eric comedy team. Heidecker, although perhaps not in possession of the exact same comic sensibilities of the Marx brothers, certainly shared something with DalÃ. For Frank, he was “the current embodiment of surrealism”.
Frank worked with Heidecker and other comedians to flesh out the story and set the comedic tone of the Marx Brothers. âI was really nervous about it,â Frank said. âNot so much for casual viewers. It was for the people who loved the Marx Brothers since before I existed that I was nervous.
The product is the story of a richer than God industrialist named Jimmy who nonetheless feels morally and intellectually suffocated by the mooing that surrounds him. It is only when he meets the Surrealist Woman, a supernatural being who manifests his dreams, realities and fantasies in the world (sometimes with disastrous effects), that Jimmy finds himself invigorated by the possibilities of life. His faithful assistant is none other than Groucho Marx.
It’s a story full of on-sight gags, original songs, titular giraffes, and the spirit of the Marx Brothers, ending on a bittersweet note. âIt’s this mixture of tragedy and comedy, this mixture of disturbing and beautiful, hilarious and horrible,â Frank said. This contrast is greatly facilitated by Pertega’s illustrations, which clearly refer to DalÃ while remaining distinct from him.
For Frank, Giraffes on Horseback Salad – to be published by Philadelphia publishing house Quirk Books – is part of a career full of rescue stories that might otherwise have been lost (not to mention his drive-in cinema, itself an institution becomes smaller and smaller in the rearview mirror). He attributes this passion to his fascination with his grandfather and his great-grandfather, the latter who fled the Cossacks for Philadelphia at age 18. in order to clean them. “Someone said to him, ‘S-t, my boy, you should be a cowboy.” He moved to the Texas-Mexico border and opened a dry goods store.
Over the years, his grandfather has increasingly blurred memories of the stories that dazzled Frank when he was young. While this in itself was an eye opener for Frank, it also made him think about the magnitude of such a loss.
âThink about all the other stories that maybe weren’t so colorful or maybe weren’t so easy to remember that end up disappearing,â he said. “It was kind of the start of my passion for what I do.”
He wrote a past play on the Golem brought to life in Nazi Germany, and a book about an underground cult figure almost unknown in Los Angeles named Peter Ivers who was linked to artists as diverse as David Lynch and Diana Ross. His book on the Pixies poses them as an unrecognized influence on decades of rock music. Everywhere he looks, Frank sees people and stories whose strangeness made them unappreciated in their time, but whose influence is undeniable.
He hopes to see Giraffes on Horseback Salad one day turned into a movie.
âI’ll just be sitting by the phone,â he said.
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