A couple weeks ago I decided to check out the Paley Center here in LA (formerly known as the Museum of TV & Radio). I assumed it would be basically the same as its NY brother (and my assumption proved mostly correct, as the West Coast branch actually has a little less to offer), but with The Muppets at Disney World scheduled to screen at 4pm I figured it would be worth a trip. Except that when I arrived I realized that I had been looking at the NY schedule, and the most attractive screening option was an old episode of the Carol Burnett Show. So I decided to try my luck with the video archives.
With the Muppets still on the brain I resolved to see what kind of treasures the library might offer, knowing that the Museum had put together several special Jim Henson events. Indeed, I found a series of compilations celebrating the life and work of Henson. Amongst these was an episode of The Jim Henson Hour that featured a short film I had heard of but never seen: Dog City.
Now the Paley Center has been rendered almost obsolete by YouTube; the web offers a wider selection videos, often better in quality, on demand, and with the added benefit of being viewable from your home computer instead of on an old NTSC monitor at a video carrel in an eerily quiet and sterile media room. Not to mention you don’t have to wear ratty, flaking headphones that have already been used by innumerable strangers (that must be a health hazard). But there are a few items, a couple rare gems that you can’t find on YouTube or even weird Polish websites. Dog City is one of these such rarities.
Dog City is Jim Henson’s take on film noir, but in this scenario it’s classic hard-boiled crime drama inspired by paintings of dogs playing poker. And with main characters named Ace Yu and Bugsy them, it has no shortage of corny, Abbott and Costello style jokes. Except that, with Henson’s Muppet alter-ego Rowlf the Dog playing the piano and breaking the fourth wall as our narrator, the jokes are delivered with a full-on wink at the audience and they actually work. I usually get bored during musical numbers in Muppet productions, and this was no exception, but I found the rest of the movie quite enjoyable, even with the VHS quality picture and its sometimes cranky tracking. Since the movie is almost exclusively available at the Paley Center, the best we can do here is present the trailer:
Three years later Henson would turn Dog City into a Saturday morning cartoon, “Jim Henson’s Dog City” changing Ace Yu into Ace Hart, a more standard noir detective. Luckily, the show still offered some traditional “real world” Muppets, as Dog City is animated by Eliot, a Muppet German Shepherd, and his friends and neighbors serve as inspiration for the animated canines.
So while the Paley Center has become a bit of a ghost town, made nearly irrelevant by the Internet, it can still be worth a visit, if only for that one special show.