“Headmasters never sing!” –line sung by the headmaster in Help! Help! The Globolinks
DIRECTED BY: Joachim Hess, from a production of composer/librettist Giancarlo Menotti
FEATURING: The Hamburg State Opera
PLOT: In this children’s opera, the world has been invaded by bizarre alien creatures named Globolinks, who are allergic to music. A bus full of children returning to boarding school breaks down in the middle of a lonely forest, and the students are surrounded by the alien creatures. Meanwhile, back at the school, the headmaster is infected by one of the aliens, meaning that he will soon turn into a Globolink himself.
- Gian Carlo Menotti, the author of Help! Help! The Globolinks, was a well respected, Pulitzer Prize winning composer. His most popular work is the Christmas opera Amahl and the Night Visitors, which was commissioned specifically to launch the “Hallmark Hall of Fame” television series, and which was shown annually in the United States on television during the Christmas season from 1951-1966.
- Help! Help! The Globolinks, by contrast, was a flop and is rarely performed. It is usually only mentioned in complete biographies of Menotti.
- Menotti was a pioneer in adapting opera for telecast, and the film version of Help! Help! The Globolinks was originally shown on German television in 1968.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: No doubt, it’s the Globolinks themselves (pictured above), who come in two varieties: one that looks like a wriggling rook from a chess set, and one that looks like an avant-garde ballerina dressed in a full-body dayglo bungee-jumping suit.
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: A children’s opera about music-loathing aliens isalready presumptively pretty weird. But when the opera is made in 1968, at the height of the psychedelic sixties, and utilizes all the camera tricks, distorted electronic noises, and bizarre set designs Summer of Love filmmakers developed in an attempt to mimic the disorienting effects of LSD, there’s no more need for the presumption: we’re definitely caught in a very weird nook of film.
Scene from Help! Help! The Globolinks
COMMENTS: Help! Help! The Globolinks is one of the most obscure movies likely to be mentioned on this site. It’s only of the very few movies that (as of this writing) has yet to be absorbed into the bloodstream of that vast movie-digesting machine, the IMDB (Internet Movie Database) (NOTE: it was finally added to the IMDB database in 2013, five years after we submitted it for inclusion). A children’s opera produced for German TV in the late 1960s doesn’t exactly command the attention of the Nintendo generation, or their parents. Globolinks is mostly a historical curiosity, a bizarre and bad example from a dying art form.
Opera is no longer a vital popular art form, and hasn’t been for generations. Many people who cannot bear the sound of screeching sopranos, or minor characters who answer a simple request for the time of day by belting out a phrase in F-sharp minor, would find Globolinks pure torture even if it were a good opera–which it isn’t. The music is pleasant enough but unremarkable; I doubt many could hum an aria from it (beyond the single note “la”), even after several listenings. The vocal performances are all impressive, but the cast has little melody to work with. The alien noises of the Globolinks, likely intended by Menotti to be a parody of the experimental electronic music of composers like Stockhausen, is frequently more interesting than Menotti’s wandering score.
Globolinks doesn’t fare much better as a story than it does as a piece of music. Even though it was designed for children, the plot is probably too preachy and ridiculous to enchant them. The second act drags badly as the focus shifts from the Globolink invasion to comic relief and a claptrap debate between the characters about the power of music.
One of the strangest problems with the story is that the putative heroine–Madame Euterpova the music teacher–may be the piece’s least likable character, while the supposed villain–Dr. Stone the headmaster–is actually a long-suffering victim whom the script cruelly casts adrift. We’re first introduced to Euterpova when she storms into the headmaster’s office and throws a shrill tantrum, threatening to quit because the music department doesn’t get the attention she feels it deserves and complaining that she “has an artist’s heart and suffers.” She’s obviously Menotti’s mouthpiece for the importance of the power of traditional music against society’s indifference and electronic rubbish, but one has to wonder why he chose to make her so ridiculous and unsympathetic. Throughout the rest of the film, Euterpova is bossy, dismissive, pretentious, and shrewish. She even has a grotesque physical deformity in the form of a nose elongated with putty to Cyrano’s length. (There’s probably a deep symbolic meaning attached to her ridiculous proboscis, but I prefer to think of it as just a weird flourish). Though she’s intended as a comic figure, Madame Euterpova is the kind of teacher that gives kids nightmares.
Stone, on the other hand, apparently has no use for music, a sin that pales beside Euterpova’s numerous personality disorders. Menotti (accidentally?) engages our sympathy towards him when he is forced to listen to Euterpova’s self-absorbed complaints while he is worried sick about the missing children and the alien invasion. In the end, Euterpova dismisses his fate-worse-than-death with a callous “I guess I’ll have to look somewhere else for a husband.” Amusing, but it doesn’t make us like the supposed heroine, her message, or the way she dismisses opposing views without the slightest reflection, any better.
But although Globolinks is a failure as a work of high art, that doesn’t mean it can’t hold our attention as a weird curiosity piece. The collision of the stodgy operatic form with the love-generation art direction is entertaining, and more than a bit surreal. The Globolink costumes are bizarre and fun, and the weird blips and distorted theremins of the alien language sound like something lifted from the internal soundtrack of a circa-1969 hippie’s acid trip.
And there is at least one scene that’s weirdly beautiful. Emily is the only child who has remembered to bring her Globolink-repelling violin. Therefore, she is sent alone into the wilderness to find the school. As she roams the forest, weird rotating mobile sculptures with huge glinting mirrors blink into existence, eventually blotting out the trees, until she is wandering in a modernist space-age forest. This transformation is musically accompanied by an abstract, distorted chord pattern. Emily wanders through this weird landscape playing her violin to ward off the evil Globolinks, who skulk about inside the metallic labyrinth. This sequence alone is worth the price of a rental.
Ultimately, Globolinks isn’t very good, or even very entertaining most of the time. Some may argue that, since it isn’t a theatrical feature but a television production of a staged opera, Globolinks isn’t a “real” movie. If it were simply a static camera aimed at performers on stage, I would agree, but this film, with its roving cameras, dissolves and special effects, is clearly a movie as well as an opera. However you categorize Globolinks, though–as an opera flop, an avant-garde experiment, or simply a poorly conceived excuse to fill up and hour and a half of German television–it is a genuine curiosity, a rarity that’s off the beaten path of even the weirdest movie fan.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“…the delight of the film lies in the work of production collaborators Alwin Nikolais, Nikolas Schöffer and Eckhard Maronn. The contributions of these three artists are very much of their time and in fact make Menotti’s music seem outdated. Schöffer’s Mondrianesque sculptures are covered with reflecting plates, upon which colored light is projected. These rotating towers create a modernistic almost psychedelic effect … Maronn’s extraterrestrial music, billed as electronic effects, is a fine example of the electronic music techniques of the 1960s. Predominated as it is by tape manipulations and analog synthesizer effects, this music brings back fond memories of the period. And Nikolais’s tube-like costumes for the male Globolinks prove both versatile and a lot of fun to watch.”–Arlo McKinnon, Opera News
“…Globolinks seems empty at its core, missing genuine musical inspiration and theatrical consistency… The Globolinks are colorful and weird video creations, not too scary for the little ones, but effective aliens.” –Henry Fogel, Fanfare
IMDB LINK: None.
OTHER LINKS OF INTEREST:
Gian Carlo Menotti: Renaissance Man Of The Theater: This memoir/essay included on G. Schirmer’s biography page for Menotti contains a few kind references to Globolinks.
Help, Help, the Globolinks! (review): PDF version of a scholarly review published in Notes – Volume 65, Number 1, September 2008, pp. 146-147, available to those at an educational institution with an Athens login.
DVD INFO: The Arthaus Musik DVD (distributed by Naxos) comes sans extras.