Saturday, August 27, 2016

Class of '81

My graduating class of 1981--Seguin High School, The Matadors--is celebrating it's 35th reunion this month.  The last reunion I attended was the tenth year in '91.  That's some spread.  But what I had then that I don't have now is a life.  Therefore, allow me to fondly remember and chronicle my boomer (edge boomer if you will) memories around the graduation years, 1980-1981.

I'll start with the visceral memories--the reality--before I dive into the media morass.  I lived on Lake McQueeney, a man made body of water thirty some-odd miles from San Antonio.  Our house was on Treasure Island which was pretty cool with the canals running behind the houses (sort of like liquid alleys).  By that time, I was an avid water skier--I didn't have the patience for fishing--and spent lots of time piloting the family inboard/outboard.  I did yard work for my neighbors to make some spending cash.  Otherwise, I watched TV and read comic books.

 I didn't follow current events too much outside of the Today Show which I soaked in before going to school.  Jane Pauley and Tom Brokaw were the perfect way to start the day.  Ronald Reagan defeated incumbent Jimmy Carter for the presidency.  The Iranian hostage crisis ended with the release.  There were gas lines.  The Soviets invaded Afghanistan.  Reagan was shot.  The Pope was shot.  After St. Helens people were freaking out about volcano eruptions.   There was a lot  of news about Lech Walesa's Solidarity Party.

At school, I came out of my shell with the theater department.  Discovering acting led to my greatest in-school memories.  Starting mid-way through my junior year, my extracurricular activities pretty much were based in the SHS playhouse: a chorus member in "George M" (I can still do every song--secretly wanted to play Cohan); Pim (father) in "Diary of Anne Frank"; and a crazy doctor in "Li'l Abner." All the melodramas and parody shows were a result of engagement with  a group of fellow "introverts" labeled the "Supercilious Players" (modeled on Monty Python) and the subversive antics of the "Taglionies" (don't ask).  Somehow, I managed to keep my grades up and still do some creative writing activities, perform on the debate team (disaster!) and gain a reputation as an art thief  as I plagiarized Hanna-Barbera cartoons at a quick pace and recited memorized Bob Newhart routines for my classmates.

Now, in keeping with the theme of the blog here's what was going on outside of "real life."  I wasn't really a music guy so I can't wax nostalgic about my favorite songs during the time (outside of movie themes, see below).  Disco was sort of on the way out and I had no idea about what was going on the hair metal world--though it was huge in San Antonio. I just knew that KISS met the Phantom and Ozzy did something to a bat. However, I can say that I was given a copy of Billy Joel's "Glass Houses" and that pretty much became my graduation soundtrack.  Looking back there was a heavy dose of Paul McCartney and John Lennon songs.  One of the most vivid memories was the news of Lennon's death at the schoolyard.  I remember fellow students who were Beatle fanatics literally going into shock.   A group of us drove to Central Park Mall in San Antonio and I was initiated into the "Rocky Horror Picture Show" (only five years after the movie was made), so that great music became part of the fabric for me.  John Barry's beautiful soundtrack of the film "Somewhere In Time" captured my romantic yearnings along with the film.  The soundtrack holds up much better than the film, by the way.  At the time, Robert Altman's "Popeye" came and went but I pretty much had all the Harry Nillson tunes down thanks to the cassette tape soundtrack--and I wasn't even a stoner!  "Grease" was still fresh so I had to see Olivia Newton-John in "Xanadu."  It came and went (another one saved for future sainthood) but I devoured that REO/Jeff Lynne soundtrack like some kind of roller disco freak ("Magic" holds a special allure).  "Don't Ask Me Why." And for some reason, Neil Diamond's "Hello, Again" from the ill-fated "Jazz Singer" remake always takes me back to those years.  If I had to soundtrack that year, it would include "Upside Down," "Bette Davis Eyes," "Jessie's Girl," "Rapture," "Morning Train," "Lady," and "Kiss is on My List." There was always lots of country music which I despised as a kid--that's another blog post though.  Aside from my dad's Bob Newhart Button Down Mind albums--and a Cheech and Chong 45 he had for some strange reason (Dave who?)--Steve Martin was ruling the roost in my stand-up LP world.

I had a special relationship with Steve.  My mother's best friend growing up in Waco was Martin's dad's sister.  So the narrative somehow became:  Scott is related to Steve Martin, thus his comic genius.  I thinks Steve's third album, "Comedy is Not Pretty" was out and "The Jerk" established itself as a comic gem.  My copy of "Cruel Shoes" was proudly displayed on my desk.  Once again, not being a stoner, it was the silly parts of his routines that I "got" at the time.  Which brings me to SNL.  By this time, the original crew had left and Lorne Michaels quit.  Fall of 1980 brought a new producer and cast of unknowns--many to remain so, except some bit player named Eddie Murphy.  So all of us "comedy experts" were focused on ABC's rival show "Fridays" featuring, oh, Larry David and Michael Richards.  Of course, the drug references won hand down opposite NBC's Saturday Night and I had no clue.  But my heart at this time went to SCTV.  The Canadian 90 minute program followed Carson on Friday nights and was so well, "off," and the parody was just obscure and "precious" enough to be attractive to all of us theater nerds:  John Candy, Eugene Levy, Rick Moranis, Dave Thomas, Joe Flahery, Catherine O'Hara and Andrea Martin.  (Martin Short would come later.)

Back to SNL for a moment.  By this time all the original players were branching into movies. John Belushi became a smash with "Animal House" which I missed due to the "R" rating.  Therefore when Steven Spielberg's "1941" came out I was breathlessly in line.  So when he and Dan Akroyd brought John Landis's "The Blues Brothers" to the big screen the summer before I graduated, I was in hog heaven.  The "Briefcase Full of Blues" album became a staple of those years--many times in the privacy of my room I performed "Rubber Biscuit" and "Gimme Some Lovin" with no appreciation of the original "blues masters practicing their craft" or the resultant "references."  To me, it was two comedians dancing and singing and that was enough.  Bill Murray had made a mark with "Meatballs" (Ivan Reitman) so by this time "Caddyshack" (Harold Ramis) was eagerly anticipated. Especially teaming up with the box office star Chevy Chase who he replaced on SNL.  (There was a trailer for "Caddyshack" referencing this "feud" and I cannot find it on Youtube.)  My mom was still buying tickets for my R rated escapades so Caddyshack gleefully initiated me to "the 80's"
much more than "The Jerk" and "Blues Brothers." I must say that another summer camp movie helped me "grow up":  "Little Darlings."  I had sort of a crush on Kristy McNichol from "Family" and Tatum O'Neal from "Bad News Bears" so I felt I had reached some level of maturation upon going to this feature.  Two of my favorite MTM sitcom stars, Ted Knight and Bob Newhart had hosted SNL the year before and were now doing films with these ribald performers.  Knight scored as the pompous judge in "Caddyshack" however Newhart's performance as the president in Buck Henry's "First Family" was a huge letdown--also being Gilda Radner's film debut (outside of Mike Nichol's doc of her stage show, "Gilda").  Jane Curtin and Laraine Newman also contributed to some forgettable projects.  John Belushi would be gone too soon.  Chevy Chase continued with failures and successes (notably the Vacation and Fletch franchises.)  Akroyd would solder on through the decade.  Bill Murray would burn out bright and fast (Stripes, Ghostbusters, Scrooged) and then be resurrected as an indie icon and finally--a legend.  And the comedy directors from this period, helming National Lampoon and Second City-inspired fare--subversive "slob comedy" with a slight intellectual bent--would soon rule Hollywood:  Landis, Reitman, Ramis.  And then:  Eddie Murphy.  Farcical humor was represented by the new Zucker brother style in "Airplane!" but I soon realized it wasn't new.   In the spring of '81, "Blazing Saddles" was re-released--this was before VHS folks--and I was completely taken aback by how all these "old" comedians could do this blue, SNL-style humor.   Mad Magazine tried to be the new National Lampoons' with Robert Downey's "Up the Academy" but that was rightly panned and I was rightly shocked by the ribald griminess. Richard Pryor would survive his accident and start a box office bonanza with "Stir Crazy."  Goldie Hawn's "Private Benjamin" would soon spawn it's TV clone.  And "Nine to Five" would establish Dolly Parton's credentials as a dramatic actress (also leading to a sitcom).   Outside of edited network "Movie of the Weeks" I never experienced much of official Hollywood.  It was quite an awakening.

I mostly watched TV through the seventies but the Christmas releases of 1979 shifted my focus to movies and the resultant "must-see" mentality:  "1941," "The Jerk," "The Black Hole", and "Star Trek."  Those latter two represent my other major theme in cinema during my last high school years:  science fiction.  Along with my studious perusal of my "Starlog" magazines I found myself quite fascinated with the mechanics of space on the big screen.  I think it all started with "Buck Rogers" on NBC and original Star Trek reruns on Saturday night (when I quit watching SNL).  Paired with "Wild Wild West" and "Twilight Zone" reruns on Channel 5, Saturday nights informed my future love of cinema more than my obsession with Planet of the Apes, Inspector Clouseau or the Bad News Bears--those three franchises being my sole cinema highlights in the seventies.  So the summer before I graduated, I went with some friends to see "Empire Strikes Back" not having seen the original "Star Wars"--that's right, you heard it--and that sealed the deal.  Fortunately, there was a "Star Wars" reissue that year--videotapes were not in the rage yet--and I saw it second on the big screen.  Steven Spielberg's "Close Encounters" came back with a Special Edition. "Superman II" (Lester's version) was released.  I missed the R rated "Alien" but caught Roger Corman's PG "Battle Beyond the Stars." "Flash Gordon" went way over my head.  Farrah Fawcett (who was still on my radar) made a sci-fi called "Saturn 3" which came and went and I still haven't seen it and have no idea where to find it.  But it was in summer of '81--post graduation--when my life changed and a new film--from the creators of "Jaws" and "Star Wars" --premiered at a special sneak preview after "Caveman" at the Seguin Palace theater.  After seeing "Raiders of the Lost Ark" five or six times that summer cinema became my new television.  And that first summer after graduation was one for the books: "Clash of the Titans" (at a drive-in!), "Cannonball Run," "Stripes," "History of the World Part 1," "American Werewolf in London," "Arthur," "Dragonslayer," and another all-time fave, Blake Edward's "SOB."  Oh and Bo Derek in "Tarzan, the Ape Man."

By the time Bo was frolicking on the beach, I could get into the "mature" films without parental guidance.  But, hey, I was already hijacked dad's Playboy's with the celebrity profiles--especially the aforementioned corn-rowed beauty.  I may be mistaken but I may have been taken to the toolshed when I had classmates lined up outside my dad's side office to sneak peaks for a slight charge.  Maybe that didn't happen and I just wished I were that, well, entrepreneurial.  I can remember parties at the island where someone would have this new thing called "cable" and the men would stand transfixed by the Playboy Playmates lounging au natural while the wives were gossiping in the kitchen.  But on more innocent level, I did have sort of a crush that year on Lisa Whelchel who played Blair on "Facts of Life."  She was previously one of the new Mouseketeers and in a Joe Camp film titled "Double McGuffin."  I tolerated the "Diff'rent Strokes" spin off for her and Gary Coleman turned out to be the breakout hit in Fred Silverman's new revised NBC lineup.

Speaking of prime time  television, between theater and cinema, there wasn't much time in my senior year.  Saturday nights still would involve TV dinners and a double date with Love Boat and Fantasy Island.  The golden age of seventies TV was turning back to rural hokum by now with "Dukes of Hazzard" and "Dallas" ruling the ratings on CBS.   I had devoured all things sitcoms before this time.  (Saturday morning was pretty much off the radar by now).    In Milwaukee, Arnold's burned down and Richie was gone.  Laverne and Shirley moved the gang to Hollywood.  Crissy Snow was demoted to phone conversations and The Ropers were replaced by Barney Fife.  Archie Bunker now owned the bar and said goodbye to dearly departed Edith. The 4077th was Important Television and awaiting it's place in history.  Flo was failing in Houston and wishing she was back at Mel's Diner. "One Day at a Time" was on its way to becoming "My Three Sons."  George and Louise Jefferson were astonishingly time slotting themselves into another five years of Nielsons.  "Soap" was running out of scandals and Benson was running the governor's mansion..  Mork was Orking to Hollywood.  Ted Knight returned with two nubile daughters and Tom Hanks was cross dressing his way to success in "Bosom Buddies."  Some wiseacre named Michael Keaton kept appearing in failed sitcoms.  "Lou Grant" was established outside of WJM and laugh tracks.  The only gold standards left were "Taxi" and "WKRP."  And the final gasps of the 12th precinct--Barney and the squad were still in top form--would give way to another "authentic" detective serio-comedy: "Hill Street Blues."

Stephen Bochco's classic would set the standard for NBC's 80's resurgence.  Along with a comedian who appeared on Carson a lot.  Of course, Johnny Carson was the man and I planned on being his successor having entertained my cohorts so often with my big-city, show-biz loving curiosities and style.  But this young comedian who sporadically appeared on prime time was given a morning show after Today Show aired.  With Paul Schaffer as a musical director, David Letterman's first program was really sort of out of place.  It was on during the summer of '80  year so I was able to experience it.  It didn't last.  But a year and a half later--after Carson's show on weeknights--history would be made.

But as I said, film became my new normal.  I was trying to capture all the new releases as all my favorite TV stars were shifting to the big screen.  Mary Tyler Moore in "Ordinary People" for instance.  Disney had gone PG with "Black Hole" so Buena Vista was releasing all sorts of "adult" PG fare by now such as "Midnight Madness" with an unknown Canadian kid actor, Michael J. Fox.  Focusing on SNL casted comedies and fantasy/sci-fi titles, I missed a lot of the great drama at the time: "Raging Bull," "Coal Miner's Daughter," "Kramer Vs. Kramer," Elephant Man,"  Being in theater I somehow missed out on "All That Jazz" and "Fame" until later in college.  All I remember from "The Shining" was the terrifying elevator trailer. "Heaven's Gate" was on the news, not the screens.  "The Blue Lagoon" was relegated to a Brooke Shields poster.  Living in a small town in Texas somehow didn't draw me to the "Urban Cowboy" phenomenon (I suppose I considered myself too "urban.)  And thanks to a local TV station that showed a slightly edited version of "Friday the 13th," I was able to experience the genesis of the slasher mystique.

All in all, it was a very unique time.  The seventies were still fresh on the cultural psyche yet the eighties fads were slowly making a name for themselves.  I never got into Atari or Dungeon and Dragons and paid dearly for it as my pop-culture touchstones come to a complete halt in the mid-eighties.  There wasn't much room for it anyhow.

But looking back, it all seems like:

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Who's still alive in sitcom world, for pete's sake?

Let's celebrate those still with us, from classic sitcoms:


THE HONEYMOONERS - Joyce Randolph (Trixie)

FATHER KNOWS BEST -  Elinor Donahue ( Betty) Billy Gray (Bud), Lauren Chapin (Kitty)

DANNY THOMAS SHOW - Angla Cartwright (Linda)

REAL MCCOYS - Kathy Nolan (Kate)

LEAVE IT TO BEAVER - Jerry Mathers (the Beav), Tony Dow (Wally), 
Ken Osmond (Eddie Haskell)

DONNA REED SHOW - Shelly Fabares (Mary), Paul Peterson (Jeff)

DENNIS THE MENACE - Jay North (Dennis), Gloria Henry (Alice)

DOBIE GILLIS - Dwayne Hickman (Dobie), Warren Beatty (Milton Armitage),
   Tuesday Weld (Thalia Menninger), Shiela James (Zelda)

ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW - Ron Howard (Opie), , Ken Berry and Arlene Golonka  (from "Mayberry RFD")

MY THREE SONS - Tim Considine (Mike), Stanley Livingston (Steve),
 Barry Livingstson (Ernie)

DICK VAN DYKE SHOW - Dick Van Dyke (Rob Petrie),
    , Carl Reiner (Alan Brady)

MCHALE'S NAVY - Tim Conway (Ensign Parker), Gavin McLeod


PETTICOAT JUNCTION - Linda Kaye (Betty Jo), Jeannine Riley/Gunilla Hutton (Billie Jo),
    Lori Saunders (Bobbi Jo)

ADDAMS FAMILY - John Astin (Gomez), Lisa Loring (Wednesday)

GOMER PYLE USMC - Ronnie Schell (Duke)

THE MUNSTERS - Butch Patrick (Eddie), Pat Priest (Marilyn)

BEWITCHED - Erin Murphy (Tabitha)

GILLIGAN'S ISLAND - Tina Louise (Ginger), Dawn Wells (Mary Ann)

F TROOP - Larry Storch (Corp. Agarn), Ken Berry (Capt. Parmenter)
    James Hampton (Dobbs)

GIDGET - Sally Field (Gidget)


GET SMART - Barbara Feldon (99),

I DREAM OF JEANNIE - Barbara Eden (Jeannie), Bill Dailey (Roger)

GREEN ACRES - Tom Lester (Eb)

HOGAN'S HEROES - Robert Clary (Labaue) Kenneth Washington (Baker)

FAMILY AFFAIR - Johnnie Whitakre (Jody), Kathy Garver (Sissy)

THAT GIRL - Marlo Thomas (Ann Marie), Bernie Kopell, Jackie Joseph,

FLYING NUN - Sally Field (Sister Bertrille), Marge Redmond

DORIS DAY SHOW - Doris Day, Kaye Ballard, Jackie Joseph

HERE'S LUCY - Lucie Arnaz, Desi Arnaz Jr.

JULIA - Diahann Carroll (Julia), Marc Copage (Corey)

BRADY BUNCH - Maureen McCormick (Marcia), Eve Plumb (Jan), Susan Olsen (Cindy), Barry Williams (Greg), Christopher Knight (Peter), Mike Lookinland (Bobby)


ROOM 222 - Michael Constantine, Denise Nicholas, Karen Valentine

NANNY AND THE PROFESSOR - Juliet Mills (Nanny)

PARTRIDGE FAMILY - Shirley Jones (Shirley), Susan Dey (Laurie),
Danny Bonaduce (Danny), Brian Forster (Chris)

MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW -  Valerie Harper (Rhoda Morgenstern), Cloris Leachman (Phyllis), Ed Asner (Lou Grant), Gavin Macleod (Murray),
Betty White (Sue Ann), Georgia Engel (Georgette)

ALL IN THE FAMILY - Rob Reiner (Mike Stivic), Sally Struthers (Gloria), Danielle Brisebois (Stephanie)

SANFORD AND SON - Demond Wilson (Lamont), Nathanial Taylor (Rollo)

M*A*S*H - Alan Alda (Hawkeye Pierce), Garry Burghoff (Radar), Loretta Swit (Hot Lips),
Jamie Farr (Klinger),  Mike Farrell (BJ),  GW Bailey (Rizzo)

MAUDE - Bill Macy (Walter), Addrienne Barbeau (Carol)

BOB NEWHART SHOW - Bob Newhart (Hi, Bob), Bill Dailey (Howard), Peter Bonerz (Jerry)

GOOD TIMES - Jimmie Walker (JJ), Bernadette Stanis (Thelma), Ralph Carter (Michael),
John Amos (James), Ja'Net Dubois (Wilona), Janet Jackson (Penny), Johhny Brown(Bookman)

HAPPY DAYS - Ron Howard (Richie), Henry Winkler (Fonzie), Marion Ross (Marion),
Anson Williams (Potsie), Donny Most (Ralph Malph), Scott Baio (Chachi)

RHODA - Valerie Harper (Rhoda), Julie Kavner (Brenda), Ray Buktenica (Benny)


THE JEFFERSONS - Marla Gibbs (Florence), Berlinda Tolbert (Jenny), Damon Evans (Lionel)

BARNEY MILLER - Hal Linden (Barney), Max Gail (Wojohowitz)
Gregory Sierra (Chano), Linda Lavin, Barbara Barrie

WELCOME BACK, KOTTER - Gabe Kaplan (Gabe), John Travolta (Vinnie Barbarino),
Lawrence HIlton-Jacobs (Freddie Boom Boom Washington)

LAVERNE AND SHIRLEY- Penny Marshall (Laverne), Cindy Williams (Shirley), Michael McKean (Lenny), DAvid L. Lander (Squiggy), Eddie Mekka (Carmine)

ONE DAY AT A TIME - Mackenzie Phillips (Julie), Valerie Bertinelli (Barbara), Richard Masur (David Kane), Shelly Fabares (Francine), Glenn Scarpelli, Michael Lembeck, Boyd Gaines

ALICE - Linda Lavin (Alice), Philip McKeon (Tommy), Polly Holliday (Flo), Diane Ladd (Belle), Celia Weston (Jolene)

WHAT'S HAPPENING - Ernest Thompson Jr. (Rog), Haywood Nelson (Dwayne), Danielle Spencer (Dee)

MARY HARTMAN MARY HARTMAN - Louise Lasser, Mary Kay Place, Greg Mullavey, Martin Mull, Fred Willard, Dabney Coleman

THREE'S COMPANY - Joyce Dewitt (Janet), Suzanne Somers (Chrissy), Richard Kline (Larry), Jeffrey Tambor and Patty McCormick (from "The Ropers"), Priscilla Barnes (Terri)

LOVE BOAT - Gavid McLeod (Capt. Steubing), Bernie Kopell (Doc), Ted Lange (Isaac), Fred Grandy (Gopher), Lauren Tewes (Julie), Jill Whelan (Vicki)

SOAP - Katherine Hellmond (Jessica),  Diana Canova (Corinne), Jennifer Salt (Eunice), Jimmy Baio (Billy), Jay Johnson, Billy Crystal (Jody), Ted Wass (Danny)

MORK AND MINDY - Pam Dawber (Mindy), Conrad Janis

TAXI - Judd Hirsch (Alex), Danny Devito (Louie), Marilu Henner (Elaine), Tony Danza (Tony)
Christopher Lloyd (Reverend Jim), Carol Kane (Simka)

WKRP IN CINCINNATI - Gary Sandy (Andy), Loni Anderson (Jennifer), Tim Ried (Venus),
Howard Hesseman (Johnny Fever), Richard Sanders (Les). Frank Bonner (Herb), 
Jan Smithers (Bailey)

DIFF'RENT STROKES - Todd Bridges (Willis), Charlotte Rae (Mrs. Garrett)

BENSON -  Didi Conn, Missy Gold, Rene Auberjoinios, Ethan Phillips, Inga Swenson

TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT - Nancy Dussault, Debra Van Valkenberg, Lydia Cornell

BOSOM BUDDIES - Tom Hanks, Peter Scolari, Holland Taylor, Donna Dixon, 
   Telma Hopkins 

FACTS OF LIFE - Charlotte Rae, Lisa Whelchel, Mindy Cohn, Nancy McKeon, Kim Fields, Geri Jewell, Cloris Leachman, George Clooney

MAMA'S FAMILY - Vicki Lawrence, Carol Burnett, Tim Conway, Ken Berry, Dorothy Lyman, Betty White, Beverly Archer

And let's not forget the creators, writers and directors:  Norman Lear, James L. Brooks, Alan Burns, Mel Brooks, Buck Henry, Jay Sandrich, Susan Harris, Paul Bogart, Gene Reynolds, Carl Reiner, Tom Patchett and Jay Tarses, Bill Persky,   Tony Thomas, Glen and Les Charles, Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, Bernie Kukoff, James Burrows

Friday, July 1, 2016

Golden Ticket to Ride

This summer we celebrate forty-five years since the release of Mel Stuart's "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory."  It was of course based on the classic book "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" by Roald Dahl.   There are many films we may call "favorites"--you watch them yearly, find new and different things, etc.  But then some films stay with you all your life--the music and characters and design become the fabric of who you are--and you don't realize it for, oh a couple of decades.  Thus Wonka.

Mom dropped me off at the Broadway Theater (now a bank) and, if my memory, serves me correctly, the theater was half-full.  Sure there was a promotional push via actual Wonka Bars--I got them and looked for a golden ticket--played like an everlasting gobstocker!  There were Reese's Pieces type sweets as well with Willy's logo.  But since Disney had the lock on family films, this one still was flying under the radar--at the time.  I don't need to drone on about the lasting effects of this film, undermining my initial assessment.

Not long after that I bought the white covered LP.  Had the songs memorized in a year (my standard operating procedure with Disney soundtracks).  The Bricusse-Newley
compositions were different...sort of off Gene Wilder's incredibly mercurial performance.
A Clockwork Orange

  The cover of the LP had little photos of the Kids in each of their "predicaments"...the most disturbing to me was Violet's burgeoning waistline.  It was a scary damn film for this kid.  Disney was always pretty benign, sitcommy in their approach to fantastical materials in live action movies.  This was different.  I didn't realize until later in life how subversive this film was.
My first cinema wtf? moment

True Love
Sadly, my childhood infatuation with the now infamous Veruca Salt cemented my unrequited loves through high school as a pursuit of nasty, mean-spirited sprites with a propensity for sneering.

I won't regale you with all the interesting factoids I discovered in this book about the Wonka movie, "Pure Imagination.".  What I will tell you is that Mel Stuart, the director, was not a "kid's movie" director.
By Mel Stuart
He directed a documentary about Wattstax and many adult comedies.  The production was international in scope, not pandering to American tastes and therefore commercial limitations were not in play here.  And that's the strength of this classic.

Much like Wes Anderson's world, the setting was somewhere not here.  Shot in West Germany, the diversity of the cast's backgrounds (unfortunately color was not represented) lent an ambivalent feel to this village?  city?  burg?  The script was media-savvy and cautionary --Oompa Loompa songs being the Greek chorus to bad parenting skills.

As a kid, I always escaped the dusty beer-soaked milieu of South Texas with images of a glistening, glossy big city:  New York--"Family Affair" and the Macy's Parade.  But this urban paradise morphed into something more grimy and gritty.  Urban decay was not unheard of here. "All in the Family" premiered that year, bringing sitcom life to a crime-ridden Queens; big screen New York-set films were more French Connection and Lumet and less World of Henry Orient.  And subconsciously I was drawn to this film because it did veer into a more lifelike visual reality (outside of the factory of course).  Media of the sixties was pretty sanitized what with all the spies, hillbillies,  spacemen and goofy dads.  Save a few go go dancers and LSD-inspired graphics, my memories of that decade were pretty sanitized.  But in 1971, with Manson still on the collective minds of America, Watergate to come and the continuing saga of Vietnam--the brownish hues of the times bled through the psychedelic swirling sixties palette.

And "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" was the golden ride.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Summer Breeze and Other Hazy Hot Muddy Memories from Seventies Geekdom

I can hear Seals and Croft's "Summer Breeze" and it completely  takes me back to 1973.  My family had just moved from San Antonio to Lake McQueeney.  Dad built a house on this thing called "Treasure Island" in the middle of a man-made lake between  Seguin and New Braunfels.  He had built a house earlier adjacent to  Hotshot's Fishing Camp and lived there in his bachelor days.  The Lake was the water-skiing capital of Texas.  Home base for that honor was the Lake Breeze Ski Lodge.  Needless to say, I spent a lot of time there.

Our house had a canal running behind it.  Therefore, we had a boathouse to store Dad's new outboard (and eventually my skiff which I used to catch turtles more than fish).  And the
overarching smell I remember consisted of the lily pods and moss that I dutifully pulled out of the water --wearing the latest designer rubberweighters--to avoid propeller trauma.   The houses on the island had that wonderful mid-century design.  And some lake houses had the "stilt" effect to repel the flood waters (which was not unheard of here).  Full plate glass fronts with high-arched ceilings; seahorse murals and saltillo tile deck tops were the order of the day.  Sunny and bright and waterlogged.

Turning 10-years old, however, my mind was on two things.  One: My continuing obsession with the media:  comic books, television and cartoons.  Common for those with no siblings, natch.  More about that later.  Two: my sense memory, the one that really matters, concerns those other things.  And this is where Seals and Crofts come in.  At the ski lodge, there were many members from Houston and all of those Texas style cheerleaders would haunt my hangout on vacation.  That usually involved these newly fashionable two piece bikinis and feather shagged hairstyles.  Before you yelp about my  misogynistic  comments, I'm coming from a place of adolescent innocence.  Believe me, I was innocent.  But for this geek--a little romantic brat with his catalogued comic book collection--the sight of that beautiful girl climbing up that pool ladder; the smell of chlorine (at the pool) or  that wonderful combination algae and boat motor oil as she splashes into the murky green waters are the stuff dreams are made of...and, well, lived I guess.  When some sad middle aged writer or filmmaker creates these images for public consumption, it's not science fiction.  It's real.  No iPhone, the word "fuck" was hardly heard (at least in my circles), and if something illicit was occurring you just didn't know about it.

Well, I didn't. As I said I was a geek.  When I talk to peers my age, they were smoking pot and getting down.  I had no idea about anything like that.  My adult beverage was Norman Lear and the raciest instance I had was sneaking peeks (or peaks)  at my Dad's Playboys.  But that's what made the time so sweet.  The seventies weren't innocent but I was.  Therefore, I'm left with those almost storybook memories with a yacht rock soundtrack.  The color was orange--hazy sunshine..the drug inspired images and sounds that permeated the airwaves  became my tableau...I had no idea what it meant but it sure felt right.  Kind of like watching Roger Corman 70s  flicks now as an adult.  If I saw an edited version of one on TV then or even just  the mind-shattering movie posters, I had no idea of what I was seeing.  But if sure FELT right.  It felt like the mid-seventies.

If you go to a low-rent comic book show you can see it.  It's that combination of fanboy geek for the simple cartoons and TV programs of the 60s and 70s and 80's mixed in with this fascination with all things cheesecake.  I think that's why so many comic artists love the female form in all its, well, exaggerated attributes.  I guess we don't grow up.  We're still living on the lake in 1973 with our 6" Sony color TV and eight track player.  Are videos around the corner?  But comic book culture is now ruling the world.  No-shame
voyeurism is now a mainstream digital industry.  That's why I'm glad I retained those memories.

That leads me to the geek part of the summers.  This blog has covered alot of this before--but in a nutshell:  the Brady's and their wonderful house; the all-new 50's craze encapsulated by Fonzie and American Graffiti; the subversive joy of DC's Plop Comics (which may have contributed to my sick mind); the glorious ecstasy of Saturday morning what with the Krofft psychedelia and all the cartoon rock and roll crime-busters.  I wasn't a rock n roll kid.  I hardly bought albums outside of Disney soundtracks.  However, my musical memories were formed from TV variety shows--therefore:  Tony Orlando and Dawn; Captain and Tenille; Sonny and Cher.   Yeah, that.  What a freak.  But when I hear Tie a Yellow Ribbon, it takes me back to the Ski Lodge jukebox at night, eating that overpriced cheeseburger and watching the greasy mayflies fluttering to their death against the fluorescent pier light posts.

Later summers became all about driving up 35 to Dripping Springs for one month out of the year to attend Friday Mountain Boys Camp.  I had memorized the Steve Martin albums to recite to my cabin-mates.  The sharpshooting, the starvation hikes, the horses, and the sweet tea became my paradise those four  years.  All year long, I looked forward to it.  I had eleven other months to wax romantic.  However, we did have two "dances" over at the girl's camp.  I actually ran away with one of them and got in trouble.  I don't even remember what we did (I was a geek, remember) but it was magical at the time.  But even then heading north and being close to Austin just did something to me.  If you watch "Meatballs" that pretty much represented that whole lake/camp feel.  (Thanks, Canada!) Damn, Bill Murray's been influencing youngsters a long time hasn't he?

As I got into high school I wanted to be a Bad News Bear.  I wanted so much to be one of those long-haired blond kids from grimy Southern California suburbia (before Speilberg Disney-fied such).  "Jaws" had just started the tent pole summer movie phenomenon so theatrical releases  weren't really a part of my retinue outside of a Clouseau  or Disney comedy.   I watched a very young SNL and Monty Python and understood none of it.  I danced to my Blues Brothers album when my folks went out to dinner on Friday night.
Dont' ask me how, but I missed "Star Wars" and binged on "Star Trek" reruns from the 60s.  "Buck Rogers" was my sci-fi fix.  And, tantamount to everything I had "Charlie's Angels"...kid's today can navigate puberty with the most vile, blatant and explicit bacchanalia...but I had a poster:  Farrah.  And Cheryl Tiegs.  And the Time Magazine with her fishnet bathing suit caused me untold agitation and wonderment and pretty much diverted my attention from the Superfriends hour.  But once again, I digress.

So those summers, from 73-'78....I sometimes think that they are informed by the media...but they really weren't.  It was a funky feel....a  musty smell...a smooth sound...drenched in lake water...clothed in post-activist tie dye and frayed denim....make sure your hair is over your ears, kid ...horseshit and gunpowder...fireflies...boat exhaust and nachos...perfume and mud....and I still have the friggin' comic books.

Here are some highlight photos:

Entrance to Ski Lodge

Treasure Island.

Waterskiing Capital!
The canal.

Powering dreams.
my schoolbus stop

Our Lake House

Our backyard/Boathouse.

This was the perfect midcentury lakehouse on the island.

Can sort of understand this.
I just wanted their house.
Geek cool.
My subversive materials.
When TV meets comics, it's nirvana.
This was my culture bible.
Seventies were the new fifties.
Friday Mountain camp
This was every picture taken in front of Friday Mountain.
My summer league.
The shit.
As cool as I got.

And they got me.

Worshipful grand priestess.
New summer fascination.

Geek summer heaven.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Archie and Alex and the Approaching Armageddon: How a couple of retro sitcoms called it for Trump World

The Republican party is in disarray during the 2016 election season.  A reality TV star has become the nominee by basically spouting xenophobic euphemisms and claiming to fight for the common man.  Establishment Republicans after belittling and ridiculing his chances are now being forced to fall in line with--as Democrats call it--a new form of fascism.

It bears revisiting two landmark sitcoms.  One changed the face of television in the 1970's by showcasing  the confusion and division of the time and the 80's followup reflected the ensuing culture of corporate obeisance that the radical seventies hangover incubated.

Norman Lear created a landmark sitcom in 1971.  Unlike anything on TV, the videotaped comedy series tackled subjects and used language which necessitated a warning during it's premiere on January 12.  Although based on a British series, the  Bunker household represented America in all it's schizophrenic glory.  Archie Bunker--brilliantly conceived by  character actor Carroll O'Connor--was part of the Greatest Generation. He was a veteran of the Great War full of patriotic bravado and gung-ho righteousness.  It was his way or the
highway.  Especially to his son-in-law Mike (or "meathead" played by Rob Reiner).  Mike represented the dissent at the time:  anti-Vietnam and championing all things Great Society.  Needless to say, most episodes during the first five or so seasons (while the writing and acting remained sharp) consisted of varying degrees of yelling and insults.  The fights were incredibly polarizing and in hindsight are almost shocking in their candor.  Archie spouted blabbering hubris using malapropisms that made Yogi Berra look like a statesman.  Mike responded with statistics and righteous rage.  The volume was
deafening.  But to many at the time, relatable.  Middle aged Americans were coping with a new class of progressive youths--sons and daughters--taking up for causes that were deemed off-limits during the Eisenhower years of Ozzie and Harriet.  This new generation was the epitome of laziness--dropping out--having sex and doing drugs--dirty hippies.  Sound familiar?

Lear and his partner Bud Yorkin were extremely liberal.  Lear eventually purchased the actual Constitution to promote civil liberties with his organization People For the American Way.  There is no question as to his liberal credentials.  However, he created a character (based on his father) that was so, well, representative of the right, that Archie Bunker became a cultural icon.  "All in the Family" was the highest rated show for five years.  And, much like the "Archie for President" bumper
stickers during 1972, his appeal was both satirical and emulative.  There were only a few hard-core conservatives who viewed the series as seditious and un-American.  For the most part liberals loved the crass and confused characterization O'Connor created--defending the horrible misdeeds of a Watergate soaked Richard Nixon with the faultiest of logic.  And conservatives completely adored this guy you want to drink a beer with:  "He says what I'm thinking."  Whether you are a racist union hardhat or a part of the new southern "democrat,"  a Bible-quoting theocrat or a Buckley-esque right wing apologist, you couldn't wait for Bunker to speak your mind.

And.....Trump is the Republican nominee.    And those few hard right Republicans who saw "All in the Family" as the Trojan Horse of socialism are now those hold-outs on the Trump train--whether holding out for a moral revolution a la Cruz or holding out for a crumbling status quo a la Bush.

Which brings us to Alex P. Keaton.  Michael J. Fox equalled O'Connor in the Emmy race and became a superstar in the process.  No one represented the "every-boy"--all genial and
bumbling, confident in his overconfidence--as the eighties wonder boy Fox.  How can you not like the guy?  So where Archie Bunker eventually became a cuddly-cute bigot that everyone loves and forgives, Gary David Goldberg created a right-wing ideologue cut from the most cuddly-cute mold he could find in this Canadian man-child.

Goldberg, fresh off of show running a couple of quality sitcoms for Mary Tyler Moore's production company, created "Family Ties" in 1982.  Ronald Reagan had just beaten Jimmy Carter whose sole term was predicated on a craving for normalcy and values after the Nixon/Ford fiasco.  Unfortunately, his inherent virtue couldn't overshadow what many  considered a weak presidency.  And the next thing you know an ex Movie Star is the President of the US.  Bunker was a satirical portrait of some conservatives at the time.  Keaton actually was a symbol of what conservatism would become in the ensuing decades.  Button-down policy wonks--not so much interested in the erosion of the white race but the erosion of their bank accounts.  It wouldn't be unusual for Alex to be listening to Rush Limbaugh in the early years of talk radio's rise--before it became a clarion call to division and hatred.

Once again, the brilliance of the show was actually the reverse angle of its Lear predecessor.  Alex was alone in his dogma.  His parent were, well, Mike and Gloria--hippies
who were still hippies working for the local PBS affiliate.  His sisters were apolitical.  Whereas Goldberg clearly milked the gag for all it was worth--a reflection of the growing ennui of the flower children among a more corporate driven culture of cool consumerism--he actually presaged the rise of the "compassionate conservative."  The love child of Michael
Douglas's "Greed is Good" and the emerging (market-driven) ethos of political correctness stirred up with W's soft bigotry of low expectations.

And now what do we think of a Republican front runner who may have been a hero to young Mr. Keaton during the heady days of young plutocracy, yet is capturing the hearts and minds of a new breed of victimized "little guys" who sound something like....Archie Bunker?