Tag Archives: TV

The Essential TV Guide Fall Previews of the 80s, Part 2: 1980!

I guess if I’m going to do a 10+ week series of these TV Guide Fall Preview issues from the 80s, I’m gonna have to slap together some sort of banner.  Feels weird staring off a post all wordy like this.  Anyhoo.

*Update*  As you can see the banner is done.

I was thinking again about the dates on the lot of vintage issues I picked up a while ago, and like most wonderings I have concerning stuff on the site, I always seems to come back to that time travel concept from Quantum Leap where Sam can only leap around in his own timeline.  Last week for instance, I didn’t have a whole lot of specific memories about the shows (or whatnot) in the preview issue because I was only four years-old at the time, spending most of my waking hours in front of cartoons or Tonka trucks.  But I kept thinking about it and I decided that this series of posts wouldn’t feel complete until I found the issues from ’77-’80, so I jumped on eBay and picked up a cheap copy of the 1980 Fall Preview issue, (and am currently bidding on the others I’ll need.)

This first thing that jumped out at me when I received this issue in the mail, was that it had different binding that the rest of the issues I have (and am used to.)  Instead of being perfect-bound with glue, it’s folded and stapled like a comic book, except it’s like 3 million pages long so I have no idea how these things ended up staying so neatly folded.  If nothing else, it made the job of scanning in pages without destroying the copy very difficult, and in some places the images are a little blurry on the sides where the magazine wasn’t pressed up close enough to the glass on the scanner.


For some reason the 2-page Marlboro spread on the inside front cover made me laugh a little.  I guess it’s because that cowpoke is carrying an entire carton of cigarettes. I guess he just hit the local smoke-n-feed store while riding.  I also noticed that his belt buckle has a nice picture of a Midwest vista on it.  I bet the other cowboys are jealous.  Actually, this reminds me of another weird aspect to these old TV Guides, they’re practically packed with only ads for cigarettes and booze.  Not being a smoker myself (or really a drinker for that matter), it’s kind of weird to see so much advertising space taken up by tobacco and liquor companies.  I guess it says something about the Guide’s target audience as well.

On the other hand, there are a couple of ads that I’m all about.  Take that Vivarin ad above.  I remember my mom used to eat Vivarin like candy, and when I got into middle school she used to cut one in half most mornings and give it to me with my breakfast to wake me up.  I was one of those foot-draggers when it came to getting up for school.  If I didn’t have my little yellow pill, a bowl of hot soup and an episode of Woody Woodpecker or the Little Rascals playing in the background there was no way I was going to get up.  I had to stop taking these in college when I found myself working 50 hours a week (nights), while trying to take three classes in the mornings on weekdays.  I was up to two Vivarin and a 24 oz. Mountain Dew each morning, which was just way too much caffeine for my system.  Thank god it’s not habit-forming…

That Toyota ad also cracked me up a little.  When are advertising agencies not extolling the virtues of ‘more room for leggy drivers’, and percentage benefits for new aerodynamic stylings?  Heck by now you’d think we’d be driving the equivalent of the spaceship from Flight of the Navigator.  Come to think of it, I could so use a roving mechanical eye on a hydraulic arm with the voice of Pee Wee Herman helping me to drive my car.  Who needs GPS when you have that handy?

There’s also an interesting bit on the actor’s strike of 1980 that feels totally relevant to the writer’s strike we just went through (and possible actor’s strike approaching.)  Even though they couldn’t print concrete premier dates, TV Guide still had the chutzpah to run with the preview issue.  It’s very 1930s newpapermenly of them. 

Last up in these first five scans we also have a K-Mart ad for one heck of a crazy audio set-up.  It’s a five-in-one system with a stereo, turn table, dual cassette decks, 8-Track player, and even comes with two microphones, speakers and a nice looking set of headphones.  Crazy.  I think I could actually use something like this now, well if it had a usb port that is.  It’s make for one heck of a podcasting unit with built in vintage vintage audio media capabilities.


Above we have five of the new shows premiering in 1980 including a television adaptation of the film Breaking Away, Hill Street Blues (another 80s staple that I have never seen a single episode of), a drama starring Lorenzo Lamas & Linda Hamilton (which is advertised for those who love soap operas but are sick of Dallas), a goofy looking buddy cop show starring Hector Elizondo, and a show that had me terribly excited until I realized that it was a non-fiction animal expose show.  I mean c’mon, look at that picture!  Priscilla Presley, Burgess Meredith and a chimp?  Why wasn’t this the TV adaptation of Every Which Way but Loose (Burgess can so pulled off a wizened old Clint Eastwood)?


On of the aspects to these older TV Guides that I’ve really fallen for is all of the illustration work in the advertising.  This is something that I’ve taken for granted for years and it’s been only recently that I’ve really started to miss this type of practice.  The fringes of pop culture, in particular advertising, is always going to shift with technology towards the fastest, flashiest way of getting people to notice their products which means ditching illustration work for more Photoshoped or CGI fare.  It just looks more modern which is what people tend to respond to.  In particular I noticed this trend recently when General Mills reused some vintage packaging on Honey Nut Cheerios and Lucky Charms.  The characters looked so much more appealing to me at first blush, and I think a lot of that has to do with them not looking so slick.

Anyway, a lot of the interior advertising in this TV Guide (be it the more random products or the show adverts) features illustration work that I’m really digging.  For instance the Kraft ad above that has artwork that looks like it was ripped from the pages of Highlights magazine.  On a side note, I distinctly remember my mother trying to hook me on veggies with some sort of sour cream based dip for after school snacks (doing her best to wean me off of Chef Boyardee or a bowl full of Cheez-Its), and now that I think back on it I’m kind of glad I didn’t go that route.  One serving of that dip above probably had half of the daily recommended fat, 90% of which is saturated, which would turn eating veggies into the equivalent of eating large hunks of cheese wrapped in bacon and deep-fried.

There’s also a nice piece of advertising from the network premiere of Foul Play (with a little more Burgess Meredith), as well as a small advert for an episode of That’s Incredible, a show I remember watching all the time, though I don’t have an specific memories of episodes.  Next up there’s a small ad from the show Kids are People Too featuring the young Jodie Foster and Matt Dillion.  I don’t remember this show, but I’m curious.  I suppose it was like a daytime talk show aimed at teenagers?

Last in this set is a horribly misleading ad for the ultimate in sweat suit technology, the Second Skin, the space age slenderizer.  The ad boasts the loss of five pounds in as many minutes, and getting rid of five inches from your unsightly waist in as many hours.  The basic premise is like having a self-contained sauna in a metallic looking rubber body suit.  I’m sad to say that I witnessed the use of one of these suits first hand.  My father was always on the heavy side while I was growing up, and he was always trying to do his best exercise-wise.  He’d jog and hike, but he never seemed to loose any weight and at one point he invested in some variation of one of these suits.  I remember he’d go out jogging in it and then about 15 minutes later he’d come back into the house all winded and reeking of sweat.  I’d always find the thing draped over the bathroom shower bar totally drenched.  Shudder.


Also in this issue there’s a fun little ad for a Dukes of Hazzard movie, which I think is just a two-part episode aired back to back (though I’m not positive.)  It’s kind of fun to see an ad that doesn’t feature the General Lee prominently front and center.  There’s also a great ad for a movie I’m now dying to see, Rodeo Girl.  Cow roping action mixed with the potential for soap opera-esque baby loosing drama is one heck of hook in my opinion.  It’s like Lifetime and the original TNN got together and did a movie of the week.


If you’d asked me last week if Ted Danson had a starring role in a futuristic spy thriller facing off against Christopher Lee before moving on to Cheers, I would certainly have laughed and said no, but there’s the advert for it above.  Again, where are these movies on DVD?  Also, in the K-Mart ad above, is that the most expensive clock radio ever?  Who paid $40 in 1980 dollars for a clock radio?


Though I don’t have many first hand memories of much of what’s contained in this issue of TV Guide, I have to admit that it contained a ton of surprises.  Take the above preview for the Dukes of Hazzard spin-off series Enos for example.  Though I practically grew up on DoH, and have had an interest in the mythology most my life, I have never heard of this wacky gem.  Enos, in California?  Really?

There are a couple of other fun previews including Too Close For Comfort, Magnum P.I., It’s a Living, and one show out of all of these that I actually watched the living heck out of once it hit syndication, Bosom Buddies.  Tom Hanks was the example by which I judged and defined comedy for a large portion of my childhood.

Finally, on one of the last pages of this issue there is an interesting section devoted to other shows that the Networks have waiting in the wings so to speak, one of which I’ve never heard of and I am dying to see called Mr. & Mrs. Dracula.  The relevant portion is highlighted in the above scan, but basically it’s about the Dracula’s emigrating from Transylvania to America so they can raise a family in more suitable environs.  Wow, how Munster’s is that premise?  Why have I never heard of this show?  Maybe it never actually aired, or maybe I have a bit of Youtube homework to do tonight.

Anyway, next week I’ll be back with yet another highlighted issue, most likely the 1982 edition.

The Essential TV Guide Fall Previews of the 80s, Part 1: 1981!

About a year or so ago I stumbled upon something pretty cool on eBay that I thought would be fun to share on Branded in the 80s, namely an almost complete run of TV Guide Fall Preview issues for the eighties (1981-1990.) I’d still like to locate the issues from 77-80, but instead of putting this off any longer, I thought I’d go ahead and start posting the highlights from these issues.

My family was TV Guide-oholics while I was growing up. First off we didn’t have a television with a remote until I was in high school, and we didn’t have a remote controlled cable box until a couple years before that. Up until then, all throughout the 80s we had those old cable boxes that had a slide lever that you pushed to the right to get into the higher numbered channels and to the left to get to the lower numbered channels. It was one of those types of boxes that you family’s drunk acquaintances would swear could pick up the pay channels for free if you just stuck a playing card between the lever and the receptor inside. Ours were typically connected to the TV by an extra long cord that was always stretched across the living room so that my dad could toggle through the channels while he lay on the couch. Anyway, because channel surfing was a little more archaic and because none of us cared for the one channel that would flash programming for all the other channels (what’s become the TV Guide channel oddly enough), we lived by our weekly TV guide digest.

On Satudays my mom would come home with the weekly groceries and I’d always dive into the bags looking for our copy of the guide so that I could flip straight to the ‘Movies’ section to see what was playing on the pay cable channels. We only ever subscribed to HBO and I was always dying to see what was going to be on that week, not to mention lamenting what I couldn’t see on Showtime or Cinemax. Sure, we also received the HBO guide by mail once a month, but my parents usually swiped it up and it would soon disappear never to be found again. I would also roughly plan out my Saturday morning, trying to come up with the best way to navigate through the cartoons on the various channels, though ultimately I would always end up sitting in front of the TV and switching between toons, mid-show. Of course, the best issue only came out once a year, the Fall Preview edition which showcased all of the new programming on the main three networks.

As I mentioned above, the earliest issue in the lot I picked up was the 1981 edition. I was only four at the time, so I doubt I flipped though this particular issue, and with a few exceptions, I don’t remember many of the new shows that were offered up. I still can’t help but smile while looking though it though. Actually, another interesting aspect of the TV Guide is that it’s geared towards local markets, so every week there should be at least 100 to 200 different editions depending on where you live in the country. Though most of the up front and cable material is the same, there are some interesting bits of local flair in the middle. Most of the issues in the stack I purchased were from California, and in the small region that was actually lucky enough to pick up Channel Z (there’s a great documentary on Z Channel that gives background on the whole phenomenon), so it’s kind of a kick to see what was playing through out part of the 80s.

Anyway, without further to do, here are a bunch of thumbnail that link to larger scans from the issue…


I think it’s weird that the artist who mocked up the cover chose to put a ring on what I assume is a lady’s hand drawing back the right side of the curtains. I don’t know why I find it weird, but I do. Though there were plenty of cigarette and liquor ads, the one that caught my eye first which a whopping 6-page Sears spread featuring all sorts of appliances and electronics. From $400 dollar monstrously sized microwave ovens (though they allude could cook a whole turkey, though I wouldn’t want to eat it) and surprisingly modern-priced washer and dryer units, to pricey TVs (with Super Chromix picture tubes) and $800 Betamax players. Interesting side note on the Super Chromix picture tubes, I distinctly remember putting my face up so close to the TV glass that I could only see the weird green, blue, red color bars. I always wondered how it could look so good from far away and so simple up close. Ah the wonders of science and technology, and stupid kids smudging their grubby faces on TV screens…


I didn’t scan in every TV show preview page, but I tried to snag the ones with some recognizable faces, like the above show King’s Crossing with a young Linda Hamilton. The one show out of this entire book that I wish I had paid attention to at the time was the show The Powers of Matthew Star. It sounds like an 80s version of Smallville, except the dude had a kickass spear!


I also tried to scan in shows that have since become pop culture icons, like Simon and Simon above. Believe it or not, I have never seen a single episode of that show. My wife is ashamed of me.

I also thought it was kind of weird how openly liquor used to be advertised with soda brands. The above Bacardi ad is only one of like three in this issue alone that has major brand sodas in them, advertising the beauty of a mixed drink. Does this ever happen anymore?

Of course I was all over the Saturday Morning cartoon ads in the TV Guides I bought. These make wonderful companion pieces to the ads I’ve already posted from the various comics books of the 80s. This one above fills in the 1981 ABC gap in my original post. There was also a tiny ad for one of the ABC Weekend Special cartoons which I vaguely remember catching every once in awhile…


There was also a nice Solid Gold ad (featuring Andy Gibb and Olivia Newton-John, who has been a crush of mine every since I saw Xanadu this past year.) For some reason, though no one in my family really seems the type to have watched it, I remember having Solid Gold on in the background on the weekends while we had our big family meals (typically either steak or burgers.)


Now there’s a show that I have weird memories of, Sha-Na-Na. Actually, my memories are all fragmented and for some odd reason seem to be getting mixed up with both Scott Baio and Hee-Haw of all things. I remember the weird song they’d sing where the one dude was pumping his guns and twisting his wrist and fist outward and inward. Again, why aren’t there compilations of stuff like this on DVD. I don’t need a season of Sha-Na-Na, just an episode to stir up some more truthful memories. Sigh.

Also, we have another Saturday Morning cartoon ad, ah, excuse me, a Saturdazzle ad. Man, to wake up early on a Saturday morning to catch Fat Albert on Saturdazzle, tizzle my dizzle and the hippity hoppity and junk. Anyway, you can find a different version of this ad from a comic book here.

Above we also have yet another show I’m sorry I missed and is now sadly gone (though I bet there’s stuff on youtube), Fridays. Would you look at that young afro-clad Larry David! I wonder what hyjinks Andy Kaufman was getting into that week? Btw, I love love love Mark Blankfield, he was great in the Incredible Shrinking Woman…


Above we have some more fun preview pages showcasing the beginnings of the Fall Guy, Gimmie a Break, a running try at a series by Joel Higgins (who would later cement his fame in Silver Spoons), and a last ditch effort by Gabe Kaplan (who should have known better than to try and follow up Welcome Back Kotter with anything.) There are also a few fun ads, including one for Dial soap with some fun illustrations, a very conniving cigarette ad, and some old packaging for Nuti-Grain cereals.

Last but not least, we have a preview for Open All Night starring Bubba Smith (who was making a name for himself acting-wise in the Police Academy movies), and George Dzundza (who I believe was partnered with Chris Noth on the first season of Law & Order.)

Anyway, that basically the highlights from this issue. It was really cool to get a look at the listings even though they weren’t my particular local stations growing up. It was cool to see what re-runs were playing at the time as well as all of the cartoons and such. Hopefully I’ll be showcasing another issue each week until I’ve made my way through the rest of the 80s (and I might hit a couple from the 90s just for good measure.)

If you don’t let me gut out this house and make it my own, I will go insane and I will take you with me.

Beetlejuice is one of those flicks that I think I’ve seen at least 50 times over the years and I never get tired of it.  This is one of those film projects where practically every aspect of film making just came together to produce something that for my money is just about as close to perfect as you can get.  It’s funny and light while also being fairly dark and morbid.  It has a wonderful mix of special effects, from practical and optical to animation (mostly stop motion), most of which haven’t dated at all, and still look better than 98% of the CGI out there.  It’s perfectly cast, featuring some of my favorite performances from actors like Alec Baldwin, Gena Davis, and Catherine O’Hara, not to mention Michael Keaton’s turn as the titular character (who has enough amazing scenes that he steals the film while only being in it about 20% of it.)  Most of all it’s one of Tim Burton’s most solid efforts that captures both his vision and style without seeming like a "Burton" film (like say how the Corpse Bride, Sleepy Hollow, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory all seem to be a Burton film first and foremost.)  Everything in the film feels like it’s part of the Beetlejuice universe more than the Burton universe.

Because it’s been on TV so much in the almost 20 years since it was released it was never a film that I felt a need to own, but as soon as I began focusing my DVD collection to be comprised of only the films that I want to watch if I gave up TV, it became one of those films that shot to the top of the wish list.  Unfortunately, because I’d seen it so much I also didn’t feel like spending all that much on it and it wasn’t until recently that I ended up buying the film when I found it for super cheap.  I think a lot of my must own movies have fell into this category, flicks like Beverly Hills Cop, Caddyshack, One Crazy Summer, Die Hard, Red Dawn, Young Guns, the Goonies, these are all flicks that I waited to buy until I could find them for like $5.  It’s hard to drop $15-$20 on something that you know so well you’ve practically memorized it.

It’s true I was there number one son…but they treated me like number two!

Batman Returns is such a weird movie.  It sort of holds the opposite distinction than the first Batman for me because whereas I was the perfect age for the first film, when this came out in theaters I was 15, sort of jaded and ended up pretty disappointed in the movie.  In fact this is one of the first flicks that I should have loved but didn’t which has only gotten worse and worse as I’ve gotten older.  Tim Burton has provided a lot of firsts for me I guess.

What I remember most about seeing this film in the theater was that a local comic shop, not my favorite but one I was trying to support anyways, had booked all the seats for the 8:00pm Friday night screening on it’s opening weekend.  This comic shop was sort of out of the way, but it was a weekend, the weekend before the movie opened, and my dad had agreed to drive me out to the shop, though I could tell he really didn’t want to.  When we got there I saw their flier for the screening and decided right then and there that I had to attend.  I ditched buying comics for that week and picked up a ticket to the screening which was a little pricier than the normal ticket rate, but he was going to raffle off prizes before the movie so I thought it was worth it.  Well on the trip home I all of a sudden remembered that my friend Stephen would probably like to go, but I wasn’t sure and I didn’t have enough money for another ticket, so I begged my Dad to drive all the way over to his house so that I could ask him (I had it in my mind that this had to be done right away as the screening was going to sell out.)  Obviously this was before cell phones become so common, but my dad was a trooper and took me over.  Stephen did want a ticket, but he didn’t have a ride, so in came the next round of ride begging from my dad, who begrudgingly, very begrudgingly took us both back to the shop to get Stephen a ticket.  I think my dad must have driven us at least a hundred miles back and forth all day just to get these two tickets, and in the end I didn’t even really like the film.  Upon reflection I think it’s kind of weird the lengths I went to , to see the film in that particular screening, I mean it’s not like we couldn’t have just gone to the movie at a different theater or showing.  I didn’t even like the comic shop owner and pretty much didn’t know any of the other patrons of the shop, so it seems kind of weird that I was so hell bent on seeing the movie with a room full of comic fans.  I guess I thought that it would make the experience cooler, but then I guess years of going to comic conventions since then has soured me on that notion.

Over the years Batman Returns has grown on my quite a bit.  I love the lengths that Tim Burton went to in order to keep some semblance of creative freedom, even going so far as making Batman a minor character in a film full of villains just to keep his interest up.  At the time I hated it, but now I just think it was an amazingly brave move.  Hell, done right the villains usually provide the more interesting fodder for stories any way, so it stands to reason that they could conceivably carry a movie.  I’ve always thought that Danny Devito was the only choice to play the Penguin, in particular in the somewhat gory, dark, twisted Burton style.  High Society, Top Hat-Wearing, crime lords just seem goofy, but put ’em in dirty pajamas, with actual penguin-like deformities, surround them with sideshow flunkies, and I’m on board.

If the first film felt like Tim Burton invading Batman’s world, than this film feels more like Batman, Catwoman, and the Penguin invading Burton’s.  It’s unfortunate though that the series didn’t end here because this film introduced a lot of aspects that, though they worked here, would go on to help ruin the further sequels.  Having the Batmobile be able to jettison two thirds of it’s mass to fit down a narrow alley was kind of silly and it lead to doing all kinds of weird crap with the car later on, not limited to driving up the side of a building.  It was in this film where the villain to super hero ratio was upped as well.  For all intents and purposes there were three villains in the film (between Devito, Pheiffer, and Walken), which would be surpassed in Batman forever by mixing Two-Face, his gang, his girls, the Riddler, and a weird gang of neon, glow-in-the-dark paint wearing freaks, and then again in Batman and Robin (Bane, Poison Ivy, that weird doctor guy, Mr. Freeze and his crazy henchmen) though at least by then there was a Robin and Batgirl to help make it a silly character filled madcap romp that, 2 hours of my life that I’ll never get back.

For the longest time I had the basic no frills cardboard snapcase editions of these first two Batman flicks, but I traded them in for the nice special editions that came out about a year ago, which were really long over due.  There aren’t many movies that I’ve traded up for on DVD, but these were just too important to me to pass up.

My balloons. Those are my balloons. He stole my balloons! Why didn’t anyone tell me he had one of those…things?!? Bob, gun.

I was at the perfect age when Batman came out, 12, which was not so young that the movie was over my head and not quite old enough to start being jaded about adaptations.  More personally, I was also a year into collecting comics pretty heavily so I felt like I was at the forefront of the entire comic industry boom that literally blew up overnight after the release of this flick.  This film also marked another turning point in my life as it was what was bouncing around my head right before my family left Florida (where I’d spent most of my life at the time) for first New England, and then Georgia (where I’ve planted my roots ever since.)  With every move Batman was always there for me as both something comforting to watch, or an ice breaker when meeting new people, at least when looking for comic book minded people.  To top all of this off, Batman also marked the point when my parents caved in and finally bought our first VCR, something that on the surface doesn’t seem all that important, but to me it changed the way I watched movies from that point on.

With our new VCR I found myself starting to build my own little movie library, first by taping flicks off of TV (mostly HBO and on Saturday afternoon UHF matinées), and eventually by saving up and buying the flicks that I loved.  Of all my collections over the years, my film library has been the the only one that I’ve consistently worked on or grew.  Before I made the plunge to DVD I had amassed over 300 VHS cassettes, which doesn’t sound all the impressive until you realize that it took two full bookshelves to hold.  Now I’m not playing "mine is bigger than yours", I’m just stating a fact that no one I knew seemed crazy enough to have that many movies on hand, I mean you rented VHS tapes, you didn’t buy them.  Now I have a collection of over 600 movies and 130 odd TV shows on DVD, which if you asked my 1989 self if I’d ever have a collection like that I/he’d be likely to laugh you out of the building.

Like I said above, since I was only 12 when the flick hit theaters and I wasn’t quite old enough to be jaded, I fully accepted the Tim Burton version of batman as the way Batman should be, all latex muscle suits and super long phallic bat-mobiles.  Before Batman hit I was sort of into the Super Friends cartoon and honestly I pictured Batman to be more like the Adam West TV show.  Burton managed to completely change this for me and was a window into a more serious interpretation, something that suited my new found interest in characters like Wolverine and the rest of the X-Men.

Though I only saw the movie in the theater once, I bugged my parents for every possible scrap of Batman merchandising, all of which I squirreled away in a comic box for years.  I had boxes of Batman cereal, plastic piggy banks, ping pong ball guns, stickers, coloring books, action figures, die-cast cars, micro-machines, souvenir magazines, picture books, movie novelizations, candy dispensers, and trading cards, you name it, I had it.  Well, I had everything but the actual comic books.  I was so into the Burton Batman that the regular comic series didn’t hold much interest for me at the time.  In fact the only Batman comic that I could get into surprisingly was the Dark Knight Returns.  Being 12, the book was way over my head, but I loved it anyway.

Pretty much this flick has held up for me consistently, though in more recent years I’ve begun to see how it’s sort of changing from what I once thought was the perfect example of a realistic live action comic book adaptation into a singularly stylized interpretation, the kind of film that sort of needs to stand on its own instead of being the basis for any sort of continuity (a mistake that I believe lead to the downfall of the movie franchise much more so than hiring Joel Schumacher, George Clooney, or Arnold Schwarzenegger ever did.)  Tim Burton’s Batman is much like Frank Miller’s Dark Knight work, it’s a very passionate work that is best served as a diversion from the concept, a great companion piece.  Stick with it too long and it’ll only end up becoming a parody.  Honestly, I think this can pretty much be applied to most iconic comic work, in particular the super hero genre.  Why are we as comic and movie fans so hung up on continuity?

I want to thank my grandma for always being so good to me, and, and for helping to save the world and everything…

Well, to get back into the swing of things here I thought I’d take a second and go through a my DVD collection by director for awhile, starting with one of my favorites, Tim Burton.  When I was younger I don’t think I realized that there was even such a thing as a director, and honestly I’m still not exactly sure exactly what a director is responsible for, but it’s hard to deny that some stand out more than others.  Well the first director that I recognized by name was probably Tim Burton, probably because of Batman, though Beetlejuice was also high up on my list of favorite movies at the time.

I figured it’d be fun to get some of my least favorite DVDs out of the way first, so today I’m going to talk a little bit about Mars Attacks!, one of only two movies that I can think of which are based on trading card sets (the other being Garbage Pail Kids the Movie.)  I first saw Mars Attacks in the theater with my friend Jeremy a little bit after we graduated from high school, which was a heavy theater-going time for me. I think I was averaging about 1 flick every two weeks or so during that time because I finally had a car and could go by myself, not to mention that I worked the night shift and there wasn’t much else to do during the day when I couldn’t sleep.

By this time I was a pretty big fan of Burton’s, having basically come of age watching Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, Batman and Batman Returns, Beetlejuice, and Edward Scissorhands.  I also loved Ed Wood, which I saw after picking up Plan 9 From Outer Space on clearance at my local Media Play based on the tag line that it was the worst movie ever and loving it.  When Mars Attacks came out I thought Burton could do no wrong and I fully expected to fall in love with the flick.  Sadly I didn’t.  Actually I hated it the first time I saw it.  I’ve never been a big fan of CGI and the flick is loaded to the gills with it, which surprised me since one of the reasons I dug Burton so much was his amazing work with practical effects and set design. It didn’t help that I wasn’t all that familiar with the card set and I was kind of getting sick of the trend where actors would play multiple parts in films (ala Eddie Murphy.)

There was one scene in the flick that I loved though, enough so that years later when I was browsing through the $5 DVD section in Target I couldn’t help but pick the flick up.  The scene in question involves Sarah Jessica Parker and Pierce Brosnan.  They both have their heads removed and there’s this crazy moment when their severed heads are rolling around and then they come together with a kiss.  While I was re-watching it recently it occurred to me that this is the key to this film.  Sure it’s got a silly plot and it’s mostly about inane visuals, which typically makes me tune out while watching a film, but in this films case it’s truly it’s strength.  See the flick is based on a trading card set, and at the end of the day that’s all this film really is, a collection of crazy scenes that are very loosely connected into a story.  Any one of these scenes would make an awesome trading card, and the inane plot which drives it would perfectly fit in a small caption, either on the front or as a summary on the back.  The fact that Burton and Jonathon Gems (the screenwriter) would try and focus on this aspect of the source material astounds me.  In fact it sounds more like a film school experiment than a big budget Hollywood film, which I think took a lot of guts and is also probably to blame for it’s lack of acceptance.

This is what I would consider to be one of the perfect discount DVDs, one that I would have a hard time paying much more than the cost of a good lunch for.  I do have to admit though that I probably wouldn’t have as much admiration for it if another director had done it, but then again, I can’t imagine too many other people out there who would have (well maybe the Chiodo brothers who brought us the classic Killer Klowns From Outer Space.)

Don’t make me angry, you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry…

Being that I’m on a sort of super hero kick lately, and since I’ve found a few extra pockets of time to watch some DVDs that have been sitting on the shelf for months, I thought I take a moment to share one of my favorite super hero movies of all time. Now after I’d been into comics for a while, (always a "Make Mine Marvel" kind of kid) and after I’ve fallen into a group of similar minded friends, we would sit around and talk SH movies all of the time, arguing over which was better. Though the original Star Wars trilogy was our bible, super hero films were the next ring of interest and speculation. Of the four of us that hung out together, each of us had our preferable set of Marvel characters: I was into the Punisher and the X-Men, though Wolverine in particular was my favorite, Jeremy was into Spiderman and Namor, though Cyclops was his favorite character, Darrel was an expert on the more fringe characters in the Marvel universe (Cloak and Dagger, The New Mutants, Star Jammers) as well as some indie comics like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, though he had a pretty strong affinity for Gambit, Kitty Pryde and Night Crawler, and Stephen was the resident underdog lover, covering everything that the rest of us weren’t into like Iron-Man, Daredevil, and the Avengers, though like the rest of us he was partial to an X-Men character, Colossus.

Anyway, while we were comparing and contrasting flicks like Tim Burton’s Batman, TMNT: The Movie, The 1989 version of the Punisher, Superman the Movie, the Flash TV Pilot, Swamp Thing, the 70s-80s Spiderman TV movies, and the 80s unreleased Captain America movie, all of us always neglected to bring up the original pilot movie for the Incredible Hulk TV series. Sure, all of us were familiar with the later TV movies that introduced characters like Daredevil and Thor to the big screen, but I never saw the pilot movie in repeats until the late 90s. In fact I’m not sure if it was ever released on video, and it sure wasn’t released on DVD until the merchandising and publicity started to ramp up for the Ang Lee version in 2003. Universal put out four DVD sets that year, the pilot movie, a really expensive Best Of, and a couple of TV movie collections with the Return of, Trial of, and finally Death of the Incredible Hulk.

Well considering the mass amount of super hero flicks that have been released since ’95, I thought it would be fun to see how this 1977 TV movie held up in comparison.

First off, the pilot movie DVD, which might still be available individually (it comes with the awesome 1st season set which also includes commentary on the flick) on DVD, is pretty good for the price. I’ve only ever seen it in $5.50 bins in the various chain stores, so it’s cheap, and in addition to the pilot it also includes the bonus fan-favorite episode Married. The DVD also contains some fluff special features like a sneak peek at the Ang Lee feature film and a decent introduction from Lou Ferrigno (who if you don’t know was the Hulk to Bill Bixby’s David Banner.)

Ferrigno doesn’t get all that much time to reminisce, but he manages to get a few interesting nuggets out about getting the gig, the annoying time in the make-up chair, etc. He’s also very aware of the fan base for the show and he even hits the convention circuit every year taking time to talk with the fans and stuff (unlike a lot of the other "celebrities" who frequent the circuit and are amazingly rude.)

The pilot movie was basically the pitch for the regular series, which was produced, written and directed by Kenneth Johnson the mastermind behind another 80s TV sensation that I was obsessed with as a kid, V. The flick opens up very quietly with a very 70s hazy out-of-focus feel to the text, an effect that makes the flick seem like a bad soap opera more than anything else. It opens with Bill Bixby’s name over the title, and eventually it scrolls to Lou Ferrigno who was more or less an unknown to viewing audiences, but would soon rocket to stardom.

After the credits, the is a quick quote which in a very unsubtle way (completely fitting into the Marvel tradition) lets us know that we are about to see a flick about hidden fury. What’s kind of funny, and what ultimately makes this silly quote work for me is the barrage of imagery that follows. There are approximately six million mini scenes that educate the audience about just how much David Banner and his wife love each other.

I mean this couple does every stereotypical thing imaginable from walking in flower-strewn fields, to cavorting in the rain, hilariously goofing off while fishing, loving kittens, comforting each other when receiving a sad telegram…

…perfecting their tom foolery while baking, having snowball fights, eating breakfast in bed, lovingly autographing a cast (remember those times of trouble), tailoring each other’s pants (no, seriously, that’s how much he loves her)…

…laying in bed at night (did I mention they love spending time together), and walking through more fields of flowers. It was about this point when I seriously considered shutting off the film (actually it was during the un-pictured "we-love-each-other-so-much-we-went-disco-dancing" scene.) I mean, hit me over the head why don’t ya. Jeez, where was the playful swimming at the beach scene, or the post coitus afterglow-hugging scene, huh? Anyway, the movie takes a very ironic turn for the better when the couple climbs into their car and some very foreboding piano music starts playing in the background. As much as I hate to see people in pain and suffering, this movie needed to get off the Hallmark "I love you ever so much" train and back on track to being a super hero flick.

It’s at this turn where the movie really starts becoming interesting, and it sets a tone for the rest of the film that I think works amazingly well and is something absent in most super hero origin movies from that point on. In this last opening sequence the audience witness the tragic car accident that leads to the death of David Banner’s wife as well as his pent up aggression and rage that will propel him in becoming the Hulk.

Real quick I’d like to make it clear that I am going to spoil the hell out of the story and sequences of this film, so if you haven’t seen it and want to be surprised, you might want to ditch this trip down nostalgia road.

Anyway, during the accident, when the car is flipping out of control, David Banner is flung from the vehicle. The car bursts into flame and as he struggles to try and get the door open and his wife out, but it’s impossible no matter how hard he kicks or pulls. It’s a very disturbing scene and does a very good job of putting the audience in the character’s place, frustrated with the flame spreading everywhere. Just as the character reaches his breaking point he wakes up from what we now know is a reoccurring dream he’s been having since the incident. This is where the casting of Bill Bixby really pays off in this film. Bixby was an amazing dramatic actor and he completely owns the role of Banner. One thing I was super glad about from a technical standpoint was when Banner awakens from the dream the whole hazy, out-of-focus, Vaseline on the lens effect stops, which is very dated and annoying. This type of overbearing visual cue really gets on my nerves, as it doesn’t trust me to make the connection that it was a dream. I mean, having Banner wake up is quite enough; you don’t need to do any more work than that.

Another thing to note is that right from the start, Johnson has made major changes to the mythos of the Hulk universe, yet most of the changes are perfectly natural and help to ground the character in a reality that the comics don’t need. The character from the comics, though he has some repressed issues with his father, didn’t really have a tragic incident like this to put him in the mood of the piece. As we see in the next set of scenes, Johnson also chose to change the character’s name from Bruce to David, as well as switching him from being a nuclear scientist to a doctor studying the untapped resources of the human body. I’ll be honest, it’s changes like this that typically get my fanboy fur to stand on end, but in this film most of the changes help bring the character to life in a much more natural and less coincidental way. Whereas in the comic Banner is pelted by a mass amount of gamma rays in a weapons testing accident, in this film it’s worked into the story and becomes more of a deliberate act. The one change that I can take or leave is the name change. I believe Johnson decided to switch it to David because he didn’t care for alliterative names (which are Marvel and DC specialties), but he also reportedly made the change because he felt that Bruce was too "gay" of a name (which I think is a rumor that Stan Lee started on that interview DVD he did with Kevin Smith.)

Anyway, the story continues by introducing Dr. Elaina Marks, Banner’s research partner, who together are searching for the untapped source of strength that some people seem to hit upon during times of high stress or tension. They interview a series of people including a mother who saved his son from a car accident that mirrored Banner’s accident to a T. The duo keep hitting a wall though as they can’t seem to find any common links between the subject outside of the fact that they all had a traumatic experience.

It’s at this point that we’re introduced to a very (now) common super hero movie trait, which is looking to very realistic scientific explanation for super heroic powers. In most cases, this film included (and it may be the first film to explore this), this means getting deep down into the DNA, up to including a sweeping shot where the audience is taken on a ride into a person all the way down to one individual DNA strand. You see this in two of the the Spiderman movies, the X-Men flick, the Ang Lee Hulk film, and some of the super hero TV series as well I think. It’s just a very common visual effect, and one that’s very effective as we live in a world that is so DNA-centric what with the various crime scene investigation shows, flicks like Jurassic Park, paternity tests, and the possibility of cloning and designer babies right around the corner, DNA is pretty much the most iconic representation of body science imaginable.

Well, in a breakthrough, the couple figures out that in all of the cases they’re investigating, all of the subjects have an odd DNA signature that is abnormally high in adenine and thiamine. This leads them to testing Banner’s DNA, which in true super hero form is not only abnormally high in these same elements, but much more so than the rest of the subjects, which only adds to the frustration that Banner is having with losing his wife. Why couldn’t he tap into this power and save his wife? Though Elaina packs it in for the night, David can’t let it go and continues to search for something that would point to why this abnormality might produce excessive strength. He stumbles upon an idea as he’s talking to a fellow scientist about gamma radiation activity from sunspots, and matches up the time line on the subject’s increased strength to sunspot activity and high levels of gamma radiation.

This is where the film’s slow build begins to pay off for me. In the comic, and in most comic stories and movies, there is one quick incident, usually an accident that requires a jump in logic to buy the fact that a character has gained monumental new powers. Be it Peter Parker getting bitten by a radioactive spider, Matt Murdock having toxic waste flung into his eyes, or Bruce Banner running out to save a friend during a gamma bomb test (man, I see Johnson’s point on the alliterative names), there usually seems to be a coincidental accident that results in powers that are unbelievable (though in a good way.) When Banner realizes that the key the hidden strength lies in exposure to gamma radiation it’s a much more natural conclusion when he decides to test this theory out on himself.

Something else I really love about this film and its realism is probably the side effect of being filmed on a TV budget. It looks like a real laboratory was used in these scenes, or at least some real equipment, and it’s completely non-flashy. When Banner doses himself with the gamma rays it’s silent and invisible, much like getting an x-ray. For all of it’s non-flashiness, it’s still a very effective an haunting scene filled with much of the iconic imagery that would eventually make up the opening credit sequence of the TV show, from sitting the in the contraption to the x-ray of David’s skull.

It’s in this sequence that the camera travels deep into David, so deep that it gets down to his DNA in a very effective sequence, which makes it out to look like tiny glass beads and bubbles, a much more detailed sequence than the movie lead me to believe it would get. It’s also here where the accidentally over dosage that Banner gives himself is revealed (which was foreshadowed in a previous scene in which Elaina mentions that most of the research equipment had been upgraded, which is why new tape marks have been added to consoles, effectively showing that the makings can go up to 11.)

For me this is when the movie shines as in the next few scenes we see the build-up of anger that David is suffering from. After the gamma dosage, Banner is unable to lift anything heavier than normal and again he is frustrated as he hits another wall in the research. On the way home he gets stuck in the rain, has troubles starting his car, and then blows a tire after running over some road debris. There’s a slow burn as he gets out to take care of the flat, hurting himself getting the spare out of the trunk, fumbling with the jack in the rain, and then hurting his hand as it slips off the tire iron. This all just builds and builds in a very natural and understanding way (we’ve all had days like this.) This finally hits a crescendo that pays off in David’s first transformation into the Hulk, an effect that could make or break the movie. The effect is pretty astounding, beginning with the tinny high-pitched hum where David flicks open his eyelids to reveal that his irises have turned a light greenish-white, and is then followed by a barrage of quick edits showing his features changing, his muscles bulging out and ripping his sleeves, his shirt ripping up the back and eventually his unnaturally green skin. This first transformation is done flawlessly and is really beautiful, even when compared to the advanced effects work today and is the perfect illustration of how you don’t need a ton of CGI to do really effective and believable effects work.

There’s a great moment as the camera pulls back and shows the Lou Ferrigno as the Hulk for the first time in the pouring rain and then is highlighted and illuminated by a lightning strike which is helped along by the great orchestrated score. When then get to see David let out all of the tension that’s been building (through the slow first half of the film) on his car as he pounds on the hood with both fists clenched.

This whole sequence where he thrashes his car, smashing the windows, ripping off his flat tire and flinging it into a nearby ditch is all very exciting and fun and culminates in the Hulk picking up and flipping the car into the ditch where it explodes very unrealistically, but at this point realism doesn’t matter as much as the audience has bought into the concept. That’s the first major strength of this film, that the first half is gruelingly realistic, it totally sets up the transformation scene. The second strength of the film is that there is no set up for a villain that the Hulk will fight. By this point in any other super hero movie there’s usually a very obvious and awkward villain built up and in place for the final showdown sequence. It’s a cliche that I really don’t care for, and something that I think should be left for a sequel. This flick completely sidesteps the villain angle.

It’s at this point where Johnson starts playing with the character. He’s basically set up with the back-story straight out of one of the Universal monster movies, so Johnson playfully homages the little girl and the lake sequence from Frankenstein. The Hulk confused and dazed wanders through the woods until he stumbles upon a little girl fishing at the edge of a lake and just like Frankenstein he scares the living piss out of her. Unlike Frankenstein the Hulk doesn’t hurt the girl, instead she gets herself into trouble paddling out into the water in her canoe and then falling overboard. As the Hulk tries to save her, her father comes back from hunting and ends up shooting Banner in the arm. This is when Johnson decides to hammer home the point that his version of the Hulk will not kill or really even hurt innocent people (or villains for that matter) and instead of "Hulk smashing" the dude, he takes the gun, breaks it, and then throws the dude into the lake with his daughter.

There’s another really strong scene here where Johnson films the Hulk from over the shoulder as the Hulk stoops by the lake and sees his reflection for the first time. In this moment of calm Banner slowly changes back to himself in a series of edits that are cut between the character reaching out to touch his reflection in the water, a very nicely executed and creative effect.

It’s at this point that the film goes full force into only exploring the Hulk’s origin as Banner flees to his friend and colleague Dr. Marks, and together they try to understand this crazy situation. They retreat to a deserted portion of the research facility they work at which houses a pressure chamber that Banner hopes will hold the Hulk if he ends up changing again. The movie reverts back to its plodding pace, but honestly it’s a very welcome deviation to the over-produced frantic pace that most super hero films follow today. The two try to recreate the transformation inside the chamber, going so far as to artificially make it rain and lightning, but try as they might they can’t do it. Then hours later, Banner decides to rest, and during another episode of his reoccurring nightmare where he once again powerlessly has to relive his wife’s death, he unconsciously begins the transformation into the Hulk. Even though the chamber is constructed with thick metal lining and six inch thick glass, the Hulk still manages to smash and break his way out where he confronts Elaina, but once again we see as the Hulk isn’t just violence incarnate, but human bound by his alter ego’s morals.

Again, Johnson makes homage (though a little more heavy handed) to another monster, one a little more close to home, Dr. Jekel and Mr. Hyde. Unlike Hyde the Hulk isn’t evil or a beast derived from all of the hidden carnal instincts of man, but merely a physical manifestation of anger, frustration and rage. He won’t hurt Elaina, in fact he even obeys her much like a dog. She also has enough of a calming effect on the creature that he slows down enough to revert back into Banner.

This time, unfortunately, the effects work doesn’t shine and is very dated with a cut-out segment of film that flashes between various versions of Ferrigno and Bixby, overlaid with a very odd green light that just services to make the transformation all the more awkward. Buried within this though is a very awesome bit of subtlety where Bixby has the white contacts in, he closes his eyes, and in an imperceptible cut, opens his eyes and the contacts are gone. It’s funny how you can have all ranges of quality in the effects work within one shot like that.

Another thing that this movie does very well is to introduce story threads that are left in the background until later, which makes the story seem more over arching that it might really be. At the beginning of the film we are quickly introduced to Jack McGee a reporter for a crappy tabloid that’s trying to score an interview with Banner or Mark about the work they’re doing on hidden strength. Well, he pops up again towards the end, though this time he’s more interested in the sightings of the Hulk and it’s connections to Banner who he was already pursuing. Here again Johnson makes allusions to monsters, this time to Bigfoot, and places McGee in the role of the monster hunter.

Johnson uses McGee as a catalyst that will set up the continuing TV series later on in a move that it a little bit of a groaner, but not so bad now that most of the movie is dedicated to discovering the understanding the Hulk. There is an accident after McGee breaks into the lab where Banner last turned into the Hulk; he’s hiding in a closet listening to Banner and Mark when he’s discovered and then knocks over a jug of a highly reactive chemical. As Banner escorts McGee out of the building the chemical reacts with another substance causing a drastic explosion with Dr. Mark trapped inside.

Banner, reacting to the incident, turns into the Hulk and rushes into the building to save Elaina. He manages to get her outside and into the nearby woods (where McGee sees the Hulk carrying her) but she’s badly hurt and ends up succumbing to her wounds. Before she passes she tells Banner as the Hulk that she loves him, which is heart breaking as Banner doesn’t remember much that happens during the hulking out episodes. This is another story thread that is carried throughout the show as Banner is never sure whether or not he killed her, and always carries this guilt around with him.

The film ends with a funeral for both Banner (who was thought to have perished in the facility fire) and Elaina. There’s a fun nod to the character’s original name (Bruce is now David’s middle name, which is actually the same as in the comics, the character is Robert Bruce Banner) on his headstone. As the mourners slowly drift away Banner emerges and pays his last tribute to Elaina, illustrating his remorse and guilt (also mentioning that he loved her and thinks she did too), and then he turns and walks away with his backpack slung over one shoulder, and to the tune of Super Heroes (from the Rocky Horror Picture Show) in a scene that would be repeated at the end of every episode of the show.

After I was done watching this I was surprised how much I really ended up loving this movie. I wish that other super hero movies would take the time to tell a well-crafted story like this and do it at a pace that is right for the story and not what the audience expects. Hell after watching this, I wish Bryan Singer had, had the guts/clout to go ahead and completely nix the Lex Luthor plot line from Superman Returns, instead focusing on the characters and the love story. I’m sure it would have pissed off a bunch of people (I mean the ones that the film didn’t already piss off) but it would have been bold and satisfying (at least for me.) I guess I’m sick of every single super hero film having to be an action film first and then a good story second. I know it’s a convention of comics and all, but there are other stories to tell. Astro City is a great example of a comic that tried to defy these conventions, at least partially and tell other types of super hero stories, from other perspectives (like a regular Joe watching this craziness from the street.) The Incredible Hulk does this really well for me. It might be boring for others, but oh well.

As a P.S., there was one change that Johnson wanted to make from the comics that I’m glad didn’t happen. He wanted the Hulk to be red to mirror the anger that the character was suffering from. Man, though would have totally negated everything I said above and would probably have been a fanboy nitpick that completely took me out of this film (much like the absence of the Punisher skull was for the 1989 version, which up until just recently made me hate that film.)

…It’s Helena.

Boxing Helena for me is the perfect example of potential-wasting, gutless filmmaking.  Warning, spoilers follow.  Philippe Caland and Jennifer Lynch presented a genuinely interesting and bold plot, that of a masochistic, mother-obsessed doctor (Nick) who desperately latches onto Helena, a beautiful temptress who wants nothing to do with him.  Nick, after having inherited his mother’s palatial estate and running into Helena in a bar, decides to throw an impromptu house warming party as cover for inviting Helena into his home where she yet again rebuffs his advances.  Nick then lures her back to his house where she is accidentally hit by a car and has her legs horrible crushed.  Being a brilliant surgeon, Nick manages to save her life though he amputates both of her legs, and it’s at this point that the film becomes both remarkable and lackluster at the same time.

Jennifer Lynch, daughter of filmmaker David Lynch, seems as if she’s taking a page out of her father’s surreal dream-logic filmmaking book as Nick keeps Helena prisoner and begins to slowly and literally deconstruct Helena limb by limb until she’s truly an object of his desire.  Helena, on the other hand, spends her time digging into Nick’s psyche, taunting his manhood and in a very demented twist falling in love with him, I believe based purely on his desire for her, which transcends physical beauty (something she is used to men fawning over.)  Unfortunately this second act is severely hampered by pointless complexity (in terms of the number of characters in the film) and some very forced and unconvincing performances (namely by Bill Paxton who’s trying his best to invoke his character Sevren from Near Dark and Sherilyn Fenn who stoicism is almost laughable.)

Though the acting is generally bad and the directing generic the plot would save this otherwise mundane film, but this to is thrashed by a very trite and gutless third act that ends with an ambiguous twist ending, which implies that the entire second act was either a hallucination or a dream.  When I rented this film I had very high hopes based on the loose connection to David Lynch and the story in general.  I mean who sits down to write a movie about a man so obsessed with a woman that he makes her into a living Venus Di Milo, and then pussies out at the end and implies that it’s either a dream that Helena has had after the accident, or a hallucination that Nick is having in the hospital after he brings her in (instead of keeping her in a psuedo-box on his dining room table.)

Jub jub…

I thought I’d talk a bit about the Ewoks DVD today.   I don’t hate this cartoon, but I do hate the way Lucasfilm has handled the property.  Basically what this release is, is 8 episodes from the first season of the show cobbled together to form two very unbalanced animated films with new adult Wicket voice-overs.

What we don’t get is the opening theme song, original end credits, and I have a feeling original music (though I guess I’ll never know since this will probably be the only release in this format.)  At least the “chapters” are labeled with the original episode titles.  I know this sounds nit-picky and in the vein of the “complainers” of the ill done reissues of the Original Star Wars trilogy on DVD, but come on.  What is the purpose of releasing an old saturday morning cartoon, almost certainly because the fans demanded it for nostalgia purposes, and then heavily editing it so that it has almost no feel of how it originally aired?

I don’t particularly want this in my collection, but I do want episodes of the show, so I bit the bullet and bought it.  I outright refuse to buy Droids though as I didn’t care as much for that cartoon and can wait for a better version (though it will probably never come…)

And there goes the Challenger, being chased by the blue, blue meanies on wheels…

So in the wake of my burgeoning interest in car flicks, post Death Proof, I finally got around to catching Vanishing Point, the 1971 road film that, like Dirty Mary Crazy Larry, is one long car chase.  This flick above all else, is the film most mentioned in Death Proof, both by the characters and with the use of the white 1970 Dodge Challenger that the girls are test driving at the end of the flick.  Like all the other car flicks I’ve seen lately, I tried to go into this with unspoiled and with an open mind.

Like Two-Lane Blacktop, this flick begins with a slow burn that builds up to become much more than the sum of its parts.  The inter-cutting of scenes with the main character Kowalski (played by Barry Newman) with those of DJ Super Soul (played by Cleavon Little) are first unexplained and odd, but soon become weirdly telepathic, where one character becomes the body and the other the voice of a being that is past it’s time on this earth.  The films existential leaning, though, isn’t as up front as Two-Lane Blacktop, as the director (Richard C. Sarafian) and the writers (Malcolm Hart & G. Cabrera Infante) very creatively insert some telling flashback sequences that throughout the film bring the audience up to speed with Kowalski and suggest some reasoning behind his long last stand on the road.

Though the film is structured a little more commercially viable than Two-Lane, it’s not quite as much so as Dirty Mary Crazy Larry and not nearly as mundane as most of Gone in 60 seconds, so it’s kind of cool to see a progression of existentialist road movies throughout the 70’s.  It’s kind of interesting to note that in TLB speed alienates, in DMCL and VP speed kills, and in GI60S speed titillates because by that point people were becoming so enamored by the action that they were probably looking past the meaning.  This is an downward spiral that action movies take throughout the 80s (with films like the Smokey and the Bandit, Cannonball Run, and even to a point Top Gun) and which ends ultimately with films like Days of Thunder or Speed and its utterly pointless sequel, Speed 2: Speedier on a Boat No Less (or what ever the hell it was called.)  Car movies are all flash and hardly any substance anymore.  Stuff like the Fast and the Furious or the Transporter (though both fun and exciting) are simply eye candy.  Honestly, Death Proof isn’t much better, but at least it turns its head back in the direction of the 70s flicks that it pays homage to.

I’m curious is this is one of the first times the where the whole DJ as a confidant/copilot concept makes it’s way onto film.  It seems like a very stereotypical idea now, but I’m not sure where it came from.  I also really dig its telepathic inference, which reverberates nicely in later cinema like in the scenes between the Forest Whitaker titular character and Raymond (played by Isaach De Bankole) in Ghostdog: Way of the Samurai, where even though neither character can understand each others language, they still hold up their ends of a conversation through some sort of unexplained telepathy.

I also think that this is a pretty tight example of counter culture cinema, in the vein of Easy Rider, so it’s sort of funny to see that there was a made for TV remake in ’97 starring Viggo Mortensen that completely ditches Kowalski’s drug fueled existential ride to the end with a plot about having to get home for the birth of his baby.  That just sounds so silly.