Tuesday, September 30, 2008
“The things that scared the shit out of when you were a child now make you an object of ridicule.”
That was the first sentence I wrote down when I started to write the Kolchak blog. It wasn’t until I talked about it with Lori that I realized that it wasn’t entirely accurate. A more accurate statement might read:
“Everything you hold dear can and will be ridiculed by somebody at some point in your life.”
So why not you?
When bars close, they usually do so with a “Last Call!” or “You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here!” For existentialists and pretentious bars, you’ll hear “Hurry up please it’s time!” The late, lamented Samurai Club in Oklahoma City had a tape they would play with Muzak in the background and various celebrity impersonators saying it was time to go. I heard that tape about a hundred times in my life. Damned good times.
At my place, I didn’t tell people it was time to go when movie night got too late for my consciousness level – I simply put on an episode of Kolchak: The Night Stalker. Except for 1-2 exceptions, Kolchak would get people out of the apartment faster than a police raid (foreshadowing for next time’s entry on Jay Hilburn?). Now, I love Kolchak, it was one of my favorite shows when I was a kid, and became almost mythological in its magnitude when it disappeared from TV, to reappear in the late 90’s as a cult favorite, which is another way of saying “Geek Favorite”. Aside from four exceptions, the scariest things I ever saw on TV before the age of 10 came out of Kolchak: The Night Stalker (which will be referred to as The Night Stalker from now on – the name was changed to that after 4-5 episodes and just sounds cooler). I watched it sparingly when it premiered on ABC in 1974, and missed the first TV movie completely, but watched it closely and IN THE FREAKIN’ DARK when they re-ran it on CBS as part of the "Friday Night Late Night" line-up a couple of years later. At midnight, everything’s scary to a 6-7 year-old. Everything. Clock chimes? Scary. Random floorboard creak? Scary. Mothra? Scary.
It still holds up pretty well, in my opinion, but that’s MY opinion. The show starred the late, fucking great Darren McGavin, he with the slightly raspy conversational voice and the ultra-enunciating rage voice as almost has-been reporter Carl Kolchak, who would stumble onto something evil, the authorities would try and cover it up, shit would hit fan, various peoples would be thrown about by monster, and Kolchak would eventually figure out was necessary to save the day, but usually wind up in trouble in the process. It’s that way in every episode, including the two TV movies that introduced the character. In the first, Kolchak is caught by the cops mid-mallet as he drives a stake into a vampire’s heart. Awkward? Much.
In fact, that first “movie”, The Night Stalker , still holds up fantastically. It’s a low budget attempt to make a vampire movie that’s scary, smart, and mildly artistic. The ending’s a downer, too: Kolchak kills the vampire, but is driven out of town by the authorities, his hooker girlfriend leaves without him, and he has to hole up in two-bit motels to work on his story. The second TV movie starts to set up the series, and is a bit more tongue-in-cheek, but does introduce viewers to the Seattle underground, and co-stars the awesomeness that is Jo Ann Pflug: a hottie who didn’t change her name for stardom.
ASIDE: Jo Ann Pflug was one of those “TV Guest Stars” that used to bounce from show to show, without any employment but as a Guest Star in a TV show or movie. These people would find their greatest success in the 1970’s, when anthology shows like The Love Boat would continually employ them as different characters, sometimes within the same season, or TV movies, where they might play an econ student who gets caught up with a supernatural horror, or a woman who finds that she has to get a job to feed her family (ah, the days when a woman with the high paying job in the family was still thought of as being fucked up (it’s still thought of that way in some parts of the country)). Game shows used to employ them – hell, Match Game lived off the TV Guest Star racket, and employed many people way beyond their shelf date (Charles Nelson Reilly, I’m talking to you!!) As cable began to flourish in the 1980’s, these areas dried up, and many of them went off to Branson to build theaters or invented devices to sell at fairs. Mrs. Pflug is a born-again Christian who presents seminars on manners and business protocol, and is still the hottie. Check out http://www.joannpflug.com/ for the quick fix.
DIGRESSION: And they also showed up on various Sid and Marty Krofft productions, such as Land of the Lost (that guy who parachutes in), or Lidsville (Charles Nelson Reilly!). The Kroffts and Land of the Lost are responsible for one of those four things that scared the shit out of me as a youngster, watching Sat. morning shows in the darkened den. No, not the Sleestak – The Zarn! -- a semi-transparent being with lights all over its body that react to emotions. It doesn’t work at all now, but at 6 years old, the episodes where the Marshalls are skulking around his ship in the dark were creepy as hell – and then the Zarn would detach itself from the wall and completely freak you out. For the record, here’s the other 3 non-Night Stalker scary things:
1. The Horta from the "Devil in the Dark" episode of Star Trek. Big blob with great background music and scuttling noises. Lava for blood. Scary, even with Leonard Nimoy saying things like “Pain! PAIN!” in a voice that sounds slowed down and sped up at the same time.
2. That damned Zuni hunter doll from Trilogy of Terror, an ABC TV movie starring Karen Black in a triptych of stories, the first two of which don’t matter, because they suck. The third is the scariest thing ever shown on TV: a little fetish doll with a knife and large, sharp teeth runs around after Ms. Black and proceeds to scare the shit out of every child who watched it – traumatically. In fact, the TV-movie was so scary that they showed it a bit later in the evening, so the kiddies couldn’t watch it – I mean, so the kids would stay up and get the shit scared out of them by a puppet. The voice of the doll was the late, great, Walker Edmiston, who played Enik on Land of the Lost. And that weird Confederate soldier they run into, who sounds just like Coily from the Squirm episode of MST3K. Seriously scary stuff. Still is.
3. Charles Nelson Reilly on Lidsville. No hidden meaning in any of that.
4. The “invisible” monster from the Jonny Quest episode of the same name. Jonny Quest still holds up as one the best, most racist cartoons ever. It hits you on all fronts, from its free-jazz opening music, to the exciting adventures with the browner peoples of the world. Sometimes the show is cringe-inducing for all the wrong reasons, but this episode is one of the best. A scientist accidentally creates an invisible monster, which proceeds to wreak havoc on a small island until Dr. Quest destroys it. When made visible, it’s a giant, pastel blob with one big eye. Scary as fuck. It helps that the Jonny Quest background music is still some of the scariest out there, but what really works is the fact that a cartoon on Saturday morning featured the deaths of characters by various methods (it was originally a primetime show), giving it a real-world terror that kids could grab onto. The question that remains? How did the damned invisible monster leave footprints when – once made visible – it very obviously has no feet?
ASIDE: We once had dog named Bandit.
Okay, a real No. 5 – The TV-Movie Horror at 37000 Feet, by Richard Matheson, he of I Am Legend and Duel fame. A demon, through various means, is resurrected aboard an overseas flight, kills a dog, and freezes some people to death. The passengers go nuts, and think sacrificing a stewardess will appease it. Nope. William Shatner stars as the de-faithed priest who finds enough faith to defeat the thing, and then is thrown out of the plane. We assume, to his death, but it’s Shatner. Who knows? Matheson is responsible for a lot of good-to-great sci-fi and horror: Legend of Hell House, Duel, and, of course, The Night Stalker.
The limitations of the series are obvious, and sometimes the show doesn’t overcome them: low budget, “different-monster-every-week” syndrome, non-sci-fi/horror writers writing sci-fi/horror, and an inability or unwillingness to change up the formula. The show was cancelled right before the end of the first and only season, partially because Darren McGavin had tired of the role, partially because of ratings. However, a lot of more creative people than me were also scared shitless by it, and the basic outline – skeptic in supernatural situation must find way out – is the set up to The X-Files. They even tried a remake a couple of years ago that the Sci-Fi Channel still broadcasts. It sucks. End of story. Piece of shit. Horrible fucking thing. I’ve never seen it.
The reasons The Night Stalker works so well is the reason why so much 70’s TV still holds up. The main character is an anti-hero: selfish, boorish, not overly athletic. When Kolchak is in danger, he is in DANGER. He doesn’t know how to shoot a gun well, can’t fight, and that makes his attempts to take these “things” on more believable. His outfit – light blue polyester suit with omnipresent pork-pie hat and sneakers – marks him as an outsider, even to outsiders. He’s a dick, and gets involved in these affairs because of selfishness more often than righteousness, although that does show up every once in a while. He’s more of a “there’s nobody else who’s gonna do this, so it might as well be me” hero, like the great PI’s of TV: Jim Rockford, and Mannix. They’d much rather drink than fight crime.
There’s also a realism to the show that the budget sometimes worked for, not against. Instead of fantastic effects, the stunts were usually one person, in costume, throwing a bunch of people around. No over-the-top blood or gore here, just cops being tossed around like so many professional football players (see “The Vampire” episode).
The music for the show is still scary. The theme starts off with McGavin whistling the title theme – and interrupting his whistle while he takes a sip of coffee (diagetic/non-diagetic sound for you!), which is a nice, almost light-heartened tune that suddenly steers itself into the heart of darkness when the typewriting starts and the strings play the counter-point melody at full volume, creating the SCARIEST THEME MUSIC EVER. No whistling here. Many children wet their pants at the mere mention of the title sequence and its music alone. They are what we call “infants”. For the rest of us, it was just a very frightening introduction to one hour of Darren McGavin doing what he did best: killing monsters and getting arrested. The background music was also some nice, experimental stuff, with early synths and Theremins along with the free-jazz behind the “throwing people about” scenes.
The structure of every episode of the show follows the same formula, which I shall re-regurgitate in poetic form:
weird thing happens,
cops are called.
newspaper office characters act as themselves
while Kolchak tries to get story published.
Kolchak chases down leads
(all of which are played by TV movie guest stars)
and finds out how to stop “thing” or “things”.
the every-nothing heart that opens and closes is felt in the hands of
Or something like that.
It’s that last bit, the “Kolchakgoesmanoamanowith”thing”untilhedefeatsit” section, where the show veers away from formula TV, and gets into art. The last segment of the show, from next-to-last to last commercial break is almost always Kolchak, alone, tracking the creature to its lair, and killing it/figuring out what’s it after, so the terror stops. There’s usually not much dialogue, just music and visuals along with whatever gigantic, weird weapon Kolchak has on him to stop the whatever. Here, anti-hero Kolchak rises to the challenge for various reasons and turns into actual-hero: he’s alone, much weaker than whatever he’s fighting, and that makes the evil more dangerous. This last section is best described via my personal fave episode: "The Werewolf".
Kolchak manages to finagle his way onto a singles cruise, since the ocean liner they’re using is set to be scrapped, and he has a human interest piece and a vacation, to boot. Many TV guest stars are there, including cabin mate Dick Shawn (Hitler in the original The Producers), love interest (there’s no love interest on the show) Nita Talbot (Marya from Hogan’s Heroes), and Eric Braeden (then, Dr. Hasslein in Escape from the Planet of the Apes. now, Victor Newman on The Young and the Restless) as the werewolf. The werewolf runs amok on the ship, and the crew tries to cover it up by cleaning things up quickly after the werewolf attacks. Kolchak figures it out, gets a shotgun, steals the captain’s silver cufflinks to make ammo, and then tracks the thing down. He’s by himself for this – Dick Shawn is eaten, and his non-girlfriend is locked in his cabin – and off he goes. Kolchak has to walk the length of the ship to get to where the werewolf is fighting the crew. As he does this, various broken, injured crewmembers are going the opposite way: some running, some carried. Kolchak’s movement towards the monster is like watching someone catch up to the frontlines from the back end in a war movie. There’s almost a solid 10 minutes of visuals without dialogue (Kolchak does tell one drunk to get back to his cabin) as he makes his way towards the chaos, his point-of-view blocked by various parts of the ship. Eventually, the werewolf finds him, he shoots, misses, runs away to reload, shoots, hits it, the werewolf tries to throw him off the ship, Kolchak dangles from the side, and finally pulls the thing overboard. God’s eye view of the ship, and we’re out.
It should end there, with Kolchak’s delivering of a brief observation brusquely over a shot of the boat, but we still have to finish the wraparound segment. Almost all Night Stalker episodes have a wraparound story that is Kolchak dictating the story that will never be published into his cumbersome 70’s portable tape recorder.
Outside of the “Hush” episode of Buffy, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a less-dialogue-y sequence in a normally dialogue-full show. The last 10 minutes of the Werewolf episode play like a great silent film. Beautiful stuff. Oh, and the episode has this exchange, which I include because it shows how the series assumed you were smart, unlike a lot of television. It’s between Karl and his cabin mate, Mel:
Carl: I'm a reporter.
Mel: A reporter...oh, like the Fifth Column.
Carl: That’s the Fourth Estate.
And it always runs people off whenever I play it: never fails. Is it because of the incredible “70’s-TV-ness” of the production? The lack of gore and decent effects? The asshole of a character we’re supposed to identify with? Couldn’t tell you. I don’t ask. I go to sleep. When I was a kid, watching The Night Stalker would keep me up at night.
I sleep better now that I’m older.
(By the way: SPOILER ALERT!)
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER -- Essentially, what scared the hell out of you as a kid now makes you look like an ass.
WHATEVER HAPPENED TO JAY HILBURN? -- a burning question many people want answered from Yukon High School. What happened to the guy we all wanted to hang around with and who provided us with liquor for all those band trips?
ZODIAC -- Best film ever? Maybe not quite, but it does remind me why I liked teaching people about film so much.
THE UNQUIET DEAD -- An entire entry devoted to the third story of the revived Doctor Who. Why it made me a believer in the new series, and why I almost cry every time I watch it.
B-MOVIE HEAVEN -- I look at some of my favorite B-movies, define the term, and fan-wank all over them.
FANDANGO -- the movie I "discovered" and forced people to watch over and over again as some sort of life experience. I watched it for the first time in about 20 years. How'd it hold up?
Basically, more of the same, but with less Apple.
Working on entries about the "Trip to Altantia" and why, contrary to Oscar Wilde, I love it when my friends become successful.
See you then.
Saturday, September 20, 2008
The Apple is slightly notorious. I’d read the name a few times, but never knew anything about it until The Onion’s AV Club – God’s gift to the geek in all of us – reviewed it as part of the “Year of Flops” series. Completely intrigued, when TCM scheduled it as part of their “Underground Cinema” series, I Divo-ed it.
DEFINITION: “Divo” as opposed to Tivo, which we don’t have. However, we do have a DVR as part of our cable package. I also love Devo. Not as much as my former office mate Janson – oh, yeah, there’s an entry soon – but their early stuff makes me verrrry happy.
Lori and I – my wife is now named! Huzzah!! – were going to watch something else while nicely toasted, and I decided to start the movie, just to see what would happen. Hoooooooly shit. We didn’t turn it off for a couple of days.
Here’s how out there this thing is: The man who played From Russia With Love’s chess grandmaster villain Kronsteen “stars” as Mr. Boogalow, a record mogul who is actually Satan. He is apparently trying to take over the souls of the peoples of Earth via a future version of the Eurovision Song Contest. I shit you not. At the end, God shows up in his gold-plated Cadillac/Rolls-Royce/Monopoly Token and takes a bunch of hippies to another planet in order to start civilization over. It’s a morality play without the morals. Well, that’s pushing it – the movie tries to make a point about commercialism destroying the heart of music, but who cares about that when people are jumping around, lip-synching to “The BIM Song,” which features the lyric “Hey Hey Hey/BIM’s the only way” (or “On the way” or something else close to it) repeated over and over 24 times. Yup, the movie has a dance break in it where everyone drops what they’re doing and starts dancing as part of a government-mandated exercise program. Best. Film. Ever. How much cocaine did the filmmakers do during this film? They don’t tell you what “BIM” stands for until about 30 minutes after the song first appears, as part of the opening. It stands for Boogalow International Music. Mr. Boogalow, as Satan, appears “normal” (HA!) most of the time, but other times has one horn on his head – not centered, like a rhino, but on the side of his head, as an accessory.
Speaking of accessories, at one point, everyone is ordered to wear little, triangular, shiny badges on their foreheads to show their support for BIM. It is the law. The filmmakers apparently thought of the “Mark of the Beast”, but it’s more like the “Star of David.” This leads to the most awkward-to-watch moment in the film, when an incredibly over-the-top stereotyped Jewish woman – played by Miriam Margolyes, who voiced “Fly” in the Babe films – is stopped in the street and cited for not wearing a badge. No extra meaning here, just fucked-up-ed-ness. This movie does everything it can to create a world where a music conglomerate can control the world, a man can wear tight enough pants to give himself a cameltoe, a Canadian couple is torn apart by the woman’s yearning for success, and the man writes a song titled, “Love: The Universal Melody”. Hee hee!
If I cannot hide my unbridled love for this film, I hope I can share it. It cures cancer via multiple viewings, can grow hair where once there was no hair, and gives you a serious contact high. Let’s go.
I have no real production information I can share with you, since all records seem to have disappeared, possibly in a form of documental suicide, with them jumping into a shredder in order to keep the world safe from possible repetition. The main story is supposedly based on a Jewish morality musical one of the producers – it’s a Golan-Globus film! -- saw on a trip to Israel and bought outright. They then made this film out of it. That’s the equivalent of seeing a version of the Passion Play at a small town church and turning it into Jesus Christ Superstar, a film that is not as good as The Apple. Iris and Coby Recht wrote the original show, and George S. Clinton “adapted” – please tell me that you already know it’s not THE George Clinton – everything and wrote the lyrics for the film’s songs. He also plays the American reporter who wants Mr. Boogalow to say something for the “billion of” Americans out there. I do not believe he misspoke; I think the filmmakers honestly believe there will be a billion Americans by 1994. We have some retroactive fucking to do.
The film is a Golan-Globus production, for their Cannon Films, distributors of the Death Wish sequels, Chuck Norris’ Missing in Action series, the vigilante thriller Exterminator 2 (sequel to 1980’s The Exterminator), and Runaway Train, an Andrei Konchalovsky film originally written by Akira Kurosawa and one of the best films ever (there's something really fucked up about that). Since it’s Golan-Globus, that means the budget for The Apple might have hit 1643 dollars, with half of that going towards cocaine and little shiny stickers.
ASIDE: Did you know they made the two Missing in Action films at the same time, ala The Matrix sequels, but realized the second film was better, so they released it first? Yes, Missing in Action 2 was originally Missing in Action, and Missing in Action was Missing in Action 2. Eventually, the first Missing in Action became Missing in Action 2: The Beginning. I shit you not. Back to the coke-filled dreams of avarice.
My mockery of this film may seem harsh. It is. But my love for it is stronger. The more I watch the film, the more I admire what they attempted to do: create the greatest movie ever on a 5 figure budget, with no stars (at the time), a lot of cocaine, about 42 frenzied dancers and three locations: an efficiency apartment, a concert hall – all of it: stage, garage, lobby, front desk; and Mr. Boogalow’s office, which morphs into Hell.
How can you tell that there were only 42 dancers? Because they use them over and over, sometimes in completely different scenes but with the same hairstyles and make-up. One of the great pleasures of the film is seeing how each dancer pops up playing different characters who all look the same. Sometimes they talk. Sometimes they look at the camera. Sometimes they dance with feather boas in the lobby of the Civic Center, which is used as the office of BIM, escalators and all. I originally thought they were in an airport, because they don’t even try to hide the screens that direct people around, or the carpet, which can only be described as something out of a 1970’s dentist office. But faded.
The lobby sequence contains the single greatest moment in the film. It’s a musical number that tells all about the fact that “Life is nothing but show business/In 1994/We fight for the spotlight/We kill for accord (or “the gore”. Can’t really tell.). Here we go. What follows is a cross between Federico Fellini, Peter Greenaway, and Ed Wood. Here’s just enough context:
Mr. Boogalow has rigged the song contest so his protégés Dandi and Pandi can win with “The BIM Song”. They’ve even stacked the crowd with members of the 42-person dance squad so they yell “Do the BIM!” at random intervals. They attain 150 ”Heartbeats” – there’s a meter in the control room that measures heartbeats, which is apparently the unit of appreciation in the future, and never explained (if it’s actually the average heart rate, then the audience is made of rabbits). The next act is a couple of kids from Moosejaw, Canada: Alphie – the man has a cameltoe, I shit you not -- and Bibi. Bibi’s played by one of the three people you may actually recognize. The first’s Boogalow (From Russia With Love), the second’s Bibi, played by Catherine Mary Stuart, she of Night of the Comet and Weekend at Bernie’s. The third is the subject of a drinking game described later. They sing a love song, which is apparently too old-fashioned in the Berlin – s’cuse me, America of the near future. It’s called “Love: The Universal Melody”: “You’re the light within my darkness/ You’re my shelter from the storm/When my hope is dim/And fear shuts me in…” – you get the drift.
After a near rebellion in the audience by the BIM plants – “Do the BIM!” -- the crowd settles down, and just when they’re hitting 151 Heartbeats (oh, the poor, poor, rabbits, George), Boogalow’s sidekick, Shake – the single gayest character in any movie ever, Gregg Araki be damned – threatens one of the technicians in the booth with death if he doesn’t play a cassette filled with what sounds like Lou Reed’s infamous Metal Machine Music. Alphie and Bibi lose, but Boogalow sees good stock when he hears it, and invites them to his business. They show up, get to the lobby, and are told to wait. Here’s where it gets fun. The next shot is of a clown in full make-up, sulking, while a guy riding an early version of the Segway putt-putts around. Bibi is entertained by a magician in a wizard’s cap, and Alphie sits next to Dick Diablev, manager of Ballet 2000, from Kansas City. Alphie frowns and says, “Who?”
SMAP!!! (snare drum roll and rim shot)
The Greenaway film starts here, as the camera laterally tracks across a canvas of dancers in outfits made of balloon mylar, a fire eater spits fire, a man plays a futuristic clarinet, a man plays a futuristic trombone, and Yma Sumac sings. Boogalow sticks his head in from the opposite end of the frame, and we’re off. This is a musical number right out of Fellini, if Fellini had to use an airport lobby as a set: people dance on all levels, the worst tap dance number ever gets performed, and a tall man transforms into a midget by walking around a column while that aforementioned clown tells people to roll up and see the “Incredible Shrinking Man!” as five dancers shuffle sideways to cover the trick. The dancer in the middle also plays the cop who accosts Miriam Margolyes later on in the film. 42 dancers, I shit you not. The Ed Wood bit is the lyrics: “Mankind screamies/For whatever bits of dreamies/We might treat them to”.
There’s so much going on in this film that it threatens to overwhelm the blog. It’s a bad movie, do not get me wrong – it’s cheaply made, the lyrics are inane at best, and there are only 42 dancers. Oh, and the cars of the future are early 70’s station wagons with fins welded to them. And there are only 2 of those in the entire city, along with the 42 dancers. I am, however, filled with a great love and admiration for the film. What works doesn’t necessarily show up at first. It took 24-67 times through to really get at what Golan-Globus were after, which was to make the best musical possible with what they had available: lots of cocaine and little shiny stickers. So here’s what works:
Everyone in this movie is totally committed to the project, and they give it all their energy and passion, possibly because if they didn’t, they would not get any more cocaine. There’s some great camera moves – that shot in the lobby is fantastic -- and the screen is literally filled with spectacle. You will need a Kleenex. Alan Love, who plays Dandi, is TOTALLY committed. He never breaks character, and seems to be acting instead of playing. He’s got some subtlety in his performance, and a decent voice. When he sings “The BIM Song” (which sounds like a cross between T. Rex and Boney M), it’s as though he’s in a completely different movie: a good one. The choreography and dancing is pretty decent, with some great diagonal movement towards the camera and multiple layers. The title number, “The Apple” (“Magic Apple!/Mystery Apple!”), is an upbeat soul number set in the Land of the Lost cave set – I mean Hell – with people moving everywhere, dressed in costumes that were made by my preschool class. The song contains the most infamous lyric from the film: “It’s a natural/Natural/Natural/Desire/To see an actual/Actual/Actual/Vampire”, but even that can’t stop the music. During the number, Bibi is pushed off a ledge and is rolled – still standing straight up and down – head over foot as she’s passed down the dance line. It’s awesome.
Damn, I could go on. I haven’t even gotten to the mutual montage sequences, as our heroes walk down the apartment stairs, get on a monorail, and arrive at their destination. Montage sequences are usually used to compress time, but here, they just compress about five minutes into four as the songs “Where Has Love Gone” (when Alphie rides) and “I Found Me” (when Bibi rides) play behind them while they lip-sync. Bibi’s big solo number, surrounded by mopeds of the future – with fins! – is a song with such a thinly veiled metaphor about America and methamphetamines (“SPEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEED!”), that it loses its veil. Poor Catherine Mary is dressed here like a cross between a hippie and a Delta Knight, and can just barely perform the choreography. I feel so sorry for her, wearing her long gauntlets while 21 leather daddies flail about. Then there’s a song called “Coming For You”, which contains nothing but entendre – no double to be found: “Make it hotter/And hotter/And faster/And faster/ And when you think you can’t keep it up/I’ll take you deeper/And deeper/And tighter/And tighter/And drain every drop of your love”
Then all 21 of the female dancers and their 21 gay male partners pretend to screw in beds as part of the background noise.
Towards the end, Alphie montages back to his apartment, placing his back to the wall when he sings “I’ve got my back against the wall”, gets to his efficiency apartment, sinks into a chair, grabs a liquor bottle, and starts drinking. This is cliché conforming at its best. He eventually joins up with group of “children of the '60s... commonly known as ‘hippies’ “, as their leader refers to them. He’s played by THE Joss Ackland, with a fake nose (okay, there’s four people you might recognize in here). Bibi joins, too, leading to marriage and a child that looks three, but can only be one, since there’s a montage – over the song “Child of Love” (and that’s about its only lyric) – that seems to only cover a year. Maybe they adopt a hippie-child. Boogalow shows up. Demands Bibi pay him back. Arrests them. God shows up, also played by Joss Ackland, but with blonde wig instead of false nose. He takes the hippies away. The horribly animated title card shows up. The title song is played again, and we’re home.
You have to see this movie. It deserves the Rocky Horror treatment more than Rocky Horror does itself. It is an awesome combination of imagination, energy, cliché, ridiculousness – damn, there aren’t enough adjectives to describe it. Rent it. Buy it. Love it. Go to your next dance recital with a shiny sticker on your forehead and demand to meet an actual actual actual vampire. Roger Ebert once said something about the amazing Japanese superhero movie, Inframan, that once they stopped making movies like it, a little piece of the world would die (or something close to that). The same goes for The Apple, except no one can ever make another film like it, because the documents have committed suicide and the cocaine has run out. I shit you not.
EXTRA SPECIAL SECTION: 42 dancers, and one always stands out – Finola Hughes. You might know her from being a regular on General Hospital and All My Children, or as the dance diva Tony Manero dances with in Staying Alive, the sequel to Saturday Night Fever. She was also on Blossom as Ted Wass’ girlfriend. Heck, she’s even won a daytime Emmy! You’ll know her when you see her. She’s one of the 42 dancers, and, thus, plays about 38 different parts, some in a great, hot pink, nylon baseball cap. Since she’s so recognizable, every time she shows up in the background, your attention is drawn to her. That means you can play the “FINOLA HUGHES DRINKING GAME!” Take one every time she shows up. You’ll be dead before you can say “BIM!” I shit you not.
(User’s Note: It’s 39 days until I turn 40, and I’m writing a blog entry a day until I turn 40 to deal with the unconscious pressures of being alive as long as I have -- longer than most cavemen lived. Here’s one that’s mighty personal – so personal you might want to wash your eyes afterwards to get the personal out. And while this is titled “Cindy Gamsjager”, it’s not about her, but about her and me. Solipsism is great; everyone should try it.)
The Personal One.
Cindy Gamsjager and I did not hang out a lot outside of high school. We didn’t hang out much after we graduated either. When she died in 1988, a lot of people wondered why I took it so hard. Really. I was a wreck. I cried more than I think I ever have, and I still get choked up about it now, 20 years later. I lost my mind a bit (not far to go for that), and have distinct memories of myself squatting on the ground after the graveside services and crying and crying. I do not do this sort of thing that often. My wife has often said she thinks it’s weird I’ve never cried in front of her – well, I have, but she wasn’t looking. It is possible I ran out of tears after Cindy died and had to make more. And damn that sounds like a lyric Carrie Underwood might sing (more on her big hit to come in future blogs).
Truth is, Cindy and I saw each other an enormous amount, but I didn’t realize that until after I graduated. We had band together (I was drum major and she held a slight grudge against me for making drum major over her), drama together, English – hell, 90% of the classes I took from 9th grade to graduation had Cindy in them. I think it was one of those “Damn, I just realized the most obvious thing ever” moments when I did figure it out. You know what those are:
“Oh, I actually did love (blank)!”
“Damn, I knew I shouldn’t have eaten that!”
“I am actually happier than I’ve ever been in my life!”
“So he was The Doctor all the time!”
Repeat ad infinitum.
After high school, I went to what was then known as CSU on a jazz music scholarship that I completely wasted (“Wow! I didn’t want to be a jazz musician after all!”). Actually, “couldn’t” is a better word to use than “didn’t”, but it was free college, and I blew it and dropped out. Luckily, you get a second chance for some things, and I eventually figured out what I wanted to do, started back at college, got a 4.0, multiple Dundies, and am now gainfully employed at the full-time/part-time job I’ve worked at for more than half my life – degree unneeded, debt exponentially growing. Cindy went to OU.
I saw her very sparingly after graduation: a couple of parties, some concerts we’d both attend, nothing big. I’m assuming we both had the same epiphany about how closely our lives intersected at about the same time, because the last time I saw her, we both mentioned it in the first few minutes.
Needed back story: One day, a mutual band mate named Bonnie Something-or-other told me Cindy had a crush on me. This was my sophomore year, just when I was beginning to turn into the ass I was in high school. I laughed and made a joke in front of Cindy a couple of days later, and she vehemently – I use the word specifically here – denied it. Good job, doofus (me).
Flash Forward, or Catch-Up: I had just started what would be my first real, long-term relationship that would come to an end about four years later.
ASIDE: Very smart move on her part. Verrrry smart. I could not agree more -- especially with hindsight.
I was starting to fall deeply in love with someone, and then I ran into Cindy again.
It was at a party that a friend of mine threw at his grandparents’ house. He wasn’t supposed to throw a party there, and definitely wasn’t supposed to smash the outside garage door mechanism to break into the house, gather all the precious stuff they had, put it in their car in the garage for safekeeping and have a bunch of drunken teenagers over, but he did. Great party. He got in shitloads of trouble for it, and would have gotten in even more trouble had the late Sean Shepler and I not concocted a scheme to lie just enough to keep them from pressing charges. Sean’s appreciation will come later in the series. Promise.
My girlfriend – Laura – was not there. Couldn’t tell you why, I don’t actually remember. Cindy was there, though, and we found ourselves drinking beer in the backyard and talking about high school when we both admitted we’d had that aforementioned epiphany about class and stuff. I realized then that we were having the longest, coolest conversation we’d ever had. I think she did, too.
ASIDE: I haven’t talked to many people about what happened next, and it’s it still hard (See above above above above above) to do so.
The morning approached, full of house-cleaning and me walking home (the party was close – too close). Cindy and I wandered into the front yard, still talking, and things got incredible very quickly: 4AM, we’d talked for a couple of hours, eventually got to the mutual compliment part, talked about going out some time, stood facing each other, stopped talking, looked into each other’s eyes, kept doing so, moved one hand toward the other person’s until they touched, and we kissed. It wasn’t some grand, movie-style embrace, just us, touching/holding one hand, bending slightly forward (in what my former drama teacher Ms. Franklin would have called a “tent hug”, where you bend forward towards the person, but don’t move your whole body), and kissing – closed-mouth. We moved our heads back, still touching each other’s hand and both said we’d really like to see each other again with stupid Pam/Jim smiles on our faces.
I don’t think anyone else knew about what happened that night. If she told anyone, I’ve never found out, and she may have gotten home and said something to her roommates, such as, “I will never drink that much again. I kissed
I knew nothing about this at the time. I was still dealing with the ramifications of what had just happened. I was just getting serious with someone else, and suddenly an old friend had begun to possibly turn into something else (split infinitives, ho!). I decided to wait a week before calling Cindy, partially to give her some space to make sure she was actually interested, primarily because I was scared to death. A couple of days after Cindy had her attack, I was at my friend Khristi’s house – whose boyfriend’s sister I was now dating, and her mom asked me if I’d heard about Cindy. She told me. Cue Fanfare.
I wound up having to call Cindy’s ex-boyfriend Ross and tell him what had happened to her, and we both got together and cried a while, but I didn’t tell him anything about that last night, either. I figured it might get weird, as opposed to just depressing-as-hell. I found out they were going to turn the machines off in a few days, as they got ready to – well, she had checked that box on her driver’s license, you get the picture. I planned on going to the hospital next night, to say goodbye. At work the next morning, I read her obituary in the newspaper.
I think “babbling, crying fool” is a pretty accurate description of what I was like when I went to my boss to ask for the day off to go to her funeral.
Ross and I went together. We cried on each other’s shoulders, I wept pretty much constantly, and people looked at me with pity in some cases, raw hatred in others (I had pissed some people – adults – off by taking the head band director’s side in a power struggle between the band boosters and him. It ended with the director being demoted, and a lot of people not talking to me. Fuck them.). Most were confused. Again, nobody knew about that one night. After the funeral, Ross and I went out to
Because I never said anything about this, I just went stark fucking crazy. I had a hard time being around Laura, to the point that I distanced myself from her and almost damaged our relationship to the breaking point.
I mentioned second chances somewhere before in all this. Girlfriend Laura and I got better, dated a long while, got engaged, and eventually she broke it off (see above – oh, fuck it). Again, smart move. She’s married with kids, and I am extremely happily married with kid. As the grief passed from all-encompassing to simply painful, I realized I had been given a gift – that’s how you’re supposed to phrase it, but in reality nobody gave that moment to us but us. I had seen her one last time, said everything I ever wanted to say to her, connected with her more than we ever had before, looked into each other’s eyes, kissed, and maybe would have done more, given time. I doubt it. I’m a realist. She was way too good for me at the time. Everyone was, back then.
Most people don’t get that kind of closure, although I guess it wasn’t closure so much as it was a possible beginning, a chance to start over. I at least had that chance. I couldn’t bring myself to visit her grave for a while after that, and I eventually forgot where it was. I haven’t tried to find it. I don’t think I could, even if I could.
The only other times I ever hung out with Cindy (hung out is such a cool term to use) were at Czech Hall, which was a place you could polka the night away and get beer when it wasn’t too crowded. Cindy and I danced a lot together, another realization I had later on. We loved to do the 7-Step Polka, where you take a couple of polka steps, and then four quick ones in the other direction. We used to like using the four steps to build up speed and ram into people, turning dancing into demolition dancing. It was fun, more fun than racing Brian Gorrell to the bottom of a glass bottle of Coke (he almost always won). Cindy and I laughed and laughed and crashed and smashed.
I’ve forgotten to tell you what Cindy was like. She was cute. Got rid of her glasses and started wearing contacts her sophomore (junior?) year, and stole Bye Bye Birdie as Birdie’s manager’s mother. In the movie, she’s played by Maureen Stapleton. Cindy was better. She wasn’t as tall as me, and when she dated Ross, they had to lean in towards each other just to hug; he’s a tall man. She had blue eyes and brown hair. She had a great smile and a nose some might consider a bit large; it brought out her eyes. She had an old, orange Opel she drove around, and I once got in it with a girlfriend to escape the cold outside Czech Hall. Rumors and Cindy’s screaming to the contrary, we did not have sex in the car. And it was not my idea. It was Dawnetta’s (Yup. Her name was Dawnetta). I simply agreed verrrry quickly. I think she’d gotten another car by the time I saw her after graduation, but memory fails me there where it is embarrassingly detailed most everywhere else. In Senior English, we sat next to each other and shared more “can you believe this shit?” looks than all four full seasons of The Office combined. The last time we acted together was in Drama class, where we played a high school couple who found out they were going to have a baby. We had to scream at each other and everything. Not true to life.
One other moment: Cindy and I sitting across from each other in Ken’s Pizza – which no longer exists – in
Last observation: Cindy Gamsjager is one of the greatest names ever.
I don’t polka any more.
Thursday, September 18, 2008
I once had the opportunity to have dinner with two film critics: Michael Wilmington and Bruce Kawin, and while discussing Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut, we (jokingly) came up with the concept of the "Literal Metaphor" -- a metaphor that's so obvious, it's a literal reading of the visual image. Citizen Kane is full of them: Kane looms large in the shot, he's powerful. Background: he's not. I used the term a lot after that , much to Vicki Sturtevant's hilarity, but I think, like my other literary term "Verisimili-'dude' ", that it will catch on and be on t-shirts everywhere.
I digress. No, really I do.
Anyway, here's some background on the Modes: Originally, the band was a nice, happy synth-pop band who had a bench-clearing hit with "Just Can't Get Enough", but that was back when the band had Vince Clarke in it -- he who invented the "bubbly" setting on the synthesizer. You will never hear happier synths than Vince's. He eventually moved onto Yaz and Erasure, where he helped create some of the peppier synth-pop songs of all time. You know them. You sing along to them in the car: "Situation", "Only You", "A Little Respect", "Chains Of Love" and "Always", an elegy to a lover lost from AIDS. Well, an elegy in its album form. The best version is the high-NRG version, where the tempo's twice as fast, so you can bop happily along to the death rattle. His best stuff might be with The Assembly, a band with former Undertones singer Feargal Sharkey you've never heard, but that's me smart-assing. Clarke left after the first album, leaving the Modesters to have to replace him. Eventually, they did, with Alan Wilder, otherwise known as "the cute one" in DMgirl parlance (which we'll eventually get to). His keyboard did not have a "bubbly" setting on it. It did have a "suicide tone" one, though.
The Modies at the time consisted of: Martin Gore, who picked up the lyric writing slack after Clarke left, which makes the first post-Clarke album bloody awful, and does not feature Wilder, who joined to play on a tour, but who did not get to play on the album because the remaining Modes wanted to show they could get along just fine without Clarke. That's like Van Halen saying, after David Lee Roth's absence, "Oh, don't worry, Sammy. We'll get to you, but first, we're going to make a Van Halen album without you to show we can do it all by ourselves, at first." Utter, utter failure.
Dave Gahan is the singer, who joined the band after Vince Clarke saw him singing "Heroes" somewhere and went, "Ah. There's the operatic, non-tuned, ultra-low voiced singer I need to compensate for my effeminate, bubbly sounds. Fantastic." So Gahan is the voice for Martin Gore. Alan Wilder makes the music, programs the keyboards, samples the factories, and uses too much mousse -- really, the guy's later hairdos look like a pompadour crossed with that guy from Kajagoogoo's fuzzy hair. Slicked back on the sides, of course. But he is "the cute one."
And so there's Depeche Mode. Gahan sings the songs Gore writes and Wilder makes the music. But wait, you say. There are four members of Depeche Mode (three nowadays). The fourth member of the band is Andy Fletcher -- the spiky haired guy who lip-syncs with a great passion. And he should -- he's sort of the band's manager. Yes, Fletch -- as the DMgirls call him -- does the paperwork for the band. Yes, he was in the band before Gahan, and, yes, he can play some synths and some bass, but he's primarily there because four guys look better on stage than three, and to press the sequencer buttons when prompted. Gahan once noted that they should set a fax machine up for him on stage, much like the time Lester Bangs typed a review in front of a J.Geils Band audience. He's still in the band, BTW, but Wilder isn't. He got tired of inter-band problems.
So you have this strange mixture of men who make this music, and sell it really well. Fletch keeps pumping out the reissues (that's what she said) and collectibles, and the band rolls in money. But Depeche Mode always wanted to be a SERIOUS band, and that makes me laugh long and hard (see above).
Want to make me laugh? Put on a Modey video. There's something completely hilarious to me when Gahan dances, with his complete sincerity and complete inability. He's the guy people look at stunned at a disco when he prances, but he means it...his dancing. The other guys can't dance either. During the video for "Everything Counts" -- in large amounts, hey! -- the three other guys stand in a line, slightly to the side of one another and slightly move their shoulders and bodies as they all lip-sync Gore's vocals (Gore often sings the "important" lines of his lyrics, with a voice that is 27 octaves higher than Gahan's). They all resemble the kids who dance in the front row of the "Homerpalooza" episode of The Simpsons, but with less rhythm.
Even better is the video for "Master and Servant," where Gahan keeps his dancing from the other Modes, but the rest all swing on little chain swings, grab each other around the ankles to be dragged around, and have their hair fucked up in as many ways as they can: muffin, spiky, slicked-sides. They also make arm movements that either resemble bowling or reverse-cricket bowling. I'm sure one of those is correct, and mighty symbolic.
Eventually, photographer Anton Corbijn started doing their videos, and they went from ridiculous to pretentiously ridiculous. "Enjoy the Silence" is probably the typical one: the Mo-mo-modies stand intertwined in a group, their fantastic leather outfits glistening in the black and white light, and they stare into the camera as if to say: "Fuck us. Please." Then they disappear, one by one, into the nether regions (see above above). The video then consists of Gahan walking around despairing lands -- and there is some awesome cinematography in this, Corbijn is a hell of a photographer -- in his little king robe and cape in colorized color where he lip-syncs the greatest line in music history: "Words are very/Unnecessary/They can only do harm". Actually, it's "Un-nec-ce-ssary", so Gahan can get the balance right (ha,ha! D Mode joke!). It's the stupidest fucking lyric ever. And yet, the DMGirls love it. They sing along with heartfelt intensity every time. Gahan walks over tundra and blasted heath, crooning his little line all the way.
The entire verse/chorus is actually this: "All I ever wanted/All I ever needed/ Is here/In my arms/(pause)/Words are very/Un/Ne/Ce/Ssary/(short pause)/They can only do harm". Here we see a return to themes discussed in the song "Shake the Disease", only much funnier. Trudge on, Gahan.
Flashback! There used to be these things called chain record stores -- huge stores with racks of albums and cassettes, almost 1/4 of which would be filled with Depeche Mode singles, remixes, 12" singles, box sets, and the actual albums (Fletch makin' the money!) One of these chains was Sound Warehouse, which morphed into Warehouse Music, and then morphed into oblivion. I used to frequent the one on 39th and MacArthur in Warr Acres a lot, since it was on my way home from work, and because, over the course of a couple of years, three DMgirls worked there. I picked up all three.
How? To answer that question, we must first define the DMgirl. First, they love Depeche Mode. Second, they all think Dave's the singer, Alan's the cute one, Fletch is the other guy, and Martin is the guy they all want to fuck. Yup. Little ol' muffin-headed Martin, in his mascara and hot pants, was the one they all wanted to bone. And they all thought he was gay. Most everyone did. He's not. None of them are, but that wasn't known to these girls, so they loved him from afar, wishing all the while they could find someone as effeminate to help through those dark times - someone very ne-ce-ssary. I can't imagine why they'd've been attracted to me, with the long hair, skinny (once it was) bod, and big, blue eyes. I also used to talk to them, which sometimes helps. Eventually, I picked up on what they were after (star thought: I will speak of these women as though they were all working at the same time. They weren't, but it's much easier this way). I realized I could shake the disease with them (see above above above) by doing three things. Follow the rules in this order:
1. Go over and look at the Depeche Mode CD section of the store. Sire Records released a lot of their stuff on CD simultaneously, so there was a rack with Depeche Mode, Erasure, AND Book of Love on it. Pick up a CD and nod approvingly. Once sighted by the DMgirl, prepare for the questions:
"Oh, you like Depeche Mode?"
"I dance to them at the Wreck Room, and at the U-Club down in Norman."
"Oh yeah? Most guys aren't into them."
"I like to dance."
Note that at no time did I say I liked the band, or that I actually listened to them.
Look into their astonished eyes and then say, "Hey, the next time you're at the Wreck, look for me."
"I'm going there Saturday! Cool."
Exchange your phone numbers and buy something black to wear that's comfy. The work is over.
2. Now, pick a time to meet said DMgirl at the club, dress in black, get some comfortable shoes, and mousse up the hair. DMgirls almost always dress in black, but buy their stuff at mall stores, which means they wear cutting-edge black clothing from a mall.
3. Live with the fact that you are going to try and pick up a girl who will sing along to Depeche Mode lyrics while dancing, and will possibly want to listen to them while having sex. Grit teeth and press on. At least it's not Front 242.
Oh, there's a "4".
4. Shop at another Sound Warehouse until you know the girl has moved on. Music stores have high turnover rates.
Yup. I was an evil son-of-a-bitch. I took someone's music -- which they needed for their own mental health -- and used it to get some sort of sexual favor. To quote a former President: "I deeply regret that."
I've been sitting her mocking Depeche Mode all this time, but there are people out there who need their music -- who need these deep, depressing thoughts espoused in a very matter-of-fact manner -- no symbolism to cut through, no interpretation needed. Depeche Mode is shallow -- you could not drown in a Depeche Mode song, no matter what -- but sometimes you need the blunt, "I-walked-to-the-chair-and-sat-in-it" lyrics (I'm quoting Eric Weisbard here talking about Lester Bangs talking about Lou Reed's lyrics (I think)) of a band like Depeche Mode to help. They need it to have someone they can instantly understand who is talking directly to them. They have pains, and Depeche Mode helps. And I used both that music and that pain to get laid. What an ass.
So I mock Depeche Mode, because it keeps me from remembering what an ass I used to be (still am, in many ways), and because it makes me happy. It's easy to laugh to; hard to embrace, but still meaningful to some people. When one of my ex-girlfriends -- not named here -- used to dance and sing along with "Words are very/Un/Ne/Ce/Ssary", she meant it. She had some dark stuff to deal with, and she did it with Depeche Mode (see above above above above). And, for my sins, liked to have sex to them. Punishment enough for me. I haven't seen her in almost 15 years.
As an elitist ass about stuff like movies, music, blah-blah-blah, I like to think my opinions are better than the so-called mainstream audience: "How dare they not like XTC! It's better than any of that crap out there!" And, to be sure, I do think that, and can prove it using flowcharts and hustle and flow, as well. But that doesn't mean that crap can't be important and personally relevant to someone. I knew a guy who really loved Meatloaf. He sang it at karaoke, he felt it in his heart, and was mocked by everyone, including me. Not for the music, but because he sucked as a singer -- AND sang Meatloaf. But it meant something to him, and that means my mockery was of his personal life and his preferences, and the way those things were put on display. Why should what he feels, or what those girls felt, be any less important than the things I hold dear? I have no answer except to quote Muffin Man:
"The grabbing Hands/Grab all they can/All for themselves/After all". It's a solipsistic world, and I rule it. Everyone should join, and we sometimes do.
So that's the DMgirl blog. I still mock Depeche Mode, but it's because I find them silly. Someone else finds them important, and those people are the ones Fletch caters to with the constant issuing of product.
I am haunted by dark clothing.