Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Buck Rogers, Wilma Deering, and the Space Vampire (1980)

Above you'll find a fun image from the late 1970s, early 1980s television show, "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century," featuring the actress Erin Gray as Colonel Wilma Deering and Nicholas Hormann as the Vorvon. This episode, called "Space Vampire," originally aired on January 3, 1980. I remember watching this frightful episode, although I must have seen it later in reruns.

See here for a not to be missed clip from the episode in question.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Krull (1983)

It's always fun to go back and watch 1983's Krull, directed by Peter Yates, written by Stanford Sherman, and starring Ken Marshall as Prince Colwyn, the hero king who sets off on a quest to rescue his bride and his kingdom from an evil creature known only as The Beast.

Fun to watch mostly because of the nostalgia that accompanies such viewings, Krull is not, standing alone, a masterful cinematic achievement. Indeed, it has not aged well. But part of the joy of revisiting the film is to see how awful special effects were in the early 1980s.

And boy, were they awful in this film. Truly, truly bad. The best part about the film is its powerful and inspiring score, done by composer James Horner.

But the most curious thing about Krull is attempt to mix the then fashionable space opera genre with the always familiar fantasy genre. Perhaps the pitch meeting went something like this: "It's Star Wars meets Lord of the Rings. Yeah, that's the ticket." And in many ways, it is an attempt to combine those two films, but the sum is far, far less than the parts assembled to make it.

It's set in your typical sword and sorcery fantasy kingdom. There's no technology; there's certainly no way to communicate with faraway friends. People live in small villages or large castles. Humans fight with swords or axes. Magic exists. You know the drill.

But The Beast, the enemy of the world, is from OUTER SPACE. That's right. Did you remember that part? His large, menacing mountain fortress is actually a spaceship which carried him to Krull, which is the name of the planet on which the film takes place. A mighty and powerful creature known only as The Beast lands on this relatively primitive planet in his immense spaceship, and no one seems fazed by that fact. Sure, they are scared of The Beast, who's one bad dude, but they don't seem the least it concerned that this villain came from a galaxy far, far away. In fact, the citizens of the planet Krull had actually heard of The Beast before his arrival, despite the relative lack of satellite technology, television, or a Krull version of the Internet.

So how do they know about the Beast before he arrives on Krull?

It's not like they have their own Krull version of NASA.

Oh, well. It was 1983.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Sonic Youth's "Goo" (June 26, 1990)

This past weekend saw the twentieth anniversary of the release of Sonic Youth's Goo album, which originally hit stores on June 26, 1990. That was about the time I first became aware of the band, whose "Titanium Expose" would appear on the soundtrack to that year's film, Pump Up The Volume. Featuring "Dirty Boots," "Kool Thing," and Disappear," the album had a number of Sonic Youth staples (though the band apparently rarely sees fit to play them in concert any longer). Arty punk, the band's music is simultaneously powerful and pretentious.

Interestingly, the album cover is based upon this famous photograph:

That photograph depicts Maureen Hindley (sister of Moors murderer Myra Hindley) and her then husband, David Smith. The photograph was apparently taken in the mid-1960s when Maureen Hindley and Smith, trial witnesses, were in their car. You may have seen the film based upon Myra Hindley's life in which actress Samantha Morton played the villainess in question. Or, you may also be familiar with The Smiths' song, "Suffer Little Children," about the Moors murders themselves. Whatever the case, what a creepy aesthetic choice for an album cover, eh?

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Hugh Grant Arrested (June 27, 1995)

Fifteen years ago today, on June 27, 1995, the actor Hugh Grant was arrested for, well, conduct unbecoming a bashful British movie star. This act had two major consequences: a public relations firestorm for Grant and the ascension of Jay Leno as the king of late night television.

You'll recall that in 1995, Leno was still trailing David Letterman in ratings until Hugh Grant's appearance on Leno's show (which happened to come just a few days after the arrest).

If Grant had been able to control himself, would Leno have trailed Letterman indefinitely?

If he had trailed Letterman indefinitely, would he have been able to snake "The Tonight Show" back from Conan O'Brien in early 2010?

Ah, the fates.

The alleged prostitute that Grant allegedly solicited was Divine Brown, depicted below, who received her fifteen minutes of fame from the incident. But she's vanished from the radar.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Decibel Hunter (2003)

Seven years ago this week, in June of 2003, the Houston-based electronica outfit, The Entertainment System, released the long-awaited Decibel Hunter, its second full length album. It is surprisingly catchy and accessible for the sort of experimental synth the group played.

I mentioned the band's anti-Valentine's Day single upon its eight anniversary this past February.

Now, though, the band is lost to the ages. Alas.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Happy Birthday, RHPT.

What to say on the occasion of the birthday of RHPT, long time friend and reluctant blogger? He is an enigma, especially to the blogosphere, which he revisits and vanishes from cyclically. He has many former blogs populating the Internet, which he started and abandoned over the years. With the triumphant return of Ryan S. to the blogosphere, and with this site's return from its extended hiatus, we here at Chronological Snobbery hoped that RHPT would throw himself back into the blogging game, but so far he is just sharing links via Tumblr.

Perhaps some day he will resume personality blogging.

But until that time comes, we here wish him, our old friend, a happy birthday.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Grapes of Wrath

The Grapes of Wrath (1940), directed by John Ford, is a classic American film based on a classic American novel by John Steinbeck. Ford helmed the picture with the amazing Gregg Toland serving as cinematographer. (Toland was the best director of photography of his era; he shot Citizen Kane, as well.). Henry Fonda and John Carradine are wonderful in their roles as Tom Joad and Casy, but the real star of the film is Jane Darwell as Ma Joad. Her Oscar for the role was well deserved. The scene in which she effusively casts aside her personal possessions and mementos in preparation for the westward journey is one of the most moving in cinematic history. It's enough to make the most cynical blogger capable of human emotion. Trivia: IMDB quotes Darwell: "I've played Henry Fonda's mother so often that, whenever we run into each other, I call him 'son' and he calls me 'Ma', just to save time." If you've not, see this film immediately.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Off Duty XXII

Remember Snake Eyes? Remember Storm Shadow?

They had jobs, too, and I have one, as well, and it forces me to remain off duty today.

By the way, I bought the above referenced issue of G.I. Joe the very week it went on sale.

Yes, dear readers, I am old.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Curious Paradox of Zooey Deschanel

Not too long ago, I watched 500 (Days of Summer), the melancholy relationship movie featuring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and the lovely Zooey Deschanel as somewhat star crossed, ultimately doomed, lovers. As modern relationship flicks go, it's definitely worth seeing, as it nicely captures the electricity of initial romantic attraction and the bottomless pit of despair that accompanies the destruction of young love. Plus, there's plenty of references to The Smiths and The Pixies, so you're indie street cred will remain intact after viewing. In the film, Deschanel again showcases her lovely, mellifluous singing voice (which she uses in both Elf and Yes Man, if memory serves), but this movie prompts a discussion about the curious paradox she presents.

That paradox being? Well, she typically plays a creative and offbeat character, one who is accepting of difference and mostly approachable. In real life, however, she is exceedingly hip.

Hipsters, of course, demand rigid adherence to their code of conduct.

They must disdain any who stray from that code.

So how hip is Zooey Deschanel?

1. She's named after Zooey, of "Franny and Zooey," the J.D. Salinger novella, suggesting that her hipster evolution began as early in life as possible.

2. She's married to Ben Gibbard, the lead singer of popular indie rock band, Death Cab for Cutie.

3. Her husband is not the only musician in the relationship. She is one half of She & Him, a band also featuring indie rock maestro M. Ward. (Note: Their two albums were released on Merge Records, home to many hip bands, including Arcade Fire and Neutral Milk Hotel.). Their haunting cover of The Smiths' "Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want" appeared on the 500 (Days of Summer) soundtrack.

4. Obviously competing for Parker Posey's "Queen of the Indies" title, she has appeared in her fair share of good and bad low budget flicks. (My least favorite is the awful Flakes, a truly bad 2007 movie set in a world in which the free market supports not just one bar dedicated to the consumption of milk and cereal, but two.) I've often written that sometimes, an independent film is "independent" for a reason - it's bad and unworthy of studio financing. Whatever the case, Deschanel has dedicated herself to remaining true to her indie cinematic roots.

5. She's brunette, the preferred hair color of indie hipsters. True hipsters don't go blonde.

6. She's vegan (apparently by necessity, rather than by choice, due to allergies). Thus, it's not a flippant style choice or attempt at a political statement, it's actually medically appropriate.

7. She was cast to play Janis Joplin, although the film was never made, adding to her mythology.

So, what to make of all of this? What does it all mean? If she is so insufferably and painfully hip, how is it that she can continue to play these accepting and approachable characters? As per the dictates of their compact, hipsters must cast disdain upon any and all things while simultaneously making (or wearing) ironic pop culture references. But in her performances, there is a sincerity, almost a vulnerability, which belies that stricture. Perhaps she's just a good actress and remains a doctrinaire hipster in real life. I'll never know. Alas.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Stephen King's "Skeleton Crew" - 25th Anniversary

Twenty five years ago today, on June 21, 1985, Stephen King's collection of short stories, Skeleton Crew, was published. Nearly three years ago, we here at this site did a piece on "The Mist," one of the more famous short stories from this collection. You can read it here.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Happy Father's Day

Happy Father's Day from Chronological Snobbery. Since we here at this site were raised by television, we're not certain how to celebrate a holiday dedicated to the efforts of an actual biological parent. But go with it. Although we remember this 1997 film starring Robin Williams and Billy Crystal to be relatively awful, well, we weren't sure what other pop culture reference to invoke on this day of days. And, no, despite our commitment to revisiting pop culture's artifacts, we simply could not bring ourselves to rent and review Father's Day the movie.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Batman Forever (June 16, 1995)

Fifteen years ago this week, on June 16, 1995, Batman Forever was released in theatres. Directed by Joel Schumacher, and starring Val Kilmer as the title character, the film was, quite frankly, a huge stinker. Not only did it attempt to introduce a new actor playing Batman (Michael Keaton had left after two films, as had director Tim Burton), it also sought to introduce a new sidekick, a new love interest, two new villains, and a number of minor characters (including those played by Debi Mazar and Drew Barrymore). This was certainly the beginning of the end for this version of the franchise, and the far worse Batman & Robin would doom it for good in 1997. I tried to rent Batman Forever and watch it again on this anniversary, but I just couldn't do it. I really tried, though. Can I have some credit for that, at least?

Friday, June 18, 2010

Off Duty XXI

It's been one of those weeks, so today dear readers, I must take a vacation day. Perhaps I am less stressed than, say, Cobra Commander in the image above, but there's no way to quantify.

It's not a crime to be off duty on a Friday, is it?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Bullet Dodged: P. Diddy did not play bluesman Robert Johnson (2003)

According to reports in 2003, P. Diddy (a/k/a Puff Daddy a/k/a Sean "Puffy" Combs a/k/a Diddy) was to play the famed Mississippi Delta blues musician Robert Johnson in an upcoming HBO film, Love in Vain. This was of great concern. What to think then in 2003, and now, in 2010? (This was not quite as disturbing as the news that P. Diddy's ex-girlfriend, Jennifer Lopez, might remake Casablanca, but it is still rather difficult to imagine.) I assume that the film was based upon the unproduced screenplay of the same name which was published in book form a number of years ago. (If memory serves, Scorsese -- who wrote a foreword to the published screenplay -- was at one point attached to the project back in the 1990s.) Thankfully, seven years later, in June of 2010, we know that this casting decision was ultimately reversed. The film, actually, was never made, but surely now Diddy is too old to play the role. Thank the maker.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

George Reeves (1914 - 1959)

Fifty one years ago today, on June 16, 1959, George Reeves, the actor best known for playing Superman in the television program "The Adventures of Superman," took his own life. There's actually a bit of modern speculation about whether there was any type of foul play involved, but in any high profile celebrity death, such talk always seems to abound. I can remember watching Reeves as Supes in the 1980s when "The Adventures of Superman" remained in syndication. Looking back, it's difficult to imagine how the news of the death of the actor who played Suerman must have seemed to young viewers. Years later, Hollywood made a biopic of Reeves, called Hollywoodland, starring Ben Affleck, of all people, as the troubled Reeves. It was not a particularly good film, though it was better than anticipated. May Reeves rest in peace.

For further reading, please see:

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Charles Manson's Lie: The Love and Terror Cult

Yikes. After Charles Manson gained notoriety for programming young hippies to kill (but prior to his murder conviction in the Tate-La Bianca killings), an album of his songs, Lie: The Love and Terror Cult, was released. Scariest album cover? Perhaps. (Your might recognize the infamous photograph of Manson; it appeared on a cover of Life magazine in 1969.).

Two music history points: One of the songs on the album, "Cease to Exist," had previously been recorded by the Beach Boys in the late 1960s as "Never Learn Not to Love." Guns N' Roses later included a cover of "Look at Your Game, Girl" on their The Spaghetti Incident? album in late 1993, which caused some level of controversy, despite the fact that it was a hidden track.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Flag Day

We here at Chronological Snobbery wish you a happy Flag Day. Be certain to do something patriotic, like venturing out to your local record store and buying something to make you feel nostalgic for those wistful days of yore. Or, you know, say something nice about America.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Guns N' Roses, Chinese Democracy, and the 2002 Tour

I was fortunate enough to see Guns N' Roses twice in concert, both times in 1992. History records that the band, or at least the band as we knew it, fell apart in the mid-1990s. Frontman Axl Rose, the only original member left, fumbled about for more than a decade before finally awaiting his long-awaited, ultimately disappointing, Chinese Democracy album in late 2008.

But back in 2002, Guns N' Roses mounted yet another tour and scheduled a date in Houston. I wanted to see them again, as I was curious about the band's new direction and incarnation. But, alas, I was unable to get tickets for the show, which, it turns out, quickly sold out. But it was never to be. Originally scheduled to take place on December 17, 2002, the tour was canceled, which was par for the course for Axl Rose in those days, as well as in these days.

In fact, cancellation is always a fear for the GNR concertgoer. In 1992, just a few weeks before I was to see the GNR/Metallica/Faith No More show at the Astrodome, Axl Rose stormed offstage at a show in Minneapolis (or wherever) after making a bratty spectacle of himself. (This was the concert at which Metallica lead singer James Hetfield melted part of his forearm after accidentally walking into some of the pyrotechnics. Ouch.) Riots ensued. The next few concerts were canceled, if memory serves, leading to speculation that the Houston date would be, as well.

History repeats itself, apparently.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Actress Mary Johnson of Sweden (1890 - 1975)

Who was, and whatever became of, the early nineteenth century Swedish movie actress Mary Johnson? Good questions. Born in the late 1890s, she appeared in her first film in 1913 and retired in 1931, in her mid 30s. She would live another four decades, dying in May of 1975. She is virtually unknown to modern cinema viewers, and in 2010, her name is not exactly Google friendly. I know of her only due to her brief appearance in archival footage in the stellar 1995 documentary "Cinema Europe: The Other Hollywood," narrated by Kenneth Branaugh.

There is little about her on the Internets (save for the foreign language article depicted above which, or course, I am unable to read). In this post, I've cobbled together about as much information and imagery on Ms. Johnson as I could locate on the Internets (including a few screencaps from the Cinema Europe documentary, which featured footage from Johnson's film, 1919 film Herr Arnes pengar (a/k/a Sir Arne's Treasure of The Treasure of Arne) which featured Johnson in the role of Elsalill. (Believe it or not, that film is available on DVD.).

Below are some additional promotional materials I located on Ms. Johnson:

Friday, June 11, 2010

Resquiat in pacem: Ray Charles (1930 - 2004)

Ray Charles died six years ago today, at age 73. I was introduced to him at an early age by my father. His favorite record of Charles' was Modern Sounds In Country and Western Music, which was originally released in 1962 - the year my father graduated from high school. (For those playing at home, 1962 is also the year in which the characters of American Graffiti, written and directed by George Lucas, graduated from high school, as well.).

My father emailed me on the day of Charles' death in 2004. He wrote as follows:
Ray started out trying to imitate Nat King Cole, but, fortunately for us, he abandoned that effort. He went on to introduce us to the great David "Fathead" Newman, who accompanied Ray on an early instrumental recording; he offered us such great lyrics as "she brings my coffee in my favorite cup" and "If Dr.Foster has got her, then I know I'm through--because he's got medicine and money, too"; and he had two of the best country and western albums ever, including the songs "Making Believe" and "Bye Bye Love". However, careers have their low moments as his recording of "Eleanor Rigby" shows. Ray had many songs which other artists simply could not match. Only Jerry Lee Lewis was able to also have a hit with Ray's famous "What'd I Say".
If you haven't ever heard Ray's update version of "Eleanor Rigby" or his "You Don't Know Me," rush down to your local record store and purchase a disc immediately. May he rest in peace.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

R.E.M.'s Fables of the Reconstruction (June 10, 1985)

According to Wikipedia, twenty five years ago today, on June 10, 1985, R.E.M. released its third album, Fables of the Reconstruction, or Reconstruction of the Fables. My fondest memory about this album is not the album itself, but an argument I was in with a hipster girl five years my senior sometime in 1995. She contended that the best R.E.M. was Fables, while I argued strenuously that it was Automatic for the People. Looking back, I still believe myself to be correct, but it's difficult to imagine that Fables is now twenty five years of age. My how the time flies (although I can't say that I really knew this album until the early 1990s). Oh, well.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Smoke (June 9, 1995)

I may have missed the boat on Smoke, released fifteen years ago today, on June 9, 1995. Written by Paul Auster and directed by Auster and Wayne Wang, the film is an ensemble piece, centering around, for the most part, the owner and customers of the Brooklyn Cigar Company.

I remember the film getting quite a bit of buzz in 1995, some of which was rekindled by the release of a sequel of sorts, Blue in the Face, the following year.

The film is set in 1990. Harvey Keitel stars as Auggie Wren, the owner of the cigar store, which is frequented by Paul Benjamin (William Hurt), a novelist and widower still grieving the loss of his wife to gun violence. A thirty one year old Harold Perrineau, Jr. appears as Thomas Rashid Cole, a sixteen year old good samaritan who saves Paul from a grisly fate by preventing him from inadvertently walking in front of a passing vehicle. Thomas is on a journey of sorts, as well, as he is seeking out his father, Cyrus (Forest Whitaker), who Thomas has discovered working at a gas station far from the city. Old flame Ruby McNutt (Stockard Channing) resurfaces in Auggie's life after a two decade gap and tells him that he has an eighteen year daughter, Felicity (a very young Ashley Judd), who has fallen victim to drug addiction and needs a father to rescue her.

There are some nice character moments. Auggie shares with Paul a photo album of thousands upon thousands of photographs of his business front, each taken from the same street corner at 8:00 a.m. on each consecutive day. This task, Auggie tells Paul, is why he can't take a vacation. A nice touch: Paul, when flipping through the many pages of the album, spots a photograph of his wife, which affects him deeply. Auggie explains there are several photographs of her in the book.

There are also some interesting stories told by the characters, most of which take the form of monologues related by one character to another. Paul relates to Thomas a story about a man who comes across the lost and frozen body of his skier father, who vanished so long ago that the son is now older than the father, whose corpse is perfectly preserved in the frozen snow.

By the end of the film, writer Paul, previously suffering from writer's block and depression, finds his voice again, so much so that the New York Times asks him to write a Christmas story. He agrees and asks Auggie for advice. For his part, Auggie relates what he says is the finest Christmas story ever, featuring himself as a protagonist who, in an attempt to return a lost wallet to a shoplifter, ends up impersonating that shoplifter for his sad, blind, octogenarian grandmother on Christmas Day, which Paul views as a noble gesture.

As good and interesting as some of the stories are, it does seem at times like the stories predated the script, and the screenwriter really, really wanted to include them in the narrative, wherever they might possibly fit. But, in 1995, talkie indie movies were en vogue, and that is part of the film's charm, even fifteen years later. There do also appear to be some unnecessary subplots, including Thomas' indirect participation in a robbery (he robbed the robbers) and Paul's encounter with those robbers, who are looking for Thomas. (Thomas spirited away with nearly $6,000, most of which he gives to Auggie after inadvertently flooding the cigar store and ruining several boxes of Cuban cigars.).

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Clown (Heinrich Boll's Asichten eines Clowns) (1976)

The question: Does any one know anything about Ansichten eines Clowns, the 1976 German film directed by Vojtech Jasny and based upon the wonderfully depressing novel, The Clown, by famed German author Heinrich Boll? The answer: No, apparently not, at least not in the U.S.

When something cannot be found, it is best to write about the search for that thing. That's been the philosophy and mission statement of this site for some time. But sometimes, so little can be unearthed that the search itself becomes the story. That is the case with this elusive film.

For those seeking out this film, the Internet offers very little information. Like all films, it has a token IMDB entry, and even a threadbare Wikipedia entry, but little else. The first meaningful link I could find was to the film's entry at a foreign film index, which yielded a number of stills from the film, which I've embedded into this post for your perusal (along with a few other stills I've managed to locate at other sites). As for other sites dedicated to the film, I also located this site, this site, this site and this site, though all are in a language other than my own.

Boll's novel follows the maudlin exploits of a alcoholic pantomimist in post-war Germany. The novel is sad with some very tender human moments. I wonder how the tome's great sense of melancholy was translated to the screen. When I first learned of a film adaptation, I sought it out, to no avail. Back in the 1990s, when everything was coming to videocassette, and then DVD, I thought surely it would arrive somewhere somehow. But no. The film starred the late German actor Helmut Griem as Hans, the title character, whose career has suffered greatly due to his alcohol addiction. But the loss of his career is not what haunts him most; rather, it is the destruction of his relationship with his beloved Marie, played in the film by Hanna Schygulla. The narrative is set against the backdrop of the end of the second World War.

Here's how the back cover of the McGraw-Hill Paperbacks version of the novel I have summarizes its plot:
Hans Schneir, a professional clown and mime, is an artist who specializes in capturing revealing incidents in people's lives and recreating them in pantomime. By way of reminiscing after a particularly disastrous performances, the clown gives a moving description not only of his personal history but also of German society under Hitler and in the postwar period. The clown-narrator's ability to go to the heart of every human being and every issue with tenderness and compassion as well as devastating insight parallels Heinrich Boll's own artistry and immense writing talent. The reader is compelled to share Schneir's obsession with the existential condition of man and to understand his revulsion and heartbreak at the Germany he has seen emerging from the war.
Why, I wonder, has this book not been adapted into a brooding indie film in which the title character is a self-loathing, sorrowful, boozed-up stand-up comedian? This seems like it would make a fine film, whether it be set in post-war Germany or fall 2001 New York City.

Whatever the case, what few stills I could locate are assembled below: