Saturday, July 08, 2017

The Autobiography of a Frog, Part VIII: 1978 Begins

Well, whatever happens in 1978, let's just remember: my most favorite of candy bars, the Whatchamacallit, began life.

It’s January 1978, and there are blizzards in the Midwest and on the Atlantic Ocean, but I’m 16 months old and I live in Texas. I really don’t remember too terribly much of living in Texas; mostly I remember little images or feelings here and there. There aren’t a lot of pictures of me from this year, either, so you won’t be seeing as much of me.

1978 seems like a scary world, just looking at the historical events of the year. So much war in the Middle East, Zaire and Ethiopia. Even Vietnam was at war with Cambodia. So much unrest in Iran especially. And in the US, there are suddenly lots of fears about human cloning. That seems odd now. This is also the year of the Ford Pinto recall. So much can happen in a year.

There I am on the base with Dad: Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas. We would go look at the old vehicles at the museum there. I see I'm wearing my old baseball jacket. I must’ve really dug that helicopter; I was definitely watching M*A*S*H on TV and probably not really understanding it, but I know I especially associated it with my Dad because he was in the Army. I’m looking at this picture now and thinking that this must be the reason why the helicopter right in the beginning of the M*A*S*H opening credits sparks something in me. I don’t even remember doing this, but part of me does, unconsciously. I totally thought M*A*S*H was where my Dad worked because, you know, 16 months old.

Dad seems to be having a good time with my Grandpa Sage here. Another good time: "Mr. Blue Sky" by Electric Light Orchestra, which hit the radio around this time. Talk about a song that always brings me up when I’m down! I do love ELO and their heavy orchestrated arrangements, and this one pulls clearly into perfection territory for me. One of my favorite songs ever.

(This is actually a great time for music that I count among my favorite: "Dust in the Wind" by Kansas, "Take a Chance on Me" by ABBA, "Baker Street" by Gerry Rafferty, "What Do I Get?" by the Buzzcocks, and of course the eponymous debut Van Halen album, 36 perfect minutes of glorious rock.)

... and of course, "Wuthering Heights," a haunting song. I just dig the video and the way Kate moves her body. Movement is something that’s always sort of fascinated me, just as someone who was once interested in learning everything he could about puppetry and special effects.

Also in January: Sesame Street spent five episodes visiting Buffy and Cody in Hawaii (something which made a huge impression on my in reruns as a little kid), and Kenner started putting out their Star Wars action figures. I still have some of those original figures, but none of the first vehicles. A friend of mine had that Landspeeder, and man, did I want that. It was Luke's hot rod!

But I guess this began my need to own Artoo Detoo figures. They barely change, but I almost always get an Artoo Detoo figure from whatever new movie. He is my favorite character, after all. (Pic via.)

In February, Roman Polanski fled the country but Ted Bundy was captured, the Hillside Strangler claimed his final victim, and the blizzards continued. During the blizzard, the first bulletin board system goes online, courtesy of Ward Christensen and Randy Suess, two computer hobbyists. It reportedly connected 253,301 calls before being retired. And now, today, we have message boards and chat rooms. I admit, it’s a mixed bag.

Another of my favorite episodes of All in the Family aired on the 15th: "Two's a Crowd" (Season 8, Episode 16). It’s an ancient comedy set-up: two characters who don’t get along get locked inside something and have to wait for rescue, and as they brush up against each other they learn more about each other. But this is probably the most powerful and effective I’ve ever seen it done. As Mike and Archie snap at each other in a cold storeroom, thing start off funny-but-predictable. As Archie starts to talk about his childhood in the Great Depression, the layers peel back. And as Archie starts to drunkenly reveal painful truths--that he inherited his racism from his physically abusive father--Mike understands one of the painful facts that the entire series is meant to confront: that inside a bigot there can be a child who who was hurt too many times, and all bigots start as human beings.

Also in February: electrical workers in Mexico City find the remains of the Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlan in the middle of the city, the first GPS satellite is launched, the game Simon was released (I remember playing that at sleepovers into the early 80s), and Genesis released one of my favorite songs of theirs: "Follow You Follow Me." I really love Genesis. That band made a big impact on me as a lad.

Heading into March there are wars in Africa and Israel, Larry Flynt was shot and paralyzed, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy began airing on BBC Radio 4, and Charlie Chaplin's remains were stolen. What was I doing? Probably watching whichever incarnation of The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Hour was on Saturday mornings. And The Robonic Stooges. Jeez, does anyone remember The Robonic Stooges? I would recommend not remembering The Robonic Stooges. Just... why?

Also around this time, Lego introduced its Town, Space and Castle systems. I was a still too young for them, but they were a heavy part of my childhood. That makes this the year the Lego Minifigure was introduced, too.

Oh, and the Trapper Keeper was first introduced. Had those throughout my school career, until I started high school.

Me and Dad, playing in the park. My Dad told me this was my favorite park when we lived in Texas; I didn’t know until recently (because I was too young then to remember it now) that we lived on a street called Alamo Avenue.

On April 3, Star Wars won 6 of the 10 awards it was nominated for, but not Best Picture.

On April 7, in an important moment of sanity, President Jimmy Carter decided to postpone production of the neutron bomb.

On April 19, James Franco was born. Why does that make me feel old?

On April 20, one of the greatest films of all time, Dawn of the Dead, opened.

On April 22, Saturday Night Live aired what I've always considered the most perfect episode of the classic cast: Season 3, Episode 18, hosted by Steve Martin and featuring The Blues Brothers as musical guests. One of Martin’s best hosting efforts, this episode features “Theodoric of York, Medieval Barber” and his classic performance of his single “King Tut,” as well as a Festrunk Brothers sketch, a Nerds sketch, and “Next Week in Review.” In addition to all that greatness, the Blues Brothers are the musical guest, Gary Weis’ short film features Toni Basil, and the episode features one of my top 5 sketches of all time, “Dancing in the Dark,” in which Steve Martin and Gilda Radner lock eyes across the room, everything pauses, and the two engage in a dance that is both funny and beautiful. Perfect. Episode.

On April 25, St. Paul, Minnesota, repealed gay civil rights. (Thanks again, Anita Bryant, much good may your loathing do you.) This was just a month after San Francisco had signed the most comprehensive homosexual rights bill in the nation.

One of Jim Henson’s best performances as Ernie is in this beautiful Jeff Moss song. I like the sentiment of this song: that no matter what place Ernie visits and no matter how far he goes, he will always want to return to the people he loves. This is just so lovely.

Some music from April: "Because the Night" by Patti Smith, "Magnet and Steel" by Walter Egan, and the wonderful album Stardust from Willie Nelson. Willie’s rough, gentle standards album--well, the first one--is an album his record company didn’t want to release, and they were wrong; when it became a success, they wanted more and more of them. But this album is the one that I’ve loved for a lifetime, and it never fails to comfort me. There’s a matter-of-factness to it that’s almost fatalistic, but that actually does comfort me. It sees that weariness and tradition can be beautiful.

Also in April: one of my favorite Playmates, Miss Pamela Jean Bryant. (NSFW link, obvs.) And the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan was proclaimed.

Wish I had more personal pictures to share, but I don't, so let's just sum up May: Pete Rose hit his 3000th major league hit, wars and riots continue (including a civil war in Zaire), Charlie Chaplin's remains were found, Mavis Hutchinson became the first woman to run across the US, the first Unabomber attack occurred at Northwestern University, and the first legal casino in the eastern US opened in Atlantic City. I'm gonna stop there and pick up in June and head into my second birthday. If you've hung in until now, pat yourself on the back for enduring this.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

Beautifully animated follow-up to Finding Nemo. It's a seriously great-looking film, although I've found myself becoming harder and harder towards Pixar's emotional manipulation over the years. What I enjoyed more than the emotions were the visuals and the color palette. My favorite part of the movie--and what made it more than worth watching for me--was the octopus Hank, voiced by Ed O'Neill, who just wants a life of permanent comfort in an aquarium, but who comes through in the end. Hell, I bought his Pop! Vinyl before I even saw the movie.

Great characterization, great animation, okay movie. ***

Delicate, fascinating version of the novel that inspired the 1971 Clint Eastwood movie of the same name, about an injured Union soldier taken in by a girls' school in the South during the Civil War. Sofia Coppola directed, and as I've said many times in the past, I'm a big fan of her filmmaking. I like that her films are quiet and restrained, that we get to see a female viewpoint without being dragged towards a preset conclusion. Three of my favorite actresses give great, subdued-yet-lively performances (Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning), and Colin Farrell is sincerely insincere as their wounded charge. The film itself is made with surgical precision, trimming every unnecessary detail, while under the surface so much is happening that Coppola, I think, means for you to discern (and interpret) for yourself. But there's a richness to the simmer that I found visceral and exciting. ****

Ugh. This feels like two movies that were crammed together to make one piece of nonsense. The potentially more interesting movie stars Chloe Moretz as a college girl who wants to rush a sorority, but finds out that the sexism of the Greek system will not allow sororities to throw their own parties, but forces them to be a supplement and support for frats. She and her new friends decide to make their own sorority, and recruit Zac Efron from the first movie to help them set it up. I would watch that movie if it were fleshed out, rewritten, and actually paid more than lip service to considering the gender issues of college life and particularly fraternities. But they mash it up with a second movie which is garbage, in which Zac Efron uses this to gain revenge on the couple from the first movie, Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne, who are trying to sell the house next door, but with the same problems from the first movie. So, neither movie works, especially not as one movie (which feels like it was made up every day on the day of shooting), and I still don't know who I'm supposed to be rooting for... The movie wants it both ways. I can't root for the young women who want to buck a misogynist system and then also root for the adults who want to stop her so they can survive escrow. I mean, is this a real estate scare movie for adults or an empowerment movie for girls? It's nothing. The worst crime of all is, it's not even a little funny. Who the hell was clamoring for a sequel to the original? The original was barely a movie, too. *

A short film with Jacques Tati demonstrating the art of mime to students. Shot during the filming of Playtime, I've seen this short counted as a Monsieur Hulot movie, but there's really no connection other than the way Tati is dressed. It's a delightful short, though. Apparently some of the observational sketches performed were originally performed by Tati in the music halls in the 1930s. ****

Monday, July 03, 2017

Muppet Monday

In these nightmare times, one day before Independence Day, I invite you to head over to Tough Pigs, the Muppet site where they've got a nice write-up of the 1976 Sesame Street Calendar, including all of the great Michael J. Smollin art.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Song of the Week: "Little Bird"

The Beach Boys, from the underrated 1968 album Friends. Dedicated to the goldfinch I saw in my garden this morning.