Wednesday, December 31, 2008


We holed up in his room, John and I, as we had the year before, with only the light from his cheesy duck lamp (named Howard, of course) and the soft glow of the cathode ray tube, into which we gazed. Dad had gone to bed, and Mom was downstairs, finishing the crossword puzzle in the paper before she joined him.

No champagne, no refreshments or snacks of any kind, just a willfully ironic celebration of the very idea of a new year having any significance. After all, what could be a bigger joke than watching New Year's Rockin' Eve? What could be a more trivial, more demeaning way of celebrating the coming of a new decade than to spend the evening with The Village People and Barry Manilow, to say nothing of our hosts, John Schneider and Erin Moran? Erin Fucking Moran--seriously?

The festivities were delayed by five minutes as Frank Reynolds hosted his nightly update on the hostage crisis in Iran, making sure to inject some veiled right-wing politics into his ostensibly objective report, and then we went right to Dick Clark standing in Times Square, the cameras prowling the grimy, beaten-down streets of Manhattan in the last moments of the seventies, and I thought, Good God, is Grease going to run forever?

Dick threw it to the pre-taped studio segments, and the performers lip-synched like good performing monkeys, and Debbie Harry's miming of Dreaming was so bad she seemed to be doing it on purpose, and Erin Fucking Moran was as vacant as expected, and John Schneider--who performed a number himself, unfortunately--seemed like a fountain of charisma by comparison.

And Dick did the countdown as the ball dropped, and every commercial David Naughton sang and danced about being a Pepper, and they cut to live feed of Manilow doing Just Another New Year's Eve, which apparently was some sort of tradition. And the performing monkeys did their thing some more, and we cut back to a now flaccid Dick in Times Square after the party had passed him by, and John Schneider and Erin Fucking Moran wished us goodnight and happy new year.

Then WOI signed off the air, the Thought For The Day followed by the usual ISU promo film followed by the National Anthem. John and I shrugged, made some final sarcastic comments and I went to bed, spending these first moments of a whole new decade listening to the wind howl through the trees, wondering what I was supposed to feel.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008


Computer hiccups this morning meant that I couldn't even get around to posting until much later than usual, so no time for incisive commentary. Or even long-winded, thuddingly obvious diatribes.

Instead, I'll bring you a great song from The Kinks. Honestly, in their mid- to late-sixties incarnation, these guys could nearly lay claim to topping The Beatles for sheer creative genius. (In the seventies, their sound changed, and though Ray Davies would always remain a brilliant songwriter, things would never be quite the same.) This song, Phenomenal Cat, is everything great about these guys: An instantly memorable melody is paired with an unusual, ear-catching arrangement. The lyrics are whimsical without being twee. Best of all, it's a song about a cat!

Monday, December 29, 2008


Israel's in another pissing match with Palestine, firing off U.S.-made missiles at alleged Hamas targets, but if civilians happen to get killed instead, hey, collateral damage and all that. Obama has already pledged vague fealty to Israel, setting off righteous anger in the Arab world, and...

The economic crisis is forcing local governments in all fifty states to drastically curtail spending at a time when its most needed, slashing benefits for the poor, closing group homes and juvenile detention centers, letting roads and bridges languish unrepaired. Here in the real world, things are about to get very ugly, and...

Everywhere unequaled misery, everywhere unbearable despair. Where can a person turn for some good news?

Why, to Reuters, of course, reliable purveyors of unneeded showbiz news, who breathlessly report the following:

MTV premieres "Hills" spin-off "The City," starring Whitney Port, at 10 P.M. Monday. "Bromance," a competition series starring "Hills" staple Brody Jenner, debuts an hour earlier. New episodes of "Hills" are set to air in the spring.

Whew! I don't know about you, but that news sure cheers me up. I mean, I've never heard of these Whitney and Brody people, and would avoid a show called Bromance with every fiber of my being, but thank you, Reuters. Thank you for reporting what's really important at times like this!

Friday, December 26, 2008


The great playwright Harold Pinter died Wednesday, and singer-actress-force of nature Eartha Kitt passed away on Christmas day.

And while neither death was unexpected--both had cancer, and Pinter's failing health especially had been known for some time--it is unfortunate to add their names to the list of people we now have to live without. Me, I'm still reeling from the death last week of the fine film director Robert Mulligan, who directed a couple of favorites around here, The Stalking Moon and The Other.

Pinter was 78, Kitt and Mulligan in their eighties. They'd lived good, productive lives, their whole careers behind them, and it wouldn't be so bad, except...who can replace these people? Pinter's plays (and screenplays, and if you haven't seen Accident, what the hell are you doing right now that's more important?) literally changed their art form, Kitt should have received residuals from Madonna from ripping off her persona, and Mulligan was the sort of old-school pro who could switch from a noble (but not stuffy) literary adaptation like To Kill A Mockingbird to a vivid siege thriller posing as a Western like The Stalking Moon to a tough, thoughtful gangster movie like The Nickel Ride and make it all look easy.

Yes, we have writers, performers and filmmakers today, many of them awesomely talented. But too many of them wear their influences on their sleeves, and ultimately, they just don't seem to matter as much. Pinter and Kitt were utterly original, and though no one speaks of Mulligan in the same terms as Murnau or Welles, you never watch any of his movies thinking, "Ah, there's the Godard hommage or the Hitchcock reference." They did things their own way, and they mattered, and the world is a lesser place without them.

Thursday, December 25, 2008


This is Tom Waits with Christmas Card From A Hooker In Minneapolis.

Nah, Christmas isn't that bleak this year. Sure, I'm living by myself, and another year is ending without a sense of anything being accomplished, and my family is scattered to the winds. And yeah, the economy's tanking, and the bright shiny hope of Obama's presidency is already compromised by the business-as-usual cabinet he's picked, and the world is full of hatred and despair, and every passing day is just another reminder that our time on this planet is limited.

But hey, it's alright, it's alright, at least I can still laugh and cry, and I have people I care about and a job and a place to live. And even if I'm sad, at least I can feel something.

If you're a regular at this site, you know how much I love this movie, and you knew this was coming: an unimaginably sad song for Christmas, a remembrance of happier times when the present seems uncertain.

So Merry Christmas, everyone, or whatever you celebrate.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


I'm very happy I lived far enough from a movie theater (or thee-ATE-er, as the first ad would have it) that I never got dragged off to see any of these horrors (or those incredibly creepy Swedish Pippi Longstocking epics, for that matter) when they appeared at heavily-advertised regional kiddie matinees. Just seeing these commercials when they aired during Duane & Floppy was bad enough. I still have Magic Christmas Tree-related trauma, and I've never even seen the damned thing.

Watch these and shudder, and just try to have a Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


Continuing my idiosyncratic approach to the holidays, here we have by far the most depressing song ever written for a Christmas special. This comes from the holiday perennial Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol, a surprisingly faithful rendition of the Dickens warhorse. Though at first glance this would seem to be a kiddie-oriented version of the tale, it is in fact one of the most grim, retaining all the darkness usually scrubbed from most adaptations.

So here's Belle's lovely song of parting to Scrooge, a heartbreaking number written by Jule Styne and Bob Merrill, Broadway veterans who weren't slumming here--the entire score for this special is first-rate. Happy bleak holidays!

Monday, December 22, 2008


In recent years, this performance has become much more familiar. Apparently, it's a big favorite of Gen Xers like myself, and has become a campy staple for younger viewers as well.

But back in '74, when The Year Without A Santa Claus first aired, I was nine, and man o Manischewitz, did I hate this thing. The Rankin-Bass holiday specials (Rudopht The Red-Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus Is Coming To Town) had always been favorites of mine, but this one had a convoluted, largely unpleasant storyline, and its physical production was downright ugly.

So it failed to become a seasonal favorite in my household, and apparently in others as well--unlike other Rankin-Bass favorites, it didn't air every year. It kind of faded away, mostly forgotten.

Except of course, for Snow Miser and Heat Miser. For years ever after, my brother and I remained convinced we'd hallucinated this entire thing. Nobody we knew had ever heard of these characters, or remembered this song. Then, sometime, all that changed...

These days, everybody knows the Misers. They even had their own (awful) special on cable this year. Hipster bands record covers of their signature tune. You can even buy miniature figurines of them. (Mine are on top of the fridge.) And even though I somehow never associate them with Christmas, here they are, kicking off my festival of loopy Christmas clips. Enjoy!

Sunday, December 21, 2008


True, this nation just elected its first black president. We've entered the "post-race" era, haven't we? A whole new world of tolerance and understanding. This is the twenty-first century, and this is America. We're not savages, right?


Saturday, December 20, 2008


Going out to the movies these days is a nightmare for many reasons, but one of them is this: The fear that, before the actual movie starts, following the "pre-show" antics of soda company-based quizzes and E Network-sanctioned trivia challenges, and after the five or six commercials for SUVs and electronics, the trailers will begin, and I'll have to sit through something like this:

Oh sure, the obvious response to that is the overwhelming desire to slash my wrists, just to make the pain end. But instead, I wonder how and why a movie like this gets produced. Did anyone think it was a good idea, or did somebody owe somone a favor? Is there a reason it will be playing in 2000 theaters on its opening weekend, as opposed to going straight to video? Did the people on the set every day think they were actually producing something worthwhile? Is there anybody, anywhere, who would willingly sit through this? Does the despair this produces in me portend a downward spiral in my life, or am I being overly dramatic?

And after sitting through this thing, is there any way I can enjoy the movie I paid to see, when something like this makes me feel like I never want to spend time in a theater again?

Friday, December 19, 2008


Got home late--well, late for me--and wired, laid in bed until well past midnight, listening to the ice clack clack clack against the window. Somewhere along the line, caught some sleep, maybe an hour or so. Then woke up, prattled around, unable to concentrate on anything, wondering and worrying whether I'll get to work or not.

There are more productive things I could be doing, like seeing if my car door is frozen shut, so this post is basically a placeholder, put up here because...I dunno, it seemed like a good idea. And even though I've got nothing to say, I can at least bring you some music. Here's Janis Siegel.

CRAPPY WEATHER UPDATE: Where I live, I have to park on the street, so my car was totally covered in ice. I let it warm up for twenty minutes and still couldn't get it melted off, and a car going by on the cross-street spun out as i stood there. Taking that as a sign, I called in to work. My supervisor told me to come in later if at all possible (as she put it, "I made it in"), so...we'll see.

Thursday, December 18, 2008


The sky is curdled-milk white, bright as the sun peeking through the cold, unforgiving layer of clouds will allow. It will darken soon, the forecasters say, and ice will fall, covering cars and power lines and lawns.

And streets, including the narrow, hilly streets of my neighborhood. Just as it did that day, when the three and a half-block drive to Methodist Medical Center became a slippery nightmare, but I had to drive it, I had to get there, since Mom lay dying in the hospital.

Not that I knew that, of course. I mean, I knew, but I couldn't acknowledge it. She was ill, yes, catastrophically so, and death would arrive soon enough. But not yet, not now, not on such a terrible, cold day, not on this day, oh no, that couldn't possibly happen.

Why am I thinking of this now? Why do I think of it every single time ice falls from the sky, when the streets become mirrored surfaces, like frozen tracks of tears? How does it grip me, the out-of-nowhere melancholy brought on by the occasional stray memory? Can't this weather conjure some alternative memories?

It could, but of what? Of childhood? Ah, but Mom was always there, offering me something to eat when I came in from playing in the cold, or offering soothing words when I slipped on the ice. Or other memories: I'm an adult, living far away, but Mom still faithfully calls to complain about being housebound because of an ice storm, or asks how I'm dealing with the ice she heard is falling where I am.

Try as I might, I can't banish the pain, the scorpion sting that lashes on days like this. Maybe such thoughts are inspired by the very nature of ice, shimmering on branches and rooftops, so pretty to look at but so dangerous and cruel, like a joyous memory that turns unbearably sad.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


A very sad story, if true: Peter Falk's daughter claims her dad is suffering from Alzheimer's.

There are a lot of performers I admire, but on my short list of absolute, absolute favorites, Peter Falk has a special place. Comedy, drama, whatever, Falk is the best of the best. He gave one of the greatest comic performances of all time in The In-Laws, and was absolutely heartbreaking as a good man cracking under pressure in A Woman Under The Influence. He's done great character work in films like Murder, Inc., All The Marbles, Lakeboat and Undisputed.

Then there's Lt. Columbo.

I'll accept no arguments here: Columbo is simply one of the greatest things in the world. I've been actually meaning to write about it for some time, but for now, let me just say that, of its many pleasures, the greatest by far is Falk's sterling work as the wily homicide detective. He's the main reason the show is endlessly rewatchable: No matter how many times you've seen an episode, it's always a treat to try pinpointing the exact moment Columbo knows the murderer is guilty, and when he knows he's caught him. Though the character is rather broadly conceived and written (he never changes his clothes!), Falk's performance is always sublimely subtle, always keyed to the rhythms of his co-stars. He can be angry or petulant or sympathetic. Sometimes, he's even a bit of a jerk. In every case, Falk provides a layer of humanity only hinted at by the scripts.

Within the confines of a somewhat formulaic TV series (though a brilliant, elastic formula), he created one of the finest characterizations any actor has ever done. If his current condition is such that he can never work again, he'll still be remembered for this. And that will do just fine.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


I just deleted a post from this past weekend. I've never done that in all the time I've been writing here. You can crawl through the archives and still find me waxing rhapsodic about my deep love for a single mom and her adorable kid, or the misty water-colored memory of my ex-wife that managed to upset Tabbatha so much (and understandably so, in retrospect) it may have helped lead to our breakup, or those weird guest appearances from former girlfriend Katie, or me pitching a fit about stuff I frankly can't remember. All that is still here because...I'm not sure, really. I guess just to have some record of my life at any particular moment.

This piece, though, didn't quite say what I wanted it to say. It was abrupt and clumsy, and I couldn't fix it or make it better, so it went away, lost in the aether, never to be seen again.

Which got me to thinking about all the other things I've ever written that also went away. Reams and reams of short fiction, the victims of several moves. The published pieces that can't be accessed online, either because the publications no longer exist or have changed hands and refuse to make available any archives of their previous forms.

I could mourn their loss, but why? All things are impermanent, aren't they? We're here and we're gone, and the only real record of our existence lives in the memories of others, but soon enough, they are gone, too. Ultimately, we know our time here is finite, not just our individual lives, but the entire human race. The world will end eventually, along with the sum total of everything we've ever known or ever believed.

So why mourn? Why rejoice, or love, or cower in fear? Why do anything?

As happens so often, a fuzzy gray critter will provide the answer: Monika, perched on the chair beside my desk, front paws neatly folded under her chest, stares through me, like she knows something I don't. She's in her fifteenth year on the planet, elderly for a cat. Still, she bounces, she plays, she leaps and bounds all through the apartment, and clearly is happy with her life. She can't have more than, what? Five, six years left, tops? She has no concept of mortality, though. She lives for now.

Monday, December 15, 2008


This performance by former teen sensation Martika (Anyone else remember Toy Soldiers? Anyone?), taken from the inexplicable eighties series Kids Incorporated, raises a number of questions:

1) Thunder Road? Performed by kids? Did anyone think this through?

2) The lyrics about Mary "dancing like a vision" make sense when Springsteen sings them, but here...Look, this site is all about diversity, and we celebrate lesbianism and all that, but clearly, since the lyrics were abridged but unaltered gender-wise, then given to a young girl to sing, the song magically transformed into an ode to the joys of underage chick-on-chick lovin'. Again, though we try to be tolerant and all...Did anyone connected with this show realize what they were doing?

3) If so, did they feel at least a little bit dirty?

4) Did somebody rouse Martika from a particularly restful sleep and drag her onstage? Is there any other explanation for her unkempt hair and the fact that she seems to be wearing pajamas?

5) The purple-clad moppet joining in on the chorus grew up to be Fergie. If the brain trust behind this show hadn't encouraged a wholly misguided belief in her talent, would we have been spared the song Fergalicious?

6) This show lasted for several seasons. Could a just and fair God have allowed such a thing to happen?

7) Did the producers of Kids Incorporated intend their show to provoke theological questions?

8) Did I inexplicably see this when it originally aired, and had I successfully repressed that shameful memory until YouTube brought it all flooding back? And having seen it again, and knowing I can never unsee it, can my soul ever be cleansed? Is there any spritual Bon Ami that will scrub away the sorrow and despair?

9) Why am I watching crap like this at 4 AM?


Good news, everyone: An Australian production company has secured the rights to produce a sequel to The Phantom.

Though that news would produce mild confusion in the vast majority of people--"A sequel to what?"--to the literally dozens of people who spent good money back in 1996 to see it, the notion that someone wants to produce a follow-up to that misbegotten Billy Zane vehicle can only produce jaw-dropping, eyeball popping disbelief. "A sequel to that piece of shit?" they would cry, rending their garments and crying in despair to the indifferent heavens. "Why? For the love of God, WHYYYY?"

And while the concept of waiting for well over a decade to produce a continuation of a franchise that nobody wants to see may seem like a bad idea to civilians, to veterans of the motion picture industry, no idea is too stupid to warrant a follow-up. For instance, even though there had already been two movies produced involving B-level Marvel Comics character The Punisher, and both of those movies had flopped, earlier this month we were treated to The Punisher: War Zone, the third big screen outing for the gun-toting sociopath, and guess what? It flopped, too!

Of course it did, because nobody cares about that particular character and nobody has the money to waste on glorified B-movies. But some shadowy international consortium had the rights to the character, and a pile of money they couldn't legally spend on anything else, so...sure, why not? Another Punisher movie.

As for The Phantom, well, the AP story about it breathlessly explains that producer Bruce Sherlock "won" the rights to produce the sequel, as if filmmakers had been locked in some crazy bidding war to make another movie about a guy in purple tights and stripey underwear.

The sad thing is, they might have been.

Friday, December 12, 2008


I'll be honest: My stats are down. Way down. As in, is-anybody-even-reading-this? down.

Which would be easy to take personally. People come here, and if they don't stick around, isn't a rejection of me? I mean, this site pretty much reflects my personality, my perspectives, my obsessions...

Oh! My obsessions! Maybe that's the problem. Maybe if I wasn't so obsessed with, say, seventies variety shows. Maybe if I didn't post clips of, I dunno, Jim Nabors' exquisitely awful 1971 summer replacement show (featuring special guest Vikki Carr!)--

--because maybe that actually repels more people than it attracts. So...maybe I should stop?

Yeah, right.

Thursday, December 11, 2008


An assembly somewhere--a bowling alley, perhaps? Tables arranged lengthwise, checkered tablecloths covering them, metal folding chairs surrounding them. People gathered, a fair number but not so many that I can remain as anonymous as I might wish. After all, I barely know any of these people.

In fact, I'm only here because I'm a nodding acquaintance with a guy who knows the guy who's being honored. It's a birthday celebration, or at least, I think it is. Somebody stands and makes a speech, then throws it over to a little kid who starts telling some sort of inspirational story about...who cares, really?

This is the most boring dream imaginable and not worth my time. The people and the setting all fade to gray as I speed through several states of consciousness, waking briefly, then right back to sleep.

I can do this? I can take charge of my dreams? Good to know there's at least one aspect of my life over which I have some kind of control.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


You've always been well-liked by the general public, Ambulatory Penis. Adored by the masses and all that, even though there have always been rumors, and there was that devastating interview with Marilyn Chambers back in '76 or '77. As I recall, she claimed you were "squishy" and made no secret of her preference for the chocolaty goodness of Happy Ho-Ho. You must have been crushed--such a revelation of softness could have derailed your entire career--but did you have to respond with this?

Bad enough that you are wildly overcompensating in this spot, riding a motorcycle and swinging a lasso and saving the day while Happy Ho-Ho acts a fool, dithering in a most unseemly manner. Except, as we all know, that's not really Happy Ho-Ho, is it? You had him fired, just to make yourself look bigger. The guy playing him here isn't even really chocolate--it's your brother-in-law's cousin done up in blackface, trotting out his unloved Ed Wynn impression.

We know, too, that things turned out pretty well for Happy Ho-Ho. Sure, it was grim for awhile--after you had him bounced from the Hostess empire, he rode out his career by appearing in anonymous porno loops, while you continued to party with your friends at Studio 54, secure in the knowledge that his sell-by date was arriving soon. But Happy's rich, sonorous voice made him perfect for voice-over work, and his beloved spots for the SoulMaster 2000 have been widely sampled, making him a legend in the hip-hop world.

Whereas you, Ambulatory Penis...what have you done since your freshness seal expired? You have nothing to remember but your shame.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008


There's been quite a bit of hullaballoo in the state since The Des Moines Register axed seventy-some employees last week. That's not surprising, really. Times are tough for newspapers these days, with The Tribune Company filing for bankruptcy and The New York Times looking for a sugar daddy.

But the bloodbath at The Register stood out for its heartlessness, coming as it did smack dab in the middle of the holiday season, and base stupidity, with its high-profile firing of editorial cartoonist Brian Duffy, not a particularly shining talent but a guy who toiled at the paper for a quarter of a century, and was obviously well-known and liked by its readership. No, a staff cartoonist isn't important in the grand scheme of things, but his firing is bound to be seen as a betrayal by what's left of The Register's readership.

For me, the most poignant name among those fired was that of Juli Probasco-Sowers, listed at the time of her firing as an "outdoor writer". (She used to be a straight-up reporter, but The Register barely bothers with actual journalism anymore, so she gravitated to feature writing instead.) Before her name became hyphenated, Probasco edited The Perry Chief, and responded positively to my proposal for a regular column devoted to TV and film reviews.

So began my semi-professional writing career. True, The Chief was just a small-town weekly, but I had a regular forum to express my views, and to my considerable surprise, I acquired a (slight) following. This was in the nineties, not so long ago at all, and yet a time when people still read and cared about newspapers, and when writing for one seemed to carry a certain cachet. It meant something that my work was regularly seen in print.

Because, after all, someone had to decide your writing deserved to be read. Now, any schlub can put their work out on the interweb and have a larger potential readership than any ink-stained wretches of the past could dream of. I never made much in any of my semi-pro writing gigs, but if I worked this little enterprise hard enough, networked other bloggers and search engines in a naked bid to up my readership enough to justify selling add space or adding a tip jar, I could easily make more from this site than I ever did from my print jobs. Anybody could.

Which is great, and it democratizes the creative process and all, but...I miss the days when the craft of writing commanded a certain respect, when it was something done only by those who'd heard the calling and followed their dreams. The ongoing failure of The Register makes it clear: In only a few years, it will cease to exist in print form. Whatever new incarnation it takes on will surely rely more on graphics designers and bullet point presentations of factoids than such silly, archaic notions as coherent sentences and stylish form. Writers need not apply.

Monday, December 08, 2008


It's a Monday night, just like it was twenty-eight years ago. I watched MASH and Lou Grant, blithely unaware of what transpired at the same time in New York, not aware until the news report heard on the radio, entering into my brain just as I drifted to sleep. When I woke up, I knew the world was a very different place. All because one man had been shot to death in a city far away.

Twenty-eight years.


If you do a Google search for the phrase "Bill Macy's climbing those ivy-covered walls", you'll get pretty much nowhere.

Which makes sense, as the phrase is absolutely meaningless, unless you happen to remember how it was used to sell the Bill Macy sitcom Hanging In, which ran for all of four episodes back in 1979. My brother and I talk on the phone once a week, and in pretty much every conversation, at some point one of us will make some reference to it. Not to the show, which we only watched once, but to the ad campaign.

Let me say that again, in case you didn't fully grasp how truly pathetic that is: On a regular basis, we fondly reference the ad campaign for a completely forgotten sitcom from nearly thirty years ago.

For the love of God, why? We talked for two and a half hours last night, and yes, various real-world topics came up, but the conversation was dominated by his obsession with Yvette Mimieux, my obsessions with Stella Stevens and Lauren Graham and our mutual hatred of any and all seventies TV movies featuring Granville Van Dusen.

Granville Van Dusen! Who the hell even knows who he was, much less took the time to scan TV Guide every week, hoping for another busted pilot built around Van Dusen's anti-charisma, another chance to sit in front of the TV and stare in gape-mouthed awe at how bad something could be? Nobody! Nobody else would have done such foolishness, because most people had, you know, lives.

But sadly, the Van Deusen Experience (which I'd like to point out, in what I desperately hope will be my only reference ever to a recurring Dave Barry bit, would be a great name for a band) was a formative one for me. I absorbed it as fully as I did ad campaigns for Bill Macy sitcoms or insurance commercials (Hey, remember that Prudential spot with the guy thinking he found a Picasso in his attic, but his wife looks more closely and realizes the painting is signed by someone named Pickleman? No, of course you don't.) or any damned thing that crossed my radar when I was in junior high and high school. I should have been out getting laid or going to concerts or, I dunno, shooting heroin or something. Anything!

Instead, I sat in front of the TV. Or listened to the radio: I can still recall through gritted teeth the time a local deejay cued up Stranglehold by saying he'd "round out the hour with some Ted." Another memory I wish would go away...

Sunday, December 07, 2008


You know how it is sometimes. It's 3 AM and you're hit by an overwhelming sense of despair. Your mind tracks back to some dangerous memories. You always carry them with you, but this time you can't hide them, this time they won't leave you alone. And at a time like this, there's no one else you can turn to. Frank's seen it all. He knows.

But then--hey! Something happens. Maybe it's as simple as stumbling across a great promo film from the Bonzos, but somehow, your spirits are lifted. Suddenly, life is sunny again, or at least, temporarily less bleak.

But too much joy isn't like you. Better tamp it down. Holly Cole will take you where you need to go. Maybe she's singing this to seduce you, or maybe she's mixing cyanide in your drink. Either way, you'll trust in her, all right.

Saturday, December 06, 2008


There's absolutely nothing else worth talking about: Forry Ackerman is dead.

The bland mainstream obits for Forrest J Ackerman, who died Thursday night at the age of 92, cite his coining of the term "sci-fi" and his role as the guy who discovered Ray Bradbury as his major accomplishments. (He was also L. Ron Hubbard's literary agent!) All well and good, but that's not why he was beloved.

Ackerman founded and edited Famous Monsters Of Filmland magazine, and any current or recovering geek who spent a childhood in the sixties and seventies can tell you just what a lifeline that publication was. It reassured you that you weren't alone, there were many, many others out there who had the same obsessions as you, who didn't understand girls (or boys--FM had a surprisingly strong female readership), didn't care about sports, whose dreams all involved dark castles or towering monsters or the presences of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. (And some things never change--twice this week, I've had dreams involving Cushing and Lee!)

My first issue of FM was in '76, and its glory days were probably already behind it. Still, it featured those gorgeously-rendered Basil Gogos covers (Rob Zombie hired Gogos to paint the cover to his Hellbilly Deluxe album, a nice reminder that as many musicians as filmmakers found inspiration in Ackerman's work) and Forry's lengthy "filmbooks", detailed plot summaries of classic and obscure fright films, accompanied by a full range of tantalyzing stills.

Those stills...those portraits of Lon Chaney and Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, but also George Zucco and J. Carroll Naish and dozens of utility players from the golden age, all beautifully shot by studio craftsmen. And the on-set photos from movies I knew I'd probably never see, not only the Universal classics and obscure Hammer epics (I remember a still from The Reptile, which made me want to see it so bad it hurt) and PCR programmers, and they all looked equally great.

And most importantly, those photos fired my imagination, made me dream of movies more wonderful than anything actually produced. Famous Monsters fed my obsessions when they most needed it, and I could never repay Ackerman all I owe him for helping me become whatever I was meant to be.

Still, as wonderful as FM was, it was essentially juvenile, and largely a vehicle for publisher James Warren to sell a lot of merchandise (including Tor Johnson masks!) in its back pages. Ackerman and Warren had a falling-out not long after I'd quit reading it, having abandoned it for more sophisticated publications like Starlog. (Yeah, I know, but seriously, Starlog in its earlier days was genuinely good, well-designed, well-written and only moderately geeky.) Ackerman found himself fired from the magazine he'd created, locked out of his own playhouse.

But he'd never be forgotten. In 1999, he made an appearance at the Coralville Barnes & Noble, and I had the chance to shake his hand, get his autograph and tell him how he made my life a little better. He just shrugged and said, "Thank you," because he'd heard the same thing thousands of times before.

And it was always true.

Friday, December 05, 2008


Here's the backstory: I found a copy of The Karate Kid for five bucks at Target. I bought it because I was pretty sure Paul would love it, and we watched it last Saturday. That would be nearly a week ago.

And that's how long Bananrama's Cruel Summer has been stuck in my head! It plays in the background as Ralph Macchio is, I dunno, riding his bicycle around or something. The point is, I didn't remember it being used in the movie, I hadn't heard it in years won't go away! I find myself singing it in the car, or as I'm typing, or whatever I'm doing. I guess by posting it here, I'm trying to pass the curse on to you.

But hey, it's a relatively benign curse. I mean, it's not an awful song. It's an agreeable bit of pop fluff, and though this video will give you scary eighties flashbacks, it's not unwatchable. But if you find this thing floating around in your brainpan for the next week or so, I'm truly sorry. And if not, how the hell are you immune?

Thursday, December 04, 2008


I know I've spent a fair amount of time complaining about Hollywood's recent tendency to remake absolutely everything, but the thing is, they won't stop. The Hollywood Reporter this week has stories of three utterly pointless redos in the works, all of them begging the question: Why?

I can almost understand the rationale for a new version of John Carpenter's They Live. Aside from the fact that every single one of Carpenter's films is apparently going to be done over (despite the fact that the new versions of Assault On Precinct 13 and The Fog were non-starters at the box-office, and the "re-imagining" of Halloween annoyed far more people than it entertained), the nifty premise of They Live--free-market aliens exploiting earth as a sort of third world colony--was a howl of protest against the failed trickle-down financial policies of the Reagan-Bush years, and God knows a story about blue-collar workers and homeless people rising up against their evil overlords would be relevant today.

Except...what's the likelihood they're going to bother including all that in the remake? Carpenter cleverly couched his political points in the context of an ass-kicking action movie, so more than likely, any remake will simply take off from there, offering only the most cursory glances at any subtext. This baby will no doubt be all about bigger guns, bigger explosions. Instead of Carpenter's precisely staged, shot and edited action sequences, we'll get shaky-cams, frantic cutting and lots of CGI. It will suck, play for maybe two weeks in theaters, and if it has any audience at all, it will be found on DVD, where we can only hope people will actually rent the original by mistake.

Still, as I said, the reasoning behind that project can almost be understood. But a remake of Arthur? Yes, you read that right: Arthur, the Dudley Moore vehicle from 1981, a big hit in its day but now almost completely forgotten, except for its supremely annoying Christopher Cross theme song and as an amusing reminder of an era in which it was possible to non-ironically cast Liza Minnelli in a lead role.

The weird thing is, Steve Gordon, who wrote and directed the original, intended it as a tribute to the classic screwball comedies of the thirties and forties, only updated with a modern (well, early eighties modern) sensibility. He took archetypes of an earlier era--the rich, drunken playboy, the snooty butler, the rough-but-good-hearted working gal--and placed them in the present, to see what would happen, how the story arcs might play out differently. Watching it may make you think of My Man Godfrey or some such, but it certainly wasn't directly based on any one model.

So why remake it? Why not do the same thing Arthur did originally? If you want to make a movie about a rich drunk, go ahead, but why do you have to use another movie for your template? It's not like the world is still gripped in Arthur-fever, imagining itself caught between the moon and New York City, realizing that the best that it can do is fall in love. (And seriously, if this new movie also includes an update of that damned song, the producers should be tried for crimes against humanity.)

Finally, plans are also afoot to rework Romancing The Stone, which...Really? The main thing the original had going for it was a surprisingly clever script, but in execution it was just another Indiana Jones ripoff, albeit one directed by an actual Spielberg protege (Robert Zemeckis, marking his transition from the guy who made good movies like I Wanna Hold Your Hand and Used Cars to the tireless hack we know today).

Well, again, what's the point here? Why not just make an all-new Indiana Jones ripoff? Why tarnish the semi-fond memories of literally dozens of hardcore fans of the original?

But really, what is the thinking behind all of these? They Live is still highly regarded by its cultists, and the other two were popular at the time, but none of them have particularly iconic titles, none are so well-known or highly regarded that anyone could imagine people lining up based on the properties alone. The instant failure of such why-bother remakes as The Amityville Horror and The Bad News Bears, along with the colossal flops on television of the pointless Bionic Woman and Knight Rider rehashes, would seem to indicate that audiences aren't particularly nostalgic for relics of the past.

Still, they'll keep coming, as good, original screenplays languish unproduced, and the local multiplex becomes even more of a thing to avoid.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008


Has it seemed like I'm on autopilot here lately? Has the quality of writing in this space dipped noticeably in the last two or three weeks? Have recent posts had a bit of a tossed-off quality, half-hearted, not quite there?

Yeah, I'm aware of it, too. Can't explain, but I'm wondering how to fix it. Fewer postings? Time away from the site? A brief break from writing?

Of course, the last time I took a "brief" break from writing, it lasted most of a decade, and robbed me of what likely would have been my most productive years. So there's that to consider.

Don't know what to do in the immediate future, but hopefully, the muse, she will return. Otherwise, this site will become nothing more than a clearinghouse for clips of seventies variety shows. I have a clip from a Lindsay Wagner special ready just in case...

Tuesday, December 02, 2008


1) The title of this post is a paraphrase of a spoof from an old Mad magazine. It's meant to indicate a recycling of familiar themes. Another Random Thoughts piece, in other words.

2) Hey folks, we're officially in a recession! And have been for a full year now! This according to the a consortium of eggheads and double-domes known as the National Bureau Of Economic Research, and breathlessly reported by the press.

This is the same press, mind you, that all through the election process tended to explain Obama's huge poll numbers as partly a result of "fears of a recession," as though we weren't yet in the midst of one. In other words, Big Media was afraid to state the obvious until somebody else came forward and said it for them.

Shouldn't reporters and editors have taken the lead on this one? Shouldn't they have boldly stated what politicians were afraid to admit? Shouldn't they do more than passively report what others say? Shouldn't they, in other words, tell the truth?

3) Batshit insane New York Times columnist David Brooks thinks Obama's foreign policy team needs to build on Bush's legacy. This is the same guy who, just a few months ago, said the economy was doing fine.

I'd like to point out that he gets paid outrageous sums of money for turning out such ridiculous claptrap. And people read him and take him seriously. Which, come to think of it, may explain why the ink-stained wretches of the press couldn't quite believe we were in a recession: David Brooks said we weren't!

4) I just had a dream in which Mr. T was living with me and my family on the farm (Mom, Dad, my brothers and sisters were looked they did in the late seventies, but I seemed to be my adult self), and he was mad at me for...well, I never quite understood why, but the point is, Mr. T wanted to kill me. So I holed up in my room with a couple of my cats, including little baby Monika, who clearly was the most adorable kitten in the history of adorable things.

This dream was chillingly unresolved, so for all I know, Mr. T still wants to kill me.

5) Steve Guttenberg claims he, Ted Danson and Tom Selleck are all aboard for another Three Mean And A Baby sequel. He also is shopping around the idea for a new Police Academy movie. These are both terrible ideas, sure, but at least they're reminders of an earlier, happier time, when bad movies were merely bad, not soul-drainingly, punishingly awful.

Monday, December 01, 2008


Since Paul was here Saturday night, and despite my repeated attempts to discourage it, we (he) unfortunately got started watching Joel Schumacher's unfathomably lousy Batman Forever, which didn't even start until nine o'clock and ran until well past eleven--pretty late for a nine year old to stay up, I'd think.

So after I got done grumbling about the awfulness of Jim Carrey's performance, I told him it was time to go to sleep. As always when he's here, I let him have the bed, while I just tossed some cushions and sheets down on the floor. I shut off the lights, but he still wanted to talk. "Um, I have a question," he began.


"You were married, right?"


"And you wanted to marry my mom?"


"How many other girls did you want to marry?"

Well, none, actually.

"Really? You're forty--?"


"--and never wanted to marry any other girl?"

Well, I...I never wanted to marry any other woman before I got married...

"What was her name?"


"Yeah. And you loved her, right?"

Sure. But...

"She didn't love you?"

No. It was more complicated than that. Things...didn't work out.

"But you didn't meet my mom right away after that."

No. No, I...there were other women...

"But you didn't want to marry them?"

No. I liked some of them, but not...I didn't want to marry them. In fact, I had a woman living with me for awhile...


What do you mean, where? Here.

"But this place is so small."


"And there's just the one bed."


" you liked her liked her."

But that doesn't mean I wanted to marry her. I liked her. We got along, we did things. She even went to see Revenge Of The Sith with me.

"I thought you said girls didn't like Star Wars."

Well, she did. So yeah, I liked her. But I didn't love her. Or maybe I should say, I wasn't in love with her.

"But you were in love with my mom."

Yeah, well...

"You still are, aren't you?"

Isn't it getting kind of late? Shouldn't you be sleeping?

"Last night, I stayed up until two-thirty."

All the more reason you should go to sleep earlier tonight.

"So seriously, you wanted to marry my mom, right?"

Yeah, I think we've established that.

"What does established mean?"

Don't worry about it. Go to sleep.

"I have to tell you something first. You're not going to like it."


"I actually kind of liked Batman Forever."