When Hollywood scores a hit, we all know they will run it as far into the ground as possible, often forgoing quality and integrity somewhere within the planet’s crust and plunging deep into the molten core with a hot and hungry grab for easy audience bucks. The current crop of superhero / comic book flicks have been fairly consistent, with few features splatting upon the pavement of suckiness, at least since the era of Daredevil and Spider-Man 3. But it’s probably just a matter of time.
The problem as I see it is that we have just as many superhero / comic movies in various stages of production as we have seen released in the last couple of years. Studios have plunged their hands elbow-deep into the sticky pie of superherodom, and if a run of crappy returns happens to tilt the public’s interest away from the genre, they’re going to be in trouble.
We saw five years between Tobey Maguire’s final Spider-Man film and Andrew Garfield’s reboot. Now we’ve got Ben Affleck re-introducing us to Batman (not to mention a new Smallville-like origin story TV series on the way), and the lights on the set of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy are still warm. These movies are still money-printing magic and no one wants to let a valuable property sit still. But Batman movies have not always been a sure thing – and no, I’m not talking about Joel Schumacher’s unfortunate smiting of the Tim Burton reboot.
I’m talking about Batman Dracula.
In 1964, two years before Adam West donned the menacing cowl and did the Batusi on television, Andy Warhol concocted his own film about the caped crusader. Warhol’s Batman was apparently a true forerunner of the series’ campy approach. Not a lot is known about the film’s content, and it was actually considered a lost film until quite recently. Warhol didn’t have the permission of DC Comics to use the character; he was simply a fan and he thought it would make a fun film. A search online revealed only a few small clips, none of which appear to follow a linear, sensical plot. Most of what I found consists of artsy double-exposed film accompanied by some Velvet Underground music. It’s not particularly good. Read more…
This might sound stupid – and I realize now as I plot out the journey of the remainder of this sentence that it does indeed sound fundamentally stupid down to the core of its clanging consonants – but I’ve always perceived a palpable thrill attached to the concept of the witness protection program. Forget the fact that you might always be looking over your shoulder, or that nine out of ten times you’re probably a criminal testifying against a more important criminal before you get to join the program – it’s a slate-wiping, sin-scratching, skin-shedding fresh start. Who wouldn’t want that?
Okay, I’m glamorizing a societal necessity, supported by a culture of violence and murder. TV and movies have taught me that witness protection serves either as a plot point to disguise a character’s shady past or as the eventual salvation for the antihero we’ve been cheering for. This is the problem with being raised by TV – its stories tend to omit a number of details and all of the paperwork.
Not every country has a witness relocation program in place. For many it’s a matter of protection as a case warrants it, with the police usually clearing out once the testimony is complete. But sometimes a relocation, a new identity and a new life become the end-result of a witness’s gutsy testimony. That’s where the real story begins.
The first instance of witness protection popped up as part of the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871. During the post-Civil War period, when many southerners were aghast at the unconscionable decree by “the man” that no longer allowed them the God-given right to own people, the KKK was particularly active. Part of the Act included government protection for anyone who was willing to testify against Klan members, who had a habit of being a tetch on the violent side when it came to their enemies. Read more…
Imagine if you will the scent of Scent Of A Woman. The stink of Mel Brooks’ Life Stinks. The sweet smell of The Sweet Smell of Success. With so many leaps in the technologies of CGI to improve a film’s look and the constant reinvention of pristine Dolby sound, it feels as though our other senses are being neglected. Movie theatres are offering pre-assigned seating, full bar service and popping Sam Worthington’s face off the screen in terrifying 3D, but why the hell can’t I smell his sweat?
A couple days ago I wrote about an April Fools’ prank in which the BBC convinced viewers they’d be introducing new technology that would allow their TV audience to experience the smells of their favorite programs without having to purchase any additional equipment. The mental image of millions of curious viewers pressing their shnozzes up against their TV tubes still tickles my giggle-muscle.
But I was inadvertently gobsmacked by the extensive available information on legitimate attempts to incorporate the olfactory into the public cinematic experience. Perhaps it’s time for Smell-O-Vision to make a resurgence; they’re trying to lure us away from our torrents and our Video-on-Demand by encouraging us to sit among the chatty teens and cell-phone-happy nudniks for $15 a pop in the theater; why not give us the visceral experience of finding out what Kevin James really smells like?
Surprisingly, he smells a little like old crackers.
As I learned a few days ago, Samuel Roxy Rothafel, the brains behind Radio City Music Hall, first tried to engage the sense of smell in his Forest City, Pennsylvania theater in 1906. The story goes that he had a pile of cotton wool that had been soaked in rose oil placed in front of an electric fan, titillating the nostrils of his patrons while they watched the Tournament of Roses Parade. This was two decades before the movies had figured out how to fuse themselves with sound – Rothafel was jumping the curve with this. Read more…
My wife hates April Fools’ Day.
She has a legitimate reason, stemming from the scar-worthy childhood trauma of watching one of her friends get April-Fooled into a lengthy scavenger hunt for a brand new puppy by his parents, only to discover the final prize was nothing but a prank. Were she not the empathetic soul I know her to be, I might assume this to be an elaborate act of transference on her memory’s part, that this may have happened to her; thankfully my in-laws aren’t quite so cruel.
I have always maintained an appreciation for a meticulously blueprinted ruse, provided the only perpetrated harm is the gloppy egg of embarrassment upon the face of one’s target. Every few years some news outlet or public pulpit successfully melds a crafty sense of humor with their automatic public earpiece and delivers a delicious morsel of weirdness to justify April Fools’ Day’s presence on our calendars.
A quality media prank is a rickety bridge above the chasm of banality and/or outright stupidity. One needs to find the threshold of credulity and glide one’s words upon it without causing a rupture in believability. We see this every so often when an article from The Onion or The Daily Currant makes its way as gospel into people’s Facebook feeds. When executed poorly, it’s a bad joke. When done right, it’s art.
That Swiss lady plucking fresh pasta from her spaghetti tree was the talk of the British water coolers on the morning of April 2, 1957, after the BBC had run a story about the popular agricultural phenomenon the night before. The show was Panorama, a current-affairs, 60 Minutes-style show that’s still on the air today, and the gag was delivered without punchline. The segment focussed on a family in Ticino, northern Switzerland, as they reaped the bounty of a hearty winter spaghetti harvest, having defeated the nasty spaghetti weevil. Read more…
I read a story last week – an actual news story, written and published by actual news people who weren’t pranking their employers – that our world is entering into an actual clown shortage. There are people (mostly people who run clown schools, I imagine) who are worried about this. Perhaps this is predictable fall-out from an age entranced by online distractions and hand-held toys that ooze a non-stop viscous goo of entertainment and fun. Maybe Stephen King is to blame for sticking a clown in the fictional sewers and frightening a generation of readers.
Maybe, like disco dancing and earthquake movies, clowns are merely part of an entertainment cycle that swells and wanes with the syncopated breath of a culture. My daughter was creeped out by clowns, as were many of her young friends. Gone are the days when Clarabell, Bozo, and Flunkie the Clown would tickle funny bones on TV. There’s no street-cred in clowning anymore.
But we’ve still got Ronald. Oh Ronald, that trans-fat-peddling scamp who was born in McDonaldland and has a permanent address in our hearts (probably near the blockage). He still pops up to remind kids that healthy food isn’t as much fun as McNuggets, even though his cronies have mostly been driven into advertising obscurity. Perhaps that’s for the best.
This photo pops up in various Buzzfeed retro-galleries – it’s the first incarnation of Ronald McDonald, prior to the crafted look that presently echoes the McBrand. Underneath all of that make-up is a man named Willard Scott. You probably know Willard as the one-time weatherman who still shows up on The Today Show to wish centenarians a happy birthday. Maybe you remember him from hosting the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade broadcast on NBC for ten years. Maybe you have no idea who I’m talking about. That’s okay too. Read more…
Whenever I’m assessing a question of morality, I like to assume the vantage point of an interplanetary visitor from an advanced race, dropping in to see how humanity stacks up to their alien equivalent. Don’t kill each other? I’m sure the little green dude agrees. Don’t pilfer one another’s wallets on the street? No question, Gleep would be down with that. Don’t allow parts of one’s natural form to be visible to anyone else, lest they succumb to evil, lust-sopped acts? He might raise a quizzical, crooked antenna at that one.
But our society has fought to uphold this denouncement of defrocking, this ban of the bare, particularly in film. It’s as though the collapse of our fragile culture could be set into motion by one wayward nipple. Sure, the pope probably gets naked, and so does every sign-toting, network-calling yahoo who feels their eyes have still not recovered from the excessive displays of side-boob on NYPD: Blue twenty years ago. But there’s a difference when it comes to being naked in one’s own home (or Pope-Fortress as the case may be).
Forget the fact that, with exceptions for size and possible skin conditions, butts tend to look fairly similar. And forget that the prohibition of anything (alcohol, drugs, looking at naked people) does nothing to quell the public’s desire for it. Our culture – and here I mean our global culture, because this is not simply a western taboo – spent decades frowning upon cinematic nakedness. Not too far back in our past movies could show blood from a stab wound by a homicidal maniac, but pubic hair? Hell no.
It should surprise absolutely no one who has watched the landscape of the internet develop over the past 20 years that nudity was appearing in films before actual film had gotten around to being invented. Eadweard Muybridge (and I should point out that ‘Eadweard’ is a name choice more parents should consider) created the zoopraxiscope, a projector that could display images etched onto a spinning glass disk. With his rapid-fire photography method, he could capture what amounted to the equivalent of a brief gif of a horse galloping, a donkey bucking or, of course, a naked person. The photo above is his own grizzly self-portrait. Read more…