Sunday, July 23, 2017
Farewell John Heard
John Heard turned in a multitude of fine performances over the years (as witnessed by the fact that Sheri and I only wrote about one movie in which he appeared, and he wasn't even the star), and I always thought it was too bad his career didn't start earlier in the 1970s, when mainstream movies were riskier and more indie-like, and better equipped to take full advantage of an actor I like to think of as the WASPy Richard Dreyfuss.
Anyway, please take your seats; the service is about to begin...
Ahem! Our reading today comes from the book of Better Living Through Bad Movies. Chapter 6: Chick Flicks vs. Ick Flicks...
Directed by Garry Marshall
Written by Iris Rainer Dart (novel) and Mary Agnes Donoghue
Bette Midler is rehearsing for her big concert at the Hollywood Bowl when she gets a message that causes her to abandon the gig and head to San Francisco. As she drives and cries, we ﬂash back twenty or thirty years (depending on how old we are supposed to believe Bette Midler is); voila, we’re at Atlantic City, and Bette is TV’s Blossom. Back then she was a foul-mouthed, histrionic, whiny show business brat—and a much more interesting performer. She’s smoking under the boardwalk when she meets a lost little rich wuss named Hillary. Blossom forces Hillary to watch her bump ’n grind version of “Glory of Love” before she’ll take her back to her hotel. Hillary likes Blossom’s singing. Blossom likes it that Hillary likes her singing. So, the two girls become friends for life.
They are the best of pen pals until they’re 21, when Hillary turns into Barbara Hershey and comes to New York to escape her sheltered life. Bette invites Barb to share her squalid apartment, and it’s a festival of sisterhood as the two women dye their hair together, sing Christmas carols, do each other’s laundry, and synchronize their menstrual cycles.
To pay the rent, Bette dresses up like a killer rabbit from Night of the Lepus and delivers singing telegrams to John Heard. He is so impressed that he invites her to audition for the play he’s directing. Despite the fact that John’s production is so off-Broadway it’s actually in the Hudson River, Bette falls in love with him. But he only has eyes for Barb (actually, his character seems kinda light in the loafers, but the movie claims he’s smitten by Barbara). Following Bette’s triumphant debut in John’s weird musical about evil mimes, Barbara helps John celebrate by sleeping with him. Bette shouts at Barbara, “So much for you and your feminist principles!” and tells Gloria Steinem to revoke Barbara’s NOW membership on account of hussiness. Barbara explains that she couldn’t help herself, since John Heard was “the most attractive man I’ve met in my life.” It seems she really did live a sheltered existence.
Barbara returns to San Francisco, so, it’s back to letters and over-dubbed narration to let us know what’s happening in their lives. Bette becomes a Broadway star. (It seems surprisingly easy—one day she just is one. I don’t know why more people don’t do it). Barbara becomes a socialite and marries a jerk. Bette counters by marrying John Heard.
Barbara visits New York to see Bette’s musical about the invention of undergarments, and to be bitchy. John Heard is still attracted to Barbara, which infuriates Bette, but since he is also suffering from “A Star is Born Syndrome,” we already know this marriage is doomed. The two women have a shouting match in a department store, and the friendship is over.
Life goes on. Bette goes home to mother because John wasn’t paying attention to her. Mother tells her that everybody is tired of paying attention to her, and she should just get used to it. (No, this doesn’t mean the ﬁlmmakers realized that the audience is bored and ended the movie—it just means that you have Bette’s mother’s permission not to pay attention to Bette anymore.)
Bette’s career goes down in ﬂames when she punches a director who says she has a fat ass, and she’s reduced to singing at a boarded-up disco. Barb ﬁnds her and apologizes; she explains that she was just jealous because she can’t yodel. (Really.) Bette’s still mad until Barb confesses that her husband left her and she’s pregnant. So, with Barbara’s life ofﬁcially worse than Bette’s, Bette forgives her and the two have a baby-prep montage.
But when Bette’s agent ﬁnds a role for her, she’s outta there! The two women scream at each other, but a diva’s gotta do what a diva’s gotta do and Bette returns to New York. She learns that the job is in John Heard’s new production, and he gave it to her out of pity. So, now she is James Mason and he is Judy Garland! But then Barb has her baby, which makes everything okay for everybody. (Remember, babies solve all problems—have one today!)
Barbara’s daughter, Victoria, is now about six. Bette is a Broadway star again (as demonstrated by doormen congratulating her on her Tony wins). Barb is a noble lawyer (as demonstrated by other lawyers chiding her for high morals). Everything is going great when Barb gets dizzy and has trouble with drinking fountains…
Yes, she has a fatal disease. Bette volunteers to accompany Barb to the beach for her last summer (she just didn’t know how long this summer was going to be). Bette and Victoria don’t get along at ﬁrst, because they’re both bossy, self-involved drama queens, and they’re both six. But Bette teaches Victoria how to smoke, cuss, and sing in bath houses, and the two bond, leaving Barbara feeling left out and unloved. Barb tries to get back at them by looking pale and sickly, but they don’t notice. So, she escalates her aggressive dying by refusing to speak, move, or bathe. She and Bette have another ﬁght, which causes Barbara to snap out of it (the moping, I mean—not the dying), and they braid each other’s hair, play cards, and do other girly stuff for the rest of the summer. Bette even agrees to not sue Barbara for failing to die as scheduled, and goes back to being Bette Midler, Super Star.
She is preparing for her Hollywood Bowl concert when Barbara ﬁnally starts to get somewhere with the dying (this is where we came in). When Bette gets to the hospital, Barbara tells her that she wants to die at the beach in order to make the whole movie so gosh-darned poignant that nobody will be able to stand it. So, Bette sings “Wind Beneath My Wings,” we see some lovely sunset ’n surf images from a K-Tel commercial, and Barbara ﬁnally bites the sand.
The ﬁlm seems to heave a sigh and wipe a tear as it treats us to a ﬁnal ﬂashback of the 11-year-old girls vowing eternal friendship while Bette belts out another musical tribute to aerodynamics.
Wednesday, July 19, 2017
Here Comes the Spider-Man! And a Couple Dead Guys. And a Lady Time Lord
Welcome back! Sorry for the delay -- there have been a multitude of weird, inexplicable, possibly curse-related injuries and illnesses plaguing the staff lately -- but we hope to make it up to you today with a pretty good show.
In Part I, Scott and Jeff chat about a couple of fun geeky things, and a whole lot of death (alas, if we'd only had time to consult with Romero expert Doc Logan....). Then Jeff Holland, Man-Baby Hunter, paddles upstream against the tears of male Doctor Who fans who are squeamish because the incoming lady time lord might find a new, off-label use for the Sonic Screwdriver, and it could totally void the warranty! Don't you even care?
Then it's time for the Unknown Movie Challenge, where the whole New Movie Crew goes back to high school for Spider-Man: Homecoming. Please join us for this rockin' sock hop, and visit the refreshment table for Hi-C fruit punch, Razzles, Clearasil, and self-loathing.
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[Cross-posted to The Slumgullion]
Tuesday, July 4, 2017
Happy Fourth of July
President Calvin Coolidge receives an arrangement from the Florist Telegraphers Association on his birthday, July 4, 1924.
Monday, July 3, 2017
Another Good Reason to Wear Your Glasses
A while back, a good friend asked: What was the most embarrassing thing that ever happened to me?
This isn't one of those easy questions, like: “Have you ever shot an elephant?” Spending six decades on this planet is just bound to give anyone plenty of scope to make a complete fool of themselves. Plus I'm something of a klutz, and all too often blind to the most obvious hints. You can see, then, that it might be difficult to select just one example from so many.
So very, very many ...
At least with this classy crowd, who demand something more than a cheap laugh, I can exclude any anecdotes which are of a more personal nature. (Although, for a small sum, I might make them available to a select clientele.)
And to be honest, I couldn't vouch for what follows as the most embarrassing incident of my life. There's a good chance I've mercifully forgotten the best candidates for this dishonor. Let's just say that for one reason or another, this incident was marginally more memorable. Forgive me if it takes a bit of prosing to work around to it.
I got my first pair of glasses when I was 12 years old, but I was understandably reluctant to wear them back in the days when “Four-Eyes” was a familiar taunt for my age group and “Geek Chic” wasn't trendy. It didn't help at all when the mother of my friend next door told me those clunky horn rims made me look distinguished. I know she was only trying to get me past feeling so dorky, but at twelve, the last thing I wanted was to look “distinguished” -- which my Adultspeak translator instantly rendered as “nerd”. So I resisted wearing the things, unless I absolutely had to.
The summer after ninth grade, my two older brothers and I took a road trip out west. We three boys planned to spend a month making a grand tour up through the Dakotas, Montana and Wyoming, then down to the desert Southwest and finally to Yosemite, where the highlight of our trip would be to spend a week back-packing.
Quite the itinerary, considering we had to wedge all our gear and food and three back-pack frames into my eldest brother's red 1968 VW Bug
Our trip got off to a less than promising start: My brothers were determined to drive as far north as they could that first day. Which meant spending almost an hour in a traffic jam, on a sultry evening in early June, downwind of the Chicago Stockyards. We eventually fetched up at a campground somewhere in lower Wisconsin around ten that night. Utterly exhausted, we just tossed our sleeping bags on the ground and immediately crashed.
It was a warm night; none of us got inside our bags. I was awakened maybe half an hour later, by the realization I was being eaten alive by mosquitoes. Meanwhile, my brothers were staging an impromptu slapstick routine as they got in each other's way while struggling to put up the pup tent. Pitching your tent for the first time, by flashlight, as you're harassed by a voracious swarm of tiny but extremely determined winged bloodsuckers, is not conducive to haste. It's a miracle no one hammered a stake through their foot.
But we got the tent, with its blessed mosquito netting, erected eventually, piled in and zipped up the fly. Isolating us with only a couple dozen or so of the pests, who continued to annoy us throughout that night. But at least it kept the blood loss down to only a pint or two. I'll pass over what it was like to share an old-style two man backpacking tent with my two older brothers that first night. We were all slender, wiry guys in those days, but still ...
Being too young to have a driver's license, I was relegated to the rear seat, while my brothers spelled each other at the wheel. Sharing the back of that VW with a pile of camping paraphernalia, I spent a considerable amount of road time during that trip sitting with my knees bumping against the back of the driver's seat. Or I could lie down in a position somewhat similar to a Mercury astronaut in his space capsule -- with even less available leg room. Thankfully, I was still a few inches short of my adult height. And had brought along some paperbacks.
You can imagine what a joy this was, traveling through the desert in an un-airconditioned Beetle. With the rear heater vent stuck open. At least it was a dry heat ...
To make our money last, we car-camped and did our own cooking. My eldest brother, Cliff -- who had made a similar trip a couple of years previous -- was in charge of the menu. He had two basic meals: For breakfast, invariably, rice boiled with dried apricots, with a spoonful or two of molasses on top, and for dinner (far too frequently, in my opinion) Kraft Mac and Cheese, with a can of tuna fish mixed in. In fairness to the cook, the instant tuna mac casserole was more of a fallback supper while traveling, and not, like the rice and apricots, a daily affair. But we hadn't room for an ice chest, which naturally limits one's culinary choices a bit.
I remember one such sybaritic repast in particular, served up as night was falling after a long day's drive, at a lonely roadside campsite somewhere out on the plains. A chill wind gusting from the north sucked the heat out of this revolting mess within seconds after it was ladled onto our tin plates. Certainly before I could sit down and shovel a single fork-full into my mouth. Believe me, you haven't lived until you've dined on a plateful of gelid, congealed mac and cheese and canned tuna chunks, as a stiff breeze -- apparently unobstructed in its descent from the polar regions by anything loftier than a shrub or two -- freshens your complexion.
I was never a big fan of canned tuna even before we went on this trip; after all these years, the very thought of it still makes my gorge rise. But I was too hungry at the time to care all that much. None of us gained weight on this vacation.
Lest I leave the wrong impression here, despite my dwelling on some of the less enjoyable aspects of the trip, the truth is we all had a blast.
Still, looking back, I'm always astonished at what tough little bastards we were. But the real outdoorsman of the bunch was my older brother, Harlin, affectionately nicknamed “The Varmint” when he was but a young sprout. He was a throwback, born too late to be a long hunter or a mountain man, and a few decades too soon to host one of those survival-in-the-wild TV shows. While Cliff and I (grudgingly) shared the pup tent, Harlin preferred to sleep in the out-of-doors, with a canvas tarp for cover if the weather turned inclement. Like when we woke one morning in Yellowstone to find everything shrouded in six inches of wet snow.
That was the day we decided to pack up our gear and head for the desert.
Skipping ahead with my story, we arrived at Yosemite in the middle of the afternoon. Our route along the eastern Rockies and then down through the desert Southwest had been a revelation to a kid raised among the comparatively puny woods and hills and hollows of Middle Tennessee. But Yosemite was something else again: Half Dome; Angel Falls; Tuolumne Meadows brilliant with wildflowers; looking up from the floor of the valley and seeing the dizzying illusion that makes those those impossibly high, sheer walls of granite appear to be perpetually toppling toward you against a fixed background of clouds. Words are feeble things, though, when confronted with the scale and transcendent beauty of this place.
Our plan was to stay at a campground for a few days, hiking and sight-seeing around the park, then shoulder our packs and head off into the back country. But the first thing to do, as always, was to set up camp. My assignment was to collect the fuel for our campfire. So off I went into the woods behind the campsite and began gathering up sticks.
This seems the appropriate place to mention that from the time we hit Yellowstone, at every park the rangers had given us the lecture about not having food or empty wrappers or soft drink cans in the tent or around the campsite, and cautioned us to hang our food properly at night. This advice had been given added emphasis by the fact that two campers had been killed by grizzlies so far that spring, in two different parks. Needless to say, we followed those instructions to the letter. So you can see that that bears were very much on my mind.
I'd been scrounging firewood for a while, since the pickings were rather slim this close to the campground, when I heard a noise behind me. I spun around, and saw my first bear close up.
Well, okay, the bear -- a cinnamon bear, probably a juvenile, who was merely standing on top of a fallen pine tree, eyeing me curiously -- was maybe ten or fifteen yards away, so it wasn't that close. But being in the woods, alone, after all those warnings from the rangers and the gruesome stories of people being eaten alive, as far as I was concerned it was a ten foot tall, half-ton grizzly reared up on his hind legs, all set to give me the Benihana treatment.
I dropped the sticks and took off through a stand of saplings, no doubt leaving one rather perplexed bear wondering what the hell was my problem. The one small bit of solace I can take from this textbook example of panicked scarpering (besides not having to change my underwear afterward) is that at least I had it together enough to hope the close-grown saplings I was dodging around might slow down this rampaging terror I was sure was at my heels.
Of course the bear didn't follow me. When I dared to look back, it was nowhere to be seen. I gathered up the tattered remnants of my courage along with another armload of firewood, and headed back to our campsite.
But this was not my most embarrassing moment of that day.
Back at the campsite, I learned that shortly after I went off to find firewood, the bear had paid Cliff a visit while he was unpacking the car. He turned around to find the critter attempting to enter the VW by way of the passenger window, no doubt to get at our food. I don't know how he made it desist, but obviously this was neither a very fierce nor a very large animal.
It didn't so much as scratch the paint or put a rip in the upholstery. But it wasn't finished with us, yet.
Not to put too fine a point to it, after returning to the campsite, I found I needed to emulate that proverbial bear in the woods. I soon discovered the restroom for our section of the campground was closed for repairs. So I had to walk, at a somewhat brisker pace, over to the next campground.
Remember how I was reluctant to wear my glasses? I'm fairly certain I had them on when I was in the woods and met the bear. And I doubt that I would have let that stunning scenery pass by all out of focus. But vanity prompted me to take them off while I was walking through the campground. You know: in case I met a cute girl.
Having locating some functional facilities, I was on my way back to our campsite when I walked past a small crowd standing by the roadside. Some of them seemed to be looking at something across the road, but all I could see was the fuzzy outlines of trash bins, although one of the bins appeared overly full.
So I stepped on by, down the middle of the road. After I'd strolled past, an incredulous bystander demanded, “Didn't you see the bear?”
And this, ladies and gentlebeings, was my memorably mortifying moment. That same damned cinnamon bear was there, dumpster diving, with only its furry hindquarters visible above the rim of the bin. And I had walked right past it.
Shortly thereafter, my brothers appeared on the scene; Harlin took the initiative and drove the bear away by shouting and pelting it with clods of dirt. Yes, this was one fearsome creature.
However, it did achieve a certain measure of revenge. After we'd eaten supper and hung the food from a high branch on the big pine in the center of the campsite, we retired for the night -- Cliff and I to the tent, and Harlin to his sleeping bag and tarp, which he had placed beneath the tree, on the cushiony mat of shed needles.
I was drifting off to sleep, when there came an urgent whisper from outside: “Cliff! Henry! Wake up!”
Cliff mumbled, groggily, “What do you want?”
“The bear's back.” After sleepily pondering this development for a few seconds, our eldest brother delivered this sage bit of advice: “Well, leave him alone.”
We were such a caring family.
Next morning, Harlin informed us the bear had snuffled around the campsite while Cliff and I were snoring away in the tent, then climbed the tree from which we'd suspended our food. That is, the very same tall pine he'd chosen to sleep under. (Which, in retrospect, may not have been the smartest thing to do.)
Not wanting to draw attention to himself, Harlin did his best to imitate an inanimate object while our nocturnal visitor clawed its way up the pine. But we'd chosen our limb well, high enough up so the cache dangled well out of its reach, from above and below. So the bear eventually gave up.
According to Harlin, he experienced some tense moments right then, during this frustrated thief's descent. All my brother could think of was how accurate he'd been a few hours previously, lobbing those hard, gravel-studded clods of dirt at it -- and wonder whether the beast might be cherishing a grudge. He could all too easily imagine it making vengeful promises to itself as it scrabbled back down the tree.
Fortunately for him, the bear merely wandered away in search of an easier meal, and that was our last encounter with the creature.
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