Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Overlooked Classics

Yesterday I railed against outmoded fashion, lets be a little more positive today and speak of those forgotten classics that need not be. Why is it that we forget our heroes, like the new Mr. Ed, Sherman Helmsley? Why? Here are some classics we should never forget:

Stoned, the Afterschool Special with Scott Baio. "Super Stoned Jack," was the scariest introduction that most of us had to the world of the sweet leaf. Sensimila? Not if you have any sensibilities! The tag line for this read:

"Jack is a motivated high school student who smokes cannabis for the first time, and falls in with a fast crowd. Will he wake up and realize what he's doing with his future before it's too late?"

If I were stoned I would never go out in a row boat on the grey and greasy river limpopo. Well, certainly not after seeing this little chestnut of a public service announcement made by anxious parents of latchkey kids in the Age of Studio 54. Put it on Trio so we can all laugh at the "reefer madness." Just say yes to that Farah Fawcett haired character Felicity. But I'm sure skeevy New York Times writer Neill Strauss will.

Dummy. Gritty 70s drama of urban social decline -- thanks, Ed Koch! Asshole! Back in the Koch day, NYC was all about twitchy pimps with straightrazors and purple suits with ruffled shitrs and jewel encrusted goblets wandering the urban landscape (hey, come to think of it, the pimpy fashion sensibility is very ... umm... priest-like), as well as greaser glue sniffing graffiti punks roaming the streets in search of a little of the old ultraviolence. Koch turned NYC into a Guns n Roses video, with Mr. Brownstone creeping around Central Park in a raincoat with nothing on underneath!

Get this plot, though, peeps: LeVar Burton plays a deaf and dumb mute who is framed for the death of a prostitute (Kuta Kinte, you are a framed man!). But will we get justice for the amiable host of Reading Rainbow?

Anyhoo: Will a young Paul Sorvino get him redemption when he cannot even communicate with his morose client? Or will "Dummy" just become another urban statistic on the Koch street? Despite the overall bleakness, this a very, very cool slice of social commentary.

Poldark: This cult British tv series is quite habit forming. Incredible. Just incredible. A period piece that is a cross between Wuthering Heights, the Mayor of Casterbridge and Le Liaisons Dangereuse but with a compelling soap opera character at its heart. A guilty high quality pleasure. You get sucked in to this costume drama that is one part Danielle Steele and one part high art.

Assorted Good Times episodes: Come on, you know you had a crush on Wilona ("and you too, Wilomena" said the archetypical corrupt pol, Alderman Davis) when you were kid, didn't you -- the only blingy woman in the projects; or, if you were a girl, Bookman the janitor was your long, cold drink of water. What, you never saw a black man doing a John Wayne impression, pilgrim? You better act like you know. And you know in your heart Wilona saved Janet Jackson from falling down that elevator shaft while trying to escape her mom who beat her with a hot iron just before she became Willis' girl, then Cleo on Fame.("and you too, Winooski")

Remember the episode where Michael gets crunk off some dodgy ghetto "health tonic" (aka muscatel) classic ("Get Vita Brite and sleep tonight" ...*promptly passes out*).

Then there was the time Michael joined a gang and hid his jacket in the oven, which prompted JJ to note that the smell emanating from the kitchen was an improvement on Thelma's cooking. Oh, what about the one where Thelma almost married this polygamist Nigerian cat. Crazy! What about that pimpy guy "Lennay," who always sold hot appliances from out of his coat. Classic. So was the episode when James has hypertension. So was ... hey ... was this a comedy or what?
("and you too, Winifred")

Cinema Paradiso. The best work of art on the subject of friendship I've ever encountered. The Corsair lost a couple of tears in his Cutty Sark at the end of this one. Any classroom reading of Artistotle on Friendship should include a look at this film.

Fellini's Satyricon. A pagan work. Un-be-fucking-lievable: creativity on a galactic scale. Nino Roti's sonic assault of wierd music alone is worth the DVD price. The Rablasian Fellini walks us through Roman antiquity as he imagines it, crossed with highbrow science fiction sequences of an imagined future looking backwards. There can never be anyone as Felliniesque as Fellini. Fellini has this really odd little maneuver, where the actors are frequently lstanding still, ooking into the camera, which creates a very disturbing effect. Throughout the film -- the Minotaur spares Acyltus from a bludgeoning, promting cosmic laughter at the end(the absurd universe?), then the rambling journey winding through the labyrinthine whorehouse at the beginning, with those withering close ups of the freaky pagan denizens therein, then the elaborate fake funeral at Trimalchio's dinner (eating and dying was all Trimalchio was about) -- all give off the combined effect that the film is laughing at you, the viewer. From some distance outside of time the film is laughing at the viewer. Very, very strange effect, that. Also, the world's first werewolf tale.

Carl Sagan's Cosmos: Okay, so in the madcap world of astrophysics Sagan's hypotheses are probably all outmoded already. Right? So what? So is Ptolemy's Almagest and yet I still read it in college and gained benefit. The methods by which man came to his conclusions about the universe are worthy of contemplation; and, of course, worthy of more questions in light of our most current data. Cosmos is no exception. This series was the bomb! (looks around sheepishly, then raises hand, "question: who is the biggest PBS geek in the room"?) Classics are never outmoded.

Chespirito. This show was a mystery to me: Why would a grown Latin man in need of some excercise want to go on tv dressed like a racy little bumble bee number emblazoned with a big "CH" on his paunch. Subtitle it and put it on Trio; I'd watch it just to clarify my childhood mystery. I'd like to crack open a cold cerveza and figure this out. What the fuck was going on here? Why is everyone else laughing but me? I feel like I'm in a Fellini movie, but it is in Spanish and the sets are decidedly low rent. We'd all like to know what the people on that endless laugh track find so fucking hilarious.

Fame the TV Series: Why are there not repeats on VH1 of this show already? When you say low budget and high quality I think .. right here's where you start paying for it ... with pain ... and sweat. The show of young, artistic people struggling for their moment to shine is about as American as it gets and less cruel than Donald Trump's Apprentice, where sharky career advancement is all about crippling the competition. Whatever happened to that sexy cello player who wouldn't give anyone the time of day, Lori Singer. I was all about the emotional cellist yet frosty behaving Lori Singer back in the day. Yummy.

Cries and Whispers by Ingmar Bergman. If Black Stallion is the most beautifully shot film, then this is number two. All natural lighting. Bergman uses a fade to red to seperate scenes, mimicking the inner membrane of our eyelids. About as fucking intense as art can get. And halfway through this film about communication and treachery -- where the incessant ticking of an pocketwatch reminds us of time's passage -- Bergman dissolves a reconcilliation scene between two hard hearted sisters into Bach's Sarabande no. 5 in D minor. That's so fucking cool it hurts to just write it (*sips Cutty Sark to steady hisself*)

The Black Stallion: Those fabulous Copollas! This is perhaps the most beautiful filmed movie ever. From the point of view of a boy. The Black Stallion is really the restrictive society. Very 70s. The image of the horse adrift in the Pacific Ocean, a burning ship sinking in the background, and the boy, by pure instinct, snatching the floating rope as it passed, is straight out of Jung.

The Gore Vidal-Bill Buckley Debate-Fight It was in the heart of the 60s: the polarized political center of the 60s. The left and the right clash violently on national television. In the news division of a respectable network. Fuck! A classic. The country was divided in those days is an understatement. Excellent. Buckley is the Grandfather of the American conservative movement; Vidal the leading leftist rhetorician (lefties don't organize hierarchical movements, it goes against type). For a moment, our two leading intellectuals of our two political polarities went at it in a bareknuckled intellectual fistfight. Not since Burr shot Hamilton dead has there been so much political drama in The Republic. Was there something in the water in the late 60s, or was everyone just crezzzzy.

Woody Allen's Teleplay: Don't Drink the Water. One of the most interesting experiments on television ever. Woody Allen directs and writes a teleplay starring Michael J Fox and the kid who played Blossom. Shaky handheld camera follows a grown Michael J. Fox as he slowly becomes involved with a bright but much younger woman. How the fuck did this get on American and not Parisian tv? Aren't we supposed to be puritainical? Did Woody Allen have so much juice back in the day that he could put on pedophilic Americana on network tv? Does the story sound familiar? Actually the story is tame, and inventive and very, very arty.

Kramer vs. Kramer. The first dramatic and fully articulated statement of the Baby Boomers achieving adulthood. A film of the first water. Young married couple breaks apart. They become two seperate people post sexual revolution. Wife leaves shallow workaholic husband and baby. Goes out West. Comes back revitalized. In the meantime, shallow husband defined by his work, like an Eisenhower-era man, like--probably--his father changes, grows. Welcome to 1978, motherfucker.

Husband fights custody. Bach and Vivaldi weave in and out of this drama that takes place, it seems, embroidered into the most poignant colors of Autumn in Central Park, from skeletal oranges to deep cloody oches and emerald greens. Those colors and Bach and Vivaldi accurately reflect the heightened emotion of the drama -- the decisive break from the previous Eisenhower-era, the divorce and emancipation of the Boomers in film.

And the courtroom scene where Meryl Streep slowly dissolves into tears offset bya forced composure (better than Jane Fonda in Klute) as Hoffman's lawyer vivisects her irresponibility -- her feminism, her 1978ness -- are among the best goddamned acting you ever will see. Kramer versus Kramer is as good as film gets.

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