Friday, March 28, 2008

Camera Obscura: Most Bizarre TV Ever; Where's John Hughes?; Hank Kimball Meets Satan

The oddest moment in TV show history may well have occurred on March 4, 2001 in the pilot episode of "The Lone Gunmen", a spin-off from "X-Files", about three conspiracy-minded fellows who battle ... well, they battle conspiracies.

In their first episode (one of only 12 made) the trio discovers a plot by the government to crash an airliner into the World Trade Center, just six months before it actually happened. You can watch the full episode here online.

This week at the ongoing Paley Festival, the "X-Files" and "Lone Gunmen" creators talked about the odd coincidence:

It was freaky, and one of the weirdest things is no one really asked us about it," Carter says. "It had been imagined before, by many others."

"Condoleezza Rice is saying its an unimaginable crime -- hello, my pilot!" adds "Lone Gunmen" actor Dean Haglund.

"It made me angry," Spotnitz says. "It was not unimaginable. My first thought was ... 'Oh my god, I hope they weren't copycatting the Lone Gunmen, which they weren't. My next thought was: 'Why weren't we prepared for this?' "

Was it just a fleeting moment of unconscious absorption of ideas already being created in reality? All I know is, watching the episode is too eerie for words, especially as you see the lead characters grab the controls of the airliner and steer it past the steel and glass exterior of the WTC, missing it by inches.


A report in this week's LA Times (no, not that one) brought up a few memories and reminded me that once upon a time, the movies of John Hughes were hailed as classic cinema but it's been 17 years since he has stood behind the camera.

The creator of such teen comedies as "The Breakfast Club", "Sixteen Candles", "Home Alone", "Vacation", and "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" has pretty much fallen into obscurity. He doesn't do interviews, he doesn't write or make movies although he is credited with influencing many movies today, like the story credit for new comedy "Drillbit Taylor".

I never really cared much for any of his movies myself, though most of my friends just loved them. It isn't that they were terrible movies, it was that they seemed to be trying way to hard to be trendy, hip and teen. And they really don't hold up very well after all these years, with a few exceptions.

"Vacation" still makes me laugh. Three bad sequels followed, but the original is a fine thing. The script was based on a short story Hughes which he published in National Lampoon under the title "Vacation '58". Also while working at Lampoon, he and writer P.J. O'Rourke created a hilarious parody of a Sunday newspaper for the imaginary town of Dacron, Ohio which was just genius. (This project was a sequel of sorts for the funniest high school parody of all time, Lampoon's High School Yearbook Parody also set in Dacron, Ohio in a school named for Tennessee's very own C. Estes Kefauver. I've had muscle spasms from the insane laughter which comes with reading that thing. Just reading the names under the tiny, tiny pics of all the underclassmen was one of the funniest experiences of my life.

Anyway, back to Hughes. His very best film is still "Ferris Bueller's Day Off", a celebration of non-conformity, the city of Chicago, of youth against authority, and of life itself. As the school secretary explains to the Principal about Ferris:
"Oh, he's very popular Ed. The sportos, the motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, waistoids, dweebies, dickheads - they all adore him. They think he's a righteous dude."

Hughes is living in Chicago still, but without an agent and not seeking work in Hollywood at all. I'd like to think he's living a Ferris-style life, taking it easy, enjoying the good things in life and not worrying about what the kids are doing or what the adults are doing.


In the wee hours of the morning this Friday/Saturday on Turner Classic Movies Underground series, a fine thriller/horror story called "Brotherhood of Satan" will be shown and there is an odd story behind this movie. Released in 1971, the movie was produced by Alvy Moore, aka Hank Kimball from "Green Acres", and his partner L.Q. Jones. Jones was a regular in many Sam Peckinpah movies, like "The Wild Bunch", and in "Brotherhood" Jones cast his 'Wild Bunch" co-star Strother Martin as the leader of some aging, backwoods Satanists.

Moore and Jones made this movie and one other in the early '70s, the cult classic "A Boy and His Dog."

It's always seemed most curious to me how these two longtime character actors decided a bizarre Harlan Ellison story about a telepathic dog and another tale about a gang of old coots who worship Satan would be the movies they wanted to produce. Then again, Hank Kimball was one of oddest characters among the strange world of "Green Acres". The show remains as the best example of what would happen if "Waiting For Godot" were made into a TV show.


One more movie to watch for this weekend airs Sunday at midnight on the Sundance Channel called "Silk".

"Silk" is an horror/C.S.I.-inspired tale about the capture of some ghosts, but don't discard it just yet. Yes, Asian ghost movies are everywhere. But this one is very, very well made and comes wrapped in a weird blend of a police investigation and the science of anti-gravity devices. Seems a way has been made to create anti-gravity devices, but the device is powered by ghosts. Yes, I know, it's a weird idea to blend into a police story, but the fact remains the movie is quite good. It's never boring, is well acted and is loaded with creepy supernatural atmosphere.

Really, it's worth a look.

1 comment:

  1. I haven't thought about A Boy and His Dog in a while. That one always makes me tune in when I see it on the grid late at night.
    And, yes, Hank Kimball is one wiggy character in the "real" Hooterville.