Friday, January 04, 2008

Camera Obscura: Groucho as God; KITT as a Mustang

What happens when Groucho Marx plays God, Jackie Gleason takes LSD at Alcatraz and Harry Nilsson sings the movie's credits? Well you are watching a movie from 1968 called "Skidoo." And you can watch it tonight (actually 2 a.m.) on Turner Classic Movies as part of their Underground series.

Sure, watching it may give you nightmares, what with Slim Pickens and Mickey Rooney on a drug trip, or it might make you laugh yourself into a coma. The original trailer for this ... um, fractured bit of entertainment is provided with the assistance of Timothy Leary and Sammy Davis Jr. Groovy, baby! Ah, 1968 ...

Words really don't do justice to this movie, but if you can't (or won't) view it, then you should at least read this review by Nathan Rabin at the A.V. Club. It's a beautiful piece of work:

Over the last decade, it's become a cliché for films to use a glassy-eyed character flipping through television channels as a way of conveying alienation and the emptiness of popular culture. But, as Skidoo helpfully reminds viewers, the close relationship between soul-sickness and channel-surfing has existed for decades, as evidenced by an opening scene in which ex-crook Jackie Gleason and sexually voracious wife Carol Channing flip through the deadening hellscape of '60s television. Fortunately, their life gets a jolt when Gleason is recruited by crime boss and houseboat enthusiast Groucho Marx to kill imprisoned stool pigeon and longtime Gleason chum Mickey Rooney. Channing, meanwhile, must deal with daughter Alexandra Hay's groovy new associates, a body-paint-loving pack of road-show Merry Pranksters led by Hay's boyfriend, who explains to her that the reason "the squares aren't making it" is "because they're digging the nine-to-five bag." Though not digging the having-to-kill-his-friend bag, Gleason nevertheless finds himself locked up in a fully automated prison, where book-learning peacenik Austin Pendleton accidentally introduces him to LSD, leading Gleason to engage in an animated, albeit one-sided, conversation with a floating screw sporting Marx's head. Tripping even further, Gleason hallucinates that he's being yelled at by the disembodied heads of Channing, Marx, hood Frank Gorshin, and Rooney--a common side effect of LSD during the late '60s (although some trips found Agnes Moorehead filling in for Channing). Channing, meanwhile, searches for Gleason, leading her to visit the futuristic bachelor pad of Marx henchman Frankie Avalon. There, upon failing to learn Gleason's whereabouts, she gyrates erratically while frantically waving around a yellow feather boa in an attempt to seduce the former teen heartthrob. Though Avalon appears shockingly willing to submit to Channing's crazy-eyed charms, the arrival of Hay and her far-out companion postpones their blissful union. Together, the mismatched quartet visits Marx at sea, where the comedy legend floats about in perpetual limbo. Meanwhile, Pendleton and Gleason concoct a scheme to escape by slipping LSD to the prison populace, including a pair of square guards who hallucinate a garbage-can-themed production number that allows Pendleton and Gleason to escape in a makeshift hot-air balloon. Alas, the psychedelic madness dissipates, but not before Channing, decked out in Michael Jackson-style naval apparel, can sing the unforgettable theme song, whose lyrics about the untapped potential of dove power combined with flower power are as profound and prescient now as they must have been in 1968."

Nicely done, Nathan. Sometimes, you just have to let Art wash over you.


For some, the old TV show "Knight Rider" starring "The Hoff" (that's Mr. Hasselhoff to you) is a classic. As was the car, a computerized Trans Am. But before fans get a full-blown Hollywood movie version/remake, they can watch a new TV Movie later this winter. But be warned - the Trans Am is gone, replaced by a Ford Shelby Mustang. A side-by-side comparison of the two talking cars is provided by Popular Mechanics online magazine. No, really.

The comments on the change - over 2,500 of them - should also entertain you.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

What Will Be On TV in 2008 Without Writers?

It will be bleak.

The strike by writers will become most prominent in the next few weeks, as TV broadcasters attempt to return to non-holiday schedules. Some shows have a dozen or fewer episodes to air - unless it is a game show.

You can read what the schedule will look like here at TV Squad. By the end of January, viewers won't have many choices apart from game shows and a handful of episodes for most everything else.

So expect the strike to continue until the lack of shows becomes an immediate, not a future, issue. But, as producers learned in the early 1980s after the first writers strike, they can fill in hours and hours with low concept shows like "Cops". YouTube and other online creations will flourish, and producers may facilitate the death of programming, other than for reruns and games. And "American Idol".

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Dreaming of Electric Sheep

I used to think we could peek at the Future and understand the Present when reading science fiction, but now I'm afraid we've landed in a warped world where the horrible ideas of Future dystopias are filling the Present. No personal rocket cars here, more the wreckage of a world gone over the edge into absurdity and delusion.

For instance, I was reading the rather odd press reports from Great Britain, where the government has decided their nation is removing the phrase "war on terror" from their political lexicon:

The words "war on terror" will no longer be used by the British government to describe attacks on the public, the country's chief prosecutor said Dec. 27.

Sir Ken Macdonald said terrorist fanatics were not soldiers fighting a war but simply members of an aimless "death cult."

The Director of Public Prosecutions said: 'We resist the language of warfare, and I think the government has moved on this. It no longer uses this sort of language."

London is not a battlefield, he said."

Who knows, maybe such attempts at language modification will lead us to ... well, somewhere other than where we are, I suppose. Language modification to accommodate bizarre policies has been a staple in science-fiction tales for some time. (I always laughed at the scene in "Brazil" where the government chief combating terrorism was asked his thoughts on the 13th year of constant terrorist attacks and the chief replies with a laugh, "Beginner's luck!")

Still, after reading the above story today, I then ran across this blog, which offers frequent updates to the world to tell us "Which Phillip K. Dick Story Are We In Today". And yep, right there on January 1st is mention of the story from Britain and which story relates to it.

Don't get me wrong - I like PKD's works, always have. But if we can catalog current events as elements of his fiction, we are in deep, deeeep shit.

For those who don't know his work, suffice to say it painted a world of endless deceptions and paranoia, of fakery elevated to it's greatest height, of reality sliding into madness.

Not the best way to start the New Year - offering evidence we inhabit the nightmarish landscape of PKD's imagined future.

Blues Master Wallace Coleman Back In ET

Fine news for the new year - blues singer Wallace Coleman is doing two shows in East Tennessee. First, he'll be at the Knoxville Museum of Art on Jan. 18th and then he performs at Rose Center in Morristown on Feb. 2nd.

I met Wallace some years back and count that as my great fortune. If you like blues music, Wallace is the man to see. (Previous post here.)

My best advice is to get tickets now to one of these two shows. His website has samples of his work, his bio and his schedule and ways to order his CDs.

Great to have you back Wallace!

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Happy New Epoch!!

Here is a new year and all that goes with it. I have learned that writing/talking about things related to Time usually ends up confusing me and most readers. Time is a slippery thing. But, here goes ...

Life really seemed to move slowly at one time, now the years tick past faster than the eye can see. Which is sort of way to say "Dang, I is old", or more accurately, "I sure has seen a heap of Januarys and they all are starting to sorta seem the same".

For some reason, I've always liked the concept of the Chinese New Year, which is on a 12-year cycle, where one of twelve animals represents the year at hand. So that way, folks can say "hey, it's been a while since we had a year of the rat!". Plus the whole make-loud-noises-and-blow-up-fireworks thing came from them too.

What was new in 2007 depends on whether you knew about it or not. For instance, there is this thing on the Internets called "Facebook" which started in 2004, but which I was asked to join in the last few days of 2007, so it was new to me. Also I was asked to join another Internets thing called "Twitter" which was started in 2006 but was new to me in 2007. Bottom line is I joined both of these online sites and I really have no idea what to do with them or for them or to them.

Both Facebook and Twitter are called "social utilities" or "social networking" sites. That may explain why I am lost - I usually stumble in "social" activities. I do like the blogging groups I have joined and maybe my old brain can only contain the workings of blogging and not social utility programs.

So one challenge for me in 2008 is attempting to use facebook and twitter, but I know I don't shuck and jive as fast as I used too so it may well be 2009 or later before I can twit and book with ease. (I learned in 2007 that I use words which some folks do not understand, like "shuck and jive", but other folks have no idea what twitter or facebook mean, so I guess it all evens out. Words are tricky things.)

A new year is often marked by some by the announcement of New Laws Taking Effect. Perhaps it is a positive thing that Humans keep making New Laws in efforts to make the world a better place. Perhaps.

When I was younger, I often chastised older folk for not being able to adjust to the new. But I've learned that "new" is subjective. More likely these days, I chastise anyone for not being aware of the past or the present.

I was recently on a college campus talking with a professor friend and we did a wee "test" of students to see if they knew of famous people my friend and I knew about. They did not of course. Johnny Carson, for instance, was "a guy on TV once". My friend and I decided that the students knew little of American pop culture prior to Tupac Shakur.

Granted, knowledge of American pop culture is likely more trivial than vital information to have. Still, my friend said to me that his students seemed to have little interest or knowledge of events more than 2 years old. Had I been a student in the "test group" I'd bet I would have told the old geezers to get with the now and to heck with the old.

Some people have told me, over the course of my life, that I must have been born old. (No one tells me that anymore, though, they just see me as old.) Anyway, the experiment with my friend got me to pondering on the idea that I had grown up seeing myself in a context of Time and that now people grow up without such a context. For example I knew there was "old" music and "new" music. My parents had record albums by Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey and I had record albums (new at the time) by The Beatles and Jim Morrison.

However, today, people have MP3 players with songs. So it seems to me that not only do some of the younger folk have no context of the when of a song, they do not have the context of said song within an album. (Honest to pete, I heard an 8-year-old girl last year ask her mom what an "album" was.) A young fellow recently was asking me to listen to a song he liked on his iPod by Guns and Roses and I asked him what album that song was from and he told me it was on the Greatest Hits album. He sorta did not understand what I meant.

My professor friend told me that younger folk do not need context in their heads, no need of of personal knowledge of time and history - they just whip out their personal hand-held techno device and do a search to learn what something was or is, and then put the device away and they go about their lives.

Perhaps that way of a context-less life is better. I tend to see events repeating and repeating, with minor variations. But perhaps it is not better to see each event as unique and brand new as it might prompt them to think some event or some trend has never existed before. Most behaviors and trends have been around a long time, really -- religious and tribal warfare, for instance, has been around a long time and remains with us today.

Here's something I do know - it seems good to me to have a point in time where we get a "new" start. Wipe everything back to zero and start over. Still, it also seems good to me to have a knowledge of the number of times that you have started over.

I mean, there sure needs to be a start and an end to say, a football game, or it would never find a conclusion and conclusions can be more enjoyable than not having one. And after a whole bunch of teams play a whole bunch of games, it is fun to have the ones with the most wins play each other in playoffs and then pick an overall winner. Then you start a new season. As goofy as games can be, that process is still mostly fun.

All of which is one way of saying goodbye to 2007 and hello to 2008.

And while most of the world focuses on the measurement of years, I have always taken some pleasure in the definition of points in time called "epochs." Here is what Webster's says in defining epoch:

\ˈe-pək, ˈe-ˌpäk, US also & British usually ˈē-ˌpäk\
Medieval Latin epocha, from Greek epochē cessation, fixed point, from epechein to pause, hold back, from epi- + echein to hold — more at scheme
1 a: an event or a time marked by an event that begins a new period or development b: a memorable event or date
2 a
: an extended period of time usually characterized by a distinctive development or by a memorable series of events b: a division of geologic time less than a period and greater than an age
: an instant of time or a date selected as a point of reference

And that's a level of vague I appreciate. Happy New Epoch!!

Monday, December 31, 2007

Weekly Best of TN Blogs

Here's to one of the best online ideas of 2007 - the best weekly blog roundup in Tennessee, courtesty of R. Neal at TennViews -- and to it's continuation in 2008:

"An abbreviated 'on-the-road live from Memphis' edition of our weekly sampling from some of Tennessee's best and brightest bloggers: