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WITH J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars Episode VII in the pipeline comes the news that Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, and Carrie Fisher will reprise their iconic roles in the George Lucas franchise for the first time in over thirty years, since 1983’s Return of the Jedi.
What impacts have time and ageing had upon courageous Empire-busting rebels Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, and Princess Leia?
THE trouble with American situation comedies in the 1970s and 1980s was that you never knew what you were going to get when you tuned in: was it going to be light-hearted entertainment or tales from the darkside? There was nothing worse than sitting on the couch, ready for 30 minutes of laughs, and instead being served a smorgasbord of human suffering.
In their lust for an Emmy, sitcom writers got it into their heads that there just had to be “special episodes”. With these stories, the comedy came to a screeching halt in favor of some of the most brutal narratives imaginable. What made it so nefarious is that these shows generally were fun and silly…. then they turned on a dime, delivering terrifying accounts of sodomy and molestation. You never knew what you were going to get, so you were unprepared for the nightmare unfolding before you.
I’ll begin with the most infamous example of them all….
1. Diff’rent Strokes
“The Bicycle Man” Parts 1 and 2 (1983)
Season 5, Episodes 16 and 17
A BIG (helping) hand please for the fall guys…
A month of extreme weather and Winter Olympics has brought the downfall of members of the public…
EVERY now and then, Hollywood comes up with a good concept, and then competing studios rush to ruthlessly exploit it. Remember the summer of 1998, and dueling asteroid pictures Armageddon and Deep Impact?
Or 1988, the year of the “body switch” movie like Big, Vice Versa and 18 Again?
DAILY Mail writers don’t have children, they have material. Among the coterie of wearisome women columnists that pour out self-parody in prose for the Daily Mail’s malevolent Mekon boss, Paul Dacre, Shona Sibary is the worst offender. While Liz Jones mines her own mental illness for copy, Sibary exploits her four children repeatedly and shamelessly, embarrassing them in print and online even more frequently than Samantha Brick mentions her horny-handed hairy scary of a husband.
HAVE you been wasting precious hours of your day wondering where A Flock of Seagulls got their name? Well, wonder no more. Before your very eyes are the etymologies of 1980s pop-synth and post-punk bands, illuminated for posterity. No more shall mankind contemplate the origin of Kajagoogoo. Mystery solved.
Named after a gang of children that Geldof had read about in Woody Guthrie’s autobiography, Bound for Glory.
Trevor Horn imagined a futuristic computer creating a synthetic band “The Buggles”, a corruption of The Beatles
Dexy’s Midnight Runners
Dexedrine, a brand of dextroamphetamine – the original ADHD medication, and a once popular recreational stimulant.
Any excuse to hear this. (Cue the school disco frenzy.)
Named after the villain in Barbarella, Dr. Durand Durand
Fine Young Cannibals
From the 1960 film All the Fine Young Cannibals starring Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood.
A Flock of Seagulls
Taken from the lyrics to “Toiler on the Sea” by The Stranglers
We ventured overland
Fought with the aliens
The young ones used their hands
Pointed the way to a flock
A flock of seagulls!
Frankie Goes to Hollywood
A random headline from the New Yorker magazine (the “Frankie” in question referred to Frank Sinatra)
A fictional band mentioned in Anthony Burgess’s novel, A Clockwork Orange.
Named after the board game. The heavy metal umlauts were added for effect.
Inspired by the band XTC and Australian jam makers IXL, they decided on a foreshortened version of “inaccessible”.
Jesus and Mary Chain
Allegedly from a breakfast cereal package which advertised that you could send off for a free Jesus and Mary chain.
A slight variation on a baby’s first sounds: gaga googoo
42 as in the answer to the meaning of life in the Douglas Adams book The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy
Love and Rockets
After the Jaime and Mario Hernandez alternative comic books
Homage to Madness a song by reggae artist Prince Buster.
Ready to the the Rude Boy dance that anyone could do (again, any excuse):
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark
They wanted a name that in no way would confuse them as a punk band. I think they succeeded.
Named after the Platters song The Great Pretender.
Public Image, Ltd.
After the Muriel Spark novel The Public Image
A homage to the Italian Marxist writer and political theorist Antonio Gramsci. The correct spelling in Italian to refer to “Political Writings” would have produced “Scritti Politici, but was changed to sound like the Little Richard song Tutti Frutti.
From the David Bowie song “The Jean Genie”
“Hes so simple minded he can’t drive his module,
He bites on the neon and sleeps in the capsule”
The band’s name originally was “Red”, but when the singer had to repeatedly clarify their name as “Red, simply Red”, it seemed to stick.
A combination of the nickname of MC5′s Fred “Sonic” Smith with “Youth” from reggae artist Big Youth.
The name refers to many hangings at Spandau Prison where the victims would twitch and jump (a macabre ballet) at the end of a rope.
A facetious tribute to The Velvet Underground’s oft-derided 1973 album Squeeze.
Tears for Fears
Inspired by “primal therapy”, developed by American psychologist Arthur Janov, who had John Lennon as a patient in 1970.
From the Thompson and Thompson characters from The Adventures of TinTin
Named after a Vulcan Elder on Star Trek
Originally, Huang Chung which they claimed translated to “perfect pitch” and the sound a guitar makes. The spelling was changed from “Huang” to “Wang” simply to make it easier to pronounce.
… and there you have it. You’re welcome.
“ESCAPE (The Pina Colada Song) by Rupert Holmes is great and it should be in every movie.”
But can the song make everything it touches better? Let’s see:
Pina Colada 1: The Lion King
The Silence Of The Lambs
YOU may have heard (and maybe celebrated too) that James Corden is going to step down from the hosting gig at the Brits Awards tonight.
We are legally obliged to mention Sam Fox and Mick Fleetwood’s disastrous outing as hosts, but they do show that this is not an easy gig to do. Huge TV audiences. Band’s egos. A room filled with horrific music industry cokeheads grabbing their interns groins.
It’s enough to make a grown-up weep like they’ve just found an uncovered war grave.
However, there are some people knocking around who would be absolutely perfect for the gig. They can handle the pressure or bring a unique charm to proceedings.
Shall we look at our picks? Yes. Yes, we should.
Now, Grimmy has revealed that he’d love to take on the Brits gig. Corden reckons the job should go to Emma Willis. However, the music industry is notoriously sexist, so if they want to make progress, they’ll take baby steps by giving it to a gay man before entertaining the idea of Some Woman.
NON-SPORTS trading cards around the 1970s generally were aimed at kids and revolved around a popular movie or TV program. They were meant for fun; for collecting and trading on the playground. Nothing serious. Subsequently, it’s all the more unsettling when you run across an old trading card that takes a walk on the dark side. Here are a seventeen insane and disturbing examples. Enjoy.
MOD SQUAD ASSAULT CARD (1968)
This doesn’t look like a child’s trading card. This looks like something a serial killer would pin to his bedroom wall.
A LOT of people make a lot of films, but sadly not all those films have kick-ass theme songs. This is a crying shame – AN ENORMOUSLY CRYING SHAME – because in an ideal world every film ever made would either begin or end (ideally both) with a song (not an instrumental, they don’t count) sharing a title with the film in question. Filmmakers, heed this advice. Why? Why, you say? Well…
- YOU MIGHT FINALLY GET THAT KUDOS YOU’VE BEEN AFTER Read the rest of this entry »
Read the rest of this entry »
UPON the success of Scooby Doo, a flood of imitations appeared on television screens, all containing the same basic template. This wouldn’t be worth talking about if the formula wasn’t Xeroxed with such wild abandon. It truly is awesome to behold the number of times it was used and reused, with only minimal variation. Those in the business called the formula: “Three Kids and a Nyah Nyah”. Basically, what this means is you have three principle characters each fulfilling a certain trope and a gimmicky creature. Here it is broken down:
The Stud – the beefy, alpha male of the group
ON Tuesday, February 25, Monsters: The Complete Series will be released on DVD. For those who may not remember it, Monsters (1984 – 1988) was Laurel’s second TV horror anthology after Tales from the Darkside (1984 – 1988), and - much like its more well-known predecessor - it was crafted on an extremely low-budget.
In fact, the joke about Tales from the Darkside in the eighties was that its special effects were crafted for $188.00 per episode.
With The Serpent Handlers Of America’s Pentecostal South: Photos of A Gruesome Death By God’s Sweet Love
PASTOR of the day is snake handler Jamie Coots from Middlesboro, Kentucky. Last Saturday night he was bitten by a snake and died. Pastor Coots, who preached at the Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name church in Middlesboro, held the belief that poisonous snakebites do not harm believers as long as they are anointed by God.
Do the snake handlers trust God’s enough to dice with death? Coots did:
“Takin’ up serpents, to me, it’s just showin’ that God has power over something that he created that does have the potential of injuring you or takin’ your life.”
Many people have died.
In 1995, a woman was bitten by a snake in his church. She refused to go to the hospital. She died on Coots’ couch while church members prayed over her.
WHY subject yourself to ten objectively awful songs, you ask? Even though it will be painful and there will be mental wounds that may take years to heal, it is a worthy endeavor. It will serve as a reminder that, no matter how bad the state of music is today, there were songs in the 1980s that were much, much worse.
Can you make it through all ten? Bear in mind, these aren’t “so bad they’re good”; they’re “so bad they cause cancer”. In fact, the selection chosen from a variety of countries to soften the blame on any one nation. Before beginning, we recommend you have the phone number of a good therapist close at hand. Good luck to you… but don’t say you weren’t warned.
“Neighbours” Theme Song (1985)
Is it possible for your brain to vomit? You’ll find out when you take a listen to this saccharine Australian TV show theme.
THIS year marks the 30th anniversary of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and whatever misgivings people might have about the new Michael Bay-produced movie it’ll be massive. We might find ourselves entering another golden age of Teenage Mutant Giant Ripoffs, like when the original cartoon (1987-1996) inspired a whole load of other shows that took the formula of a group of merchandise-friendly anthropomorphized animals with a tendency towards violence and ran with it. Some of the ripoffs were alright, some of the ripoffs were terrible, but none of them are being made into a giant-ass Michael Bay film, and none of them had nunchuks, so the Turtles win. Here are ten of our “favourite” TMNT clones.
BUCKY O’HARE AND THE TOAD WARS (1991)
MUTANT TURTLE SUBSTITUTES: A multi-species spaceship crew
Despite being based on a comic created before TMNT (although published after it), there’s no way anyone would have funded a Bucky O’Hare cartoon without the huge success of the Turtles. As well as the eponymous green pilot hare there was Jenny the cat pilot, Deadeye Duck the one-eyed gunner, Bruiser the baboon, Blinky the one-eyed android and human tagalong Willy. The action figures were amazing, but if you own them and are ashamed of your nerdiness, get in touch and we’ll take them off your hands…
ON this day in photos: February 14 1989: Iran’s leader Ayatollah Khomeini sentences British author Salman Rushdie to death. He also sentenced to death the publishers of Rushdie’s book the Satanic Verses. Khomeni said the book is a blasphemy against Islam. His decree introduced many of us to the word ‘fatwa’.
VALENTINE’S Day can be great, can be sickly, can be filled with people simply booing the idea of anyone proclaiming any kind of love. It’s the same every year.
However, sometimes, love makes people do thoroughly repulsive things. Suffice to say, this article features an image that isn’t so much NSFW, but rather, Not Safe For Eyes Or Anyone With A Working Memory.
Here we go.
One lady discovered that her boyfriend was cheating on her, which is unpleasant. But it happens. However, this woman had a tattoo with her fella’s name on it.
So what did she do?
She picked up a knife and CUT OFF the tattoo, wrapped it up in a bow and sent it to her ex as a REALLY QUITE HORRIBLE gift. Jesus Christ Almighty.
AT half-past ten on St Valentine’s Day, 1929 in a cold, unheated brick garage at 2122 North Clark Street, Chicago, six members of the Bugs Moran gang were sitting around waiting for a consignment of illegal whisky due to be delivered that morning. Moran himself was meant to be there too but had slept in and was late.
A Cadillac screeched to a halt outside and three men dressed as policemen accompanied by two men in civilian clothes entered the premises. They told the six gangsters and John May, a mechanic working in the garage, to stand in a row with their hands up against the wall. A few seconds and ninety bullets later the men were left slumped dead and dying on the floor.
Not long after the killings, John Miller, a reporter on the newspaper Chicago American arrived on the scene and wrote:
Sprawled grotesquely at the base of the bullet-riddled stone wall were six distorted bodies; a seventh lay slumped over a wooden chair. One of the officers called out, ‘This one’s Pete Gusenberg, an ex-con and the chief gunner for the Drucci-Moran gang. Here’s Al Weinshank, the North Side booze runner, and Artie Davis from the West Side mob. And this was James Clark, Bugs Moran’s brother-in-law. Here what’s left of Doc Schwimmer.’
YOU may have heard about De La Soul giving their entire back catalogue away for free over at their website - wearedelasoul.com - which is great news for hip hop fans, the rap curious and anyone who like music.
They’re doing it to celebrate next month’s 25th anniversary of their debut cut ’3 Feet High And Rising’. It is only available for 25 hours, so make sure you’re on it (from 4pm onward).
Speaking to Rolling Stone about their decision, Posdnuos said: “It’s about allowing our fans who have been looking and trying to get a hold of our music to have access to it. It’s been too long where our fans haven’t had access to everything. This is our way of showing them how much we love them.”
So what tracks should you look out for? Well, here’s ten of the best of De La Soul’s work. Enjoy!
Classic laid-back De La. Overlooked by a few because, in short, it isn’t on their first album. Huge summer jam.
IMAGINE you’re a kid, it’s 1978 and you’re opening birthday presents. Your heart is full of optimism and joy in anticipation of what lies underneath the festive wrapping. As you tear away the paper, your smile fades to an expression of horror. “A Love Boat action figure?” Surely, this cannot be. No one would be insane enough to bypass the Star Wars figures and get this abomination instead… or would they?
Indeed, an untold number of children of the 70s wound up with exactly the worst sorts of action figures imaginable – the kind that make you wonder what sort of sick mind conceived of making them in the first place. Star Wars lends itself perfectly to the action figure business, as do comic book heroes. The Love Boat, not so much. Here are 10 such figures (in no particular order) which must have been bitter disappointments.
1. SET A COURSE FOR DISAPPOINTMENT
You could’ve had the Darth Vader action figure, but instead you got Captain Stubing. I suppose, in many ways they were similar: They both captained massive ships, both had family issues, and both were part robot. (Okay, I’m not sure that last one applies to Stubing, but you can’t prove he wasn’t.) Regardless, an Isaac the Bartender figure would’ve been cooler than either one.
THE point of this colouring book was to teach the youngsters of 1953 good safety lessons via the alphabet. From a perspective of 60 years later, some of these lessons seem, well, I think “distressing” is the best word I can come up with. See for yourself.
When You Wish Upon A Star: Exploring the Spirituality of Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
THE second-highest grossing film of 1977 (right behind George Lucas’s Star Wars) was Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of The Third Kind, a science fiction film concerning mankind’s first official contact with alien life-forms.
Close Encounter’s narrative also involves the mystery behind alien abductions and the truth regarding a government conspiracy to keep the existence of UFOs a secret.
Throughout the film Spielberg cross-cuts between two major plot-lines: a scientist’s (Francois Truffaut’s) efforts to develop a language so as to communicate with the visiting aliens, and one blue-collar worker’s (Richard Dreyfuss) personal journey to better understand their uncomfortable — but growing — presence in his daily life…and inside his very head.
Importantly, Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) was described by Science Digest as a film that is “tantamount to faith.”
The same publication noted too that Close Encounters’ sense of faith, so “wondrous and thoroughly spiritual – is registered in nearly every frame, reaching a climax in its messianic ending.”(Joy Boyom, Feb 1978, p.17).
Similarly, Gregory Richards’ monograph, Science Fiction Movies (Gallery Books, 1984, p.61) contextualizes Spielberg’s disco-decade UFO epic “as more of a religious film than a science fiction one.”
So the primary question that viewers must reckon with regarding this cult classic is: why have so many reviewers contextualized the Spielberg film as one of an overtly religious nature? Does an understanding of the religious allegory open up new avenues for understanding this work of art?
Or contrarily, does the religious explanation of Close Encounters only serve to cloud the secular, humanist message beating at the movie’s heart?
Close Encounters as Religious Allegory
In part, the categorization of Close Encounters of the Third Kind as a film about spirituality and faith arises because Steven Spielberg’s movie so abundantly features what David A Cook, author of Lost Illusions: American Cinema in the Shadow of Watergate and Vietnam, 1970 – 1979, calls “an aura of religious mystery.” (University of California Press, 2000, p.47).
Roy Neary — much like the apostle Paul on the road to Damascus according to Paul Flesher and Robert Torry in Film and Religion: An Introduction — experiences a kind of spiritual dawning or awakening.
In particular, Neary sees a UFO and hears the call of the aliens (transmitted via a telepathically implanted, subconscious “message” or “vision.”)
At first he does not understand the alien message. What is the meaning of the strange thoughts in his head? Why does he feel compelled to undertake a pilgrimage -- a journey to a location of great importance to one’s faith – to some mountain he has witnessed seen only in his mind?
Eventually, however, Neary surrenders to the vision, to his faith. He forsakes all his worldly belongings and connections — including his family — in a devoted (and perhaps mad…) attempt to understand why he has been “chosen” to hear this call from a (literally) Higher Power.
Clearly, Neary seeks communion with the message’s sender…with a stand-in for God. His quest in Close Encounters thus reflects Scripture and Romans in particular. “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” Here, Neary has heard and honored that word, but it is the words of the aliens.
Neary’s hardship and trials are eventually vindicated. At last, he meets the aliens at the mountain of his vision (ironically at a place called Devil’s Tower), and then watches as a version of the second coming of Christ is re-enacted before his eyes.
According to Flesher and Torry (Abindgon Press, 2007, p.200), the returned abductees whom the aliens release from their landed mother ship symbolically represent the dead rising, or the resurrection of the dead as foretold in Scripture. And furthermore, the ascent of the alien craft to outer space with one of the faithful (Neary) ensconced aboard it similarly represents the Christian rapture, the trip to Heaven, essentially.
Even the physical appearance of the aliens in Close Encounters might be readily interpreted as strongly reflecting Christian apotheosis.
In form, the extra-terrestrial bodies “have no clear blemishes or gender, suggesting that superior beings transcend the normal categories of physical existence and approach the ethereal qualities associated with spirits and angels,” notes scholar Eric Michael Mazur, (Encyclopedia of Religion and Faith (ABLC-CLIO, LLC 2011, page 388).
In his final ascent to the stars, to Heaven, Roy Neary is wholly affirmed in his unyielding faith and belief in the vision he received, over his wife’s cynicism and stubborn skepticism, and over the U.S. Government’s attempt to “control” the meeting of man and alien.
In some sense, Close Encounters is all about taking a leap of faith, and that very idea finds resonance in one of Spielberg’s compositions. Confronted with the government lie about a deadly and toxic nerve gas spill in Wyoming (near Devil’s Tower), Neary chooses to “believe” his own narrative instead. He rips off his protective gas mask and breaths the purportedly contaminated air. But he is proven right…he survives, and his faith is replenished.
Given the alien angels, the metaphor for the Second Coming and even this leap of faith, the overall effect, therefore, of this cinematic journey is indeed, well, rapturous.
Strangely, however, there is a dark aspect to this story of religious awakening that one must also weigh.
While it is true that Roy Neary transitions from an unhappy and spiritually bereft life to one of faith and purpose, the cost of such knowledge of God (or God surrogate, in this case) is his very family. In the act of proving his faith and his worthiness of being “born again” in the stars, Roy abandons his family on Earth. This abandonment is literal, not metaphorical.
The non-believers — including his children — get “left behind” to toil in the world without his guidance or even presence. And again, the message could be interpreted as strongly religious.
If you don’t “believe,” you don’t get saved.
Lastly, even Close Encounters’ famous tag-line “We Are Not Alone,” could be easily parsed in a religious, “God is my co-pilot” sense.
Close Encounters as a Secular Film about Self-Fulfillment
An alternate reading of Close Encounters suggests this cinematic work of art from Spielberg is actually a humanist film, the secular tale of a man who chooses to no longer be enslaved to society’s destructive constructs (including government, career, and family), and to follow his own individual path instead.
The story, again, is of Neary breaking free of constraints, but the breaking free in this reading is from a society that lies, cover-ups, and demands his perpetual unhappiness for its continuance.
The fact that Spielberg plays the song “When You Wish Upon a Star” at the conclusion of Close Encounters of the Third Kind is the primary support for this reading.
One lyric in that composition suggests a direct rebuke of faith, or religious identification. When you wish upon a star it “makes no difference who you are,” the song goes. In other words, you need not be affiliated with any particular group or belief system if you hope to achieve your dreams. You need not believe in God or a higher power. Instead, if you must merely “wish” and voice your “dreams,” you will be rewarded for following the best angels of your – human — nature.
In terms of history, Close Encounters of the Third Kind followed closely on many frissons in American politics, and this context, likewise, suggests a more humanist reading.
President Richard Nixon had been toppled in the Watergate Scandal in 1974, for example. His resignation and culpability in illegal activity suggested that “faith” or “belief” in the pillar of leadership was not such a good idea.
Similarly, the Vietnam War had ended in ignominy for the U.S. in 1975. The cause that so many Americans fought for (and died for…) was lost, and this very idea seems reflected in Close Encounters’ final scene.
There, a line of carefully vetted and approved government officials (surrogates for soldiers in Vietnam?) are overlooked by the aliens in favor of the “Everyman,” Roy Neary.
By contrast to these seemingly emotionless, expressionless, thoughtless drones, he is a man who chose explicitly not to believe the fairy tales his government was peddling. He has thus established his independence and his resourcefulness outside of Earthly and national considerations.
In this reading, the “leap of faith” of taking off the gas mask is actually the dawning awareness that — because of Watergate and Vietnam — the U.S. Government could no longer be trusted, or be considered an agent for honesty.
But again, in this reading of Close Encounters, one must reckon with Neary’s pure selfishness, his very questionable decision to leave his children and wife behind for his own individual “self-fulfillment.” And again, one must note that very idea of “sweet fulfillment” is explicitly voiced in the lyrics to the song “When You Wish Upon a Star.”
Yet I would suggest that Neary’s act of leaving his family (and his government, and his job…) behind in 1977 would not have been looked at by many audience members as purely a bad thing.
One must recall that the 1970s was determinedly the decade of the “self,” a fact reflected in the hedonism of disco music, and the blazing ascent in popularity of the “self-help” book genre. Popular buzz-words of the day included “self-realization” and — sound familiar? — “self-fulfillment.”
Yet as the movement of “self” grew in the late 1970s, many people were concerned that the new ethos was merely one of “self-involvement. The consumption-oriented life-style of immediate gratification soon gave rise to President Carter’s notorious 1979 “Crisis of Confidence” speech, which warned against judging success on material wealth rather than intrinsic human qualities of character and morality.
Meanwhile, the nation kept building more shopping malls, and imagined worlds futuristic (Logan’s Run) and apocalyptic (Dawn of the Dead) set at these new shrines to materialism. he 1978 Invasion of the Body Snatchers remake deals explicitly with this notion too, of the idea of people “moving in and out of relationships too fast” because they wanted to be happy and fulfilled, all the time.
But in a way, this is what Close Encounters concerns as well. Roy Neary helps himself, finally, to achieve his “dream,” even if his family can’t share in that dream. He gets what he wants — to go with the benevolent aliens to the stars — and in the late 1970s, this result is what qualified as a happy ending.
In his text How Fundamentalism Betrays Christianity (Three Rivers Press, 1997, page 291) author Bruce Bawer wrote of Close Encounters of the Third Kind that “salvation, meaning, and transcendence come down from the Heavens in a spaceship.” The question to ponder today involves the brand of salvation and transcendence.
Is it a spiritual reckoning, or a secular one that the alien spaceship brings with it?
It is a testament to Spielberg’s skill, perhaps, as a filmmaker and storyteller, that Close Encounters can be interpreted through two such opposite lenses or world-views.
ON this day in history – 1970: John Lennon performed his solo single Instant Karma! on Top Of The Pops.