Category Archives: movies

What Was I Thinking?

I’m sure that when a lot of you read that title you expected a post describing some new crisis I was dealing with caused by a bad decision on my part in the first place. Nope. I was being reflective a few days ago about my childhood and started wondering about what I was really thinking at certain points in my life. Watching my granddaughter as she discovers new things and seeing her eyes grow wide and a smile form on her face or a giggle escape her mouth, I wonder what she is really thinking. How is her brain processing that toy that makes a rattling sound when you shake it or that sweet taste that she gets from Gerber apples? Then I got to wondering what I thought about certain firsts in my life.

I remember my mom, my aunt, and my cousin telling me about this time when I was a toddler and they took me to Shoneys with them and I demolished the Shoney burger my mom had gotten to eat. I think it was a Shoney burger. It might have been a Big Boy or a Slim Jim (two other sandwiches from that time). My memory isn’t as good as it used to be. But as much problem as I have now trying to remember the style of the burger, I have an even great er problem trying to remember the actual incident in question. I was so young that my memories of the incident are all second-hand even though I was the person they involved. I remember hearing of it happening, but I don’t actually have a single memory of the event that is my own.

Even going further on to things I do have a very basic memory of happening, I don’t truly have some of the all important memories of what I was thinking because I wasn’t really thinking for myself. I was parroting what I had heard or I was saying what I thought I was supposed to say and what the other person wanted to hear. I remember a conversation I had with my mom that somehow got on to the topic of nudity in movies at the time. Keep in mind that this was when I was in grade school. I hadn’t seen any nudity in movies or much of anywhere else, but it was a topic that had been on the news and there were forces crying about the new permissiveness. If you missed those reports, wait a few months they still pop up all the time, and I’ll let you in on a secret; they’re still B.S. More on that later. Anyway, we’re having this conversation because of some report on the news and I in my wisdom as a pre-teen stated that they don’t even call it what it really is. They call it making art. At this point my entire knowledge of making art involved finger painting and glueing macaroni to construction paper. So why did I say that? Obviously I had heard someone on television make this argument and I also figured that my mom would be anti-nudity since she always insisted that I wear clothes. I have no idea what I really thought about the subject, but I had perfectly parroted what I had heard and said what I thought my mom would want to hear.

Before I move on with the original point, let me clear up what I stated about the “new permissiveness” being B.S. If you study the past you will find tons of nudity and sexuality in Greek and Roman times. The British had things like The Pearl and a serialized story called My Secret Life. The French had nudie postcards. Yes, you say, but America is going down the tubes in regards to our movies. There’s so much more filth in them today. So who’s familiar with Can’t Stop The Music? It’s a 1980 film about The Village People and it features a dance number in a men’s shower with a shot of full frontal male nudity and some bare female breasts. It’s rated PG. Logan’s Run has a naked Jenny Agutter and is rated PG. These days a film gets a PG-13 for French kissing. I used to go to the drive in a lot with my mom, my sister, and her family. It was nothing for a trailer for an upcoming film to feature nudity and be played in between two family films like Golden Voyage of Sinbad and Big Jake. Movies today are if anything more conservative than in the past unless you go back to the height of the Hayes Code. We now continue with our regularly scheduled remembrance.

So I look back on my life and I wonder which emotions were real, which thoughts were my own? How much of what I know about my childhood is really how someone else remembers my childhood and their interpretation has become canon? There is one childhood memory that just happens to tie into both the subject of movies and nudity that I truly do recall what I was thinking. In 1974 a movie came out called Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry.

Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry

Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry


...not to be confused with Dirty Sally

…not to be confused with Dirty Sally


There was also a television series around that time called Dirty Sally which was a spin-off from Gunsmoke and concerned an old woman and a stubborn mule. I think it was on Fridays on CBS. My mom and I loved it. When we saw the ads for Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry we figured it had to be similar to Dirty Sally. Even though the ads for Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry had nothing to do with the old West and featured Peter Fonda driving fast cars and running from the cops, it had to be something close to Dirty Sally. It had the word Dirty in its title… twice. Further proof to this theory was that I had one time seen an ad for a movie called Dirty Dingus McGee and it appeared to be a western. So with dirty in the title twice, Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry had to be some sort of modern western comedy. I just didn’t know why they weren’t advertising the crazy old mule which was the funniest part of Dirty Sally. Mom and I were all set to go see the movie when my older sister intervened. She explained to my mom that the film contained some female nudity and she probably didn’t need to be taking me to it. My mother always took my sister’s advice (or so it seemed to me) and so my hopes of seeing Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry were shot down by a meddling older sister. To this day I still remember the anger I felt at my sister and the betrayal I felt when Mom told me that we weren’t going. Had she taken me, I would have seen a film that had absolutely nothing to do with an old woman and her mule. I would have been disappointed, however, I also would have at least had some basis for my next opinion on nudity in movies.

Don’t Throw That Out

There was a comedian on The Bob & Tom Show awhile back that commented on how Hoarders and American Pickers are two sides of the same coin. They both feature people going into people’s homes where they kept everything and never threw anything out. On the one show they talk about how sick these people are and that they need help while on the other show they talk about how amazing these people are and how they are preserving rare bits of the past. My wife sometimes accuses me of being a hoarder while I think of myself more as preserving the past. The thing is, every time I give in to her and throw something out, I always end up regretting it. It’s been that way all my life.

Now let me be clear. I do not have a house that you can’t walk through with stacks of empty milk cartons and half eaten peanut butter sandwiches stacked from floor to ceiling. I do however have a large collection of books, magazines, toys, DVDs and CDs. I also have a collection of candy bar wrappers. Okay, that one may seem a bit strange, but hear me out. As a child I used to love going to 7-11 and buying candy bars. One of my favorites was the original Marathon bar. One of my fondest memories of my years going to National Education Center’s National Institute of Technology was going to the Ben Franklin’s next door and buying a candy bar for break. I was quite fond of the Mars bar. Neither of these candies are produced any longer, and as I watched more and more limited edition candy bars come and go like the inside out Reese’s Cup, I decided to save some of the wrappers. I began by carefully removing the candy and then placing the wrapper in an old photo album. I’m a little behind in placing some of my wrappers into the photo albums, but one day I will. And while this may sound like the collection of a mad man, it’s actually pretty cool in my opinion. I love seeing how M&Ms have tried all these new flavors and promotions over the last few years. There’s a crispy M&M wrapper, a white chocolate M&M wrapper done for one of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, ogre sized M&Ms for one of the Shrek films, raspberry, orange, candy corn, and all sorts of other specialty flavors.
MandM

My wife has tried to convince me (half jokingly) to throw the old wrappers away, but to me they are little pieces of art. Also I know as soon as I do, I will immediately regret it. I used to have several years worth of Entertainment Weekly and in an effort to cut back on the amount of stuff I have, I agreed to throw them out. They were magazines and they were for the most part written to recap the entertainment news of a particular week. Why would I ever want to refer back to them. About two months later I was cursing the decision as I tried my best to locate an article they had done on scenes that had been cut or altered in Fantasia only to realize that issue was one of the ones that got pitched. I ended up buying most of the issues back through eBay. A similar thing apparently happened with some old composition notebooks I used to have. These books contained a listing and mini review for every film I had seen from around 1976 until 1982. They told where I saw it, when I saw it, and who I saw it with as well. I would love to have them to look back over now, but I think they got tossed during one of our moves. There is still hope that they may be packed in one of the books in the attic that we haven’t moved over to the new house yet. The only thing for certain is that I will never replace them on eBay.

I’m not sure why it’s so hard for me to throw out stuff like this, but it is. I have successfully pitched some magazines without any regrets (Esquire, Interview, Radio Electronics), but then I have regrets over purges of other magazines from as far back as Junior High. I have made some horrible trades for things I was really excited about at the time. I traded a Mego Star Trek Enterprise play set for a daybill style ad for Futureworld and I traded a stack of old EC comics for the first appearance of the Swamp Thing. I sold a huge collection of Fantastic Four comics for far less than I should have to help finance a trip to Canada back in High School (and then ended up not going on the trip because I didn’t get enough money) and sold some Aurora Monsters of the Movies model kits for money to buy some Doctor Who paperbacks at a science fiction convention.

So I have a collection of lots of useless geegaws that mean nothing to most people, but they still mean something to me. I have my original 1978 Star Wars calendar in the original mailing carton it was sold in. It will never be 1978 again, but for me there is a tiny bit of the magic from that wonderful time in my life trapped inside those pages. It contains the fuel that lights 1000 memories of my childhood. How could I possibly part with that?

Last night I was depressed. My health was giving me problems, my finances were out of whack, and I had decided to just sit there and internalize it. I sat down for a few minutes before I went to bed and tried to work some of my issues out by writing about it right here on this blog. When I got up this morning I found out that my post had been chosen as a “Freshly Pressed” winner by Word Press. The funniest thing is that right before I found this out, I was thinking about how depressing the whole post had been and that I would have been better off taking the time to follow the one depression cure that has always worked for me.

I discovered a few years ago that if I wanted to feel better all I needed to do was watch Smokey and the Bandit.
Smokey_and_the_Bandit
There are so many reasons why this works for me. Smokey and the Bandit takes me back to the 70’s. I was a kid without a care in the world. The film tapped into the whole CB radio craze of the time and had an amazing cast. Burt Reynolds was the man back then. Jerry Reed was a singer turned actor that seemed like someone you could have a good time with. Sally Field was shedding the image of the flying nun and was incredibly cute and sexy without being overly sexual. Jackie Gleason was hilarious, which was a real eye opener for a 13-year-old kid that hadn’t grown up on The Honeymooners. And of course the icing on the cake was the presence of Paul Williams. Paul Williams wrote some of the greatest songs of my youth, created one of my all-time favorite soundtrack albums with Phantom of the Paradise (which he also starred in with Gerrit Graham and Jessica Harper), and played Virgil in Battle for the Planet of the Apes which had been my favorite film of all-time just a few years earlier.

So if I had only popped in the brand new Smokey and the Bandit Blu-ray that I got for Christmas last night, I probably wouldn’t have written the post that I did. Sure I might have felt better, but I would never have known the joy of being recognized for my writing. Well except for that one award I got several years ago for my ability to write quality porn for a now defunct web site.

They Don’t Make Movies Like That Any More

When I was a kid movies were a big part of my life. Mom took me to a lot of movies, I saw a lot of advertisements in the morning paper, and I caught tons of trailers on TV or in front of the movies we went to see. I don’t go to as many movies these days partly due to high prices and partly because I work 6 days a week. Newspapers don’t have the big ads any longer. Most of the ads, if there are any ads, either only list the movies by title or they list the theater’s web site. The only thing that has remained constant is that they still run trailers on TV and in front of the movies. Of course these days they also run trailers on the front of DVDs and on the Internet.

As much as the advertising of movies has changed, the types of movies they make have changed as well. When I was a kid there were several types of movies that were very popular that have almost all but disappeared these days.

1. The Car Chase Movie
The drive-ins and theaters were filled with these for several years. The classic formula was evident in films like The Gumball Rally, The Cannonball Run, Eat My Dust, and Vanishing Point. Some car chase movies tried to add a little more in the way of plot elements and took out some of the cars. This led to films like Smokey and the Bandit, Death Race 2000, and Race with the Devil.

There have been a few recent car chase movies, but they don’t have the heart that these movies had. The Fast & The Furious is more about showing off the cars rather than any actual sustained chase. The Death Race remake was more a Nascar version of a car chase movie.

2. Nature Documentaries
It seemed like every month there was a new nature documentary when I was a kid. Most of them were extremely low-budget and produced by some small independent company. Many of them were “four wall” pictures where the distributer would rent the theater (all four walls) for two or three weeks and keep all the ticket receipts while the exhibitor kept all the concession sales. These films were always advertised as being in town for “One Week Only!” until the week was over and then it was “Held Over For One More Week!”. Keep in mind the distributer and the exhibitor already knew that the theater had been rented out for that second week before the first day the picture opened. Films like this included Cougar Country, North Country, The Outdoorsman, and The Ra Expedition. The only recent examples that I can recall are March of the Penguins and a couple of Disney films. Of course Disney made plenty of these films back then as well. They called them True-Life Adventures and had titles like The Living Desert, The Vanishing Prairie, and The African Lion.

3. Sexploitation Films
These were a staple of the drive-ins of my youth. There were movies about stewardesses, cheerleaders, teachers, and in a subgenre all to themselves, women in prison. There was a wonderful book written about these films a few years back and Something Weird Video has rescued many of these films from obscurity and released them on DVD. I watched the Harry Novak classic The Pig Keeper’s Daughter on one of their double feature DVDs a few years ago. These movies weren’t much on plot or acting. There was the flimsiest of plots to keep the story moving, but there was always lots and lots of full frontal female nudity. The closest thing we have these days are made for cable or direct to video stinkers where the women are as plastic as the Mego action figures I grew up with. At least in the days of the drive-in they used real natural women.

Every Day Was An Adventure

Every person over the age of 30 at some point or another seems to inevitably make the same comment. “Time seems to go so much faster the older you get.” I’ve said it and thought it many times, but never really stopped to think about why it was. There are still 24 hours in a day, 7 days in a week, 12 months in a year. Why do those events seem to go by so much faster than when we were kids?

I think the answer is that as adults our lives are more structured and planned. I know when I get up tomorrow that I will get up, test my blood sugar, get a shower, get dressed, eat breakfast, take my morning meds, go to work, come home, check the net, take the dog out, get undressed, and go to bed. Even those events are further scheduled out. I don’t look at work as an 8 hour shift. Mentally I think of it in two-hour blocks. Clock in, set up my operation, work the mail for about an hour, and go to my first break. Work the mail for another hour and forty minutes, go to wash-up, and take lunch. Work the next hour and forty-five minutes, go to my final break, and take my evening meds. Then I go back to work for another hour and forty minutes before going to wash-up and going home. Every day of the week is the same as the last one, except for my day off, which has also been planned out based on things I need to get done on the one day I don’t have to go to work. Every minute at work is spent anticipating that next break. Every day is spent anticipating that one day off even if it has no free time in it either. Every minute of every day is already gone before I even get to breathe it in. That’s not the case when you’re a kid. When you’re a kid, every day is an adventure.

When you get up in the morning you have no idea what you’re going to have for breakfast. Did mom make pancakes? What cereals do we have? Do I smell bacon? It’s a mystery to be solved. When you get to school you have no idea what the day will bring. You may know your class schedule, but what about the days that the teacher decides to show a movie? Or what about when a substitute teacher shows up? Maybe they’ll have an assembly today, or a bake sale, or an in school basketball game. It’s school, but it’s not predictable. After school you had several hours of free time unless you had homework. None of that was planned out. Dinner was even a mystery. Would it be something you liked or would it be Brussel sprouts? Maybe your parents would order a pizza or take everyone out for a meal. The weekends were a blank canvas. You never knew when someone in the family would surprise you with a day trip or a movie. I still remember the joy of going to see The Jungle Book for my third or fourth time with my brother-in-law. He took me along with his kids (my niece and nephew, I was a late life surprise) and it was one of the greatest days of my life to that point. I remember my sister taking me with her two kids (my other nephews at the time) to see Jaws and Earthquake one evening. I had already seen both of the films, my nephews hadn’t seen either, but we all had a great time. It was an adventure.

So what I have concluded is that when you face each moment waiting for some future goal like a break, a day off, or a vacation, you never savor the moments. You look ahead and plan for when your break ends or your vacation’s over. When you live life like a kid with no idea or only a vague idea of what the next week, day or even hour is going to bring, you live in the moment.

The Greatest Day Of The Week

From the time I was a little kid until my teen years Saturday was the greatest day of the week. As a kid there were Saturday morning cartoons to start the day and Chiller theater to close it out. Later on Saturday evenings gave way to Monty Python’s Flying Circus and Saturday Night Live. There were other fun things sandwiched between the cartoons and late night tv, but the shows were the items that sat the tone for my day.

If I got up early enough on Saturday the stations had old episodes of Lassie, Skippy, and Daktari. If I got up too early there was the farm report or a test pattern. Neither of those interested me, but I loved the old Ivan Tors animal shows and Lassie was okay as well. A little later in the day the Saturday morning cartoons would start. Most of these were just that; cartoons. Live action Saturday morning fare was much less common. The big and possibly only exception to this rule was Sid and Marty Krofft… oh and the Hudson Brothers.

Recently I picked up season one and three of Land of the Lost on eBay for about $3 each. I already had the second season, so this completed the original series from my childhood. There was a reboot of the series in 1991 which my son watched, although he swears he only remembers watching the show on Nickelodeon. I never really warmed up to the reboot, and the theme song was nowhere near as catchy, but I loved the original 1974 version. It was one of the shows I hated to miss. The show I practically refused to miss was Return to the Planet of the Apes. I remember Mom had made a doctor’s appointment for me one week during the time Return to the Planet of the Apes was airing and I was extremely vocal about my disappointment in missing it. To Mom’s credit she didn’t smack my ass and tell me deal with it, she tried to reassure me that I could catch it on a repeat. Sadly it was cancelled and that episode never was repeated. I now have the whole series on DVD, but after 37 years I’ve forgotten what the storyline even was in the episode I missed. One day I just need to sit down and watch the whole series from start to finish. It only ran for 13 episodes, so that should be about 6 hours or less.

There were a plethora of fun shows on Saturday mornings during those years, but Chiller theater became more important to me toward the end of grade school. I was a huge fan and regular reader of Famous Monsters of Filmland, Castle of Frankenstein and The Monster Times. My fondest wish was to try and see all the classic monster movies. Every once in a while I would get lucky and find one of the Mummy movies or the Wolf Man, but usually it was B grade fare like Monster on Campus, The Monolith Monsters or The Indestructible Man. I still watched them, but I yearned for Frankenstein, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, or Godzilla.

As I entered fourth grade, I discovered Monty Python and British comedies. I would stay up until 11 PM waiting for the new Python episode. Python had a completely different sense of humor and I loved it. It also had occasional nudity which was another plus. The first episode I remember watching featured the skit Blackmail, where a game show host played video footage, showed pictures, or read partial lists of information about an illicit tryst in order to blackmail the guilty parties into paying him money.

Saturdays changed forever once our local NBC affiliate finally picked up Saturday Night Live. They didn’t carry it during the first season or two, opting instead for episodes of Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. My nephews had been watching it from the first episode and I got to see one episode when we were visiting them (for the record it was the one hosted by Hugh Hefner). I watched SNL up until the early part of the sixth season. I caught a few sporadic episodes over the next five years, but didn’t really start watching again until the 11th season which was probably one of the worst seasons in the show’s history. I gave up on it again until season 14 and then watched it religiously for several years.

These days Saturday mornings don’t even play that many cartoons. Most of the ones they do play are not exclusive to Saturday mornings either. And of course unlike in those days of yore, Saturday morning is not the only place you can find cartoons on tv. There is Cartoon Network, Toon Disney, Boomerang, and many other channels carrying nothing but animated programming. Chiller theater is long gone, but the classic monster movies are almost all available on Blu-ray or DVD. The only thing missing is a DVD of our syndicated horror host, Seymour. The entire series of Monty Python’s Flying Circus is available as are the first five seasons of SNL. I still wish the other seasons of SNL were available, and I would also love a region 1 release of The Goodies which I also watched on PBS during that same time period.

The other big change is that now I don’t get up early enough to watch whatever the stations are showing, and I’m at work usually when SNL is on. I set my DVR for it if for no other reason than to catch Weekend Updates or the occasional on air flub (thank you, Jenny Slate).

Childhood Dreams

I recently found a box of papers that I thought had been lost in one of my moves throughout the years. It contained some small books from grade school book fairs that I had adored, some pamphlets from early trips to Illinois to visit my sister and her family, a paper bag from King’s Island when the characters on the bag were Scooby Doo, The Funky Phantom, Hair Bear, and Dick Dastardly, and other childhood treasures including a notebook full of old Virtue of Vera Valiant comic strips that I had clipped from the Charleston Daily Mail. The crown jewel in this box was my very first scrapbook.

My mom had bought me a large notebook at either Hecks or Arlens or G.C.Murphy. It featured a typical late 60s early 70s age of Aquarius design of the sun with the signs of the zodiac circling it. I had initially taken pen to blank paper and drawn a bunch of pictures in it. I must not have been too thrilled with these pictures because I soon began covering them up with movie advertisements from the Charleston Gazette. Many of these were ads for Disney movies that I had seen or wanted to see. There’s a cartoony looking drawing of Buddy Hackett staring lovingly at Herbie, the Volkswagen, in an ad for Disney’s new movie The Love Bug. Another ad touts “The Greatest Adventure Of Them All” over a drawing of a pirate attack from Walt Disney’s Swiss Family Robinson in Technicolor Panavision (Starts Wednesday at the Kearse).

There are lots of non Disney ads as well. Cougar Country (In Color) was Coming Soon one ad exclaimed. Another ad promised “The Greatest Hunting and Fishing Spectacular Ever Filmed” in an ad for The Outdoorsman (Now! at the Capitol). Yet another ad touts the “Authentic True-To-Life Adventure” of North Country (In Color). Apparently in 1971 it was still necessary to advertise the fact that your film was in color. As you can tell most of the movies I was interested in were about animals. I remember when my mom took me to see The Outdoorsman, she was afraid I would be upset about all of the animals that were being shot and killed by the big game hunters, but for some reason I didn’t pay any attention to that. I just liked seeing the big horn sheep and the bears.

Not all of the ads were for films that I got to see. I have an ad I clipped for K. Gordon Murray’s Rumpelstiltskin that I don’t recall seeing in theaters or anywhere else for that matter. There’s also a pair of ads for the double feature of Sssssss and The Boy Who Cried Werewolf (one for its run at the Valley Drive In and one for its run at the Trail Drive In). I loved monsters almost as much as animals, but there was zero chance of Mom taking me to see these movies even though they were both rated PG.

What’s amazing to me is the number of movies that you hear nothing about anymore as well as the number of theaters that I had forgotten existed. Browns Theater in Cabin Creek? Not a clue, but there it is alongside the Marmet (in Marmet) and the Roxy (in Clendenin) under the more prominent Kearse and Cinema 21 in another larger ad for North Country (Now Showing! One Week Only! In Color!). Does anyone else remember Hang Your Hat On The Wind? or Smith starring Glenn Ford? And where can I find a copy of Journey to the Beginning of Time with its “Authentic Re-creation of Prehistoric Times” not just in color but “In Full Color”?

Of course just like Facebook is not only pictures of cats, my scrapbook was not just movie ads. There were pictures of animals, celebrities I liked (or had at least heard of), obituaries for classmates that died way too young, and other items. There is a wonderful ad from Kmart for Halloween costumes during their “Million Dollar Discount Sale”. You could buy a pirate or a bunny for only 87 cents. If you wanted to dress up like Major Matt Mason or one of the Banana Splits however, it would set you back almost double that; $1.67.

The scrapbook also became the repository for the pictures off of my old Aurora monster models. I was keeping all of my old model boxes, crushed down flat and under my mattress. Mom thought I was crazy for saving them and they were starting to create a bulge in the mattress as well. She convinced me to soak the pictures off of the cardboard and glue them into my scrapbook. Eventually I gave up on trying to soak them off and just glued cardboard and all into my scrapbook.

Not only is this scrapbbook a wonderful trip down memory lane for me, but it reminds me of how much things have changed since I was a kid. They don’t make movies like Cougar Country, North Country, or The Ra Expeditions any longer. At least not with the frequency they made them back then. There are no more drive-ins and no stand-alone theaters in the area. There are more screens, but they are all located in four buildings. Newspapers don’t publish huge ads for new movies with artwork. Movie companies no longer try and produce art style posters for their films. Photoshop has killed the modern one-sheet in most cases. Figure models like the Aurora monster model kits are a thing of the past except for higher priced specialty kits from Moebius and other similar companies. And if you want to buy one of these kits, you won’t find it in your local Walmart or Target. Even the hobby shops have a very limited selection if they have any at all.

Of course one other stumbling block to a scrapbook like this is the slow death of print media. The Gazette and Daily Mail are both still around, but they just aren’t the same as they were. I miss the old days when I would wake up on a cold morning, crawl out of bed in my footie pajamas and plop down in the living room floor in front of our gas fireplace with the morning paper and a bowl of cereal. I started out just looking at the movie ads, but I soon started reading the comics. By junior high I had ditched the footie pajamas for pajamas and slippers and had started reading James Dent’s column The Gazetteer along with Ann Landers. By high school I was actually reading the news as well. I loved to read, and much of that was thanks to the morning newspaper, a family that read to me as a baby, and comic books (which is a topic for another post).