Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Guilted Age

Something has been gnawing at me for some time, and after reading a piece about the forthcoming James Cameron movie Avatar, I just have to say something...

It seems that the story of this film concerns a war between Earth and a distant moon that we are exploiting for our own material purposes.

So we are the bad guys...Again...

The guilt complex that we are foisting upon ourselves just for existing, and the consumptive requirements that existing necessarily bears has gotten way out of hand.

We are made to feel guilty for the food that we eat , ('we are overfishing the oceans! We are turning the planet into a desert with the deforestation that raising cattle for our hamburgers causes! The fertilizers we are using are running into the oceans and causing dead spots!) We are condemned for the use of fresh water, we are even vilified by ourselves for having to poop and the necessary need to deal with the poop once it is here. ('Bad baby! Stinky baby!' )

Our clothes are made by foreign slave labor...Everything we do pollutes...We are killing off everything on the planet by eating it, destroying its' habitat or trying to domesticate it too much. We have also polluted our upper atmosphere with tons of 'space junk'. Even methane producing farts are polluting and destroying us.

Do you remember being able to enjoy watching nature documentaries? I can't even bear to watch them anymore because rather than portraying the nature of the subject, the main theme of these shows is invariably how man is destroying what is left of these marvelous creatures.

Do you and your spouse want to have children? You greedy fools, you are adding to overpopulation and over consumption. ("You have thrown the worst fear that can ever be hurled- the fear to bring babies into the world."-Bob Dylan, "Masters of War") . If you are selfish enough to exist, the only thing that you could possibly do that is worse is to die. Coffin burials are polluting, cremations add to ozone decay. If you allow yourself a 'green burial' it is a little better, your corpse can be thrown on a 'possum pile' along with the egg shells and old coffee grounds.

The bad guy in almost every movie, and certainly in every kid's movie, is a greedy capitalist pig who is trying to bulldoze over some little corner of heaven in order to set up his soulless money sucking industry. (All of these movies brought to you, hypocritically enough, by big soulless money sucking industries!) Is it any wonder that in the last elections half our country felt that moving to communistic or socialistic approaches to government was worth entertaining?

Now I am not here to soft pedal any of the challenges that we as a species face, God knows we need to be better stewards of the planet, if that is indeed our destiny. But for goodness sake, we need to preserve the planet so that we may better survive on it as consuming living organisms!

The Big Guilt Trip that we have been on since about 1965 or so has been so all encompassing as to obliterate the origins of its cause. It has almost become a mass delusion of self loathing , a priming in the human psyche to rationalize a species level suicide, rather than a warning to better ensure the survival of the species.

We are clearly a species on the decline...

When you think about the glory days of humankind, when it was called Mankind, and I am not being sexist here, our self image was quite different. The Greeks may have had a host of colorful deities that ran the show, but they were all organs of power on which Man could draw as he climbed the heights of cultural and educational enlightenment. With the warning against hubris keeping him in check, the future was not self annihilation but discovery and growth. The Greek Empire may not have lasted, but the Greek spirit and outlook influenced and shaped the world in the most profound way.

It is easy to have a very dark view of humanity in a general sense. Working in the service industry as I do, I get to see people of all different kinds acting in all different ways. When I have an encounter with a genuine asshole I get very down on "people", but then I run across a genuinely nice person who acts in an unsolicited kind way to another person and I am reminded that we are like a large organism consisting of good and bad cells that must coexist for the good of the whole. We must not allow the assholes to condemn the species to an unfair self-loathing. Rather than always focusing on our limitations, we would be better served to look at our potential, and not just in the light of our modern religion, Science, (which can be blamed for most of the malaise we are in), but in our capacity to make the world a better place with a better attitude towards things that make us better people treating each other in a better way: civilization. And no, I don't mean necessarily by feeding the hungry and clothing the naked, etc., etc., (fill in with more whiny liberal guilt trip crap). I mean, treat your kids like the potential great Humans they could be, treat the oldies with the respect that they deserve, respect the brainpower, the imagination, the common joy we all share in the things that make life worth living. I believe Art, rather than being a tool for propaganda or just keeping the bored entertained, can save the self-image of our species, and just maybe, save our species itself.

Artists, don't make us feel guilty for being alive. Make us feel alive!

Who knows, maybe Avatar will do just that.

We can only hope...

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Curse of the Videotapes

Piles and piles of video tapes...Years of recordings from cable, dubs of movies, music videos, lots of miscellaneous junk of interest at one time or another. Not only do I have my own sizable stash of tape, but a huge archive of stuff that my late brother had meticulously recorded for his own purposes over the span of about 25 years is also in my care. Part of me (my better half, the wife) says throw it all away and don't look back. It has been collecting in the dusty cabinet in my garage, broiling away on these 100+ degree days of summer, making me wonder how long all this stuff can survive anyway. Then I start looking at the titles. So much cool stuff! Destroy these wonders? Never!

I borrowed my brother's dvd/vcr converter and set out on a quest...

One of my first compilations had to be a selection of some of the many great horror titles that we captured over the years. I started with a kind of sentimental choice. Terror In the Aisles is a compilation of scenes from various movies. It was released in the 80's with Donald Pleasance hosting. It was pre-Freddy, and had a interesting selection of scenes, not just from standard horror movies like Halloween , and The Thing, but some terrifying moments from suspenseful or action packed movies like NightHawks.

The next movie I dubbed was Curse of the Demon. This movie deserves a full write up, which I will work on ASAP.

I just wanted to set the table for the next few posts, where I will talk about some of these cool old movies.

I also wanted to say that if anyone has tried to post a comment on this blog lately, I apologize, I have not been snobbishly rejecting them, I have stupidly forgotten to update the email address to my new one that I got about four months ago! That should be fixed now, so let the show go on!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

There's Something About JAWS

At my nine year old son's insistence we watched Jaws again the other night. It was the second time I watched this movie with him. We saw it together last summer as well. Jaws is definitely a summer movie.

I can't say how many times I have watched this movie; probably somewhere between 50 and 75 times, there is no way of knowing at this point.

I had some hesitation to watch it with my kid. We always enjoyed body surfing in the big waves of Port Aransas beaches together, and I didn't want to screw that up. I am still being vilified by my sister for having scared one of my niece's out of any desire to swim in salt water for having shown her merely the clip of the shark rising to Chief Brody's chum.

But Joey has a remarkably clear-eyed view when it comes to all things involving Nature, and has never suffered under any illusions about where humans are on the food chain. He is also a big fan of "riding the whoppers", the big waves, so it's all good.

Watching Jaws again made me think about the first time I saw it, when I was about Joey's age back in the summer of '75. My oldest brother Mike went to see it with some of his friends when it finally came around to our small town. It was already a huge sensation around the country and the airwaves were filled with Jawsmania. It is weird to think of it now, but back in those days we rarely got first-run movies on their opening week at our local theaters. Many movies never came around at all. And of course there was no video market then, so if you missed it, you missed it, at least until it came out in horribly edited versions on TV. You had to seek out the almost universally horrible movie adaptation paperbacks, called novelizations, or on some rare occasions, a Fotonovel, which was a video image cartoon version of the movie. Not to get too far off the main subject, I recall that the novelization of the Jaws/killer -giant -animal ripoff movie Grizzly, was much better than the actual movie which I finally got to watch on video years later, so not all novelizations were bad.

Anyhow, back to 1975 and my brother. He came home from watching Jaws brimming with excitement and inspiration. Sitting around in our bunk beds he regaled us with an amazing almost frame by frame narration of the tale, from the opening prowling music accompanied shark's eye view cruise through wormy beds of sea grass, to the last shot of the exhausted survivor's drifting onto an abandoned Amity beach. It was a virtuoso telling, many of the phrases he used to describe the story stick with me to this day, and I hear them in my mind whenever I watch the movie. I was deemed a little too young for the movie at that time, which in a way was a relief for me. Up to that time, the only movies I saw in the theater were Disney movies, or pioneer family movies like Against a Crooked Sky.

In the meantime there was Peter Benchley's novel to investigate. We found what looked like an old library copy of the book at a garage sale. It bore the familiar shark bearing up on a swimming girl cover, but instead of the awesome great white image of the movie poster, the shark more closely resembled a giant lemon with a mouth slit carved in it. This was the first book written specifically for adults that I ever read, and beyond the classically corny prose-"The great fish moved silently through the water-", there was plenty of potboiler sleaze involving lesbians,extramarital affairs, and the like. Considering I had been reading the Gold Key Comics adventures of Andy Panda and Little Lulu right before it, this was truly hot stuff.

Finally my turn came. Jawsmania had raged all summer long, and by popular demand, Jaws returned to the Palace theater late that summer for one more lap at the box office. This time after much begging, wheedling and cajoling I convinced my Mom to let me accompany my older brothers to the theater to see what all the hoopla was about. I remember my oldest brother Mike was wearing Ice Blue Aqua Velva when we went to see the movie, and the smell of this after shave still reminds me of the experience. Needless to say, I was overwhelmed by the experience. The shark of course was scary as hell, but what scared me the most was the grue of the shark's victims, particularly the remains of Ben Gardener, the hapless fisherman who met his end in a mysterious attack on his boat. I remember my brother Mike could send me running in fear, simply by chanting "the little head popping out of the hole!" I always wondered what happened there; had the shark attacked his boat and given Ben Gardener a heart attack? Did scavenging fish nibble out one of his eyes or did he lose it in the attack on his small vessel by the shark? I guess it doesn't really matter, but I always wondered. I was also always prone to brooding on little thoughts such as "Gee, that estuary victim whose severed leg drifted to the ocean floor put that shoe on that morning like any other not knowing it would be the last time he would do it."

Most of all I was sad for Quint. I remember viewers of the time always referred to Quint in a negative way, mostly based, I am sure, on his heavy macho attitude and initial berating of sensitive 70's guy Matt Hooper. I always saw Quint in a different way. He reminded me of my Dad, and certain old uncles, all veterans, all fishermen and/or hunters who had a personal relationship with the life and death struggle. It made them all a little crazy, (Quint was certainly a loon, his blustering blabbing at the wharf as they are setting out on the hunt was almost embarrassingly over the top), and it made them all a little scary. But there was something sad there, too, an unfinished business that they all pursued and that could only end one way. If Quint had a Death Wish, then he certainly got what he wanted. It was interesting how the book and movie differed. Hooper, who brought on his comeuppance in the book by bedding Brody's wife, was spared death in the movie , and was much more of typical "correct" hippy hero of the times. Brody, as the Everyman, survived, as he did in the book, but was given a much more heroic part to play by causing the shark's exploding death. The shark in the book had the really disappointing end by simply expiring of old age ,exhaustion , or harpoon stress at the last minute as it was about to consume Brody. I guess it was in keeping with the whole Moby Dick implacable force of nature thing, rather than a boffo popcorn movie ending, but it was still a bit of a letdown to end a novel with. This was one of cases where the movie version of a story was a vast improvement on it's original source material.
The fallout of such a huge cultural phenom continues to this day. I read (and loved) all of the myriad Mad magazine, Crazy, Cracked etc. parodies. When the sequel came out I read the Hank Searls novel and saw the movie. (Both disappointing.) From there on it got worse and worse as it usually does, and I skipped most of the other sequels until years later on a bored video rental whim.
The original film, now almost 35 years old, still packs a punch. The shark still looks pretty darn cool to me. All of the bizarre side characters in Amity are much beloved or behated icons on par with Mayberry's little world of small town folks. The Mayor's anchor suit still brings a smile to my face. (Does he wear that thing ALL of the time?) And it still brings me back to that awkward time when both book and movie formed a bridge from my childhood to my adolescence. The horror is all still there, although I now feel more of the parental terror that the Brody's and the Kintner's experienced than I did before.
I am sure it will hold up well over the next 50 to 75 viewings...