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Category Archives: Cathode Rays

StoryCorps Story Posted

The local TV news story about me and Christopher participating in StoryCorps aired on channel 3 last night. It was very nicely produced! Watch it here, if only to see what we look and sound like in motion.

Starting Off The Year Very Neat

Sharing a little video treasure I found on the Facebook news feed of artist/legend/ohmygodhe’smyfacebookfriend Gary Panter — a clip from Susan’s Show, an early kiddie show hosted by an impressively poised young girl by the name of Susan Heinkel. Panter cites the set design of this 1957-58 show as an inspiration for his Pee Wee’s Playhouse set — I can see that! Besides the set, the clip is an interesting window into what childrens’ TV was like in the ’50s … sweet, ultra-earnest and with absolutely no signs of Disney sitcom shrieky-ness. Observe:

The Abdominal Engorgement Sojourn

Happy Thanksgiving. Every time I get in the kitchen with my otherwise lovely spouse, thoughts of Phil Hartman’s Anal Retentive Chef from Saturday Night Live come to mind. I showed that Hulu clip to Christopher. His only comment was that Hartman’s waste disposal technique needed fine tuning. Hmm. I’m going to spend the holiday cooking with this guy!

Our second clip is the introduction to the Carpenters’ 1978 Space Encounters TV special. I’ve always wanted to see this one. From the Wikipedia page:

Space Encounters begins with Richard and Karen Carpenter performing “Sweet, Sweet Smile” in their recording studio, assisted by Charlie Callas. As they are performing, we see that they are being observed by the occupants of an alien spaceship (John Davidson and Suzanne Somers) who are on their way to Earth to meet The Carpenters. After Richard and Karen finish the song, the lights in the studio begin to flicker uncontrollably and musical instruments begin to move and play by themselves. At that moment, John teleports down to the studio and tells Richard and Karen how the people from his planet lack the ability to make music and he requests their help. Richard and Karen tell John about their earlier days in music and John uses his hi-tech pocket video screen to show The Carpenters performing “Fun Fun Fun” and “Dancing In The Street”. After watching them, John tells them he wants to try singing himself and teleports to a more romantic setting to perform “Just The Way You Are”.

And that’s only the beginning! The entire special is on YouTube, separated into eight parts. Something to keep in mind on Thursday while fighting post-turkey sleepiness.

Key Party

Remember Just Men!, the 1983 game show hosted by Betty White? I was surprised to find that somebody uploaded a complete episode of this on YouTube. Despite only lasting for 13 weeks on NBC, this show netted White the first game show host daytime Emmy awarded to a woman (deservedly so, if only for the way she constantly runs about the set). Gameplay consisted of two female contestants quizzing a panel of seven male celebs for a chance at… a NEW CAR! Okay, so it’s kind of a weird show with a salacious Dating Game-esque element, but it was cool to see something that had previously been a vague memory. The clips also have original commercials for Dial soap and the like.

Related: Just Men! Part 2, Just Men! Part 3.

TV About Movies, 1980 Style

I was having a personal matinee of That’s Entertainment Part 2 at lunch yesterday (the DVD was another Big Lots bargain, sandwiched with the Easter Parade two disc Special Edition), when the thought of another long-gone TV program entered my mind. On PBS in the late ’70s and early ’80s, there was a That’s Entertainment-style half hour of vintage film clips narrated by Mr. C himself, Tom Bosley. Further research indicates the show was called That’s Hollywood, produced by 20th Century Fox. While I do remember it as being very Fox-centric, including stuff from Star Wars, the opening was totally forgotten until I saw this clip on YouTube:

Cool beans! I used to watch that all the time on our local PBS affiliate. Another PBS movie show I remember from that era was Matinee at the Bijou, which presented a feature film, cartoon, newsreel and trailer the way an authentic theater from the ’30s/’40s did. Unlike our current media-saturated consumable landscape, anything covering film on TV was a special treat. Of course, I can’t go any further without mentioning Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert on Sneak Previews. The clip below from their “Women In Danger” theme show is a bit more preachy than they usually were, but that opening credits sequence is a total deja vu trip (dig those Marathon candy bars!). It’s interesting to note how low key and intelligent the men are here, traits that gradually receded once they and their thumbs moved out of the PBS ghetto and into syndication land.

Weekly Mishmash: September 12-18

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Funny Face (1957). I first saw Funny Face at the impressionable age of sixteen or so; it was literally one of the movies that made me fall in love with old movies. To a shy gay kid in Tempe, Arizona, the combined sight of elegant Audrey Hepburn, Fred Astaire, chi-chi fashions and Paris served as a window into another, nicer world. It is the kind of film that one stops to check out if it’s on somewhere, revisiting it occasionally like a warm old friend. It must have been a sign, therefore, when the DVD for my old friend popped up in the bargain bins at Ross, Dress for Lessâ„¢. At the very least I could check it out again to see if it still holds up. My feelings were summed up in a tweet: “S’wonderful, but Audrey Hepburn is something of an asshat in that movie, huh?” It’s true. Hepburn is still utterly adorable as a mousy bookstore clerk turned famous model, but her character does the most obnoxious things from beginning to end. First, after reluctantly agreeing to accompany Astaire’s photographer and Kay Thompson’s magazine editor to Paris, she forgets her very first modeling appointment. Then she ruins her debut press conference by arguing with Astaire (for whom she fell with improbable rapidity) over some silly issue. She’s uppity and pretentious throughout, climaxing with the scene where she bolts a triumphant fashion show to track down Astaire. That kind of behavior is simply inexcusable — especially when it relates to her being smitten with the appealing yet old Astaire — and yet I still love this movie. Maybe it’s director Stanley Donen’s light and airy, never studio-bound touch, or Thompson’s fabulousness as the driven Maggie Prescott (“Think Pink” is a highlight). Perhaps this is the filmic equivalent of an old friend who has done some crap that one doesn’t approve of, yet one feels close to anyhow. Yeah, that’s it.
book_jpkpresentsJoseph P. Kennedy Presents: His Hollywood Years by Cari Beauchamp. A few years back, author Cari Beauchamp wrote an absorbing book called Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and the Powerful Women of Early Hollywood. This was a great narrative about female empowerment in the growing industry of motion pictures, but it did have an intriguing minor player in Joseph P. Kennedy, better known as the patriarch of the Kennedy dynasty but here portrayed as an early mover and shaker and one of the few non-Jewish movie moguls. With this later book, Beauchamp focuses entirely on Kennedy and his thorny Hollywood career. Kennedy put another feather in his “self made man” cap as head of FBO, a company that made a tidy profit with cheapie Westerns in the 1920s. His most notorious effort of that era, however, was the doomed Queen Kelly, a costly Erich von Stroheim epic starring Kennedy’s mistress, Gloria Swanson. The tangled production of that film made for some of the more interesting chapters in this book, along with the areas that dealt with Kennedy’s complex home life (I didn’t know he had an institutionalized daughter, for one). The bulk of the book deals with Kennedy’s wheelings and dealings, which is where it falters. Unlike screenwriter Francis Marion, who was a genuinely appealing and interesting person, Kennedy comes across as, well, a big douchebag. His ambition was admirable, but the man seems like the ultimate glad-handler whose all consuming desire for success left a lot of ruined lives in his path (including that of Marion’s husband, cowboy actor Fred Thomson, who met a tragic fate when Kennedy froze him out of work). It is to Beauchamp’s credit that she can write about such a reprehensible person and make it work, but I was relieved to find him dead in the end.
The Legend of Bloody Mary (2008). Terribly acted, supposedly scary flick about a popular scary kid’s game. Like Candyman, this film uses the old apparition of Bloody Mary in the mirror as a starting point. In the film, a nerve-wracked college student is haunted by his sister’s disappearance when the two were kids. It seems she and her friends unwittingly resurrected the spirit of a vengeful 1800s spirit; it’s up to this guy and a priest/archeologist (!) to will the upset ghoulie back to the afterlife. This film appears to have been shot on a camcorder with community college acting class students. A sure sign of its classiness is the scene in which the priest consults a weathered 17th century document typeset in the computer age font ITC Blackadder. Christopher rented this with the hopes of seeing Glee‘s Cory Monteith in the nude; as it turns out, it’s the similarly titled Bloody Mary (2006) that contains Cory’s butt cheeks in a bloody death scene that likely cost three times as much as this opus.
album_janellearchJanelle Monae — The ArchAndroid. Still a fantastic album. Mind-blowing, actually. A second listen reveals the weird quasi-psychedelic touches in the album’s second half. It isn’t often that R&B/Hip Hop artists call to mind the likes of Donovan, but there it is in the trippy “Mushrooms & Roses.” When “Make the Bus” came on I thought “this sounds exactly like Of Montreal” — sure enough, this is a full-fledged collaboration with the funky indie group (apparently the two are currently touring together). Monae may not have the powerful pipes of a Beyoncé, but her vision and commitment is something to behold. The delightful psych-pop of “Wondaland” (which was included on a recent mix CD from a pal) is likely my favorite tune, and a good one to sample for the curious.
Retro Television Network (RTV). A nice surprise byproduct of cutting the satellite dish was finding a local feed for the fledgling Retro Television Network, an enterprise that aims to bring back the TV classics that TV Land so carelessly pissed away (along with its most loyal viewers) a few years back. A sampling of what we’ve seen in the past week: Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, Kraft Suspense Theater, The Jack Benny Show, Emergency, Marcus Welby M.D., It Takes A Thief, Run for Your Life, The Rifleman, Peter Gunn. Much of RTV’s lineup consists of hour long ’60s-’70s vintage drama and action series (many produced by Universal Studios). Sure, a lot of it is slow-paced and cheesy, but I loves me some good cheese. Behold: a 1970 episode of Marcus Welby M.D. with guest star Michele Lee as a hypochondriac spoiled rich girl who lived in a house with the ugliest avocado green and yellow living room. I dig it. Our DVR is going to be busy with this channel, which is much more than we can say for 99% of DirecTV’s offerings.