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Category Archives: Kitsch

What Happens In Japan, Stays In Japan

This commercial that Charles Bronson did for a Japanese grooming product called Mandom is so hypnotic. Honest to God, I watched it several times. It begins with Bronson alone in a piano bar, one where he’s a regular (based on the doorman’s reaction). He then drives home and, still alone, grabs a pipe and tosses his shirt off. He spreads copious amounts of Mandom on his fine physique while Country singer Jerry Wallace croons the product’s jingle. The scent of Mandom makes Bronson imagine himself brandishing a shotgun and riding a horse through a Western landscape. Who was the target audience for this, secretly gay Japanese businessmen? The Mandom campaign was a big success (oh yeah, there are more Bronson commercials on YouTube), leading director Nobuhiko Ohbayashi towards his loopy/fantastic “girls in a haunted house” feature film House.

Doing commercials in Japan has long been a dirty little secret for celebrities who want to cash in without spoiling their image in the West — pre-Internet, at least. I believe the scenes with Bill Murray struggling through a liquor commercial shoot in Lost In Translation slammed the lid shut on that stuff, but then I could be wrong. Are today’s celebs still shilling Japanese crap? Mull it over while watching circa 1990 Alyssa Milano hawking a chocolate drink while dancing to one of her Debbie Gibson-like tunes:

Weekly Mishmash: September 5-11

Hustle & Flow (2005). Stuck in a rut, a Memphis pimp (Terrence Howard) enlists the help of family and friends to cut his own Hip-Hop records. Despite Howard’s Oscar nom and a lot of critical acclaim, I’ve avoided this one for a long time. Perhaps I believed it would be grungy and violent, but the film actually wound up very absorbing, well-made and even somewhat sweet. The film rambles a bit too much in the first half, including a ludicrous scene in which the Oscar winning song “It’s Hard Out Here For A Pimp” goes from lyrics scrawled on a notepad to completed song in about five minutes. Whatever realism that scene lacks is made up for the winning ways in which the characters overcome the stereotypes their Southern, lower-class circumstances have forced them into. Terrence Howard is excellent, but I also enjoyed Anthony Anderson and DJ Qualls as the men employed to help him cut his music. The film also has a wealth of great female roles; best of the bunch is Taryn Manning as the sole remaining working “ho” in Howard’s employ. Her character is just as desperate to escape a dead end life as Howard’s, and the couple of scenes she has to express that frustration are touchingly delivered.
Pattern for Smartness (1948). A selection from Kino’s How To Be A Woman set of vintage educational shorts, this valuable effort came courtesy of the Simplicity pattern company. Will Betty use her slammin’ sewing skills to take Johnny’s basketball team out of the red? Watch and learn!

Sophie Scholl: The Final Days (2007). A wonderful choice from my fab spouse, Christopher. From the title I was expecting a dry, documentary like account of some dead lady from World War II; in reality it’s a powerful and beautifully acted portrait of a woman who was the very model of standing up for one’s own convictions. Sophie Scholl was a student who took part in the White Rose underground anti-Fascist movement in WWII Germany. While secretly distributing leaflets with her brother, Hans, and another classmate, she was arrested, interrogated and tried by the SS in a humiliating display meant to defer other subversives. This is an absorbing film with an intense performance by actress Julia Jentsch as Sophie. The film sags a bit during the interrogation scenes, with Jentsch and fellow actor Gerald Alexander Held in a quiet, overplayed sparring that verges into My Nazi Interrogation with André territory. It rebounds beautifully, however, in the scenes following with Scholl touchingly discussing her personal life with a fellow prisoner (played by Johanna Gastdorf, also good). Great film. I must also mention actor Fabian Hinrichs as Sophie’s brother Hans — no relation, but how could someone with that rocking name not be great?


Stallion Road (1947). A big week in the homestead, as we sadly got rid of Turner Classic Movies. I’ll always love TCM, but when we exchanged our wallet-sucking DirecTV satellite service for a streamlined TiVo that picks up local HD channels and streamed Netflix, it was a no-brainer. We will definitely get our classic movie fix via DVDs and other sources, but in the meantime I needed some decent TCM fare to close out (something better than the wretched Jeanne Eagels, at least). This genial horsey drama looked like an intriguing enough choice. Starring Ronald Reagan, Alexis Smith and Zachary Scott, this was standard Warner Bros. melodrama of its time — typical, but professionally done and watchable. Set in contemporary California ranch land, this film goes into familiar soapy territory with Smith as the confident lady rancher who has both studly vet Reagan and visiting novelist Scott wanting to get into her jodhpurs. In the meantime we get treated to a horse jumping competition, an improbable restaurant brawl and an anthrax scare. Reagan is his usual boring self (“white bread” are the two most apt words for the man), but I enjoyed Smith and it was great to see Scott cast as something besides a loathsome cad. A nice farewell to TCM, which really needs to get into the 21st century and start a paid, Netflix-like streaming service. I’d do that in a heartbeat!
Towelhead (2007). I had high hopes for this provocative drama scripted and directed by Six Feet Under creator Alan Ball — this despite the film getting mixed to bad reviews when it came out. Based on Alicia Erian’s autobiographical novel, this film concerns a 13 year old Lebanese-American girl (Summer Bishil, very good in a demanding role) who is blossoming sexually while dealing with quarreling, recently divorced parents, ignorant classmates, and a predatory next door neighbor played by Aaron Eckhart. Topping it all off is the fact that it takes place in the 1990-91 buildup to the first Gulf War — in suburban Texas! This is a well intentioned and nicely produced film with notable work by Bishil, Eckhart and Peter Macdissi (memorable as Claire’s slimy art professor in Six Feet Under) as Bishil’s menacing dad. I also really dug the film’s production design, which seems to capture the mundanities of early ’90s suburbia in a subtle and effective way (hair scrunchies, bulky sweaters, etc.). The main problem I had, and this is a huge one, was the film’s lack of sympathetic characters. Bishil strikes a proper numbed out note, but she doesn’t have enough depth to carry the more despicable people in support. It makes the squeamish nature of the sex scenes more uncomfortable than they ought to be. While I don’t have a problem with the subject matter (in fact, teen sexuality isn’t explored enough in a mature way — on film or otherwise), the abhorrent characters make the whole thing seem more exploitative than provocative. It really says something that when Toni Collette’s hippie-ish neighbor shows up to aid Bishil, she comes across like a shrill busybody. An object lesson in “not the intended message” filmmaking.

Where Have You Been Hiding Out Lately, Honey

I barely remember watching this clip from Marie Osmond’s short lived solo variety series, Marie, when it was originally on circa 1981. This is Marie performing Billy Joel’s “It’s Still Rock ‘n Roll to Me” as a campy duet with herself — what a hoot! Two things I notice now: the costumes have all the hallmarks of the legendary Bob Mackie, and Marie was a talented performer for being only about 21 years old. Enjoy.

The Fabric of Our Hip, Happenin’ Lives

Hey people, it’s been over two weeks since we’ve gotten a comment at I’m not going to get too sad about it, but… where is everybody? Please come out from that sun scorched rock you’re under and tell me what’s going on.

Onward to the latest semi-forgotten industrial film of the past. 1969’s R.F.D. Greenwich Village is a tranquil ode to the bohemian youth of NYC and their seemingly endless supply of wide wale corduroy fashions. This sort of cinema vérité documentary-cum-advertisement shares a lot of similarities with Every Girl’s Dream, another short produced by the Cotton Producers Association a few years earlier. In that film, a young woman (Nancy Bernard, 1966’s Maid of Cotton) tours a run-down, deserted MGM studio lot while wearing an assortment of fresh cotton daytime wear. The short also contains some great wardrobe tests of Doris Day modeling costumes from The Glass Bottom Boat. This priceless short isn’t viewable online, but whoever programs Turner Classic Movies seems to enjoy playing it in the gaps between features.

They Got Rhythm

During a break from a busy week drawing cartoons (for a client, even!), I spent a few minutes watching clips from an obscure variety show called What’s It All About, World?. The program aired on ABC in the Spring of 1969, a satirical revue with all the edges sanded clean for mass consumption. Yet another example of something that tries so hard to be “hip” that it ends up being painfully unhip. At least this performance of Sweet Charity‘s “Rhythm of Life” with Dean Jones, Ricardo Montalban and a troupe of monochromatically garbed dancers is kitschy fun.

Doggies Need Haircuts, Too

Something we fished out of the trash: an Oster electric dog clipper in its original box. It was missing a few parts, but I did manage to scan these swell illustrations from the instruction booklet. Who knew small animal grooming was so complex? I love the very ’60s character of the drawing on the bottom.