Newspaper ad for And Now For Something Completely Different (Village Voice, September 28, 1972)
A couple of things about this: What kind of movie is this based on the ad? It’s a comedy, sure—the clip art laughing mouths tell us that—but beyond that… who knows? What’s more, the name “Monty Python” isn’t mentioned anywhere. You have to read the fine (very fine) print to even see who’s in it. The film was a sort of greatest-TV-hits-re-recorded designed to break the group into the American market. It didn’t, or it at least didn’t have much to do with the first wave of Python fandom in the U.S. (That came courtesy of PBS.) But I’m sure I’m not the only one whose first exposure to Monty Python came from And Now For Something Completely Different's frequent airings on cable in the early ’80s. I know those versions of the famous skits get sniffed at today and I haven't returned to ANFSCD to compare them, but to my eyes it played like a mad rush of wild ideas and type of comedy I’d never seen before. So, mission accomplished, if ten years later than planned.
In researching the next Laser Age column I came across this bit of tidbit: Futureworld, the sequel to Westworld, was the first movie to feature 3D computer animation. There’s not a lot of it, but what’s there is significant: The rotating hand on the monitor is from the 1972 short “A Computer Rotating Hand,” which is believed to be the first 3D computer animation ever. The co-director, Ed Catmull, would go on to be one of the founders of Pixar.
In a neat coincidence, the hand is the one detail that the robot makers in Westworld couldn’t master. In the real world, it was the first object mastered by the technology that would go on to change our perceptions of what’s real and what’s artificial.
Loews’ Salem Avenue Theater in 1992 (formerly the Kon-Tiki)
Every once in a while I go on a sentimental Google journey looking for photos of Dayton’s Kon-Tiki theater, the South Seas-themed movie theater where I saw my first movie. (Either You’re A Boy Named Charlie Brown or Snow White. Accounts vary.) There aren’t many. This one comes from the Dayton History Books Online site, and captures it has it appeared in 1992, about a year after I worked there. Gone are the tiki heads that gave it such character until it was sold and renamed in the mid-1980s, but you can still get a sense of the place, an odd three-screener (expanded from one when it opened in 1967) on a once-fashionable stretch of road connecting Dayton to the north suburbs that had started to fall on hard times by the ’80s.
It’s gone now, and it hurts my heart every time I drive past the lot where it once stood. I saw a lot of movies there as a kid and teenager before whiling away even more hours as a part-time employee/nearly full-time hanger-arounder in the post-high school/pre-college summer of 1991. I became very familiar with the ending credits music to Jungle Fever (Stevie Wonder’s “Feeding Off The Love Of The land) and Terminator 2 (GNR’s “You Could Be Mine”). (A stint during winter break allowed me to become just as familiar with Hammer’s Addams' Family song.) And I got to know a lot of people I never would have otherwise met during the long stretches between screenings that our terrific manager—a sometime comic—didn’t feel all that compelled to fill with busywork. I miss the place and the people I worked with there. And I miss those tiki heads. (Also, if anyone has more photos, please let me know.)
I’ve been revisiting The B-52s a lot lately and a couple of things have occurred to me:
1) I’m hard-pressed to think of many bands that have given me more pleasure over the years. Just sheer joy, Who else? I’m drawing a blank.
2) It’s easy to forget how strange, and kind of radical, the band was when it first started. No one else was combining so many disreputable elements from the cultural fringes like they did: ’50s and ’60s kitsch, sci-fi, thrift-store chic, surf music, punk energy, and so on. And while what they did was often funny, it’s not like the band was a joke. It’s all remarkably creative—Ricky Wilson’s guitar work on those first two albums is some of my favorite ever—and as out there as Fred Schneider is as a frontman, there’s something almost confrontational about what he does, too.
A YouTube search led me to this early—crazy early—clip of the band performing “Rock Lobster” in what appears to the world’s smallest club. It captures what it must have been like to see them early in their career, and the modesty of their beginnings. “Don’t forget waitresses live on tips,” Scnheider says by way of goodbye. “I know: I’m a waiter.”
A cab turning off State onto Randolph, 1972, Chicago.
Double feature now playing at the Loop Theater: Kung Fu and Duel of the Iron Fist.
Talking to some of the veteran Chicago critics has always made me think I missed a golden age of colorful downtown theaters where b-movies played one after another. Photos like this seems to confirm that suspicion.
One of the bigger pieces I’ve been working on for The Dissolve is this overview of Jodie Foster’s career. (It was timed to coincide, more or less, with Elysium on the suspicion that it would a terrific movie in which she gave a first-rate performance. That didn’t quite pan out.) Working on it was an interesting experience. For one, I decided to do it without realizing just how many Foster films I hadn’t seen. So in went everything from The Hotel New Hampshire to Maverick to Nell to the queue. And since I watched roughly chronologically, it was kind of fascinating to watch her grow and age on screen. My only regret is I didn’t have time to re-watch Silence Of The Lambs, but that performance is pretty burned into my brain.
One conclusion I reference a couple of times in the piece: Foster’s seldom taken the easy route but she’s also signed on for a lot of ambitious films that don’t quite work out, from The Brave One (almost a fascinating take on the vigilante film, but then just not) to Nell (great performance, but the script around her lets her down).
By sheer coincidence, Bill Simmons and Wesley Morris discuss Foster’s career on a recent installment of Grantland’s BS Report. It’s a compelling conversation that comes to some very different conclusions than I do as Simmons tries to convince Morris that Foster is overrated. (Team Morris, incidentally, though on Simmons’ scale of wins and losses he may have a point.) I spotted a few factual errors and one whopper of a problem with Simmons’ take on Stealing Home (apart from him failing to note it is awful). Bonus points if you catch it too.
“Celebrities came in flocks, including actor Robert De Niro, who took special note of Bruce’s pre-encore “Are you talkin’ to me?” routine (which the actor later transmuted into a creepy highlight of his performance as a psychotic in 1976’s TAXI DRIVER), along with director Martin Scorsese, who came away eager to cast the rocker in one of his movies.”
Here’s what happened when I moved to Madison, WI in 1995: I rolled into town with most of my possessions in the trunk of a 1995 Lumina, a college graduation gift from my parents. I went to my friend Jeremy’s house where I was staying for a few days before my own apartment was vacant. Jeremy was out of town, but on his bed he’d left a copy of a newspaper called The Onion and a note: “Read this. I think you’ll like it.” I did. And I did. And now that feels like one of those moments when one’s destiny is, quietly, fixed.