Tag Archives: Nostalgia

Big Bird Bows Out

Big Bird, the character, will continue of course, but Caroll Spinney, the performer who gave both him and Oscar the Grouch life, is finally stepping away from Sesame Street after about 50 years.

They’ve created a nice 5-minute tribute about Spinney’s work:

If that leaves you too verklempt, enjoy the cast of Sesame Street participating in one of Wired’s “autocomplete” videos from last year:

And hey, have a great weekend!

A Monster for Every Taste!

As many of my fellow filmmakers know, I’m not overfond of most horror films (apologies to Lonnie and my other filmmaking colleagues who love ’em). At the same time, I do love “creature features.” This is probably due to two reasons.

First, like many kids of my generation, I enjoyed the steady stream of good, bad, and less-than-spectacular kaiju films played endlessly on TV on Saturday afternoons. In our case, it was good ol’ WDCA, Channel 20 that educated us as to Godzilla and his many foes.

Second, my dad loved sharing all sorts of 50s monster movies he grew up with, including Ray Harryhausen classics such as The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms and other seminal giant monster movies like Them!

And while I will happily check out just about any creature feature (hello, Mongolian Death Worm), it’s clear not all creature features are created equal.

In fact, I have to give my hat off to my dad for pointing out a critical difference most great creature features have over their unremarkable cousins: they make fighting the creature as interesting as discovering the creature — if not more so.

In the “meh” creature features, an undue importance is placed on the discovery of the creature. Characters can spend up to half the movie blundering about the ship, house, ancient temple, or whatever the setting is. Meanwhile, the viewer patiently waits for a solid reveal of the creature. For these underwhelming creature features, the main card up their sleeve is the monster itself. They know it… and so they stall playing that card as long as possible. After that, the only thing they can do to raise the stakes is have more gore, more peril, or possibly more monsters (which usually lead to more gore and more peril). The resulting stories seem invariably random and do not provide the characters little, if any, agency. (This is different from Godzilla or other kaiju moshing on plastic tanks, which is an esteemed tradition).

Contrast that approach to some of the great creature features I just mentioned.

In The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, they

Spoiler Inside SelectShow

In Them!, there’s a series of hints leading up to the fact

Spoiler Inside SelectShow

In both these cases and others, it’s not only the discovery of the monster, but how to defeat the monster that’s interesting. Not only that, the humans’ efforts to defeat the monster have setbacks. People have incomplete knowledge and incomplete skills, just like in real life. We’re invested in how the characters can possibly win, not simply along for a monster mash ride. (And hint: it’s more exciting if the humans seem to be using what little knowledge they have rather than being complete idiots: I’m looking at you, DeepStar Six).

Now I know my dad isn’t the only one who’s come to this realization. Odds are, many a filmmaker has come to the same conclusion. And some of them have probably made some interesting creature features, dozens of which I have not yet seen.

So, it was with great delight that I discovered that Wikipedia, the modern analog to the Junior Woodchuck Guidebook, has an entire page exhaustively listing just about every creature feature ever made.

Now, technically, they’re defining these as “natural horror” films, but let’s be real: many of these creatures are pure fantasy with just the thinnest veneer of science. For example, the list includes both the presumably possible danger of the great white shark in Jaws along with the ridiculous titular monster of Dinoshark.

In some ways, that makes me love them more.

So dig in, fellow cinemaniacs. Whether you want to see a film with deadly tree monsters, killer sheep, or simply a shark loose in a supermarket, I guarantee you’ll find something.

Feel free to share your favorites in the comments.

Real Vikings Don’t Wear Horns

Being proud of our Norwegian heritage and an above-average amateur historian, our dad made sure we knew from an early age that real Vikings didn’t wear horned helmets.

But why do so many people think so? An article in Vox gets to the root cause. Dang costume designers.

Growing up, we didn’t have a wealth of Viking drama, so it was inevitable that the family would seek out what they could. That inevitably led to that 1958 saga, The Vikings, directed by Richard Fleischer… before 1985’s Red Sonja was a gleam in his eye.

Thrill to its 50s Epic Majesty!

Thrill to its 50s Epic Majesty!

Let’s face it, it’s a Hollywood epic from a certain era when the historical accuracy was inconsistent. On the one hand, get a load of them longships! On the other hand, Tony Curtis.

Sorry Tony, we like you better in "Some Like it Hot"

Sorry Tony, we like you better in “Some Like it Hot”

Indeed, the care and attention paid to the longships made for this film was so meticulous, that the longships went on to star in another picture. Okay, the company was probably just trying to amortize their costs, but they’re still wondrous.

My dad always said these were the real stars of the picture.

My dad always said these were the real stars of the picture. Well, both pictures really.

Both films served to be launching points for many conversations with my dad about historical Vikings, who did much more than simply raid ill-prepared monasteries. We talked of the Danelaw, the Normans, and, Leif Erikson: far more popular in our house than that Columbus guy.

Now, of course, we can seriously scratch that Viking itch with the Vikings TV series. It’s incredibly entertaining, as Michael Hirst’s work tends to be, despite some niggling historical inaccuracies. I am sad my dad is no longer with us to see the show, because although he would surely be the one noting those inaccuracies, there’d be a lot in the show for him to enjoy.

For one thing, these Vikings don’t have time for horned helmets.

vikings_sejati

Ray Harryhausen: Cinematic Force of Stop-Action Nature

Moving from last week’s discussion of television to a discussion of film, this week’s recommended reading goes more to the previous week’s thoughts on fannish nostalgia.

Ray Harryhausen appears to be one of those objects permanently stuck in the amber of my nostalgia. I go back and watch the films with some regularity. Lord knows many aren’t good… and yet Ray’s stop-action creatures remain extraordinary. They are alive and vital and imperfect in a way that awakens the little boy (or little girl) in you.

I’ve seen many a documentary about Ray Harryhausen, so Ryan Lambie’s piece from Den of Geek doesn’t present new revelations. In fact, it’s from 2013. However, reading it brought back memories… and plans for when I can introduce my kids to the magic of Ray Harryhausen.

Recommended Reading: Star Trek DS9 is still a worthy watch

Amidst all this talk about the current “Crisis of Infinite Star Treks,” I came across this remembrance/article from Max Temkin about my favorite Star Trek incarnation: Deep Space Nine (DS9).

I have now watched the entire series three times: first, when it was broadcast. Second, in the early naughts on DVD, and most recently with its debut on streaming Netflix. Some episodes, like “Necessary Evil,” have been ones I’ve watched more than three times.

Is DS9 still “a worthy watch?” Yes, I think it is, but that need not always be so.

If fanboys and fangirls of all stripes are honest with themselves, a lingering fear is always that they will return to their beloved works, the works that gave them such joy in their youth, and they will find the magic gone.

I don’t think this is a case of life emulating 1 Corinthians 13:11 (“When I was child, I spake as a child, etc. etc.). Comic books, “genre movies,” and the like are not, in and of themselves, childish things — despite what some insecure muggles would have you believe. But at the same time, as with any art, not all art can speak to you at different ages. And some art is very much of its time and does not age well (e.g. certain WWII Looney Tunes). Consider works like King Lear. If you encounter the play when you’re young, the idealism and heroism of Cordelia and Edgar may stand out (or perhaps Edmund if you’re feeling naughty). As you get older, you begin to better understand Kent and even foolish Lear. Good works have layers and can say many things at once — and I would also suggest that good works can leave hints and thoughts of a wider world beyond the stage or screen. This world may be too terrible or nuanced for the restrictions of censors, sensibilities, or timeframe… but when you encounter the work again you see them and fill in the blanks.

I find this phenomenon happens frequently in TV and movies. Restricted by things such as the Hays code and the MPAA ratings system, innovative directors, showrunners, and writers found ways to have all the complexity of human life hinted at through the filter of a PG rating or network broadcast TV show. Now, in this “golden age of TV,” we forget that dialogue didn’t used to be so full of profanities, that clothing didn’t used to be so optional, and that people’s throats were not slit with such reckless abandon.

All this brings us to Star Trek, in its many incarnations.

Star Trek, at its best, wrestles with some weighty ideas: a storytelling approach that television can excel at. As I rewatch the many Star Trek series (yes, streaming Netflix is quite the enabler here), I am continually impressed by how well the various series hold up. Yes, there are dated references and sensibilities here and there as may be expected. But overall, I am impressed by how well so many of the stories hold up because of their commitment to the characters and the concepts.

All of this factors into the groundbreaking nature of DS9 when it first came out.

So for those Star Trek fans out there who may not have watched the series closely when it was first broadcast, it’s on streaming Netflix now, waiting for you.

And to warm you up, check out this fan-created “DS9 20th Anniversary Trailer.” Heck, fans of the series should check it out too. Tell me it doesn’t give you a few Trek-related chills.

Complete Non-Secret: I love Mold-A-Rama so very, very much

In the tradition of the Internet and blogs collectively giving you information and confessions of greater interest to the person confessing than to you, the reader, I give you this glorious article that trigger some of my fondest memories of visiting Chicago.

But whatever my personal connection, let’s face it: Mold-A-Rama is awesome.

It’s only now, with 21st century hindsight, do I realize that, as I was getting models of the U-505 or perhaps a plastic doppelganger of a seal living at the Brookfield Zoo, I was getting 3D printing on demand!

In fact, my brothers and I probably still have some of these surprisingly durable souvenirs gracing shelves here and there.

It pleases me greatly that Mold-A-Rama continues.