Monday, May 28, 2012

William Peter Blatty to sue Georgetown U.

Well, 85-year-old writer and movie director William Peter Blatty says he's going to "sue" Georgetown University in a Vatican "court" because they failed to follow the orders of the late pope John Paul II. Blatty has his panties in a bunch because Georgetown invited the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services to speak at the university. The government requires that insurance companies cover birth control and Blatty can't stand it.

I read Blatty's novel, The Exorcist quite a few years ago. It started out okay but got stupider and stupider as it progressed. The movie was a big improvement. It glossed over the stupid elements of the book.

For example, in the book, the priest is talking to the girl to determine if she's demon possessed. Things start moving around the room by themselves. But, the priest thinks, is this a sign of demonic possession, or is it perfectly ordinary telekinesis? She starts speaking Latin, a language she didn't know. But, the priest quickly realizes, this could be perfectly ordinary mind reading. She could be reading the Latin thoughts in his mind and repeating them.

Blatty apparently believes in this nonsense. I saw him back in the '70s on The Tomorrow Show with Tom Snyder. There wasn't much to watch on TV at one in the morning back then. Blatty told about some money he won gambling.

The Catholic nuns were running a presumably legal numbers racket. They'd go around. You'd pay them a dollar and pick a number, and if the number was lucky, you'd win some money. Blatty's mother had him pick the number, and they won. The next week, the nun came around again. Blatty's mother had him pick the number again, and again he won.The nun said it was the first time anyone ever won twice in a row. Blatty said that, at first, he thought it was proof he had psychic powers. But now he thought that his computer-like subconscious mind was somehow able to figure out what the winning numbers would be. He didn't consider the possibility that it might be a coincidence, that sooner or later, if they did this thing long enough, that someone somewhere would win two weeks in a row.

The real case The Exorcism was based on

There was a long, interesting article on The Exorcist here:

The Exorcist was based loosely on a supposedly true story Blatty heard about. In the late '40s, there was a fourteen-year-old in Maryland who priests performed an exorcism on. The article is pretty interesting. It's been a while since I read it, and don't read this if I'd be ruining it for you but---

Basically, the kid wasn't possessed. He was just a jerk. His family was Lutheran. It was their old German grandmother who was insisting on the exorcisms. They went through a couple of them in other churches before they got to the Catholics. The mother and grandmother ran around getting the exorcisms while the father came home from work and read the paper. He didn't believe any of it, but let the women do what they want.

The writer of the article spoke to one of the priests who took part in the exorcism and even to the kid who was exorcised. Also talked to the kid's friends.

According to the priest, the kid did speak Latin---sort of---but he was just imitating the priests, making fun of them. The kid did have scratches appear in his stomach, but they didn't spell out any words and the priests made no effort to see if he was doing it himself. The bed did move around while the kid was in it, but there were light beds on wheels with a thin mattresses on bedsprings and they moved a couple of feet every time you turned over. The kid could spit with some precision, but the kid's friends said they did this a lot back then, They didn't have video games in those days so they practiced spitting through their teeth.

Girl goes to prom with cardboard cut-out

A girl in Parachute, Colorado, attended her high school prom with a cardboard cutout of Justin Bieber. A little weird. Especially when she could just as easily have gone with a cardboard cut-out of Jesus Christ or Martin Luther King, Jr, or the president of the United States.

Weren't there any boys at her school who sort of looked like Justin Bieber? Weren't there any boys who she could mold into her own weird vision of Justin Bieber? Some kid with low self-esteem?

But I guess the function of celebrity crushes is to let teenagers safely explore feelings of romantic love without any risk. It would really defeat the psychological purpose if she did that.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Won Ton Ton

There was a movie made long ago. Why did I go to it? It doesn't seem very appealing.

It was called Won Ton Ton, the Dog that Saved Hollywood. Bruce Dern desperately wants to be a movie writer in the silent era. He has ideas for movies----like one where a shark attacks bathers in a northeastern tourist town.

The movie was made in the '70s. Had Virginia Mayo, a couple of the Ritz brothers (about whom I said unkind things in another entry somewhere), Johnny Weissmuller, Huntz Hall, Lincoln Perry (aka Stepin Fetchit) and Edgar Bergin, Lash LaRue, Dorothy Lamour, Joan Blondell. And lots more!

Milton Berle....Henny Youngman.

I was going to say something very intelligent about it, but I forget what it was.

Why did I go to it? It was 1976 when the movie was released. I would have been thirteen or fourteen. I remember not being especially amused. I wouldn't have recognized the old stars doing their cameos or realized that I was supposed to recognize them.

But it's still there. Seared into my memory. That's something for the filmmaker to take heart in. Your most forgettable efforts will be seared into the memory of thousands of people.

There was a recent biography of RinTinTin. He was a huge star in his day, rescued from a bombed out building by an American soldier in World War One. In the silent era, before dialog, animals and humans were on more equal footing and there was talk at the time of the dog winning an Oscar for Best Actor.

But I would watch some of these animal shows. Lassie, Gentle Ben, Flipper, and Skippy, an Australian show that followed the same formula. The lonely son of a game warden has adopted a wild animal as a pet. A kangaroo in the case of Skippy.

In most cases, the animals served no useful role in the story. In one episode, Lassie pulls a rope with her teeth and pulls some kid to safety. It's good that she did it, but a human character could have done just as well.

Gentle Ben did fight a partially drugged tiger. Burt Reynolds was trapped in a wreck airplane carrying the tiger to a zoo somewhere, so Gentle Ben saved him. I wonder how they set up the fight between the two animals. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Obama and the birthers

They won't go away, the tea baggers who claim that Barack Obama was born outside the United States. People keep refuting it, but people seem to have forgotten how the thing started.

Someone pointed out that John McCain, the Republican presidential candidate, was born outside the United States, in Panama, and thus might be barred by the constitution from serving as president.

The right-wing Republicans responded in kind by pointing out that Obama was born outside the United States, too----he was born in Hawaii.

It was only after it was pointed out to these idiots that Hawaii is a state that they started claiming he was born in Kenya.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Michael McKean

Michael McKean was hit by a car in New York. Has a broken leg and is in the hospital in stable condition. In news reports, they talk about his work in Spinal Tap and his appearances in film and on TV shows like Curb Your Enthusiasm. But no mention of Laverne & Shirley.

It's a sad thing, really. Lenny went on to stardom while Squiggy didn't.

Laverne went on to be a top movie director. What became of Shirley?

I always thought Tom Hanks was the less appealing star of Bosom Buddies, the sitcom about two friends forced to disguise themselves as women to rent a room in a women-only apartment building. How painful it must be for Peter Scolari to see his erstwhile co-star go onto to become such a huge star.

I saw Tony Roberts on Larry King Live, there to publicize his latest play or movie or book or whatever. I don't know what he was promoting because all people wanted to talk about was Woody Allen.

Was Johnny Depp really the 21 Jump Street star most deserving of success? Maybe he was. I never saw the show.

There are the less successful cast members from Saturday Night Live.

There was Kirk Cameron who had to watch in dismay as his adopted TV brother Leonardo DiCaprio's career took off.

Think of poor Dwayne Hickman on Dobie Gillis. His TV nemesis, Milton Armitage, played by Warren Beatty, went on to stardom.

Anyway, I hope Michael McKean's okay.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Trayvon Martin vs. Mitt Romney

So, Trayvon Martin had trace amounts of THC in his system. He had been suspended from school. And he stood his ground. He tried to run and then turned to fight when some shaven-headed weirdo stalking teenage boys in a van tried to chase him down.

Now here we are in the wake of revelations about Mitt Romney's violent criminality in high school. He caused a visually impaired teacher to walk into a door and he assaulted classmates he assumed were gay. And some of the same crowd that's dismissing Romney's high school antics are defending Trayvon's murder because he got in trouble at school.

I saw a comment on one news article on-line. A Zimmerman apologist blamed Trayvon for being killed because he didn't go over and talk to the guy stalking him. His advice to the youth of America is that if you see a strange man in a van slowly creeping through your neighborhood staring at you, you should run over and talk to him.

I hope Trayvon did get in a few good punches, and I hope Zimmerman is put away for good.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Some directing advice

Who was it I heard? The son of some director. Was it the son of Harold Ramis? The son of Ivan Reitman?

Anyway, when he set out to direct a movie, his father gave him this advice.

Don't try to make a scene more dramatic or funnier because it's almost impossible to do anyway. Just stick to the script. You picked it for a reason.

Seems like good advice. Advice that requires you to relax and not do something.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Rawhide Terror

My memory of this is rather vague. But I remember reading about a Japanese art filmmaker who made a film based on a haiku that was written five hundred years ago.

Haikus are so short. I found it surprising that they keep track of them. Even if there was an especially good haiku written hundreds of years ago, there must be so many of them. Is it really possible for a haiku to stand out to the point that you'd make a movie based on it?

I feel the same way about this movie I just watched. A "B" western from 1934. I tried watching some others, but they were just terrible. But when I looked up this particular movie on the internet, there were some discussions of it, people had posted comments on it and talked about where it lay in the director's body of work. I was amazed people could distinguish one B western from another.

The movie was The Rawhide Terror. Strange film. Pretty grim, really. It starts with children watching their parents murdered, it had a child abuse subplot, but it opens with some circus-like music playing over the opening credits.

One sort of interesting thing is that the B westerns seem to all lack non-diegetic music. And I avoided the ones that had diegetic music. I never understood the appeal of singing cowboys.

So many of the B westerns were about men robbing stage coaches to get even with the crooked bankers and rich ranchers who took their ranches or their gold mines or killed their parents. Those sort of stories may have tapped into something during the Great Depression.

But the poverty row studios in Hollywood cranked out so many of these movies, it's surprising that anyone is able or willing to distinguish one from another.

Now. Here's a joke.

A dog walks into a bar. He jumps up on the barstool. Orders a drink. He's sitting there drinking when a fight breaks out. Someone pulls a gun and fires a shot and the dog is hit in the foot. He jumps down and runs out of the bar on three legs.

The next day, the dog comes back. He steps into the bar. His injured foot is bandaged. He's wearing a little cowboy hat and a little leather vest. He has some guns strapped around his waist.

He says, "I'm looking for the man who shot my paw."

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Evil Santa

A lot of people know that the current popular image of Santa Claus was created by Coca-Cola. Or maybe that's a myth, too. I don't know.

Santa had evolved over time. He no longer brings bundles of switches to the naughty children. If fact, they've pretty much given up on that thing where he only brings presents to the good boys and girls. But what was the original Santa Claus like? What was the original myth or legend or fairytale that started the whole thing?

According to a Finnish movie, Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale, Santa was a giant with goat horns who ignored the good children and horribly punished the naughty ones. And wait till you see his elves.

The movie is set in the present day. Santa is buried in a block of ice but is being unearthed by American researchers.

We see a Finnish boy trying to protect himself wearing a hockey helmet and pads and duct taping a piece of cardboard over the seat of his pants.

Then there was a Dutch movie called Saint Nick. The "saint" in question was a brutal Catholic bishop in the 1400s whose men go down chimneys to get into houses where they murder families who fail to leave offerings to him. The people kill him but apparently he comes back five hundred years later for revenge.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Mitt Romney, teen prankster

Mitt Romney in high school.

There was an episode of The Simpsons. Homer goes to college. In one scene, we see him in the hospital standing at the dean's bedside after running him down in a car.
"Dean, I'm really sorry about the running-you-over prank," Homer says.

"Prank?" the dean says.

"And all those other pranks were my idea, too. I'm the one who should be expelled."
And now we have Mitt Romney, apologizing for any "pranks" he might have played in high school.Like the beating-up-a-gay-kid prank or the tackling-a-gay-kid-and-cutting-off-his-hair prank and the causing-a-blind-person-to-walk-into-a-door prank.

A teenager would be arrested for doing this stuff today.

Romney claims that he has no memory of these specific crimes, but, strangely, does remember that he didn't think his victims were gay.

People are dismissing this stuff. It was almost 50 years ago!

Well. Romney is 15 or 16 years older than me. If I knew someone like that in high school, I would still hold it against him.
 Romney and his gang tackled and cut off the hair of a kid who had bleached his hair blond. "He can't look like that!" said wealthy Mormon Romney. Now he says he's sorry if his amusing prank offended anyone.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

I've been watching TV

I watched a British documentary about Nazism from the late 1940s. They quickly glossed over Britain's non-aggression pact with Hitler then droned on and on about the non-aggression pact between Germany and the USSR.

Then saw a pretty amusing made-for-TV movie from the early '70s, The Woman Hunter, with Barbara Eden, Robert Vaughn, with a cameo appearance by Larry Storch and his wife. Also starring Charlie Chaplain's son, Sydney. Filmed in sunny Mexico. Barbara Eden and her husband drive around in an enormous Chrysler Imperial. A guy is stalking Eden in a Volkswagen Thing (called a Safari in Mexico).

I should probably mention that The Woman Hunter was intended as a serious thriller. The title is a play on words. Barbara Eden's last name is "Hunter" and she's being hunted. And she's a woman.

But it was pretty good. You can't go wrong.

Watched part of something called Atom Age Vampire, made in Italy. I recognized it. I had seen it on TV when I was about four-years-old. I didn't understand it at all at the time. There wasn't much on TV in those days, so I would sit and watch soap operas and have no clue at all what I was seeing.

That was the genius of Gumby. The producers seemed to understand that young children watched TV in an uncomprehending daze, so they made a show that didn't really make sense to begin with.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

George Lindsey, TV's Goober, dead at 76




He was Gomer Pyle's less successful cousin on The Andy Griffith Show. Later appeared on Mayberry RFD and something I don't remember called The New Andy Griffith Show. He raised money for Special Olympics and held a celebrity golf tournament to help developmentally disabled children.

He played a racist deputy on an episode of The Twilight Zone, "I am the Night - Color Me Black" (1964), appeared on Hee Haw, several episodes of Gunsmoke, an episode of M*A*S*H*, some episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. He was in Ensign Pulver, several episodes of Love American Style, and was in a few Disney movies including Snowball Express and Charley and the Angel. He was in Canonball Run II along with his former TV cousin, Jim Nabors.

My mother disliked George Lindsay. She seemed convinced that he really was just like Goober.

"He didn't write the script," I told her. "His character was stupid. It doesn't mean he is. What was he supposed to do?"

He did have an idiotic screen persona, but that wasn't his fault. He reached his zenith on The Andy Griffith Show after it had gone into decline, after Mayberry became a town full of childlike simpletons. Goober was a simpleton among simpletons.

In one episode, Opie and his friend had concealed a walkie talkie on a dog's collar. They convinced Goober that the dog could talk. Andy tells them how terribly cruel it was to trick Goober in this way. Goober tried to conceal the depth of his humiliation when the truth is revealed.

I watched him on two episodes of the Alfred Hitchcock Hour. In one, he plays a chauffeur for a local political boss. He beats up a man whose brother is plotting to kill his boss.

In another episode, he plays a man whose mother was just told by a doctor that he had the mind of a 10-year-old. He has an emotional scene. There's a long close-up of him telling the story about the time his father forced him to drown a kitten. It ends with him in tears.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Ingmar Bergman's The Virgin Spring

The Virgin Spring was Ingmar Bergman's 1960 film based on a 13th century Swedish ballad. Basically, and I'll warn you, this could be a SPOILER-------- a couple of herdsmen rape and kill a girl on her way to church. They steal her dress. They travel on a ways and stop at a farm. This is Sweden and it's cold at night, so they ask if they can spend the night in the barn. They offer to sell the wife the dress. The woman recognizes it and realizes these guys have murdered her daughter. Her husband gets out his butchering knife and, well, you can probably guess what happens from there.

But it turns out that the original ballad was a bit more like Oedipus Rex.

It was first sung in the 13th century, as I said. It was still being sung in the 19th century, and it had gone through some changes over the centuries. The ballad had three sisters killed by three men.

One version had the three men demand that the girls become their wives. They refuse, so the men kill them and steal their dresses. They travel on. They come to a farm. They offer to sell the dresses to the farmer's wife. She recognizes the dresses as her daughters' and yells to her husband. He kills two of the men with a sword. He demands that the third one tell him who he is, who his parents are. And it turns out that the three men were the farmer's own sons. The farmer had thrown them out years earlier when they were children and they had been fending for themselves all this time.

So it was brother-sister incest instead of mother-son incest. And the father manages to kill the sons rather than the other way around. But still, weirdly Oedipal.

It would have been a bit much for a movie. Bergman wisely toned it down.

The first Star Trek episode Charlie X seemed to be loosely based on Oedipus Rex, and all the episodes where Captain Kirk has to battle for the control of the Enterprise have been characterized as "Oedipal conflicts".

But, okay, in the medieval ballad, the father is wracked with guilt because he killed his own sons. In The Virgin Spring, I can't tell. When I saw it years ago, I thought the father felt bad about killing the rapists' little brother, but that doesn't seem to be the case. I guess he was upset about killing anyone at all. I heard that early Christians would hire Vikings to serve as mercenaries----back then, if a Christian killed anyone, even in war, they'd have to fast and do some sort of penance for a year.

I also watched some of Last House on the Left, a rather disgusting slasher film based on The Virgin Spring. A pretty nasty movie. Wes Craven's directorial debut.

I heard Craven in an interview. After the movie came out, he had friends who wouldn't let their children around him. I think that's a reasonable response.