Thursday, February 04, 2016

The prescient Playboy cartoon, and a doctor's view through rose-colored glasses

Since the Supreme Court upheld lower courts on the legality of same-sex marriages, the idea of gay people marrying has been fair game for cartoonists. This is an example:

Or is it? I have misled you, because the cartoon comes from the October 1968 issue of Playboy. Cartoonist Dennis Kennedy appears prescient. If he is still around, I hope he realizes how his punchline has a meaning now he probably wasn’t aiming for in 1968.

On the same page of that issue is a letter from a physician who saw the need to end the abortion laws that varied from state-to-state in 1968. Basically he was calling for a federal mandate, like the same-sex marriage debate of nearly 50 years hence, that would make abortion legal in all 50 states. Here is the letter:

We must put an end to all abortion laws. Liberalization is insufficient, expecially when one considers that total repeal of abortion laws would produce the following benefits:

The increased number of abortion requests would make the medical community aware of the need for extensive contraception and sterilization programs, and this long-standing need would at least be responded to.

Illegal abortion would almost disappear. Most abortions would be performed in hospitals that, by their standards of safety, show proper regard for the ‘sanctity of human life.’

The status of women would be improved, because each would be allowed to regulate her own bodily functions. (No woman should have to plead a case to obtain an abortion.)

Mental health would improve, because sane attitudes toward sex would eveolve as a result of lessened anxiety about unwanted pregnancy.

Poverty would diminish, since families would be smaller and better suited to their incomes. An important side benefit would be happier homes.

The era of wanted children would arrive at last. Almost every child would be planned and joyfully anticipated.

Appreciable amounts of public funds would be saved, because there would be no less need to wage war on poverty and to provide welfare support.

As these primary benefits spread their beneficial effects throughout our society, the general rise in happiness would be incalculable. Is it any wonder that so many physicians and clergymen favor the complete recall of abortion laws?

H. B. Munson, M.D.
Rapid City, South Dakota”

Dr Munson thought out his argument, but was wrong on almost every point. Abortion was made legal by the United States Supreme Court five years later in 1973, and has had heavy pushback ever since. The doctor’s optimistic predictions did not take into account those who see abortion for any reason as murder. That hasn't stopped some individuals from themselves committing murder against abortion providers, and five doctors have been killed. Munson was partially right about contraception improving. I remember when a man had to travel to a neighboring state for a vasectomy because it was illegal in Utah. Laws can change as society changes, even in Utah.

The idealistic view of what life would be like after abortion was legal across America reminds me of the same sort of talk before Prohibition was inflicted on the American public in 1920. Instead of the rosy future the anti-liquor forces were promising when liquor was abolished, what really happened was it turned America into a nation of lawbreakers.

A well-known side effect was it made organized crime even more organized, and left us with a deadly legacy probably as bad or worse than the nation of drunkards we had before Prohibition. It also established a template for criminals on how to handle the illicit distribution of drugs a few decades later.

I don’t pretend to know the answer to handle that problem. Many people love their liquor and drugs. No one claims that either or both are not harmful. Banning them and making users into criminals hasn’t worked. It is the Law of Unintended Consequences in action. One hundred years ago when Prohibition was becoming a reality, its proponents were caught up in their view of it being a universal answer to an age-old human problem. No one thought that the problems caused by the law would have repercussions that so far have stretched out for nearly a century.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Mad Max and Star Wars, high tech remakes

As if I needed a reminder that I am growing older than the target audience for TV and movies, I was surprised by the news that many film reviewers picked Mad Max, Fury Road as the number one film of 2015.

Even the usually more intellectual New Yorker, in its May 25, 2015 review of the movie by Anthony Lane said, “ . . . for better or worse, Mad Max: Fury Road gathers up all that we seem to crave, right now, from our movies, and yanks it to the limit. For anyone who denied that Titus Andronicus could ever be mashed up with The Cannonball Run, here is your answer, and we are only too happy to follow Nux as he cries, ‘What a lovely day!’ and accelerates into a whirlwind of fire.”

That character Lane mentions, Nux (Nicholas Hoult), is probably the only actor I noticed acting. For the most part the actors of Mad Max, Fury Road, are hidden behind makeup or masks, have sparse dialogue, and their characters are under extreme stress while in fast-moving vehicles, surrounded by explosions and gunfire. No time for chit-chat. Max, played by Tom Hardy, and Charlize Theron playing Furiosa, both of whom I think are fine actors, have basically one expression they wear throughout the movie. Like the characters Keanu Reeves usually plays, their parts don’t require any emotional depth. Fury Road is a dash for survival, so there are no grins or quick quips while facing imminent doom.

And that dash for survival is the second thing that keyed me to Mad Max, Fury Road being a remake of The Road Warrior, starring Mel Gibson. My first tip-off was in the current movie’s opening sequence, where Max grabs a two-headed lizard and jams it into his mouth, chewing it up. It amps up the ewww and yuck factor of  the Road Warrior. There is a similar sequence at the Road Warrior’s beginning where Max is eating out of a dog food can. The chase scenes in both are similar, although the bits of action business that are done in the new version are different. The chase scenes are sped up to what looks like about twice the speed the vehicles were actually going. There is a lot of jumping from vehicle to vehicle. That was true in Road Warrior, also. Director George Miller read my mind, that people are getting tired of CG effects, and went when he could with all stuntmen and live action stunts. I can appreciate that, at least.

There are some other things I like about the movie. The cinematography is excellent. I like the theme of empowered women. But when you boil down what is seen on screen you have a chase movie, where the main characters go from point A to point B while being chased, then decide to go from point B back to point A, still being chased.

If you put your brain in neutral, it is easier to accept the post-apocalyptic absurdities played out in over-muscled vehicles by over-muscled people. It is an enjoyable movie, but top movie of 2015? I don’t have a vote for best movie, but if I did this would not be at the top of the list.

I also ask myself, what would Pauline Kael think of this movie?

Sally and I saw Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens in a theater right after New Year, when people went back to work and kids went to school. We shared the theater with 25 or 30 people who looked to be in our age group. I wonder if they had the same feelings Sally and I did? No one seemed overly enthused or jubilant at seeing this latest chapter of the franchise (the first one done without its creator, George Lucas). I would have been willing to wait a month or two so I could hear some more about the movie, but Sally's hairdresser said it was great, and I don’t want to argue with her over her hairdresser’s opinion. What happened to me was the phenomenon of watching a movie and having it make so little an impression that I left it in the theater when it was over. I cannot remember more than a couple of things about it.

Once again it is a combination of factors, including my age, but first and foremost I think the movie was seriously over-hyped, as Star Wars chapters tend to be. If the movie could not be brilliant, at least the marketing was top notch. They put the toys out well ahead of Christmas, and then opened the movie on Christmas day. The holiday was blurred with the movie. My feelings about the movie blend into how I feel about Christmas, that it is a big build-up for a small payoff.

Not for the Disney company, though, which probably made hundreds of millions of dollars in licensing and royalties before anyone paid to see the actual movie in a theater. By then, if the audience was disappointed, it would be too late.

Like Mad Max, Fury Road, the new Star Wars is a re-hash, even a remake of earlier movies. The one scene I can remember is the one where Han Solo confronts his son, and it is a flipped around version of Darth Vader and his “Luke, I am your father” showdown.

When I wrote a post about the early hype for the movie, “Built-in disappointment with the next Star Wars” in May, 2015, I said I would skip the movie until it came on cable. Well, I obviously chose to see it, anyway. I am not sorry I did, because it keeps me from watching it when it eventually comes to cable. And I definitely will not bother with any subsequent movies.

As The Who would say, “Won’t get fooled again.”

Thursday, January 14, 2016

The nude vampire girl; or, Mathilda May made quite an entrance


Also not for those too young to be looking at nudity on the Internet. Kids, be good and leave now. I mean it.

Lifeforce, a movie directed by Tobe Hooper and released in 1985, is unusual. It is unusual because it had talents like John Dykstra (2001 A Space Odyssey) on special effects, and Henry Mancini doing the music. It has actors like the underrated Steve Railsback (Helter Skelter) and British actors Peter Firth (Equus), Frank Finlay (The Three Musketeers) and even Patrick Stewart (Captain Picard himself!) But it was made by Cannon Films, a company with a checkered reputation for pure exploitation and frankly, many of its movies were crap. The documentary, Electric Boogaloo, currently appearing on Netflix, tells the history of Cannon and its executive producers, Menahem Goran and Yoram Globus.

When Lifeforce came out I remember it had odd and mixed reviews. No reviewer really knew what label to put on it, science fiction, horror, action picture, psychological thriller...the documentary shows Leonard Maltin calling it “berserk.”

What the movie also had, besides dessicated corpses sucked of their lifeforce by a space vampire (done with mechanicals in that pre-CGI era), was Mathilda May. May, who was French, had been a model and a ballet dancer. She also had an incredible body. A quote by Tobe Hooper from the documentary is, “Finding Mathilda May was an achievement. One of the most striking young women I’ve ever seen.” Indeed, From the moment she comes back to life in a laboratory on Earth, until she exits the facility, leaving behind some carnage of stupified men with their lifeforces now kissed out of them, in three-and-a-half minutes she presents the most incredible introduction of any “striking young woman” I believe I have ever seen in a mainstream motion picture.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

TV GUIDE, 1967: “Are Injuries Wrecking Pro Football?” Plus Mia Farrow, Don Knotts...even the Beatles

The October 21, 1967 issue of TV GUIDE caught my eye at the local antiques mall. First, a beautiful picture of Mia Farrow on the cover, less than a year before Rosemary’s Baby would be released.

Doe-eyed Mia.

All contents Copyright ©1967 Triangle Publications.

The cover is about Ms Farrow’s return to TV (after Peyton Place) for a broadcast of Johnny Belinda. The sidebar gives a synopsis:

I thought it sounded interesting, so I checked the IMDb, only to find the program may not exist anymore. It hasn’t been seen since its initial showing, and no one has a story for what happened to it. Some reader on the IMDb comments board suspects the video tape was erased and therefore the show is lost. If so that would be too bad. It may turn up some day, sitting in a box in some former network executive or producer’s closet. Stranger things have happened.

It must have been sweeps week on network television the week of October 21-27, 1967. There are Don Knotts, Bob Hope, Sophia Loren specials. Don Knotts warranted a three page article, here reprinted in full, which tells us he left the Andy Griffith Show to be a movie star, and he movies that played in drive-in theaters in rural areas. Well, that wasn’t too bad in those days. Roger Corman made a fortune with movies for that circuit. Knotts did all right for a few years, then appeared again on televison in Three’s Company in the seventies.

Included for fellow blogger Kirk Jusko,* a TV ad with Mr. Spock and Captain Kirk from Star Trek as unwitting television salespeople. RCA owned NBC, so Star Trek did double duty; going where no man had gone before, and selling color televisions for their network.

As mentioned, the Beatles were featured in their first movie, A Hard Day’s Night. I am not sure if this was the first network showing of the movie or not, but it was an event. Richard Lester’s movie is a perfect time capsure of the 1964 Beatles and Beatlemania. Although it was only three years since it had been released, by 1967 the Beatles had moved far beyond their 1964 image.

The summer of '67 was the Summer of Love. The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band had been released, and words from the song, “Summer Rain,” by Johnny Rivers said it all: “All summer long we were dancing in the sand; everybody just kept on playing ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’.”

Speaking of the Summer of Love, here are Bob Hope and Phyllis Diller as the last hippies in the far-off year of 1997.

As we have found out since his death, Bob Hope believed in free love all his life.

We have been seeing specials on television the past couple of years: Peter Pan, The Sound of Music, and The Wiz. But there have been stage plays on television back to when I was a child in the 1950s. (Peter Pan with Mary Martin and Cyril Ritchard was a big event in our house every year). So Kismet seems right in with the history of showing musical theater on TV. I am interested because one of my favorite all-time actors, José Ferrer, plays the lead. In 1965 Ferrer starred in the play Oedipus at the University of Utah. My girlfriend’s parents gave us tickets. Before the curtain went up I went to the men’s room, only to realize there was a thin wall between the men’s loo and the dressing rooms for the actors. I could hear Ferrer, with his booming voice, telling jokes to his fellow actors. I don’t remember exactly what was said, except I remember I stood at the urinal for a long time, listening.

Was it standard for Ferrer to tell jokes, maybe to alleviate the tension and butterflies before a show?

I also noticed the sidebar for It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, which was on its first annual repeat...and has been shown every year since.

The Peanuts specials have been money in the bank for the network since they were originally produced almost 50 years ago.

We finally get to the article on injuries in football ruining the game. What I found particularly interesting was the article focused mainly on injuries to the knees, ankles, shoulders, etc., from being hit and from the player hitting the ground. My curiosity about the current talk about concussions was covered quickly with the author saying: “. . . the game has the finest equipment in history, because sporting-goods firms as well as the Government cooperated in the design and development of football gear. The modern helmet, for instance, stems from military research and has virtually eliminated the head injury, so feared in the past.” [Emphasis mine]

Can it be the League has conspired for decades to keep the seriousness of brain injuries and concussions out of the news? We now know that many players develop lifelong problems, some lives severely shortened because of concussions and trauma to the brain. It had to be obvious to those who had been in the game their whole lives that players taking hard hits to the head later had problems, including dementia. I believe the NFL adopted a tactic from the tobacco industry playbook, to claim that “there is no solid proof” or that “further investigation needs to be done,” knowing full well their liability, and that the players were expendable and less important than the bottom lines of both the League and the team owners.

My wife and I subscribed to TV Guide from the seventies until at least some time in the nineties, when our local listings could not keep up with cable TV. I wish I had saved issues of the magazine. I am sure there are many things written and published then that would be pertinent for today.

*Kirk Jusko has been writing an epic history and commentary on the original Star Trek in his blog, Shadow of a Doubt. The link will take you to episode 12 of 15, and you can work your way around from there.