“Irreconcilable Differences, 1984”

“This Civil War ain’t gonna get me down. I’m taking my act to a brand new town. This belle rings in old Atlanta. I’m gonna find myself a brand new Santa!”

Irreconcilable Differences, 1984 (Drew Barrymore), Warner Bros.

At the end of a particularly biting monologue delivered by Drew Barrymore to her befuddled, self-absorbed parents (Ryan O’ Neal, Shelley Long), she tells them they have “irreconcilable differences.” My mother jumps up, points at the screen and shouts, “What a little bitch!” I’m like, “Why?” I don’t think she gave me an answer, except to say Drew should have respect for her parents. In her world, parents were always right. Children were meant to be seen and not heard. Shut up, Drew! I don’t agree, and I am a parent. She has a valid point to make. When a child commits an atrocity; something we read about in the morning papers, my first question is always, “Where were the parents?” This must be the disconnect between the baby-boomer generation and their generation X offspring. They were too busy living second childhoods to care. Drew, essentially, takes her parents to court so that she can emancipate herself or, at the very least, get the Hell away from them.

Generation X-types aren’t completely innocent in the exchange either. They tend to spend way too much time playing video games, brandishing new tattoos, and reading comic books when they should be perfecting basic skills like combing their hair and shaving their neck-beards, but I kid! I didn’t mean for this to become a speech, but I always mean for my tone to be sarcastic. Little Casey Brodsky (Drew) hates her parents, or maybe she tires of their antics. Dad Albert is an up-and-coming filmmaker. His wife, Lucy, assists him to the point of rewriting his scripts (while not receiving credit). It must irk her to see their success attributed only to her husband. After a couple of hits, Albert is the toast of the town. He hires aspiring actress, Blake (Sharon Stone, in an early role) for his next film, and when it becomes obvious to Lucy he has subscribed to the Peter Bogdanovich playbook, she divorces him.

Bogdanovich (for those of you who don’t know) famously courted the beautiful Cybill Shepherd despite being married to production designer Polly Platt. The affair destroyed several relationships and killed Bogdanovich’s career after the failure of his bizarre musical, At Long Last Love. Married (at the time) writing couple, Nancy Meyers and Charles Shyer parody this opus with Atlanta, a musical version of Gone With The Wind. I was never a fan of Gone With The Wind (I think it’s a terrible movie), but I think I would’ve been interested in seeing Atlanta. This misstep also kills Albert’s career and Blake dumps him. As the meteor of his success collides with Earth, Lucy’s star rises. She writes a tell-all memoir of her time with Albert, hilariously (and subversively) titled, He Said It Was Going To Be Forever, which becomes an enormous hit. There’s a nice bit of visual symmetry with all of Albert’s belongings being shuffled out of his mansion in a U-Haul as Lucy moves her stuff in.

What charms me about the movie is that Albert and Lucy still love each other, and they do love their daughter, even if they don’t know how to show it. They seem to use Casey as ammunition in their feud. Albert suffers what appears to be a heart-attack. Lucy rushes to his side at the hospital. She leaves in a huff after learning it was an anxiety attack. Albert seduces Lucy into a one-night-stand so that he can get the option to direct her memoir, which infuriates her. This is enough material for the court to determine that their housekeeper, Maria, should be given guardian status of Casey. My mother’s instinctive reaction to the material is not an isolated story. Irreconcilable Differences divides audiences along age (and gender) boundaries, and if you examine the film closely, you’ll see that whenever Ryan or Shelley are on the screen together (or even separately), Drew is shunted off to the side, filling the background of the scene.

Meyers and Shyer craft an interesting take on the dissolution of a marriage, drawing on inspiration from old Hollywood fables and the break-up of writers Nora Ephron and Carl Bernstein in Ephron’s languid memoir, Heartburn, but told from the point-of-view of a child. As an adult, it is difficult to understand Drew’s predicament. She wants for nothing. She’s obviously given adequate shelter and safety, and we must always remember that children tend to be preoccupied (to a pathological level) with their creature comforts, yet I don’t agree with the “little bitch” assessment. She’s more precocious than anything else. She’s wonderful to watch in the movie, though she has a tendency to mumble and not seem to understand much of what she says, but she was nine years old at the time of shooting, so I can’t fault her. She is, at her core, genuine.

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.

“The Ruling Class, 1972”

“The last time I was kissed in a garden, it turned out rather awkward.”

The Ruling Class, 1972 (Peter O’Toole), Avco/Embassy

The English system baffles me. From what I was led to believe, it has the more Socialistic financial trappings of most of Central Europe (even revising those standards in their entry to the E.U.) while retaining a matriarchy to keep up royal appearances and requiring heavy taxation of it’s working classes. Meanwhile, there is a Parliament; work-a-day politicians who keep the trains running on time and sustain a cock-eyed benevolent fascist dictatorship. You have to wonder how the well-fed higher-ups control this ridiculous England without losing their minds. In Peter Medak’s equally ridiculous satire, The Ruling Class, we are given an approximation of an answer: they have lost their minds. In the first few minutes of the film, one such man, the 13th Earl of Gurney (Harry Andrews) wears a variation of his uniform with the important modification of a dancer’s tu-tu and hangs himself.

At the reading of his revised will, his friends and enemies are horrified to hear that the estate will be passed on to his son, Jack (Peter O’Toole), who is also cousin to the Queen. Upon his announcement and arrival, Jack enters dressed as Jesus Christ, with robe, long golden locks, and beard, but it isn’t that he is merely dressed as Christ. He believes he is Jesus Christ. Though he locks horns with his Church of England relatives, an examiner diagnoses Jack as a paranoid schizophrenic. Hilariously, when asked how he knows he is God, Jack simply states that when he prays, he discovers he is talking to himself. His transformation is no different than the proverbial red-headed stepchild’s journey home to inform her family she has discovered Scientology, but since this is a young man of royal stock and lineage, poised to inherit an unimaginable clutch of power and privilege, his family agrees he must be destroyed for the good of the Crown.

Trading off one set of bizarre rubrics for another and unleashing hypocrisy in the form of off-putting musical sequences isn’t enough for Peter Barnes’ irreverent stage play (which he also adapted for the screen). When Jack insists his doctrine will be one of peace, charity, and love (What would Jesus do?), he puts fear in the hearts of the dogged politicians who really only want his power and wealth. They scheme to distract him with a woman (beautiful Carolyn Seymour as Lady Grace) who, with all her might, attempts to seduce Jack, but is instead seduced by Jack. She falls madly in love with him. It’s interesting how Jack (Jesus Christ) invents and improvises his belief system. Apparently it’s fine for our Lord and Savior to take a wife in Jack’s twisted interpretation. Whatever. I’m an atheist, but it’s quite charming to watch Seymour and O’Toole indulge in an impromptu rendition of “My Blue Heaven.”

When the dimwitted Dinsdale tries to alert Jack to his family’s treachery, he violently withdraws, sensing his strategically constructed walls of illusion coming down. As much as Jack wants (needs) to be Jesus Christ, and though he hangs from a fabricated crucifix in times of insecurity, he would never bring himself to strip to nakedness and pierce his flesh with nails. He marries Grace in an empty cathedral. At the reception, Jack puts party hats on all the miserable nobles. This is where the movie succeeds: as a tarring, jarring rebuke of the affluent – those who merely inherit their privilege and execute nothing of use with it. They are, truly, the most worthless of the world. Upon a visit to a sanitarium, he comforts the inmates with prayer and song. The examiner conducts psychological experiements. He passes a lie detector test. He then undergoes electro-shock therapy (in a method reminiscent of Return of the Jedi when the Emperor tortures young Skywalker). This sequence juxtaposes Jack’s “exorcism” with the birth of his child with Lady Grace, and it is truly terrifying.

However electrifying O’Toole is (Ha!), the film relies on his madness to carry it through the more mundane and tedious passages. Barnes is a writer in love with his words, and what The Ruling Class could’ve used was another pass at the screenplay, and more time in the editing room. Peter Medak’s direction is (perhaps appropriately) stagey, but also cold and emotionless. Maybe it’s because he shoots the movie from the point-of-view of the unlikable outsiders who view Jack’s madness as a form of eccentricity. Even after Jack is relieved of his demons, we spend nearly another hour trying to determining who he has become. He stutters, suffers Tourettes-like aphasia, and possesses murderous impulses. The Ruling Class would’ve been brilliant if the filmmakers had dispensed with the notion of shooting a stage play and instead focused on the strength of film. The aristocratic air and the manipulations of the power-mad in the film would make it an interesting double feature with A Clockwork Orange.

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.

WGC – The Music Box

Episode 16 – The Music Box


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Chris and Mark continue the #nelliepalooza when they discuss The Music Box episode of Little House on the Prairie for this episode of Walnut GroveCast!

If you would like to hear more from Chris Cooling head over to http://www.forgotten.tv where Chris discusses everything about forgotten television and more on his podcast! Click here to subscribe

If you would like to hear more from Mark head over to http://www.vhsrewind.com or subscribe to his podcast by clicking here

The opening song “Albert” is written and performed by the amazing Norwegian band, Project Brundlefly and is used with permission.
Check them out at:
https://www.facebook.com/ProjectBrundlefly

“Metropolis, 1984”

“Between the mind that plans and the hands that build there must be a Mediator, and this must be the heart.”

Metropolis, 1984 (Brigitte Helm), Cinecom

We start with an explanation of why Giorgio Moroder did what he did; that is to take a print of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, and then to add previously missing footage and photographs, affix his newly-produced musical score, and then release the result. A montage of dangerous-looking machinery turning joined with text describing the pleasures and privilege of the “chosen sons” in the elevated city of Metropolis begins the movie. We are shown that the benefits of these few are the result of the back-breaking labors of the masses – the working class. A frustrated man in pleated breeches, Freder, spots a strange woman with dirty children, who apparently took the wrong elevator with an unruly mass of dirty children. She exits as quickly as she came, but Freder can’t stop thinking about her.

Next, we see the massive factory and the slave workers choregraphed to a specific rhythm. It’s at this point that we see parallels to art direction and production design in movies from the ’80s to the early ’90s. Blade Runner immediately comes to mind, as well as Ridley Scott’s bizarre and jaw-dropping commercials for Apple. Freder asks his father why they must treat their workers so badly. His father has no answer. Perhaps it’s easier to simply reap the rewards rather than give care or consideration to those who die to construct this fantasy of superiority. I think if the workers were not made to be so passive through fear, they would have revolted years before. The movie works as a plea for constructive socialism in that regard, but therein lies the inconsistency.

A Jew converted to Roman Catholicism by his mother, Fritz Lang fled Nazi-ruled Germany for Paris shortly after meeting with Joseph Goebbels, who suggested Lang to head the UFA, despite the ban of his film, The Testament of Dr. Mabuse. Hitler and Goebbels, being film enthusiasts, respected Lang immensely*. As Lang’s Judaism was hidden at the time, they would surely have been embarrassed by that revelation. Yet Lang explicitly preaches the tenets of modern Socialism, at least our perception of Socialism in the words of Marx: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” Marx considered Capitalism to be the enemy of Socialism to such a degree that he also wrote (somewhat flippantly), “The last capitalist we hang shall be the one who sold us the rope.”

Freder rebels against his father after witnessing firsthand the cruelty of his father’s indifference to the plight of the workers after a fierce explosion kills several of them. Meanwhile Freder’s father approaches inventor (and early rival) Professor Rotwang (resembling a slightly bent-out-of-shape Rip Torn) with a series of old maps found among a dead worker’s possessions. Rotwang abducts Freder’s mystery woman and makes an android version of her, in an effort to discredit her with the workers she herself incites to rebellion with Freder. When Freder sees his father with this android version of his dream girl, he flips out, figuratively (but with visual flair) descending into his own personal Hell. He takes to the bed while Rotwang shows off his new creation to all the muckety-mucks with a surprisingly erotic, pre-Code interpretive dance.

Brigitte Helm’s android provides us with a delicious sneer and a winking eye on her face to indicate that she is not human. She incites brawls among the workers, as the leaders and organizers have realized the best way to destroy any notion of dissent through community is to make the workers fight each other rather than the establishment. I see parallels in modern politics and sociology occurring even now. She encourages the workers to destroy the power station, which will cause their own homes to be flooded. In the end, all that remains are desperate, hungry faces, and destroyed machinery and the workers decide that Brigitte Helm is the cause of their misery so they decide to burn her at the stake. The flames burn away at her flesh-like draping, revealing the robot beneath.

Underneath a startling examination of the human condition, Fritz Lang has constructed the definitive science fiction experience. Revelatory and exciting (as with Lang’s M made four years later), Metropolis is less an expressionist piece, and more emotional because of his reliance on character motivation rather than the static interpretation of films produced at the time. The movie is less concerned with progress than it is with entropy and the breakdown of society. Several versions of Metropolis had floated around for years after Moroder’s 1984 release, with runnings times varying from the accepted 83 minute running time to over 2 hours. Moroder, often credited with popularizing disco music in the States, suffuses his Metropolis with songs from popular artists of the time, ranging from Billy Squier and Freddie Mercury, to Pat Benatar and Adam Ant.

Critics savaged this version of Metropolis at the time of it’s release. It was even nominated for two Razzie Awards, Worst Original Song and Worst Musical Score. As this was the only version of the film I had been exposed to (also heavily promoted on MTV), I accepted it as the definitive version. Moroder’s intention was to contemporize the film and the subject matter for young audiences with the use of popular music, and he succeeds. Critics then (and now) never seem to place films in the context of when they were made, and only review them favorably if they are viewed as some subjective definition of the word, “timeless.” Though I doubt filmmakers would ever admit to it, and based on many music video produced, such as C+C Music Factory’s “Here We Go (Let’s Rock & Roll)” and Madonna’s “Express Yourself,” Giorgio Moroder’s Metropolis was enormously influential.

*Conflicting reports state Hitler and Goebbels were aware of Lang’s Jewish background, and were prepared to make him an “honorary Aryan” because of their admiration for his work, and Metropolis in particular. The film could be seen as a rallying cry for desperate, impoverished Germans after the end of the first World War. Lang’s wife at the time, Thea von Harbou (Metropolis’ screenwriter) was alleged to have been an early supporter of the Nazi Party.

Thanks to Geno Cuddy for supplying the source copy of Metropolis for this review.

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.

“Somewhere in Time, 1980”

“Forgive me. I have never known this feeling. I have lived without it all my life. Is it any wonder, then, I failed to recognise you? You, who brought it to me for the first time. Is there any way that I can tell you how my life has changed? Any way at all to let you know what sweetness you have given me? There is so much to say. I cannot find the words. Except for these: I love you”.

Somewhere in Time, 1980 (Christopher Reeve), MCA/Universal

Danny Peary, in his excellent Guide For The Film Fanatic, suggests that because Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour are so appealing in Somewhere in Time, the filmmakers should have dispensed with the script and simply shot the two leads making love in every room of the beautiful Grand Hotel. While a flippant and hilarious observation, I don’t know that I agree with Peary. The film was shown constantly on cable television. As a 12-year-old, I was bored with the movie. I didn’t understand the pacing and I had to ask my Mother why the narrative was so unusual. It’s supposed to be about time travel, so I think I was expecting something along the lines of Time After Time. She told me it was “romance,” and as such, followed the tropes and calculations of a fantasy/romance story.

An old woman slowly approaches aspiring playwright Reeve, hands him a pocket watch and whispers, “Come back to me.” Reeve is disturbed by this, to say the least, but he begins to feel a bizarre connection to the old woman. We flash forward some eight years later. Reeve is now a success but suffering writer’s block and a recent break-up, so he goes to the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, located between the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and St. Ignace on the mainland. I’ve been to Mackinac Island. The journey requires a treacherous (not to mention nausea-inducing) ride on a catamaran, but once you get there, it’s quite a sight. Despite the presence of modern automobiles in the movie, cars tend to be forbidden in keeping with the turn-of-the-century vibe, so generally you would see only horse-and-buggies.

At the hotel, Reeve spots a portrait of a beautiful woman with a mysterious smile on her face. With the help of an old bellhop (Bill Erwin), he discovers the woman in the photograph was an actress named Elise McKenna (Seymour) and that she was the old woman who gave him the pocket watch eight years before. Among her personal possessions, she kept a book about time travel, written by Reeve’s old college professor. He looks up the professor, and drops the ridiculous question, “Is time travel possible?” The professor clears his schedule for the day and runs Reeve through the basics of his theory of time travel. Let’s just put it this way: there is no time machine in this movie, but for Reeve’s horny brain! Basically, the idea is to “will” yourself into the past. You put on the right clothes for the time period, remove all extraneous reminders of the present-day from your field of view (this is important), and put yourself into a hypnotic trance. Rinse and repeat.

Reeve wakes up in 1912 at the Grand Hotel just in time to catch the final performance of a play starring Jane Seymour. He goes down to the lake front where she stands staring at the water. To his surprise, she sees him and asks, “Is it you?” It turns out she had been expecting to meet a man who would change her life forever. Her obsessive, controlling manager Robinson (Christopher Plummer) keeps trying to drive a wedge between Reeve and Seymour; all but telegraphing some kind of unrequited love and devotion under the pretense of protecting her interests, but it is striking to me how fiery and independent McKenna is as she rebels against him.

You made a time machine … out of a De Lorean?

Jeannot Szwarc directs an uneven script from Richard Matheson (based on his own book, Bid Time Return) and the movie suffers from the same problems a similar Matheson adaptation would have in the 1998 movie, What Dreams May Come. Spectacular, in a visual sense, and passionate at their respective cores, both movies cannot negotiate any dramatic strength and instead treat us to beautiful images and provide no explanation for the fantastical elements of the story, nor is there much in the way of logic to guide us through Reeve’s tormented psyche. The two leads are thoroughly engaging and they work hard to sell the idea, but it isn’t enough to carry the movie. I think Matheson (one of my favorite writers) deviated too much from his source material, yet his paradoxes (such as the pocket watch and the bellhop) are still intriguing.

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.