“Zapped, 1982”

“Sometimes life is like an onion. When you peel it, it makes you cry.”

Zapped, 1982 (Scott Baio), Embassy Pictures

Scott Baio has been given a gift. He’s a brilliant young man – a scientist! All day long in high school, he wears a lab coat cand conducts experiments involving marijuana, alcohol, and white mice. I remember my Mother told me a story about how she placed second in the County Science Fair. She was feeding alcohol to fruit flies to observe effects and consequences. Even second place, the experiment was an official board selection and an article was penned for Scientific American circa 1964. I look at all that past aptitude and then look at my Mother these days and I wonder where it all went. We’re capable of so much sagacity in our early years and then the fever dies down as we watch our hopes and dreams taken away from us like garbage on a regular Monday morning. Back to the Baio! He wouldn’t be an enterprising young man without a Huckleberry, would he? Huckleberry, in this exercise, is played by stalwart Baio-buddy, Willie Aames (who would in short order join him for Charles in Charge). Aames serves as the Baio-id, perhaps the Hyde to his Jekyll; untamed libido and dissolute greed.

This is the requisite high school of movie-maker wet dreams; clean-cut kids, extremely short cheerleader skirts, and students who look at least a decade older than they should look. Right away we have our cliques, as identified by hair color: the brains are brunettes, and the blondes … well, let’s just say they have more fun.  Scatman Crothers (in a hilarious bit), looking for Baio’s stash of Jack Daniels), accidentally spills some “Super Growth Plant Food” into the “Cannabis Extract.” This must be one of them California high schools, huh? Huh? Because … pot was recently legalized in … nevermind. Scatman unwittingly creates a mutant potion when Aames (being a scamp!) pours beer into the mixture, which will shortly give Baio powers. Incredible powers! Incredible powers of telekinesis! Meanwhile Felice Schachter’s Bernadette (who we don’t know is actually a fox without her ridiculous glasses) keeps pestering Baio for an interview. Interesting that Felice beat out Demi Moore and Helen Slater for the part. They eventually hook up, but you know this is going to happen. An accident ensues and Baio is exposed to a chemical reaction.

Baio’s parents (Roger Bowen and Marya Small, who I just saw in a Kolchak episode) are, of course, ignorant to his plight. They seem like the kind of people who watch 20/20, and you have to wonder how they get along in bed. Instead of communicating with their son, they interrogate him about drug usage and check him for tracks in his veins. Remember Matthew Broderick’s parents in WarGames? Same deal here. Baio develops his powers, slowly at first, but then they blossom in the most awkward of ways. He fantasizes (during class) about Heather Thomas stripping in front of him while repeatedly calling his name, and he gets a hard-on. He is called on by his teacher and arranges for the map display to unravel all over her and school principal, Walter Coolidge (Soap’s Robert Mandan). The cast is populated with television actors. Back then, television and movies were separate islands, and actors never dared tread the waters between. This is why Zapped! feels like a television movie for most of it’s running time, until the boobies start popping out. It’s weird to me the producers felt pressured to add nudity to the movie to give it an R rating. That just doesn’t happen today.

Now we get to Baio’s special gift. This is a young man who could help people. He could be a real, literal superhero. He could do some heavy lifting, tugging a couch or piano out an apartment window for his moving buddies with his mind. Instead he uses his newfound talent to expose breasts. This is the Aames-as-Satan connection. Bizarre, in that Willie Aames (a very popular child actor) became a born-again Christian in the ’90s and was known for his character, Bibleman (a true superhero!). Bibleman’s alter-ego, Miles Peterson, would not approve of this garden variety-Buddy Lembeck’s obsession with sex and profit for fun. Felice crack’s Baio’s blue steel facade and falls in love with him, which is sweet. I’m a fan of their love. I don’t like him trying to remove her top with his mind as they make out, but otherwise Zapped! is a lot of fun. It feels like a TV movie that was recut (with added nude scenes) for the less-uptight European audience. There are parody bits throughout the movie; the funniest of them being Star Trek (with an obvious Millenium Falcon/U.S.S. Enterprise model hybrid), The Exorcist (involving a “possessed” ventriloquist’s dummy), and Carrie. Thank you, Scott Baio, for making us laugh at love … again.

And thank you to Mark Jeacoma, who suggested this entry to me a long time ago, as well as hosting these articles for going on two years now! For an entertaining podcast on the subject of Zapped!, check out Mark’s discussion of the movie with Chris Hasler.

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.

“Misunderstood, 1984”

“Baby Jesus wouldn’t eat this rotten junk.”

Misunderstood, 1984 (Gene Hackman), Producers Sales Organization

An all-out laugh riot from start to finish, Misunderstood is a wacky, sexy, screwball comedy about a father and son trying to re-connect after a bizarre mishap which results in zany, madcap antics and heartwarming life lessons. Actually. I’m sorry. I have the wrong notes here. Misunderstood is a 90-minute suicide note. I think that’s what I meant to say. Like Six Weeks, this is a movie completely immersed in the melancholy. We start at a funeral for Ned Rawley’s (Gene Hackman) wife, played in flashbacks by Susan Anspach. The flashbacks occur as the body is layed to rest in dismal superimpositions; moments of joy, hugging, kissing, etc. There are happy children on swings, and really what is being played out in the past serves as an uncomfortable contrast with Hackman’s present-day mood. Emotionally unavailable and obsessed with work, he’s now saddled with the unwanted responsibility of primary care for his two sons, Andrew (Henry Thomas) and Miles (Huckleberry Fox).

As a morose authority figure, Hackman acquits himself well. I don’t think he cracks one smile in the first act, but he has to lay it on the line for Andrew, who has to shepherd the younger brother through this living hell of life without their earthy mother. While he’s man enough to express some degree of affection for the little one, he’s got a chip on his shoulder when dealing with Andrew. One of the movie’s failings is the lack of a backstory for Hackman to give us an indication of his hostility. We know that he’s some sort of a shipping magnate-cum-local politician working out of a spacious palace in Tunisia. He’s much more comfortable at his desk than he is eating dinner with this family of strangers. The housekeeper/governess is at her wit’s end negotiating with the children. Andrew is a little rough on Miles, like most older siblings, and you get the feeling is always on the verge of striking him. Much of the story comes from flashbacks. There’s a beautiful moment where Andrew sees a framed drawing of his late mother obscured by a pot of flowers.

Exploring his newfound world of loneliness, Andrew spies on neighbors, dares himself to hang from the edge of a scary tree with crooked branches and observe a ritual burial, where he bursts into tears. This is such a maudlin movie! Everyone (including strangers) go out of their way to help him cope with his loss. We begin to understand that the loss is heartbreaking for Hackman, but devastating for Andrew. Hackman has lost his lover and the mother of his children, but Andrew has, in a way, lost his life (perhaps a portion of his developing personality). Yet Hackman is suffering too. They mourn in different ways. Hackman has buddy and brother-in-law Rip Torn (dressing like Tom Wolfe) and his staff to rely on, but Henry Thomas’ Andrew is almost completely alone, so he acts out in rebellious ways. Huckleberry Fox plays a similar character to his little Teddy Horton from Terms of Endearment; just a cute little energetic boy designed to irritate Henry Thomas. I kept wondering throughout the movie why Hackman was being such an asshole to his older son while babying Huckleberry.

There’s a bit of brief suspense when Miles insists Andrew take him to the center of town where the little boy promptly vanishes causing Andrew to go ape-shit looking for him. He navigates a sea of unfriendly faces and isolates Miles’s voice. It’s a well-paced, well-directed scene and it shows that Henry Thomas can do a lot more than stare slack-jawed at a friendly botanist from another planet. This is a Jekyll-and-Hyde story about children; Miles represents the cute little ball of energy you wish was your son, and Andrew is a plaid and cords-wearing nightmare come alive. Eventually Hackman warms to him, after a race with Torn up and down the jagged cliffs on the breakers of the photogenic Tunisian beach. It’s possible Hackman’s character sees too much of himself in Andrew. Like Checkov’s gun, the tree branch ultimately turns out to be Andrew’s literal downfall. I blame Huckleberry for that one as his added weight (after he insists on trying the branch himself) proves too much. In a final bid to connect to with his son, Hackman comes to the realization he is a terrible father. Like I said, this is an all-out laugh riot!

Misunderstood is an extremely difficult movie to find. It took me over a year to track down a suitable copy to watch. According to lore, there are two different endings, but the version I watched is the movie I remembered from cable television. The movie was never given a DVD or Blu Ray release. I’m not even sure if it was released on laserdisc. Misunderstood was shot in 1982, and not released until 1984. Director Jerry Schatzberg previously made Honeysuckle Rose, Scarecrow (also with Hackman), and The Panic in Needle Park. He would later direct No Small Affair with Jon Cryer and Demi Moore. The end is in sight for Vintage Cable Box. Only a handful of titles remain to explore. It’s been an incredible adventure. I really don’t want to look at any more depressing movies.

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.

 

“Rope, 1948”

“By what right did you dare decide that that boy in there was inferior and therefore could be killed??!! Did you think you were GOD, Brandon!!?? Is that what you thought when you choked the life out of him??!! Is that what you thought when you served food from his grave!!?? Well I don’t know what you thought or what you are but I know what you’ve done!!! You’ve murdered!!! You’ve strangled the life out of a fellow human being who could live and love as YOU never could and never will again!!!” 

Rope, 1948 (James Stewart), Warner Bros.

Rope is an insane film, and it’s made on the presumption of a gag, a practical joke, perpetrated by master filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock on his unsuspecting audience. This fits into Hitchcock’s theory of suspense. When questioned about the ideas of suspense, Hitchcock offered a simple scenario: two men sitting at a table talking while a bomb (that the audience can see) ticks away underneath. The audience wants to tell the men at the table to get out of there because a bomb is about to go off. That is suspense to Alfred Hitchcock. In Rope, it is not a bomb, but a dead body. I wouldn’t know how to begin describing what unfolds unless I did it from the false beginning, the anonymous entry of our two leads; these young men, Brandon and Phillip, college pals and roomies in a beautiful New York apartment, who decide, for no other reason than lazy curiosity and “moral superiority,” to strangle their friend, David, to death.

While Brandon (John Dall) is enthralled, amused, and satisfied by the act, his partner-in-crime, Phillip (Farley Granger) is horrified and disgusted, so we get two sides of a strange yet symmetrical coin. These are two “privileged” kids. They get everything (all the basic necessities and more) they want in life, and we, as the audience, are supposed to hate them. They (mostly Brandon, the obvious leader) decide to keep the body in a trunk with the rope that was used to strangle David, and then to use that trunk as the centerpiece for a dinner party they are throwing at which they have invited all of David’s closest friends as well as his mother and father, and their school housemaster (James Stewart). Phillip is unhinged, mainly because, I believe, he is worried about being caught. We never do get into Phillip’s head, while we, perversely, understand Brandon’s motivations, and his curious vanities.

The guests file in and the “fun begins,” to quote Brandon. He wants to make this a mad experiment. Perhaps he wants clinicians and psychologists to analyze this moment until the end of time, even as he rots away in a jail cell or a padded room. He wants to know why his victim, David, was so important to all of the invited guests: a young lady engaged to David, a former suitor to David’s betrothed, the victim’s parents, and the victim’s teacher. This creates a drama in Brandon’s head, and he enjoys it. This is like a dry-run of American Psycho, wherein we see these respected, wealthy socialites conferring with one another as despicable acts are committed. Strangely enough, the tone of the movie suggests black comedy, while the abbreviated sets and long takes suggest theater, at it’s broadest. It makes you wonder what other horrid acts Brandon and Phillip are capable of.

Jimmy Stewart acts as the anger and the conscience of the audience. Since the remainder of the guests are blissfully ignorant, Stewart’s character (who had previously speculated with the young killers on the nature of evil and the imposed eugenics of murder in a socialized structure) easily comes to the conclusion. He suspects Brandon and Phillip have done something terrible, unforgivable. He chastises his young charges, repudiates their callous indifference, and sentences them to death in his eyes for their misdeeds, and you’re damned if you’re not with him as he destroys them with his words. He has such power in his words that he owns the movie for as long as he’s in it. Stewart plays games with the attendees, questions them, and makes dubious statements, but what it all comes down to is watching Brandon and Phillip collapse under his interrogations. Rope is a powerful statement.

I received a very nice message from the administrator at the Vintage HBO Guides Facebook group, and I wanted to take this opportunity to thank all of my readers.  I’m forever grateful my work is being enjoyed.  Thanks!

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. 

“Rear Window, 1954”

“Nothing has caused the human race so much trouble as intelligence.”

Rear Window, 1954 (James Stewart), Paramount Pictures

Freshman year of high school, we had a cocky, smarmy English teacher who enjoyed watching us fumble through Shakespeare, and apparently lived to correct our pronunciations of various phrases and outdated language. In the middle of the semester, he directed our school play, It Had To Be Murder!, based on the Cornell Woolrich story, which would also be adapted as Rear Window. I read for the part of “Jeff”, but was given the part of Doyle, “Jeff”s” cop buddy, who ignores him and lectures him on the U.S. Constitution. Our teacher had an interesting take on how to tell the story. He wanted us to pretend there was an enormous window at the edge of the stage, and when the principal characters are looking at what they think is a murder, we’re actually looking out into the audience. Where “Jeff” is supposed to fall from his window into the courtyard, he simply falls off the stage. The actor playing him, ironically, shattered his coccyx, but luckily he didn’t have to do an encore.

James Stewart is our “Jeff” for this movie. He plays adventurous photographer, Lionel “Jeff” Jeffries who, when he isn’t convalescing (with a broken leg set in a heavy cast) in his tiny one-room apartment in New York’s Greenwich Village, or dodging his gorgeous girlfriend’s demands for a more serious relationship, enjoys peeping on his neighbors across the courtyard. He even has nicknames for them: Ms. “Lonely Hearts,” Ms. “Torso,” etc. Traveling salesman Lars Thorwald (Raymond Burr) seems doomed to care for his sick wife forever until one night, as “Jeff” drifts off into sleep, he hears (or thinks he hears) the sound of breaking glass and a woman’s scream. The next day, Mrs. Thorwald is nowhere to be seen, so he starts putting pieces together. At first, his girlfriend, Lisa (Grace Kelly) doesn’t believe him, but then she starts putting her own pieces together. His Nurse, Stella (hilarious Thelma Ritter), is all in and begins to speculate about what Lars did to conceal the body.

Lisa’s big pitch is Mrs. Thorwald’s purse. There’s no way she would leave her purse behind if she were going on a trip (this is Thorwald’s alibi to Doyle). My wife always disagrees with her line of reasoning. Maybe she just doesn’t like being pigeon-holed, but it is a woman doing the pigeon-holing, for what it’s worth. Try as he might, “Jeff” can’t convince Doyle to launch an investigation. Doyle tries to tell him about the difficulties of obtaining a search warrant, so “Jeff” puts the two women in his life in danger by sending them out to dig up the garden where they suspect Thorwald has buried his wife’s body parts. Lisa takes it one step further by breaking into Thorwald’s apartment, where she finds his wife’s wedding ring! This is very exciting and suspenseful, especially when Thorwald realizes somebody is watching him from an apartment directly opposite his across the courtyard! You’re seriously on the edge of your seat watching this as it unfolds.

There are beautiful character moments in Rear Window. Lisa (and Thelma’s) bravery in the face of “Jeff’s” obvious impotence in the situation; constricted by a wheelchair and a broken leg. The sarcasm and quick humor of everyday New Yorkers. Lisa and “Jeff’s” near-constant arguments and debates about their relationship and “rear window ethics.” “Jeff” is somewhat turned on by his girlfriend’s courage. What’s even more staggering is that all of this occurs within the confines of a tiny New York apartment. This is a fantastic movie and goes in my top five of Hitchcock movies. Speaking of five Hitchcock movies, August marks Alfred Hitchcock Month on Vintage Cable Box, wherein I will review the five movies (the “missing Hitchcocks” or the “forbidden five”) that were re-released in 1984, and then shown on cable the next year. These were the movies that introduced me to Hitchcock.

Special thanks to Bronwyn Knox for supplying the artwork.

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.

“Nate and Hayes, 1983”

“Can’t trust women – even when they’re dead!”

Nate and Hayes, 1983 (Tommy Lee Jones), Paramount Pictures

Big “Bully” Hayes tells his story to a writer hours before he is to be executed. He had been busted and betrayed by repugnant Brit Ben Pease (whose balls he had “shot off” at some point in the back-story) after trying to sell guns to backward natives on a remote island. He talks about the time he had been paid to ferry Reverend Nate (Michael O’ Keefe, wearing a ridiculous hat) and his intended, the gorgeous Sophie (luscious Michelle Pfeiffer lookalike Jenny Seagrove) to an island in the South Pacific his Aunt and Uncle govern.

Sophie hints she’s warm for “Bully’s” form (he’s kind of like the bad boy all chicks dig), but before she can do anything about it, the wedding is interrupted by the sleazy Pease and his cohorts, who murder Nate’s family, leave him for dead, and abduct Sophie so he can sell her off to a Samoan king. “Bully” comes back (presumably to liberate Sophie from her impending domesticity) but he discovers the island has been ransacked and the peaceful villagers have been taken away to be slaves. Meanwhile Nate, assuming “Bully” to be the principal architect behind the massacre, sets off to exact revenge.

After several days without food and water, he very nearly dies, but he is then rescued by Hayes. They join forces to rescue the (improbably) brave Sophie, who has to fend off Pease, his men, and and an inept German Count (Grant Tilly). The reason I say Sophie is improbably brave is because her character is obviously written to be, while no-nonsense and a realist, of aristocratic background and something of a porcelain doll, but because of our burgeoning feminist sensibillites (for the time) and a script co-written by John Hughes, she comes over as a tough chick. I don’t have a problem with it because it feels natural. If anything his script is stronger for it’s anachronisms.

Lovely Jenny Seagrove

The movie was, inexplicably, renamed Savage Islands (perhaps to cater to fans of exploitation movies), produced as a “tax shelter” movie with New Zealand money, and then sold to Paramount as a negative pick-up, which may explain the spotty distribution of the film to other formats. This is one of a handful of movies to trigger the MPAA’s PG-13 rating due to scenes of graphic violence too intense for children. Obstensibly an attempt to cash in on the action and pulp adventure boom of the early ’80s, the film failed at the box office.

A daring rescue!

Nate and Hayes was my “white whale” for a time in pursuit of those hard-to-find movies that received endless play on cable television.  This was a movie I spent years trying to track down, and even existing in chunks at places like YouTube, those chunks were soon deleted.  I finally gave up and found a VHS tape of it thanks to Captain Ziggy.  I thought I was getting a well-worn tape, but imagine my surprise when I find the Captain had sent me a sealed Paramount Home Video tape made in 1990 (possibly the last time the film was released on VHS for home exhibition)!  There are two other “white whales”; one film I managed to find, the other is still elusive.

Special thanks to Captain Ziggy!

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.

“Swing Shift, 1984”

“Blame it on the war – it’s everybody’s excuse.”

Swing Shift, 1984 (Goldie Hawn), Warner Bros.

Goldie Hawn’s husband (Ed Harris) leaves for war after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and rather than wait for him to return, she takes a job as a riveter in a munitions factory. Jonathan Demme’s 1984 film, Swing Shift, brings to the forefront the iconic image of Rosie the Riveter: a call to arms for women who were not required to serve in the Armed Forces but, nevertheless, wanted to help the war effort. The Government, at that time, launched enormous promotional campaigns on the home-front, including victory gardens, rationing stamps, and war bonds. It was a way of not only boosting confidence stateside but also reducing waste and bolstering local resources.

Goldie, while initially loyal and devoted, begins to see the War taking a toll on her fellow employees. Co-worker Holly Hunter receives news that her husband has died. This is when she begins to spend more time with leadman on the line, “Lucky” (Kurt Russell) and eventually has an affair with him. Unfortunately, the way the film is edited, there is very little remorse for her actions. I assume women at the time of the movie’s release saw Goldie’s irresponsible attitude regarding her infidelity as a ticket to enlightenment and self-reliance. Audiences would probably assume Ed Harris is dead, thus leaving her free to pursue her romantic entanglements. It doesn’t happen that way.

Ed Harris does indeed return home in one piece and very quickly figures out his wife has been unfaithful. Because of various issues with the editing of the film (according to lore, Hawn and Demme fought over the tone, where she wanted Swing Shift to be a light romantic comedy), another clandestine affair conducted between “Lucky” and Goldie’s friend, lovelorn Hazel (excellent Christine Lahti), is virtually swept under the rug. As a result, “Lucky” comes over like an asshole, which is an interesting choice for a movie like this. There is a fascinating character piece hidden inside this expensive period costume drama, and while I have no doubt Demme envisioned a smaller drama, he simply didn’t have the clout he would ferment in later years to effectively see his ideas come alive.

Sourced from the original 1984 Warner Bros “clamshell” VHS release. The movie continued to receive different format releases, and is available in Beta, DVD, Laserdisc (using the same art design as the clamshell release) and Blu Ray formats.  As with most (if not all) WEA VIDEO CANADA clamshell releases of Warner properties, the paper is flimsier than U.S.A. releases.  The paper also has wax stains, and the label on the tape appears to have been printed for Beta tape.  The accompanying essay takes great pains to promote Swing Shift’s cinematography, production design, and costumes, as well as Jonathan Demme’s interesting vision of film.  “But perhaps the most moving thing about Swing Shift is its unique tone — the same gently ironic affection Demme displayed in his earlier hit Melvin and Howard.  ‘I’m after a reflection of life,’ Demme explains, ‘which is not exactly comedy and not exactly drama, but a blend of both.'”

Perhaps that’s my central complaint in the majority of Demme’s work.  His films shift uneasily from comedy to drama to horror to psychological terror, and while I understand that life is often a mixture of these conditions, it makes for an unnerving cinematic experience. Something Wild springs to mind  as another example of this problem, as Andrew and I noted on our podcast Extreme Cinema when we discussed Demme’s films.  Demme’s is a career interrupted by mass appeal and pop culture distraction. Those who create the work do not succumb to that work. They simply continue until they die. I always felt Demme had a masterpiece in him, but he never had the chance to realize it.

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.

VINTAGE CABLE BOX: “American Pop”, 1981

cable-box-001-2696“A stripper gettin’ dressed ain’t beautiful unless she’s ugly to begin with.”

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“American Pop”, 1981 (Ron Thompson), Columbia Pictures

“American Pop” is a song with a simple rhyme; the condensed history of recorded music from big-band to punk, where the journey begins over a hundred years ago with Russian émigrés traveling to the United States to escape Cossack persecution. The descendants of an extended family fight in wars and face episodes of tragedy while trying to realize their musical aspirations. The story settles with young Tony, a Long Island punk who writes songs by night, washes dishes by day, all the while fighting an increasing dependency on heroin.

Tony reunites with his long-lost son, Pete, who also shares an interest in music. Together they deal drugs to high-profile musicians. Tony’s addictions grow worse and he sells his musical instruments in order to pay for more drugs. He abandons Pete after taking all their money. Pete, obviously learning from his family’s missteps in life in pursuit of their own musical dreams, is hired on-the-spot by a musical group whom are stunned by his talent.

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This was the nadir of adult animated features, and because of rights issues with the music used in the soundtrack, a forthcoming video release was blocked until 1995. The same problems arose with a pending video release for “Heavy Metal”, another cult favorite. Animated adult movies are not produced anymore. The market is now consistently geared for children.

“American Pop” is an incredible movie to behold; predating “A Scanner Darkly” by 25 years, this mixed media marvel uses rotoscoping to create realistic movements in astonishing dance and music sequences (which recall classic Disney), and the result is tremendously rewarding. Ralph Bakshi, most notably, directed the first X-rated cartoon, “Fritz The Cat”, as well as a popular adaptation of “Lord Of The Rings”, and later, “Cool World”. “American Pop” serves to remind the audience that talent and dreams are not enough to succeed in this increasingly cold world. Sometimes all we need is a little luck.

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. You can hear my podcast at Misadventures In BlissVille and you can visit my Facebook group page.

“Vintage Cable Box” artwork by Bronwyn Knox.

Vintage Cable Box: “Porky’s”, 1981

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“That … tallywhacker had a mole on it. And that mole is the key to it.”

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.

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“Porky’s”, 1981 (Kim Cattrall), 20th Century Fox

As a standard teen sex comedy narrative, “Porky’s” is based on repetition, and a curious parochial attitude in which something good (read: sexy) happens to one of our protagonists, and then almost immediately, that protagonist is punished for his pleasure. In one key scene (the basis for the poster, no less) our plucky heroes are spying on girls through peepholes in the shower. One of them decides to tempt fate by sticking his … ahem “tallywhacker” through the peephole. It is then that girls coach, Miss Ballbricker, grabs the offending appendage and pulls on it, causing our hero a respectable amount of pain.

“Porky’s” follows our teen heroes from one sexual misadventure to another. The story takes place in 1954. Imagine “American Graffiti”, but with significantly more skin. It’s a low-budget coming-of-age movie with a top-rate cast, excellent acting, photography, and a story that doesn’t condescend to, or patronize it’s audience (other than a haphazard subplot about bigotry, but I’ll forgive writer/director Bob Clark for that misstep). The movie was a tremendous hit for Fox, earning over a hundred million smackeroos at the box office, but it was on cable television that the movie’s success truly blossomed, as it were. While our parents forbade us from the pleasures of Pee-Wee and Wendy in the theater, they couldn’t stop us from checking it out on our vintage cable boxes!

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“Porky’s” was followed with two sequels, the competent “Porky’s 2: The Next Day”, and the dreadful “Porky’s Revenge” (with music from George Harrison!). Most memorable is the beautiful Kim Cattrall, hilariously nicknamed “Lassie” because of her penchant for high-pitched squealing during sex. Dependable character actors, Alex Karras and Susan Clark (from TV’s Webster), as well as Art Hindle, and Nancy Parsons, fill out the cast of mostly-unknown young actors. Bob Clark directed one of my favorite 70s horror movies, “Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things” as well as the perennial holiday classic, “A Christmas Story”. Sort of puts a different spin on “You’ll shoot your eye out!”

Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties. You can hear my podcast at Misadventures In BlissVille and you can visit my Facebook group page.

“Vintage Cable Box” artwork by Bronwyn Knox.