Sunday, August 30, 2015

Let Oscar winner Anthony Quinn tell you what the hell love is

A face that says "romance": Anthony Quinn on the cover of his 1969 LP.

I don't know who was asking for it, but in 1969, Mexican-American actor Anthony Quinn, star of Zorba the Greek, recorded a spoken word album entitled In My Own Way... I Love You for Capitol Records. By that point, he'd already won two Academy Awards, so I guess he could do whatever the hell he wanted. I mean, who was going to say no to Anthony Quinn? The 12-song collection, also featuring the Harold Spina Singers, contained Quinn's gravely-voiced, philosophical musings about love, which he recited over a lush musical background. I'm guessing the album was supposed to set the mood for a romantic evening. If you were some high-powered advertising executive, say, and you'd just brought home some cutie from the typing pool back to your penthouse apartment, you'd put In My Own Way... I Love You on the hi-fi, pour some drinks, dim the lights, and wait for the magic to happen. And what did you get for your money? Well, you'd get tracks like "What is Love?" It takes Mr. Quinn quite a while to get around to answering the title question, and his winding path takes him through such diverse topics as peanut brittle, the New York Yankees, and "snitching a drag on a cigarette." My favorite part is when he just starts listing women's names. I can't tell you how many times I've amused myself by imitating this very passage. What eventually is revealed is that Anthony Quinn is, hands down, the manliest man who ever manned. Take a listen.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Pointless nostalgia time: 'Meadowlark Lemon Presents the World' (1979)

I didn't hallucinate it. This movie really existed.

The way you can remember the difference between latitude and longitude is that latitude lines are like the rungs on a ladder, while longitude lines look like long telephone poles. Got it? That's a little detail I stored away from a 1979 educational film called Meadowlark Lemon Presents the World, a lighthearted, 17-minute primer on basic geography hosted by a member of the world-famous Harlem Globetrotters. Though I never attended one of their games in person, the 'trotters were nevertheless a vital part of my couch potato youth, what with their two (count 'em!) Hanna Barbera series and innumerable appearances on talk shows and specials, not to mention their utterly ridiculous and unmotivated crossovers with Gilligan's Island and Scooby-Doo. Who can hear "Sweet Georgia Brown" without feeling the urge to spin a basketball on one's index finger? Yeah, the clown princes of the court were everywhere in the 1970s and 1980s, including, it seems the classroom.

I was lucky enough to be around for the last few years of educational films being actual reels of film being threaded through a projector. The transition to VHS and those omnipresent rolling TV carts did not occur until my middle school years. No, if a teacher wanted to kill some time with a movie, he or she actually had to have some rudimentary AV skills. My parents were both teachers, and I can still remember going with my dad to the Flint Public Library when he wanted to check out an educational film. (This was before video stores.) The movies -- 16mm, I guess -- came in these big, flat, grayish-brown boxes, about the size of a small pizza, and they were held shut with straps. I don't know why, but I thought that was neat. You had to go to a special room on the second floor of the library to get them. I thought that was neat, too.

But, anyway, back to the movie at hand. Somewhere around the third or fourth grade, a teacher must have shown our class Meadowlark Lemon Presents the World as part of a unit on how to read maps or something. It was the kind of weird, fun, little movie which just might take up residence in a person's subconscious forever. It certainly did in mine. Interestingly (to me), Presents the World was made by the same group of amiable zanies who did the fondly-remembered Close Encounters parody film Closet Cases of the Nerd Kind in 1980, just a year later: director Rick Harper, writer Bob Rogers, and actors Stan Greiwe and Sandy Stotzer. I imagine they had fun with this assignment. Also in the cast is Mike Jittlov, director, writer, and star of the (unseen by me) cult classic The Wizard of Speed and Time (1988).

Meadowlark Lemon Presents the World, sadly, is not to be found in its entirety on the Internet. A company called Pyramid Media markets a DVD of it, but it'll cost ya: thirty bucks for personal use, ninety bucks for instructional use. If you're planning on buying me a copy for my birthday next month, please choose the $30 option. Happily, there are some clips available online, like this one featuring Stan Greiwe as a detective-turned-superhero and Mike Jittlov as a sinister, black-hatted villain. Enjoy:



What's really weird is the complicated, nesting-doll structure of Meadowlark Lemon Presents the World. It starts out as a film-within-a-film, and before long it becomes a film-within-a-film-within-a-film. You see, the introduction involves a hapless grade school teacher (also Greiwe) showing this movie to his unruly students. Then Meadowlark takes over and shows even more films, like the one above. It's like Inception for eight year olds.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Remember lickable wallpaper from 'Willy Wonka'? Well, I've perfected it.

The strawberries taste like strawberries. The snozzberries? Well, you know what they taste like.

Go ahead. Don't be shy. We've all seen the movie. We all know how this works. Those pictures of fruit up there? They're lickable. Don't ask how. Just stick out your tongue as far as it will go and drag it across the screen of your computer, laptop, or smartphone. You'll taste an amazing array of fruit flavors: strawberry, pineapple, lime, grape, banana, cherry, and blueberry. Despite what the movie tells you, there's no plum and there are no snozzberries. Trust me, you wouldn't want a snozzberry anyway. Just enjoy what's there and be grateful that I've chosen to share this amazing technological breakthrough with you through my obscure pop culture blog.

NOTE: I don't want to alarm you, but if you lick your screen and don't taste anything, it indicates that you have a serious, life-threatening medical condition and will probably be dead within a month. You can consult a physician if you want, but it's already too late. If your screen doesn't taste like a bag of Skittles, you're already a goner. Get your house in order. Make peace with whatever phony baloney god you believe in, and then stick a fork in yourself, 'cause you're done. But that's not going to happen, right? You're tasting that pineapple already, aren't you? That's what I thought.

This photo challenges everything I thought I knew about 'Beetlejuice'

Winona Ryder and Alec Baldwin on the set of Beetlejuice.

This is somehow the same guy.
I was under the impression -- mistaken, it now seems -- that Beetlejuice was made before Alec Baldwin had achieved maximum Alec Baldwin-ness. He was still in a larval or pupal stage then, I thought. He'd mainly done soap operas at that point in his career, though he was starting to get some tasty supporting roles in movies, usually playing arrogant jerks and philanderers. Miami Blues, the movie I thought of as his true breakthrough, was still two years away. But obviously, my longstanding beliefs about Mr. Baldwin were totally false. He was always Alec Baldwin. He was born Alec Baldwin. He was probably already practicing his Glengarry Glen Ross monologue in the womb so that he could tell his mother that "epidurals are for closers" when she was in labor with him. And still they had him playing a small town nerd in a Tim Burton movie! It was a role which must have demanded the near-total suppression of his own personality, like a lion impersonating a lamb. Once he removed the dorky glasses of his Beetlejuice character -- meek, model-building rookie ghost Adam Maitland -- he instantly transformed into his true self. That's all it took. It's the Superman/Clark Kent phenomenon in real life. If Alec was not in the running for Superman Returns, then he damned well should have been. This guy could go from zero to Jack Ryan in one second. The same haircut which looks hopelessly dorky on Adam Maitland looks positively badass on Alec Baldwin. A lot of it is in the eyes and the smirk. Man, can this guy smirk. And speaking of eyes, check out how Winona Ryder -- then at the peak of her powers as America's Mall Goth Sweetheart -- is gazing at Mr. Baldwin in total fangirl adoration. She's the moth to his flame. What drew her in? The stubble? The chest hair? Or was it just the general aura? Gaze at the photo and wonder, dear readers.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Imperial margarine commercials lied to us

Da da da DAAAAAAH!

One of the great disappointments of my youth was that my mother never once bought Imperial margarine at the grocery store. I'm not sure which brand we used, but it wasn't Imperial, that's for sure. I always wanted to try this perfectly-ordinary butter substitute so that, upon eating it for the first time, an Edward-the-Confessor-type crown would magically appear on my head and I'd hear the familiar regal fanfare, just like the people in the TV commercials. I was understandably curious, too, about Parkay and its mysterious talking tubs of oleo. But Imperial held the greater fascination. Imagine being one dinner roll away from becoming royalty! Did the crown come with any attendant power, I wonder? Did you get to keep it, or did it vanish once you became acclimated to the taste of Imperial? So many, many unanswered questions.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Sometimes, I just need to be openly miserable, okay?

I want you to study this graph very closely. Commit it to memory.

This blog has sucked lately, but I don't apologize for that because it has sucked for a valid, legitimate reason. As anyone who has read Dead 2 Rights or who has known me for any amount of time should be aware by now, I suffer from depression and anxiety. (You should know this because I won't shut up about it.) And we're talking medically-diagnosed, clinical depression and anxiety here. I take antidepressants and attend weekly therapy sessions, and these things help somewhat, but they are not magic by any means. They are not a cure-all. Treatment of mental health issues can be complicated and frustrating. The best, quickest way to illustrate this is to direct you to a recent BuzzFeed article by Anna Borges entitled "13 Graphs Anyone Who's Ever Been Depressed Will Understand." Please read it. It's an excellent summary both of what depression is truly like (read: mostly boring) and of the various misconceptions people have about the condition. Of particular interest is Borges' keen observation that "sometimes, you relapse." That's very true for me.

Since my hospitalization in late 2012, I have made slow, sometimes barely-perceptible progress in my quest to become a happier, healthier person. But I have my share of bad days, too, and sometimes those can turn into bad weeks or even bad months. Lately, I will admit that I have been relapsing somewhat. My high-stress, low-satisfaction job is a constant source of both depression and anxiety, and some recent changes there have had a significant negative effect on me. Part of the fault is my own. As an anxious person, I am liable to take minor, inconsequential issues and magnify them until they are huge, life-threatening crises. And as a depressed person, I am liable to fall into a state of helplessness and lethargy. Combine the two and you've got a real mess on your hands.

One thing which really helps -- and this can be difficult for people to accept or understand -- is to vent my negativity. I do that in therapy, sure, but I also occasionally do that on this blog and in private conversations, too. There are some posts on Dead 2 Rights which are strictly excuses for me to be negative and complain about everything which is going wrong in my life. If those articles don't interest you, by all means skip right over them. There's plenty of other stuff here to read. But if you do choose to read those articles, please try to understand that I just need to be a total downer sometimes. I don't want these articles to worry you or upset you. Believe it or not, these articles help me to feel better. Please just let me be miserable sometimes. It's important to me.

Okay, I'm glad we had this little talk. You may go in peace to love and serve yourself.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Why is Epstein's jacket all knotted up?

Remember the episode where this happened? No, you don't. There wasn't one.

Mystery girl Starlee Kine
Leave it to me to arrive at the depot after the train has already left. This week, I more or less accidentally discovered a marvelous new-ish podcast called Mystery Show, hosted by This American Life's ever-delightful Starlee Kine. (Her breakup story, entitled "Doctor Phil," is one of my favorite TAL pieces of all time.) Kine's new show, as the title might indicate, is devoted to solving mysteries. But these aren't true crime stories (murders, disappearances, etc.), and they aren't the great secrets of life and the universe (what killed the dinosaurs, does God exist). At least not yet. As of now, the show has gotten to the bottom of smaller, quirkier mysteries. An author, for instance, wanted to know why one of her unsuccessful books somehow wound up being toted around by Britney Spears. Another woman wanted to know the fate of a little video store which seemed to disappear overnight. One man wanted to know the origin of a novelty, custom-made belt buckle with a built-in miniature toaster. And then there was, for me, the most intriguing of them all: Why did Aladdin Industries' Welcome Back, Kotter lunchbox from 1977 depict a scene in which Barbarino and Epstein seem to be fighting over a knotted-up jean jacket, since no such scene ever occurred on the program? Starlee Kine answers all of these queries with a surprising amount of compassion and detail.

All episodes of the podcast can be found here at the show's website. I blew through all six episodes in about a day and a half. The trouble is, by the time I finally found Mystery Show, its first season was already over. I don't know when Season Two is starting, but Kine insists that there are more mysteries in her future. I hope so.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

'Could you just not breathe?'

*inhales* *exhales* *inhales*

I won't say that my life is in free fall right now, because there's nothing "free" about the way I'm currently living. On the contrary, I'm like a caged animal, endlessly pacing the same few square feet of space. The days are endless. The nights unfathomable. I cannot remember feeling worse. It all seems clear to me now that I've made a series of terrible life choices. Or, rather, I've failed to take ownership of my existence and have just let the world do with me as it pleases. And now, here I am: staring down 40, stuck in a job I loathe (yet which I fear losing), and totally out of options. I don't know what I'm going to do. It's like I'm stuck in the most boring nightmare ever, and it cannot and will not end. I'd love to fake my own death and start over with a fake name. Maybe I'd resurface as a monk or a riverboat card sharp. Ahhhhh.

Lately, I've been taking solace in dark comedy. I don't have much time for watching movies these days, but I can listen to the audio from them at my desk, so that's what I've been doing. George Axelrod's Lord Love a Duck (1966) and Bob Zemeckis' Death Becomes Her (1992) -- both scathing critiques of humanity -- have been particular favorites in this regard. And during my morning and evening train rides, I've just reread Nathanael West's A Cool Million (1934) for what must be the twentieth time. I think I'll start the twenty-first time on Monday morning. Nowadays, it seems that I only respond to stories in which the characters are cruel, shallow, and selfish and go out their way to hurt one another. It's so much better, too, when the cruelty is played for laughs and we are allowed, expected even, to relish the suffering of others. West takes obvious glee in torturing and humiliating the naive protagonist of his novel, and I share his glee.

ADDENDUM: Please do not take blog posts like this too seriously. Occasionally, I am in a dark mood and feel the need to vent. What can I say? I'm a dramatic guy. That's what these posts are for. I hope the little tirade above did not ruin anyone's day. I'm fine. I was just tired and grumpy when I wrote those paragraphs up there. Thanks for understanding. J.B.