Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Who doesn't love classic movie dialogue? Of course, I'm not talking about lines like "You played it for her, you can play it for me", or "The, uh, stuff dreams are made of". I'm thinking of those great, creative and often bewildering lines of dialogue found in those amazing 50's drive-in classics!
If you're looking to mine excellent dialogue, you should start by watching the movies of film-maker extraodonaire, Bert I. Gordon. Dubbed "Mr. B.I.G" by Famous Monsters editor Forry Ackerman, Bert filmed some of the most entertaining low-budget movies of the 50's and 60's. These movies entranced us monster kids growing up and, while some of their technical achievements may seem a bit "low tech" by today's standards (common exclamations include "hey! they're just grashoppers climbing on a post-card!",and "hey! I can see right through that rocket ship!"), their entertainment value is second to none! (Actually, some of the effects still stand up pretty well! It took me three viewings to realize the "puppet people" stored in jars in "Attack of the Puppet People" were just slightly curved photographs)
Due to the fantastical nature of his movies, it was probably inevitable that some lines ended up coming across as a little, oh, let's say weird. Here's a sampling of some of my faves from two of his movies:
King Dinosaur (1955) The crew of a space ship land on the planet "Nova", where they are imperiled by giant dinosaurs. Their only chance of escape is summed up by the ship's doctor when he exclaimed "I brought the atom bomb. I think this is a good time to use it!" Oh, when is it not a good time to break out the old atom bomb? They're as useful as WD-40! (also in this picture, we see the credit "featuring Little Joe-the honey bear". As far as I know, this was "Little Joe's" only movie credit before he changed his name, possibly to "Gentle Ben" or "Yogi Bear")
War of the Colossal Beast (1958) A sequel to "The Amazing Colossal Man" where an unfortunate air force colonel gets irradiated, only to grow into a surley giant wearing an "expandable sarong", for which the giant credits "army ingenuity" (hey, I'm impressed!! How many armies could whip us a giant expandable sarong??). In this sequel, the giant, Col. Glenn Manning, is found to be alive and stomping through Mexico. In tracking him down, a puruer exclaims "Giants can run fast, They have long legs". Perhaps Glenn has a shot at the Rockettes with them amazing gams of his. When the pursuers find giant footprints, they exclaim "What ever made these fotprints must be 60 feet tall.", to which Glenn's sister, Joyce, exclaims, "Glenn is 60 feet tall!". Could the two be related some how??????
Of course, Mr. B.I.G. didn't have a monopoly on great lines. In the excellent movie Kronos (1957) a giant cubist robot from "up there" is sent to Earth to drain all it's power and return it to it's owners, the Ray-O-Vac company. Brave scientists led by Dr. Leslie Gaskell (played by the breathless Jeff Morrow) search for a way to stop the robot at (at one point Gaskell laments that he's possibly "pulled the scientific boner of all time"). Not impressed by this feat, Kronos continues to piston across the countryside, until the good guys hit upon the idea of reversing his electrical change by dropping something like robot itch powder on him from a jet plane. On his approach towards the target, the pilot asks the control tower "Can you pinpoint the target for me?". Oh, I don't know..... could it possibly be that 200' tall alien robot???
As you can see...endless, timeless entertainment from Mr. Gordon and others of his vintage!! Thanks for the great times, Bert!!
Monday, November 21, 2011
Having researched Archie comics ads, I thought I'd say a few words about their sound effects. Words like "brrrrf". Having mainly read super-hero or horror/fantasy comics as a kid, I was used to seeing sound effects and random vocalizations depicted in the comics. What book wouldn't benefit from the insertion of a "thwack", "skreeee" or "ba-da-bum"? When words failed the hero, victim or outrageous creature, a simple "graaough" "hnuuuh" or the ever-popular "aieeee" sufficed (with 'aieee', the more 'eeeee's' at the end of the word, the more terrifying the situation).
Archie, however, had it's own lexicon of onomatopoeia. When someone laughed, it wasn't "ha" or "har", it was usually "hyuk" or "hyok". Actions like slobbering or smootching were clearly represented with the words "slobber" or "smootch". My personal favorite, however has to be "brrrrf", as it neither copies a sound or utterance one would make in any situation, nor is it an idetifiable verb or adjective. What was it supposed to be showing in this example? Dread? Fear? Flatulance? Grinding teeth? The sound of a chain-saw not shown in the panel? It's still a mystery to me, but the more I look at it, the more I think I'll try to work "brrrf" into my vocabulary. "The car won't start....brrrf". I just won the lottery....brrrf". "Your Uncle is coming to live with us.....brrrrrrrrrrrrf". Yep, this will work out well. Happy "brrrf" everyone.
Saturday, November 19, 2011
If you read this blog you've already seen my previous post regarding the wonder and mystery of some of the comic book ads I saw as a kid. In all fairness, these were only the ads I'd see in copies of Spiderman, The Flash, or Magnus, Robot Fighter. There was, however, an alternate world of comic ads, one aimed at the predominantly feminine audience found among the readers of Archie comics!
Archie, of couse, is that perpetually teenage carrot-top with the odd cross-hatching scratched on the side of his head. Abley assisted by his friend with the tape-worm, Jughead, and pursued by the uber-feminine Betty and Veronica, Archie indulged in hilarious "hi-jinx" that ranged from getting his "japoly" working to fighting crime and solving mysteries (though the mystery of Jughead's orientation, a topic of debates for generations, has never been satisfactorally solved). Guys would occasionally read Archie comics; while waiting for a hair-cut (if there were no copies of "Sgt. Rock" or "Kid Colt, Outlaw" available) or to pass the time at the cabin until the rain stopped, but for the most part it was the girls who enjoyed reading about what they could expect when they reached High School (boys just read about what they could expect if they were bombarded with cosmic rays, which seemed infinitely more useful to us at the time).
Consequently, the ads in Archie comics tended to be aimed more towards young girls who were eager to begin lives as happy and popular young women. In order to do this, they apparently needed to be equipped with "sassy sayings" pendants, to let the world know if they were "Hot Stuff", a "Foxy Lady" or a "Super Chick". Some, like "His" and Hers" seemed to be aimed at young Juliets who already had a Romeo in tow. My personal favorite of the group is "Tennis Bum", an endearment that suggests both hair that is tragically too big, and shorts that are tragically too small.
Needing "Longer Nails" seemed to be an urget health issue, so the next ads offered
"Longer Nails in Minutes". For only $1.98, the unfortunate girl could transform her nails that are "cracked", "ugly" and an abomination to all that's decent, into glamorous back-scratchers that would be the envy of the sandbox set. Unlike her class-mates, pets, or clergy, "sta-long" nails would truly be a "girl's best friend".
But one doesn't really want to grow up too fast. To help retain that childhood innocence, the reader also had the option of buying 100 dolls! "Don't shake your head in disbelief, It's True!" the ad promised; each guaranteed to be made of "genuine styrene and synthetic rubber". Everything from baby dolls, dancing dolls, cowboy dolls and "foreign" dolls were promised, the last possibly being espionage dolls sent by a foreign power to steal our styrene secrets.
Like the monsterous ads, I never actually met a kid who ordered any of these, but I knew a lot who wanted to. Oddly enough, few were "tennis bums" or "hot stuff".
Monday, November 14, 2011
Well, Halloween is over and, as every right-thinking monster kid knows, traditionally this was the time we started our serious planning for Christmas. Of course by planning, I mean we poured over Christmas catalogues with the intensity of little Howard Carters uncovering the tomb of King Tut. I know that I, personally, never employed as much scrutiny on any of my homework assignments as I did over the toy section of the old Eaton's, then later Sears catalogues. And Why not? The Christmas catalogues always arrived wrapped in a brown paper sleeve, hinting discreetly that the contents were sure to blow your mind, and were not safe to risk allowing them to casually flip open in front of, say, expectant mothers or people taking nitrates for heart conditions.
Toy sections were usually somewhere in the middle of the catalogue, after ladies undergarments and orthopedic shoes, but before pole lamps and canned fruits and nuts. The toy section was usually arranged by age and gender, with nondescript infant and toddler toys taking up the first few pages. No need to waste time here! The next few pages were often board games. Pause for a bit...there could be something interesting! Games like Battleship and Risk always looked cool, and the old stand-bys like Clue or Trouble would always have been a pleasant surprise. Some games appeared in the catalogue for decades, despite the fact I never knew a kid who ever owned one. A prime example was a game with a little suction-cup dart pistol, where the goal was apparently to shoot a chicken to cause it to lay a plastic egg. I never had the chance to try this one, but I'm sure it caused no end of havoc with boys who were raised on chicken farms who were desperate to re-create the effect in real life.
Moving on, there was usually a large section of girls toys. Very gender-role specific girls toys, which I'm sure would cause upset in some circles today. The Easy-Bake Oven, toy stoves and baby carriages and dolls galore. I have to admit, curiosity caused me to pause here every now and then, usually to try to get some glimpse into the workings of the unfathomable alien mind of the 8 year old girl.
Finally, patience ans sweaty palms pushed to the limit, I reached the boy's section. Glorious! Here, insulated from the true spirit of Christmas, was a treasure trove of action, adventure and mayhem. My personal-favorite pages involved either that 12 inch arsenal of democracy known as G.I. Joe, or his slightly smaller and bendier space explorer counterpart, Major Matt Mason! It would have been, not only inaccurate, but an outrage to refer to these figures as "dolls", especially in front of the young consumer drooling over their potentialites. These, my friend, were action figures, a name denoting thrills, adventure and possible future interactions with fire crackers or family pets.
Almost as good as the action toys were the toy gun pages! Yeah, I've heard the arguements about not wanting to instill violence in young minds, but for most of us, that violence was already there! We've survived endless playground games, schoolyard hazings and sibling abuses to know the world was full of conflict, and if you weren't prepared to deal with it you might as well just turn to the Bridge table section of the catalogue and just stop being a kid altogether! Luckily, toy manufacturers knew that, and were prepared to supply us with the ultimate in clever and devastating weapons of mass mischef!
After thoroughly scoping out the section several times, it came time to put together "the proposal", wherein I priced out assorted permutations and combinations of pricing schemes to present to my parents. These usually were in the vein of "if you plan to spend $20.00 on me you could get me this and this, but if you were going to spend $25.00 on me, you could get me this, this this and this"! World economics wouldn't be in such a poor state if they just let some kids with toy catalogues work it out.
Tuesday, November 1, 2011
If you've read this blog before, it will come as no surprise that I love Halloween. As a kid, being able to spend weeks planning and making your costume, finally leading up to the night when you could go trick-or-treating, was second in delicious joy only to waiting for Christmas morning to come around. This was in the days before "politically correct" Halloweens, where kids are encouraged to dress up as socially positive role models like Montessori teachers or gender-neutral eco-facilitators. No, these were the days when boys wanted to dress in as violent and horrifying ways as they could on a budget of whatever could be begged or borrowed from one's parents. In those times, kids had to learn to balance the costume desires of "Mom" ("...but you'd look so cute dressed as a gingerbread bunny") and "Dad" ("...it costs what???? Forget it, here's my old hat, go as a hobo").
Now usually, a kid caught between these sorts of extreme views would end up in some sort of embarassing compromise that never really felt that satisfying. Getting sensible, inexpensive shoes instead of the cool black high-top runners with the picture of the jet on the little rubber circle sewn at the ankle, for example. But Halloween was such a magical time, that kids were usually able to buy or put together a costume that they actually thought was cool! Want to be a super-mad-doctor-pirate-vampire-eco-facilitator? At Halloween, it was possible!
Of course, that was then, and, as the proponents of linear time will insist, this is now. AGF (awesome girl-friend) and I love giving our Halloween candy and watching the assortment of costumes come to the door. This year, I decided to put a little more effort into dressing up my house, so in addition to hanging the rubber bat on the front door, I decided to put together a life-sized werewolf for my front yard. This was my first attempt to do something like this, and I have to admit, I kind of like the way it turned out. As you can see from the picture, his face was a pretty cool wolf-man mask I picked up at a yard sale this year, placed over one of those styrofoam wig-heads that I covered with fur. Note the ears, making him look a little like a were-bear...even cooler!
His eyes were little LED lights I snipped off fo two dollar-store book lights, and they were amazing. They were eye-shaped to begin with, and covering the mask's eye-holes with red tissue paper actually made them look like glowing red eyes! His body was an old plaid flannel shirt and jeans stuffed with newspaper. This wasn't as successful, as his contents tended to shift downwards, as is wont to happen to all of us, giving him a rather saggy gut and a flat derriere. Obviously, a Canadian were-wolf! He was kept upright with a broomstick running from his styrofoam neck, down the back of his pants into the ground. Once erect, my werewolf proved himself no match for the rigors of occasional gusts of wind, so his broomstick had to be supported by a metal pry-bar, also down the back of his pants, a towel, two rocks and a small log used by the cats as a scratching post. Once upright, his paws were attached to a pair of store-bought tombstones and viola, one Halloween werewolf was ready to go!
The werewolf proved to be a fun addition to Halloween, especially as the kids and their guardians weren't shy about offering comments. Here's a sample:
Older sister reassuring younger one, who is dressed as the pinkest fairy ever to wave a butterfly wand on our street: "that wolf won't hurt you". Awwwwwwww. Ok, there's a place for super-cute on Halloween!
A Mom: "I hope that doesn't move" Maybe next year, Mom!
Older guardian upon seeing the glowing red eyes: "Holy sh*t!". Gotta love that reaction!
Young boy dressed as a soldier (pointing his "rifle" at wolfie): "Brrr-rrr-rrr-rr-rrr-rrrr-at-att-att--tat" (gun sound)"Grrrrrahahahahahahaaaaaaaaaa!" (victory over werefolf cry) I'm glad that kid is fighting on our side!
And finally, two Boys: Younger one: "what's that what's that what's that?"
Older one: "It's DAD!"
A brave comment, son, considering Dad was standing right there with you! Then again, getting away with mischef has always been one of Halloween's greatest traditions. I'm glad that tradition is still alive.