Well, I coulda called it. In fact, I did call it: The hate mail has already started to pour in from pissed-off statisticians who found the (ahem) science of the Alibi’s First Ever Sex Survey to be somewhat slipshod. One guy even took issue with the “missing interval” in our when-did-you-lose-your-virginity graph and called our histogram “poorly constructed.” Them’s fightin’ words, partner! And if we knew what a histogram was, we’d be goddamn well pissed off about it. But let’s just get this out there right in the open right now: those finding the science to be lacking simply failed to notice that there was no science AT ALL. Dammit, Jim, I’m a newspaper man, not a statistician.
Here’s the truth: We used the WRONG NUMBERS for the virginity/age graph. They were actually the numbers from the “how old are you” demographic question, hence the failure of the graph to “correlate with the discussion.” So in the end, it’s not a question of missing intervals and histowhatsits, it is instead a question of being a fuckup.
In the interest of both science and setting the record straight, here now is the RIGHT GRAPH—both a legible one with low-scoring answers omitted (a practice applied to pretty much all the graphs we ran) and an ALMOST ILLEGIBLE one with ALL THE DATA (including such spurious answers as “0” and “1”). Happy? I hope so. More sexy graphs to come. Stay tuned.
(This ghost of Christmas past originally posted Dec 24, 2008.)
The first made-for-television Christmas cartoon aired on December 18, 1962, broadcast through the ether to rabbit ears and flickering tubes and glassy-eyed cherubs around the country. It had been a busy year: Ringo Starr joined the Beatles, somebody tried to off Charles de Gaulle, John Glenn orbited the earth, Spider-Man was invented, the Vietnam War raged, and the world teetered on (and off) the brink of nuclear war during the the Cuban Missile Crisis. So I suppose it’s not too shocking that “Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol” has become the show that time forgot. But it deserves more love than that.
Done in the on-the-cheap UPA “limited” animation style that has been endlessly ripped off by modern animation stylists (e.g., Genndy Tartakovsky), this inspired speed-run through “A Christmas Carol”—featuring, implausibly, Jim Backus as Mr.-Magoo-as-Ebeneezer-Scrooge—manages to transcend its Flintstones-in-Outer-Space gimmickry and deliver a goddamn amazing TV watershed. No, seriously.
The bangin’ show-stopper “The Lord’s Bright Blessing” starts at 1:16.
“Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol” was clearly made by people who cared, and does a bunch of things right that nobody today would even bother doing:
1. The songs sound like A-list Broadway material because they are: Jule Styne (music) and Bob Merrill (lyrics) went on to write Funny Girl for Barbra Streisand. Tell me “Winter Was Warm” (play clip) isn’t honestly lovely.
2. The dialogue is literary. Actual lines spoken by Mr. Magoo: “You are about to show me shadows of things that will happen in the time before us. Is that so, spirit? Ghost of the future, I fear you more than any spectre I have yet seen. Will you not speak to me?"
3. The ghosts are genuinely creepy, especially the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, who invokes sonorous timpani percussion with every silent nod.
4. The story takes place within a frame narrative: Magoo is an actor making his big comeback in “A Christmas Carol” on Broadway. One of his fellow actors is UPA contract star Gerald McBoing-Boing. There’s even intermission and a curtain call.
5. The whole Magoo-can’t-see gimmick is dropped as soon as he becomes Scrooge. Whew. That was never funny.
Where can you see this minor masterpiece? There’s a not-yet-out-of-print DVD out there, but right now it’s on YouTube posted by various contributors and in clips of varying quality. It’s not the same as having it blaring in the background while you trim the tree, but it’ll have to do. My 4-year-old gives it thumbs up.
We’ve played it two ways with Christmas music here at the Alibi: as haters and as lovers. This week’s decidedly un-schmaltzy Xmas playlist is one example. Below are a few more from Christmases gone by.
Anthropologist Hugh Gusterson, who self-identifies as “the Margaret Mead of the weapons labs” has written a thorough debunking of the myth that the disk-misplacing “cowboys and buttheads” (i.e., scientists) at Los Alamos National Labs live in a rarified “culture of arrogance.” (Either that, or he’s their sock puppet, as some have suggested.) What’s interesting is that he mostly blames the ham-fisted interference of the Bush administration. If you remember the series of embarrassing security-breach headlines that started with Wen Ho Lee and ended with a takeover of the lab’s management by a for-profit consortium, Gusterson’s brief three-act revisionist history is totally worth reading. (A tip of the hat to Slashdot for blogging this story in the first place.)
Cast: Anton Diffring, Erika Remberg, Yvonne Monlaur, Donald Pleasence, Jane Hylton, Kenneth Griffith, Conrad Phillips, Jack Gwillim, Vanda Hudson, Colette Wilde, William Mervyn
Are you an insane plastic surgeon on the run for pursuing your unethical experiments? Have you directed your own facial reconstructive surgery in a mirror using only a local anesthesic? Do you enjoy dallying with the lovely ladies whose deformed features your skill has made whole again? Are you willing to cut down anyone in your path who dares defy your iron will? Well, have you ever considered running a circus?
Hawk-faced Anton Diffring (Fahrenheit 451, The Blue Max) excels as the cruel, oddly sympathetic and totally bonkers Dr. Schüler (or is it Rossiter?), mad doctor turned circus master, in this outrageous, non-supernatural, vibrantly technicolor horror film (from the producers of Michael Powell’s notorious Peeping Tom). The ridiculousness of the scenario (Schüler collects scarred criminals—mostly women—heals them and binds them to perpetual service in his circus) is made compelling by its twisted character studies, particularly the doctor’s toady-like accomplices (Kenneth Griffith and Jane Hylton) who seethe with mixed worship and revulsion for their master. Hurried exposition (especially at the beginning) and laughable animal costumery detract only slightly from psychodrama, blood and intrigue. Great actual circus performances and a genuine pop hit (“Look for a Star”) round out the lurid entertainment.
Cast: Clive Revill, Gayle Hunnicutt, Peter Bowles, Roddy McDowall, Roland Culver, Pamela Franklin
For this ludicrous-yet-effective haunted house film, Richard Matheson adapted his own down-and-dirty novel for the screen, somehow managing to create a reasonable PG version from the NC-17 source material. The scenario is very deliberately a sexed-up ’70s remix of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House (not Hell House, got it?), itself filmed quite effectively in 1961 as The Haunting.
Some of that nice composition I was talking about.
The setup is archetypal. Four quirky characters investigate a haunted house: The physicist and his wife (Clive Revill and Gayle Hunnicutt), the touchy-feely medium (Pamela Franklin, formerly haunted as a child actress in The Innocents) and the sole survivor of a previous expedition (Roddy McDowall). The cast is great and utters potentially clunky lines about “ectoplasm” and “multiple hauntings” with so much in-character authority that they totally work.
My previous VHS viewing of this film did not include the pleasure of beholding the awesome wide-angle, widescreen frame composition employed throughout (and especially during the opening sequences). Creepy exterior shots of the fogbound house with datestamps presage each supernatural incident, creating both quickie verisimilitude and a rhythm of suspense. The general aura of competency and class—plus Delia Derbyshire/Brian Hodgson’s extra-delicious electronic score—makes Hell House an excellent Halloween A/V treat. (Well, aside from the overwrought ending.) I watched it twice.
Cast: John Marley, Lynn Carlin, Richard Backus, Henderson Forsythe
This low-budget riff on the W.W. Jacobs short story “The Monkey’s Paw” begins where the original ends: Instead of wishing the undead son away, his family invites him in. Sure, he seems a little weird, preferring to sit silently in his room all day and waiting for dark before he emerges with mod sunglasses and white turtleneck to prey upon the living. But that’s how it is when you’ve been dragged back from the grave by a mother’s love.
“Everything's fine, Bob.”
Director Bob Clark (himself now one of the undead) made a handful of notable indie horror films in the ’70s (not to mention an all-star Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper flick) before hitting box office paydirt with Porky’s and A Christmas Story. Much of the credit for Deathdream’s effectiveness must go to screenwriter (and monster-makeup artist) Alan Ormsby for creating a queasy sense of doom, Richard Backus who rocks it as the deadpan, unwillingly-revived son, as well as actors John Marley and Lynn Carlin for convincingly transplanting their troubled-married-couple routine from John Cassavetes’ 1968 film Faces into this weird little horror movie. How long can a family stay together under these conditions? Answer: not long. The downer ending manages to be both sad and horrifying, the lesson of the Monkey’s Paw learned the hard way.
Cast: Delphine Seyrig, Andrea Rau, Danielle Ouimet, John Karlen, Fons Rademakers
This truly strange Belgian vampire film (original title Les Lèvres Rouges or The Red Lips) oozes style, dread and languid sensuality, not to mention an unhinged sense of humor. The dreamlike scenario: Newlywed innocents—or maybe not-so-innocents—Stefan (John Karlen, from TV’s then-smash-hit “Dark Shadows”) and Valerie (Danielle Ouimet) decide to linger in an opulent beachside hotel when their train is delayed. Too bad it’s the middle of winter and the only other guests are the glamorous Countess Bathory (Delphine Seyrig, The Day of the Jackal, Last Year at Marienbad) and her sultry personal assistant Ilona. Before you can say “Carmilla” the oh-so-charming Countess infiltrates herself into the lovers’ troubled honeymoon and encourages the emergence of Stefan’s barely-suppressed dark side. (Just what is he hiding about his mother, anyhow?) You know what happens next.
The Countess approaches.
The glorious, desolate backdrop of an off-season resort is almost a character in itself, swallowing up the machinations and psychodramas of the tiny cast of good-looking vampires and victims. Extra points also awarded for smashing ’70s fashions, slick editing, inspired location shooting (done entirely after dark or at dusk), letting the foreign actors dub their own lines, and a sinister-yet-groovy score from French soundtrack composer François de Roubaix. Unlike other lesbian vampire films from the same time period (cough Jess Francocough), Daughters of Darkness is an intelligent, warped pleasure, equal parts art and exploitation film. The HD version on Netflix is terrific, the very definition of eye candy.
Japanese psych rock has a special unhinged urgency, as this clip of a Pikacyu-Makoto show from May 2 ably demonstrates (see the rest of ’em here). For more of this lunacy, visit The Kosmos tonight as Pikacyu (ex-Afrirampo) and Makoto Kawabata (of Acid Mothers Temple) join Mugu Guymen and Albuquerque’s own Tendorizer plus a raft of local noiseniks for one of those rare harmonic convergences you’ll kick yourself for not attending. A little bird sez pre-sale tickets are marked down until 7 p.m. tonight.
As it is, I have to base my observations on that partially-cheesy, partially-compelling, pre-DMCA-notice first episode that I also did not download from anywhere at any time and which, despite its charms, totally failed the crucial can-I-watch-it-with-my-wife litmus test. Sadness. Some thoughts:
1. The snow is not cold at The Wall. Breath is not visible. Wish I hadn’t noticed that, but I just watched Quintet where everyone is really, truly, convincingly cold (as well as really, truly, convincingly stoned out of their gourds).
2. The show, like Martin’s book, throws a lot of characters and cryptic references at you without explaining them. In a fantasy novel, this works. In a 60-minute TV show, it bugs. E.g., casual viewers might not get that Jaime Lannister and the queen are twins (this is dashed off in a single line of exposition and become very important later in the episode) or who the hell the Targaryens are. On the other hand, the only way to solve this problem is to make the show twice as long and I’m not sure I want that either.
3. The dramatic theme song and SimCity-style title visuals: nice. The canned medieval lute music during the feasting scene: aarrrgh!
4. Every scene not pulled directly from the book: aarrrgh!
5. Casting is largely pretty good. Tyrion Lannister, Jon Snow, Ned Stark, Jorah Mormont: yay; Arya Stark: we’ll see; Jaime Lannister: not crazy enough; Cersei Lannister: not evil enough; Khal Drogo: too much mascara.
6. Pentos = Penthouse. Half-naked women submitting to the lust of barbarians is not necessarily a bad thing, but there is a prurient Heavy Metal-magazine gloss to these scenes that makes them a bit ridiculous and pretty much substantiates critic Ginia Bellfante’s claim that the story is “boy fiction”. Yet if nipples are inherently entertaining (they are), these scenes rock.
7. I guess we’ve decided that every quasi-medieval fantasy world is filled with miscellaneous British accents. OK, I guess I’ll have to accept that.
8. Who the hell keeps all those candles lit in Winterfell? They must have a Captain of the Candles who runs his staff ragged.
“Lord Snow,” Game of Thrones episode 3, airs in New Mexico Sunday, May 1, at 7 p.m. and immediately thereafter throughout the universe on torrent sites that I do not now and will never visit.