Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Seven Dope Analog Sci-fi Nugs (Post-STAR WARS, i.e. 1978-87)

Biiitch, and I mean you youngsters: you're all spoiled with your blah blah, but (cranky presuppository insert). But back in the day all we had was STAR WARS, and its special effects were analog. The ships were made with model airplane parts; the stars were made by poking pins through black felt and shining a light behind it. Child, we made everything ourselves, high as shit on Testor's fumes circulating in our D&D dungeons. Computer Graphics were still at the Pong-stage; Atari was just giant pixels floating around a cathode tube. Life in space was tactile, vast and loud. But the biggest problem with STAR WARS, easily the most influential film of the late-70s? Just one woman in the whole damn thing. It was crush on Carrie or get lost. Ditto Raiders of the Lost Ark and, basically, Jaws. If you wanted women characters on par with men you had to go to Italy, or Roger Corman.

Corman and New World and the Italians, watching the box office from the wings, they knew - add more babes in positions of power and intellect, dressed to bug the eyes of teenage boys in ways Leia's Heidi-style braids couldn't hope to match. Scrap the John Williams pomp in the score, turn up the synths, crank up the jams, let fly. Don't just crib from Lucas, crib from his sources: Flash Gordon, Golden Voyage of Sinbad, and Akira Kurosawa movies. 

Often maligned as imitations by us pre-teen virgin nerd film snobs at the time, often undone by terrible cropping for VHS and bad dubbing (which we read as a sign of weakness), today these scrappy influence-gathering sci-fi pack rats glow anew, and for a very simple reason: DVD, widescreen HD, and an overload of bad CGI. Now free of their cropping and color-graded to glow anew, our appreciation for their tactile analog special effects and grainy 35mm film reborn thanks to solid HD restoration, Italian imports and New World pictures can once again make full use of widescreen for their imagined drive-in audience's windshield. Now with restored HD colors and anamorphic widescreen on a solid HD TV with deep blacks (like my beloved Sony Bravia), oh my my my! And Prime's got 'em.

(1983) Dir Lamont Johnson 
*** / Amazon Image - A+

Time and widening sharpening HD video has been especially kind to this weird fusion of elaborate junkyard art design and middling everything else. What was once just another blatant PG blender-pureed Star Wars Road Warrior virgin cocktail (Molly Ringwald as the semi-feral ragamuffin- her red hair niftily color-coordinated with her dirty clothes) now beguiles and corrupts with its beauty. Filmed for 3D (as the plethora of things flying right at the camera will confirm), it holds up better in 2D now that the whole (wide, anamorphic) screen is visible (the reviews at the time pointed out that with the 3D glasses it was too dark - and indeed there is a lot of shadow and night/twilight scenes that probably got lost in 3D or on pan and scan home video). I guess that means no more being a 16 year-old smartass bemoaning seeing his beloved Road Warrior wasteland besmirched with a PG rating, terrible cropping, and a bratty redheaded tomboy companion (at least she didn't have an 80s perm).

Peter Strauss stars as a bounty hunter free spirit on a rescue mission to a wild wild desert planet wherein virtuous maids that crashed there are held captive by a slavering bandit chief. The reward should be massive, but is 'Spacehunter' out of his faux-Solo depth? His Chewie is a cute girl alas killed in the first big firefight after the hostages are whisked away by crazy glider hooks (a very cool stunt!). So this time it's personal! He's going into the Forbidden Zone to get those girls, no matter the danger. His particular set of skills may seem limited to acting scruffy and rougue-ish, and he may not be Harrison Ford, or even Christopher George, but Strauss sure gives Andrew Prine a run for his money, were he in a running mood.

Though the pacing is off and the whole thing kind of a hodge podge of re-furbished early-80s sci-fi iconic moments, it's the spectacularly termite-detailed art direction that makes it work. Now that we can actually see all the details, the film bumps up two stars in rating. Cars are immaculately dirty and surreal. The sail -(wind powered)-trains are life size and move on actual railroad tracks. Hang gliders swoop down and capture people in low hanging talon attachments, none of these things are miniatures of models but life-size); characters show up out of nowhere on roofed circular motorcycles; a barrage of deflated Michelin man-style blubber people come sliding obscenely forth from hanging cocoons; big trippy neon tunnels suck soul energy; and--the big highlight climax--Molly Ringwald is thrown into the pit to try and survive an obstacle course spring-activated buzz saws, spikes, whirring lawnmower blades, fire jets, and an ever advancing spike-fronted bulldozer. Hot damn!

Funny enough, the main reason my buddies and I sneered at this film at the time was due to our reverence for the The Road Warrior. How could we know George Miller destroyed that reverence himself by filling Thunderdome with Tina Turner's imperious overacting, a cadre of scruffy orphans, and a 'Thunderdome' that includes bungee bounciness. What's next, George? An ewok? And don't make some lame joke about Angelo Rossitto. The man is a treasure. I didn't care for having to imagine a whole layer of pigshit under the city. That's disgusting, George!

It was a rough time to be a teenager, the mid-80s, during sequel fever. Greedy filmmakers forgot all the best films we saw repeatedly in theaters--Raiders, Ghostbusters, Conan, Star Wars -- had no kids in them. It was like they'd turned to writing of the sequels over to TV sitcom hacks for whom learning kids liked a movie meant putting actual kids in the sequel, which is a kind of dumb "you got an F in viewer psychology class and all you got was this lousy 7-figure writing gig" habit of Hollywood's. So Star Wars developed an ewok problem the same year (1983) as Spacehunter came out; Raiders of the Lost Ark's 1984 sequel had that insufferable Short Round, even Ghostbusters 2 (also 1984) had to have a baby in it. As I've said, kids hate to see themselves in movies unless they're legit savages -see CinemArchtype 21: The Wild Child - rather than merely slightly scruffy brats with big black velvet painting eyes.

Well, Ringwald gets a pass because, though her acting is all over the place, at least she's a girl, and cute, and not insufferable. Well, she's kind of insufferable, but the color coordinating of the maroon-brown clothes and her cherry red hair go a long way.

So, let's bury the hatchet and savor the anamorphic HD screen and Amazon's lovely streaming print, which allows us to savor so many elaborately and creatively detailed settings. The bad guy's big lair, for example, is about three stories tall and full of so much welded-together artfully-rusted bric-a-brac it should have been made into a permanent interactive art installation the moment filming wrapped. Instead it's just raced through by the actors on their way to the next Big Moment. I can only imagine the sorrow of the craftsmen who labored on such spectacular mise en scene only to have it all torn down after the wrap, see the film barely recoup costs, and then have 90% of all their work lost on pan and scan home video, never---as far as they knew--to be seen again. Redemption ahoy!

For example, the space above, a beautifully natural-industrial flooded cavern/basement kind of environment, neither indoors nor out, with mangrove tree roots that are actually pipes, and so forth, is the kind of 'in-between' zone Antonioni would approve of were he making a sci-fi film in his post-structuralist Red Desert period. And then these sex hungry sirens cohere out of the mist, debating whether to use our wandering mercenary Peter Strauss for breeding purposes, a great idea (he's into it), but that's scuttled almost immediately with the arrival of a small dragon/snake thing (like an X-mas garland with teeth) which the sirens are all afraid of but seems easily dispatched by their spears or elaborate nets. That's a wrap on the sirens - were they edited out to make this a "G" rating? No one even mentions them again. and YET, Strauss and Molly Ringwald are too scared to go back into their parked car; they escape up a hatch to the surface and leave their car behind so they can wander the desert and almost die of thirst. Jesus - why didn't they just back the car out? It makes little sense, and this great set and sexy siren thing is just forgotten for the rest of the picture- we're onto another gorgeous, creatively ingenious set, should have been an art installation, but Strauss and Ringwald just run through it and it's never seen again.

Lastly, in my continuing push to restore some kind of platonic good faith between women and straight men, I recommend the film not just for the beautiful visions and creativity of the sets and vehicles, but also the unique relationship between Molly and Peter Strauss's characters. There's never any sexual intention between either one of them - never even a thought of it. She's obnoxious, but that's okay - I like she cuddles up to him in the dead of night because she's cold, but that it's no more than that for either of them or for the director, script or any unspoken subtext. She's more an adopted orphan, a scrappy Oliver, a Dr. Who companion, and his disinterest in even having her around speaks to, ironically enough, his worth as a mentor. It's a testament to a more innocent time, when real men were trusted to be caregivers of teenage redheads because, unlike celibate priests or pent-up nerd weirdos, they were laid, loose and not Archie Lee desperate or Humbert creepy.

Best of all, PG or no, it all ends with cocktails!

(1980) Dir. Jimmy T. Murakami, Roger Corman
Script by John Sayles; Art director: James Cameron
(New World) - ***1/2 / Amazon Image - A+

The idea that this film was actually put out by Corman's New World seems absurd- it looks like a movie that would cost at least 100 million today but actually just cost 1. Imaginatively written by John Sayles (adapting the plot of Magnificent Seven/ Seven Samurai) it's got a zingy cast including John Saxon as the evil warlord; Robert Vaughn as a professional killer hiding in a dusty old space arcade; starry-eyed Richard Thomas as the farmboy hero pressed into action; George Peppard as a kind of Han Solo meets cowboy truck driver; buxom Sylvia Kristel as a diminutive Valkyrie; and--a personal favorite--a robotics engineer played Darlanne Fluegel, whose haunting gray eyes perfectly compliment her blonde hair and gray-piped pink jumpsuit.

James Cameron worked in the art direction unit, which--as with his work on Galaxy of Terror--may partly explain why every frame pops to the point Star Wars now seems hopelessly square by contrast. Just look at the ship John Boy flies in (above) - it's both phallic and fallopian, like some Frank Frazetta barbarian lost a fight with a sexy slug --why wasn't there a toy version of that instead of the tiresome Falcon? I'm also a big fan of the cozy spaceship and planet interiors, full of warm hued-lighting and interesting touches that give them a 70s shag carpeted / older brother's van kind of aura. Every ship has its own homey touch, you want to live in them and get to know these people (most of them anyway), but since it's a Corman joint it has to be over in under 90 minutes so Roger can save money on film cans. (Would there was a longer director's cut).

There are still negative voices out there for this movie, but if they're going by some old video pan and scan or other, they need to shut dey mouths and watch it again... in Prime's widescreen HD, where it glows and beguiles. And if they don't appreciate Sayle's weirdly Buddhist script (lotsa talk about the 'Vardas' preaching nonviolence) or the gorgeous matte shots and creative ideas bouncing all over the place, then to hell with them. For me, the only sour note concerns the scarfaced moron underlings of Sador, who have balding ginger 'fros and piggy noses, who pick up a peasant girl and presumably rape her in the back of their spaceship (it's an oddly sleazy addition, unnecessary moment). There's also some weird misplaced hostility from John Boy with the arrival of Kristel's valkyrie, and her sudden appearance as a right-sized (and how!) maiden is never explained. If I have to get this minor to quibble, you know I loved the rest of it. Hubris kept me from watching it at the time it came out-- it seemed such a blatant ripoff to my 13 year-old Star Wars-ophile senses (Empire Strikes Back was out the same year)--but today I could care less about Star Wars whereas I'm a big-ass fan of Battle Beyond the Stars. Hey, it even has more than one female character --they even talk to each other in one scene! Maybe George Lucas should have been ripping it off instead of vice versa?

(1978) Dir. Luigi Cozzi
***1/2 / Amazon Image - A
If you're watching all these as part of an Acidemic-azon Prime festival, let me warn you that it's better to watch this one first, because the FX are so crude it can feel like you just got demoted to the kid's table. That's not to say that--in their badness-the special effects are not peculiarly charming, they sure as shit are. If you remember Lite-brite ("making things with light"), HO scale airplane models and erector sets, you'll feel like you made this movie and just forgot. And hey, the film you made is a blast... a big terrible blast. Directed by the "Italian Ed Wood," maestro Luigi Cozzi (working here, as he often did, under the Americanized 'Lewis Coates'), Starcrash moves so fast from cliffhanger to cliffhanger it seems to have more in common with one of those compressed feature film versions of the 1936 serial Flash Gordon (right down the helmets, and the hero's escaping his/her stint shoveling fuel into the enemy blast furnace) more than its clear source in$piration, the previous year's Star Wars. The sets, guns, and costumes are all super kinky and wild, and clearly Cozzi lavished attention on weird details, leaving the big picture a tad lumpen, but never flaccid.

The story has outer space adventuress Stella Starr (Caroline Munroe) squaring off against her future Maniac co-star Joe Spinell as the evil-laughing, mustache-twirling, cape-swirling Baron. Spinell is clearly having fun so it's too bad he (as well as Munroe) were dubbed by other people. In league with "dark forces," the Baron has created a weapon "so vast, so huge, it would take a whole planet... to conceal it," Clearly, when it comes to Star Wars rips, Coggi don't kibitz -- (there's even an actual light saber at one point). On the other hand, his real yen is clearly to do The Golden Voyage of Sinbad in space -and to that end there's a stop-motion giant 'metallic' warrior woman guarding a beach, a sword fight with a pair stop-motion skeletons, a benevolent stranger in a gold mask, treachery from an evil double agent, and Caroline Munroe (that's why Cozzi cast her and made sure she brought her heavenly midriff).

Now the bright side: even if you don't like Munroe's co-star Marjoe Gortner (perhaps due to some archaic prejudice against overly white teeth and curly hair) one has to admit that--maybe thanks to his being an ex-child evangelist--he handles the scenes of mystical magical force-casting with admirable dead-eyed focus and his red and black leather uniform is way cool.  Munroe's 'sexy' outfit looks like it was cut out of a naugahyde car seat by contrast, though it's still a striking image that cuts through the years like a knife (especially if you're old enough that you remember her Starlost magazine cover). But oh, if only there was more of the evil Amazon queen, Corelia (Nadia Cassini -above)! Tossing off classic bon mots ("put her in the mind probe!") in her repurposed gladiator movie brocade, tossing her dynamite bangs back from her eyes while tossing Stella to the mines, with a few extra lines she might have been a new Aura or a gender-reversed Vultan. Sadly, like every other challenge they wiz past, Stella and her inexplicably Texan robot, "L", escape from her clutches mere seconds after falling into them. On the other hand, what a blast. And refreshingly, not even the mildest feint toward actual science: the Baron's ship has windows which the good guys fly into via two-men torpedo ships, crashing in and opening fire. When Stella need to jump from one ship to another she just needs a bubble helmet and off she pops. It's very Mongo.

By the time we meet the king of the universe (Christopher Plummer) you can tell he's important because his ship is bright gold and he's dressed in all sorts of Versace-ish golden chains and frills with weird little gold codpiece diaper shorts) we may feel as winded as an grandparent dragged through an aquarium by a sugar-addled first grader. Barely conscious, the one pure male heart left in Hollywood does a great kind of reverse hamming, trailing off into elliptical pauses for effect (or to read his cue cards ): "you must sail... to the haunted stars....(barely talking in a whisper, while schmaltzy grand piano refrains in the background almost drowning him out), "and find the Count's... secret ship... and destroy it."

We feel the greatness enter the room in fisher king style.

As for John Barry's titanic score, Legend has it that Cozzi didn't let him see the actual film while he was composing, lest he back out of the deal, which was a smart move. Barry treats the material like it's big budget grandeur and rises to the task in a way that puts John Williams 'rousing sci-fi adventure' refrains to shame. Some of the melodies are truly grand.

Ah, the more you see this film the better it gets. It's over before you can even start to appreciate the great leather outfits and cool helmets of the bad guy minions. But, dude, find Cozzi's HERCULES and start the madness anew - it's even worse/better. The same erector set is used, this time for flying monsters, three-headed dragons, and... I already forgot what the other monsters are. Praise this kind idiocy... and the aging process... and weed.... for together they erase... each plot... point.. Cozzi is the true king of sci-fi cinematic folk art. (Ed note: see Happy Birthday Cozzi!)

(1979) Dir. George McCowan
**1/2 / Amazon Prime - B

Here's a weird Canadian oddity from the post-Star Wars TV era when Gene Roddenberry was coming up with TV movie pilots starring John Saxon, and Battlestar Galactica was making Sunday nights nominally less boring.  This Canadian feature doesn't have that kind of intellectual pedigree or major studio budget, but who cares when there's Jack Palance in a purple cape, laughing megalomaniacally while commanding an army of robots! He's supposed to be supplying the moon with minerals but now he's asking for interplanetary domination instead!  John Ireland is the pacifist senator who wants to get all Chamberlain appeasement to Palance's Hitler-ish demands. A salty old commander dying of radiation sickness (Barry Morse) won't cave, taking his experimental ship out on a fool's errand, replete with a fetching young girl with fabulous hair (Anne Marie Martin) who controls a sassy robot! There's also the salty commander's fresh-faced young idealist (Nicholas Campbell, who looks familiar because he played Kerouac in Cronenberg's Naked Lunch); and Carol Lynley as Nikki, leader of the human resistance on Delta-3. What more do you need? In budget-conserving TVM manner, a lot of scenes are shot outdoors in autumnal fields or what looks like a high school boiler room. On the bright side, Palance's inner chambers are 70s sound booth-style sexy, and there are enough cool miniatures, spacecraft, optical effects, devious weapons, and evil robots to make this the perfect feature to doze off to some cloudy Ontario afternoon. So keep it handy. 

I do, and I live in Brooklyn. Zzzzz!

(1987) Dir. Mel Brooks
*** / Amazon Image - A-

Time's been kind to this lumbering doofus of a film.  A favorite of good friends of mine, it never used to make it past my three strikes rule. Strike 1) the off-the-beat comedic hamming of Rick Moranis as 'Darth Helmet' (it's a big helmet - get it!?), 2) the gross eating habits of Barf (John Candy's dog-wookie character), and 3) the disgusting 'Pizza the Hut'. But those are just the breakwaters, the first five or ten minutes. Once someone made me stick around to the end I started to really vibe with the madness. Once Daphne Zuniga shows up as a runaway bride in a gorgeous wedding gown, a beautiful white number that exposes her toned, lithe, tan arms, I'm on board. Escaping a marriage to sleepy Prince Valium by jumping into the space Winnebago of Bill Pullman as the Han Solo / Clark Gable (in It Happened One Night), Zuniga's charm takes over the picture and lifts it over ugly hurtles. She and Pullman have a palpable chemistry and both play the whole thing deadpan straight, which helps immeasurably especially when we have to endure oversize sight gags like the industrial strength hair dryer and the troopers 'combing' the desert.

See, folks, Brooks makes films for a big audience to laugh at, loud and progressively raucous, in a theater. That means pratfalls carry pauses for presumed guffaws and if you're not feeling it, you can groan audibly. On the other hand: he takes the time to hit all the mythic narrative bases, delivering the feel of his sources (The cinematography and special effects are all as good as the films he lovingly sends up) and avoiding instantly dated ephemeral pop culture references. Lovely detours into poker-faced absurdist post-structuralism--as when the bad guys watch a VHS tape of Spaceballs to figure out their next move, or when the Yiddish-accented Yogurt (Mel Brooks) shows off his collection of Spaceballs merchandise ("ver da real money is made")--give the whole thing enough of a deconstructed edge you don't feel too stupid for liking it. Brooks plays the evil emperor as basically the same corrupt mayor he played in Blazing Saddles - only instead of a buxom redhead secretary to bark at there's an 80s punk-short haired imperial officer onscreen at the urinal (dig her wry smile to camera upper right); Joan Rivers provides the voice for the cockblocking C3PO chaperone; and there's some great inside bits like sound effects guy Michael Winslow as a radar technician and John Hurt in his Nostromo duds chowing down at the local space diner (uh oh).

Really though, what puts it all over, for me, and gets me watching again and again (after decades of resistance) is the discovery of Daphne Zuniga's Druish princess. She starts the film whining about  her industrial strength hair dryer and ends up blasting enemy platoons to atoms when they dare to mess up her perfect hair (and it is perfect: auburn, perfectly curled, down and free-flowing) and she sings a low octave blues ("Nobody knows / the trouble I seen") when locked up in space prison. She and Pullman generate great chemistry, too. Spaceballs has already led me safely out of two panic attacks -- such is the power of the schwartz and Brooks' innate love of classic genre cinema. Alas, we're supposed to laugh when Barf molests a waitress with his errant tail. Barf, you cretin -- the days when that was funny are gone forever! Hurrah! 

(1980) Dir. Stanley Donen
**1/2 / Amazon Image: A

Kirk Douglas plays "the Major" i.e. Adam, a hydroponic botanical scientist trying to solve a rapidly dying earth's food shortage in an experimental, octopus-armed hydroponic garden in a cave.... on Saturn's third moon. His Eve is played by the 32 years younger Farrah Fawcet. She's never even been to Earth! She doesn't know how lucky she is, so Earth has to come to her, in form of insecure (a dubbed, but with excellent eyelashes Harvey Keitel) who lets her know they're so hard up on Earth they eat dogs, and everyone has to share sex partners, or else it's considered stealing. And people take pills called 'blues' just to relax enough to fall asleep. Yes please! Benson lusts for Farrah and thinks it's unfair Adam gets her all to himself; he thinks Adam is obsolete, old, and "inadequate.... in every area!" 

Keitel builds a giant robot named Hector. It's powered by a stack of brains, but it goes crazy when he inadvertently uploads his own stalker obsession onto its organic hard drive. Thus begins a very long interesting stalk and chase sequence. There's no way to radio for help while S3 is on the far side of Saturn. Hector has all the time in the world to lumber around the tentacles of the garden after our fleeing lovers, all the while hoping to mate, somehow, with Farrah. Does the name 'Hector' stand for the razzing the December end of May-December relationship receives from his racketball buddies (ala BREEZY)? Or is he merely a symbol of time's attack on the male libido?

Clearly conceived of (by Martin Amiss!) back when priapic middle-aged white men were still allowed to be punk rock, (and sci-fi was for them rather than kids), it stands today as a yet under-appreciated mecca for detailed and highly imaginative art direction. Costumes, sets and effects are all of a unique, highly organized mixture of organic and mechanical: bizarre green/black insectoid space suits, a robot chassis styled after Da Vinci sketches, and winding hallways through the cavernous rock lit with an array of white, green and gleaming blue luminescent wires and pipes like a combination giant human arterial system, ocean floor tentacle mazes and Spencers / Space Port at a 70s mall. Good Elmer Bernstein music too, and Kirk is clearly feeling it - his fuck you to the social order at the end gets me cheering every time, even if it's from inside my own navel. (full)

(1981) Dir. Bruce D. Clark
*** / Amazon Image - A 

I read all the hostile reviews when this movie came out and vowed never to see it. Little did I know it would hold up so well, not for any special reason but, like Battle Beyond the Stars, from surfeit of termite detail, aided in no small measure by ambitious production designer James Cameron and the genius of cinematographer Jacques Haitkin (Nightmare on Elm Street).  The space ship interiors are gorgeous, cozy and amniotic (love those padded walls); the strange mist-enshrouded giant space pyramid the crew scale and enter is a haunted world of eerie gel lighting worthy of Bava.

The crew is there to investigate the crash and demise of a previous crew who crashed a strange planet. But what they find are demons of their own minds, reflected back on them. Each meets their doom in a brutal, gory ironic way, one after the other. The cook (Ray Walston) knows more than he's saying, but just smiles enigmatically when questioned; Sid Haig plays a weird cult member whose devotion to his 'crystals' as his only weapons borders on absurdism (they break so easy it's a wonder they lasted him a week); Robert Englund winds up fighting himself (don't we all?); Erin Moran (Joanie!) is an claustrophobic empath who winds up having to slide through ever-narrower embryonic tunnels; sexy Taaffe O'Connell (below) is ravished by a giant slug monster (she hates slugs). Zalman King provides the scowling as the second in command. He's even more peevish than usual!  Soulful-eyed Edward Albert is the Tom Skerrit-like natural leader. Grace Zabriskie plays the ship captain with her usual alien-eyed conviction. She's one tough old salt, saying things like "come get some chow, boy." And somehow seeing her wide-awake face lit only by those cool red dashboard lights makes me feel grounded. Sure, she ends up tough as a burnt steak, but I don't think there's ever been a female space commander quite like her since. Or before. (see Angels of Death vol. V)

Trouble is, the film moves so fast that you've barely met her, or anyone else, before their ranks dwindle down to almost nil. Better that, though, than drag too long, I guess. Speaking of fast, see if you can spot that little stop motion lizard man thing from Joe Dante's Piranha. And if the end of the ride comes too soon, too super strange and mystic, to satisfy, well don't get uptight: you can always go back and ride it again. That's the joy of streaming. You don't even need to rewind anymore. Not even Phillip K. Dick could have predicted that kind of instant gratification.


(1978) Dir. Kinji Fukusaku
** / Amazon Image - B-

Released the same year as Starcrash (but costing twice the budget) with a Seven Samurai-style plot (ala Battle Beyond the Stars) this Japanese Star Wars-cash-in is serving a pre-Avatar style tale of oppressed elf-like tree people, living on an asteroid/planet that can jet through space (they wear leaves in the hair so you know they're good; the oppressors dress like Shogun Warriors so you know they're bad). The good tree people have a Yoda-like old vizier who recruits eight special warriors from other worlds by throwing glowing chestnuts out into space. You heard me. Actual chestnuts.

The trick is, unlike the other post-Star Wars films, this is set in a future where Earthlings roam the galaxy dressed in a post-modern array of studio wardrobe department cast-offs (pork pie hats, loud sportsjackets, Stevie Nicks gossamer head sashes) in search of "resources and colonies." So one nut is found by a kookie Goldie Hawn/Stevie Nicks-style gaijin heiress (Peggy Lee-Brenan) in a private charter plane and two more are found dopey hot dog fighter pilots racing each other through asteroid belts, dodging "the Space Patrol" (who have helmets, aviator shades and Freddie Mercury mustaches, ugh); there's also a dopey hipster dressed like the Music Man-gone-disco and a gambler in a Hawaiian shirt (as the loanshark). In short, this is one of the post-modern futures where all the past styles are happening at once, probably to save money on new costumes. Crazy disco dancers dress like 20s mecha-Berlin art deco gods; bartenders in red bowties and silver lame jackets make cocktails; Vic Morrow manages to keep a cool demeanor even after finding a glowing space chestnut in his drink. He even manages to no roll his eyes while trading quips with a dumb cutesy robot ("yer beginning to tawk like my ex-wife").

On the other side is garish uniformity: the Darth Vader style villain and his evil army are all painted in silver (it looks like the paint is still wet) with uniforms in matte primary colors; they dress like the old Shogun Warriors action figures.
Terrible hamming and tacky costumes on the human end and some of worst wire-work outer space swimming I've ever seen (their home spaceships are literally photos pasted on a blue board behind them) make it hard to warm up to this mess. Add a long static scene like the one above (right) that seems like it was shot in spoiled artist kid's storage shed and there you go, Message from Space is so bad it's bound to make you revere and love Battle Beyond the Stars and Starcrash all the more by comparison.

On the plus side, if you do decide to settle in and stop being so snide, there are a few good things going on over on Message to Space: there's an evil old witch and her reptilian son, and another separate old woman as the conniving mother of the Darth Vader-ish warlord. Two evil old crones in one science fiction movie? Lucas could barely handle one female character in his entire series! This has four! I hope he saw this and was ashamed of his nerdy fanboy cowardice. There's also Sonny Chiba as the displaced real ruler of Gavanas, and surprisingly good stretches of war-blasted landscapes and model work / dogfights, with ships folding out to detachable smaller ships, and ramming each other and emitting various cool laser effects.  If there were more of all that and less of the annoying young can-do Earth heroes cheering shrilly over their glowing nuts it might even be watchable. 

The director made the excellent Green Slime (1968), proving he was adept at shooting in English with international casts. Kinji, my man, what happened?

(1980) Dir. William Sachs
* / Amazon Image - B-

There's no accounting for taste; in the rush to imitate Star Wars, but with a little sex in it, they came in droves. But the world actually wondered about--and wanted to like--this one, thanks to the presence of former Playmate Dorothy Stratten, whose tragic death at the hands of her twitchy cokehead ex-boyfriend/manager (as played by Eric Roberts in Star 80) shook the world. Alas, though she looks beautiful and is very well-lit, she doesn't get much to do; there's too much time spent with the rest of the characters. There's some Joe Buck type strutting around the ship's engine room (which looks just like back boiler room of some depressing factory), boring his fellow men with his cliche'd disco studliness. There's a detour to a costume party bordello scene that stretches on forever and looks just like any other house party chaos of the time, only replete with all the cliches of bad westerns and disco movies folded into the melee. Shots of Galaxina doing cool shit (like watching TV) are cut short in order to spend more time watching the inescapable Avery Schreiber mug horrendously as the ship captain. One only has so much time to watch bad movies that aren't good-bad, even if Stratten's lipstick shimmers with just a tinge of orange in the eerie ship lighting. I lover her glowing chair too (above). Too bad the somewhat well-lit movie around her is so badly written, acted, edited and directed --otherwise it would be so good, bro, like Dark Star but with a literally (just touching her kills men instantly) and figuratively hot girl! 

Friday, January 18, 2019

The cruel, cruel things we did to LAST SUMMER (1969)

There's ever so often I catch even a time out critic evincing he's not seen the movie he's capsulizing, as in the Time Out Britannia entry on LAST SUMMER (1969), which calls it "winsome," and notes 'typical lessons are learned"? Oopsy-daisy. Either he's one sick British puppy or he's hearing the title and painting a very different sort of beach idyll in his mind. Sure, there's lessons learned in Frank and Eleanor Perry's sneakily devastating adaptation of Evan Hunter's novel, but calling them typical is like calling Hitchcock's The Birds (which Hunter scripted), an 'ornithologist's bayside holiday.'

I don't blame that writer; he probably couldn't find a copy of the film when he was assigned it, and needs must when the devil drives. To my knowledge it's never been on any official DVD or tape, in fact I'm not even sure where Max got the copy I duped that we watched so religiously during one of our drunken LBI summers back in the early 90s. I may not have a copy today for reference, or have seen it once sober, but I can attest: there's nothing idyllic or remotely typical about Last Summer, unless Over the Edge and Don't Deliver us from Evil are just like landlocked versions of Gidget and Beach Party. Can you imagine? This critic might remark that Evil is the tale of two good Catholic BFFs and their summer journey of emotional maturity, leading up to an incendiary talent show poetry recital, and Edge is about a group of kid activists fighting to save their after-school arts program. Those descriptions are both true, in their way, but so misleading.

On the other hand, misleading surfaces and morality drifting astray on invisible currents, is what LAST SUMMER is all about. It turns out to be so easy to drift away on Where the Boys Are down rip currents, invisible to the naked eye, never giving the feeling you're moving down the beach at all, and finally wash ashore by the Last House on the Left. How the hell does that happen?

The tale of three (and then four) privileged youngsters left to their own devices on Fire Island (?) over the summer, Last Summer builds to its evil gradually, to the point where our own giddy love for Scorpio-Pisces mayhem is used against us. There's sexual assault, menage a trois cinema groping, evil-confessing, seagull sadism, the kind of things kids grow up to either regret, repress, forget, unless it turns them permanent sociopath. The story of two blonde beach bum rich kids who meet and bond with a bad influence girl, who manages to keep them both turned on and that sex drive sublimated into evil decadence, and the fourth wheel downer who comes to stay, like an annoying kid sister who always threatens to tell mom.

It stars Bruce Davison and Richard Thomas (a long way from John Boy, not that, thank god, my parents ever watched that show) as a pair of beach-loafing buddies (no parents in sight) who find a wounded sea gull and Barbara Hershey all in the same day. What a break! Together the three generate what Max's mom once said about us, down on those wasted LBI summers: "a bad influence on each other." As with Eric Rohmer's summer holiday idylls, sexual tension generates in real time over whole reels, until when it finally cracks open you feel weak in the knees. As with a more decadent European 'sexual idyll' swooner like Jean Rollin, a sense of impending doom, a naturalistic series of ambiguous omens, conspiratorial glances, and burst of random hostility amidst the hypnotic momentum, reminds us constantly that the ocean is a demonic bad influence friend itself. And I love that, unlike so many beach movies, it also rains some days. During a protracted, masterful sequence, the threesome stay indoors while it rains and wash each other's hair, smoke weed, and let the air of existential melancholy that a rainy afternoon on the beach can bring wash over them. Dude, so been there. A terrible time to take acid, let me tell you. 

Max and I, during those LBI summers, had a few different girl partners in crime but our serial monogamous hetero chastity was ironclad. Alcohol only made us even more gallant. But I was later lured into latent evil via a beautiful Scorpio woman in AA, so I know how intoxicating it can all be even without drinking. 

At any rate, in 1991 this movie was the perfect thing to watch on a rainy hungover Wednesday LBI morning, drinking gin and Strawberry SlimFast while recovering from the previous night's long iguana of a night. The lagoon-side of the island gently lapping our brains into something like a parasympathetic rhythm, we loved this movie because we well knew the way the right girl could ignite all sorts of ballsy courage and decadent mischief in the right pair of unemployed but well-stocked bandmates. You could alienate all your (real) girl friends and most everyone else over a single weekend. And you'd just laugh evilly, a kind of Cruel Intentions' ghosts of Vicomte Valmont and the Marquise de Merteuil possession you were too drunk to fight (or too sober to remember)

Taken together, the right threesome can melt the rest of the world clean away in a haze of cigarettes, highballs, the psychedelics always wearing off or about to kick in. In that lifestyle one is always either coasting on the fumes or anticipating the next refill, but one is never completely sober. When someone else enters into that unholy threesome, and they cannot or will not party? Pity them, lord, for they shall be doomed to rot in hell, unless of course they're even more decadent than we are. Chances are they're just putzes who totally don't get it. 

Pity them but not to the point of inviting them.

With its great naturalistic dialogue, the success of Last Summer lies largely with the tight small ensemble cast keeping the peripheral squares at bay. It starts innocently enough, trying to save a seagull with a fishhook caught in its mouth. Their shared empathy with the bird will gradually be inverted by the stunning ending, but for now, their good deed gives them a kind of holy trifecta aura that evokes among other similar triads, like the trio dancing the Madison in Godard's Band of Outsiders (1964).

 Just mentioning rabies (if the wounded gull bites one of them), Sandy says "oh rabies my ass." Today the boys' shared smirk over her using the word "ass" might seem odd, as if they're already plotting something at the mere mention of a body part, but in the context of its era, children using this word (or any 'bad' word) in public was the equivalent of what in the 80s would have been mentioning she had weed (the anti-drug hysteria of the time was so insane that lighting up became an act of political solidarity). (1) It ends, well, no spoilers, but lets just say it ain't the 60s anymore. 

Last Summer isn't a horror movie, or a ponderous piece of 'art' either, neither surrealistic or weighty. Like Over the Edge it fools you by slowly winning you over to its protagonist's perspective which, considering their youth and the absence of strong parental guidance, is a dangerous place to be. If you grew up watching 'After School Specials' and 'safety films' on 16mm (while in class), then you were accustomed to the feel of Last Summer--but it's a cautionary tale without a narrator, or a moral, or a parent, it trusts we don't need them. Like the girls doing their Baudelaire routine in Don't Deliver us from Evil, all the movies we've seen in the past make us blindsided by a whole new swerve. If you're like me, you are highly susceptible to the 'bad influence' of any intelligent, gorgeous young person who falls into your circle. Even just as a friend, they give you a kind of high-octane cache that can cause latent Mean Girls-cliquey kind of giddy moral blindness.

The cast is all set up for menaga-a-trouble, Design for Living-style. As Peter, Richard Thomas's sadistic demonic eyebrow arches convey a real, deep propensity for evil that runs deliciously counter to his Waltons good boy warmth. But it's more than stunt casting. He conveys a real sense of nurturing and natural leadership without ever seeming older than he is. But it's a warmth made all the more dangerous by the eerily self-confident sociopathy lurking below the surface smile. The sweeter he is, the more you feel there's a reverse action building. We watch the demonic glint wax and wane in his eyes like a sinister but enticing moon.

As the smirkier blonde beta male, Dan (Norton) on the other hand, keeps his guile exposed and ever a bit sophomoric. While Peter is the type of character who won't strike until he's got the girl all but naked in his bed already, Dan plays the numbers game, so used to rejection he's built up a tolerance, to the point he wouldn't know what to do if he got one.

Lighting the fire is the new girl Sandy (Hershey), ever eager to seem more mature than she is through expressive "language," relishing the combined attention of these two blonde troublemakers. The love she shows to them, mainly to Peter, while they both lay on her lap, for example, listening to sitar music and getting high, creates a seductive bubble; the sound mixing gamely captures her whispered sutbtle breathing almost in ASMR cocoon we can feel. We're smitten; we're there; there's no lumpen Catherine Burns to drag our locus of identification kicking and screaming back to the loser's table. Not yet. 

Together, their sublimated sexual energy is a force first of good (rescuing the gull from the hook) and then, through misuse, the sublimation wanes and the fermented passions bubbles up like oil seeps. Using a kind of loose cycle incorporation of tricks perhaps gleaned from Miriam Hopkins in Design for Living, she avoids breaking up their friendship by never picking one or the other ("no sex!" - though in this case pretty close, constantly) or risking her own ostracization by either choosing or rejecting either one, rather the cycle of move-busting runs from Peter to Sandy to Dan in a continuous loop that garners intense energy as it goes. Naturally it has to find an outlet, like Sandy luring a slightly older hispanic man via personal ad on a date, tricking him into his doom at the hands of some local racist toughs.

Everyone is excellent in their naughty conspiratorial whirlwind of sexual sublimation-amped mischief; but then Catherine Burns comes loping along the lonely beach, appointing herself the ugly duckling fourth wheel. It's only during that rainy afternoon after the three of them lost in pot and hair washing that they're ready to actually pay attention to her. With a single long monologue (that led to an Oscar-nomination), recounting the last hours of seeing her mom alive --at a cocktail party that's been raging at their house for days--Burns hypnotizes us and them so completely that by the time she's done you can smell the liquor on her mom's breath, the reek of sand, alcoholic pores, cologne, sexual heat, and ocean brine, the stale cigarettes, and--finally--a fatal misjudgment of impaired motor skills that led to mom's death. 

And it's this tale (notably of mom's decadence rather than her own), set to the melancholy ominousness of the rain outside, that's just enough to get her through the door into the threesome's evil club. But then they don't know any other way to either shake her off or get her to loosen up and stop cramping their style than what they inevitably, shamefully, do. Because even though they thought, after their dope-enhanced empathy with her plight, that they might turn her bad like them she just wont quit her glum whininess. 

you know if you're an alcoholic if the first thing you notice in this pic is the (upper left) Heineken

No matter how many jump cuts from the trio's galavanting around Fire Island, the slow simmer hypnotic Baudelaire-ian budding evil of Last Summer never skips ahead. That's one of the reasons I love it, and maybe why it confuses Time Out critic so much -- it pulls off the seduction into irrevocable evil better than any other film that comes to mind, yet without ever jumping the groove of its languid beach rhythm: you can hear the waves--or if not, the faint sound of rain--in every scene. The ocean becomes like "Trevor" in The Wild Boys)! a demonic possessor, and rather than point fingers, or spread feel-bad trauma, it points out we hold on to the 'magic' of childhood at our own peril. As long as we're too small to do any real damage, nature's sociopathy flows unchecked; carry it over into adulthood, and we're going to jail.

It all makes me wonder--as I wonder with other genuinely subversive films and TV shows--if that's the reason it's unavailable (there's not even a thumbnail of it on Amazon!). Rather than rant and fume against frat boys I am forced to examine my pwn past behavior that--at the time--seemed wholly justified and awesome--especially with a Cruel Intentions marquise in my corner urging me on--but which--of late, especially--hang in my conscience. A douche bag is a douche bag, regardless of mutual consent and vehemence of one's momentary delusion that it's ever "just" sex.

Wherever the licensing keeps it from being on Blu-ray, no matter how much it looks 'winsome' on the surface, it's a film every young punk should see, for the "lessons learned" are vital. The film itself lulls us into a rhythm we're seduced by, so that when the slow erratic buzzkillery of Burns enters, we're almost privy to the wild demon that drives us to try and make her wake up and walk with the fire so we can get back to our dirty little round robin thrills without a safety-first Clyde dragging the mood down.

At the end there's still no adult in sight to shame them, but it's clear they don't even need one. These
are 'good' people, usually. But they drank "truth serum" together - they fell in love as one person, and lost their connection to the consequence-ridden world. As the poster says, this summer was "too beautiful to forget... and to painful to remember." Like the first sudden gust of evening hitting your sunburned skin after a day on the beach, a sickly early fall chill runs through all concerned. The leaves can't cover their bodies fast enough to keep out the sudden, irreversible cold.

1.In the 60s and early 70s (I remember when the word 'suck' was first being used as a negative, i.e. 'you suck' - in fact I think I was in first grade with the girl who started it, referring to someone so immature they still sucked their thumb - in fact it was associated with the word "still" as in latency - ala "that girl Lisa, I bet she still sucks" It wasn't "you suck" but "you probably still suck" as in get the thumb out of your mouth. This was a time when 'bad words' were genuinely bad. We'd whisper them under our breath to shock each other, and then only with people who wouldn't tell on us. If you doubt, just watch Burt Reynolds movies from the mid-70s and listen for the pause (for audiences gasps and hoots and howls) at the end of every four-letter word. Just saying "Shit!" would bring the house down (one of the reasons people fainted at the Exorcist)

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Angels of Death IX: GOLD DIGGERS of 1935 ("Lullaby of Broadway")

It's a fairly ubiquitous tune today, but when GOLD DIGGERS OF 1935 came out "The Lullaby of Broadway" was brand new, written for the film and, if you see it, as I recently did, shorn of the preceding hour of scheming social climber bellboys, greedy managers, white Russian impresarios wheedling money from a miserly matron whose seducible offspring are off on misadventures with--that's right--gold-diggers, the two climactic Busby Berkeley-directed numbers that close the film bend reality all the better. The first song is forgettable musically but eventually erupts in some dazzlingly precise trippy fractal choreography.

The second number, however, "Lullaby of Broadway" transcends even its Berkeley foundation to become something startling, wry, knowing and the best portrayal of the "walk of shame" in all of cinema.

First, it's the blackness that grabs you, the empty field of nothing. Coming hot on the heels of the preceding number with its geometric infinity the blackness is profound. Then... the single white light illuminating a far-off face staring right at the camera. Like a distant single star, a shadowed young female face moves towards us like a slow rolling flying saucer or moon in a starless sky. As she becomes clearer and larger, a cold chill comes down our spine. That cold look in her eyes as she sings to us is startling. Compassionate and ambivalent, witty but not vulgar, brazen but not haughty, bold but not loud her glare right into the camera bespeaks a dazzling familiarity with strangers; her shadowed teeth give her a cadaverous lupine edge; coiled hair curves up the sides of her face, vaguely evoking a skull before assuming the contours of the island Manhattan. With the brazenness of the city she represents, this singer looks into the camera like it's the leader of a rival gang. She knows that NYC has her back, that she is the city. She is what it's proudest of, its hard-partying beautiful people on their early morning walk of shame, saying hello to their neighbors as they head downstairs to work and she heads upstairs to sleep.

The song (by Harry Warren and Al Dubin) about "the center of it all" becomes, in this strange Busby vignette, no longer a hotel jingle but a dirge. Suddenly shorn of its decades-long association with TV commercials for Times Square hotels, Macy's floats, and revues (all of which make it seem less like a lullaby and more like a wake-up revelry to pep grandma into finding her purse), the lyrics suddenly make an eerie sense. It's meant as a real lullaby for the Broadway "baby" for as she goes to sleep the rest of the city is waking up. The overlap of her and the milkman represents closure of the 24-hour loop, validating the "city that never sleeps" mantra that makes NYC the coolest place in the world
When a Broadway baby says good nightIt's early in the morningManhattan babies don't sleep tightUntil the dawn
As much a symbol as the Statue of Liberty, The Empire State Building or Grant's Tomb, the all-night party girl crooning this ballad (and walking the walk) is a metonym for the Capitol of the World during its dark climb out of the Depression; Roosevelt's lifting of prohibition carries her aloft! Suddenly booze's affordability allows the high-rollers to give her bigger tips at the night clubs. What she does in the hours between four and dawn is all up to her, but she climbs those stairs to sleep, alone but flush with cash, aching feet, and a waning buzz.

NYC never sleeps - and for the all-night girls, the jackhammer and traffic jam bleeping is the sound of the comforting arms of blissful unconsciousness. I've been there, many times from 1993-1998, and it was magic: the exhilaration of dancing and drinking all night, then coming home and slinking into cold sheets, alone, and falling asleep as the traffic outside your window gradually increases until it's a barrage of honking, engines, voices, trains, jackhammers, it is like a lullaby. There is no better way to come down or city to do it in. Underwriting the melody's jubilance, the giddy ecstasy that comes from hearing the clang and bustle of the 9-5 crowd grind the gearshift of the giant NYC business world back into life, but not you, man - you're safe and warm in bed, and pleasantly exhausted.

If you're going to be out dancing and drinking til the dawn every night of the week, there's only one city that can accommodate you without effort. This closing number for an otherwise pretty shrill Gold Diggers movie lets the rest of America know something of this thrill: even as the lead character staggers out into ever wilder parties with ever more regimented lines of dancers, and rich faceless chumps in tuxedoes brandishing jewelry and top hats, we thrill to it.

But what of this goddess? Whose face, laying down in bed (?) with cigarette in mouth, becomes the lower half of the island Manhattan? Played by Wini Shaw, a nearly-star in the Warners musical pantheon, she's already halfway to being a psychopomp, halfway to being some killer from a film noir or horror film. With her beguiling, chilling stare right into camera we are forced to consider death in a whole new light - and to see the frivolous professional reveler who is the subject of the vignette as Orpheus and Persephone rolled into one. Hades as both the NYC gangster underworld and its smitten ruler. Shaw is almost like the dead version of the dancer, re-absorbed into the collective Manhattan pulse.

Hers is a stare with its own inexorable tractor beam pull. From the initial distance, her white face is like the end of a long tunnel at the end of the road in reverse; she is the city as the 'next step' that lurks beyond the illusory split between dreaming and waking. Shaw's sultry shadowed stare lingers long after the movie fades; it bores right into me every time I see it. No matter how long ago it was made or old I've become between viewings, it is immediate and startling.

Maybe it's a dream, a warning, real or a metaphor - one look in her deep ambivalent eyes and you know the score. Life and death are the same; alpha and omega; the sleepy dancer and the sleepy milkman passing each other in the hall; one wakes, the other crashes, but the city that houses them never sleeps. Here the grim reaper and baby new year share the same stairwell. She pours some milk (!) for a kitten out there in the common hallway, looking up expectantly.  Like this errant kitty, she coasts along like a leaf in the wind, trusting that there's always a generous soul somewhere.

Even in the film itself she is separate from the rest of the characters. There's no curtain raising or fourth wall jump-off point for this number like there are in so many others. The film doesn't find her - she just appears out of the darkness, a star in the distance coming closer with a steady, relentless momentum, staring us dead in the eye, the way a beautiful woman giving you a haughty beckoning stare across a room can muffle the party around you to a dry school dance blur, beguile, excite and terrify you where you stand.

After the dancer subject's tragic fall from the skyview balcony of the rooftop club, we see the poor kitten has no one to pour it some milk and the bed is unslept in - no one is maybe there to miss her.  She dissilved back into the skyline - it's a very eerie ending to the number but with that eerie opening we're not surprised. This is a real Broadway Angel of Death, hardly fazed by her own demise. She becomes Ms. Death in a way that's unique to the city, which is the reason we all fall in love with it and her. She and NYC strip death of all the skull and bones posturing.

I certainly relate to this girl's odyssey. No NYC youth is complete without a period of walks of shame, NYC being so clearly where the phrase was invented. Where else can you even walk home from some new lover's bed on a regular basis but NYC? You get out at dawn, the smell of your lover or the dance club still all over you, with cigarettes fresh and warmly beguiling in the air, newsstands and awnings groaning open like the maws of giant friendly dragons; trucks, garbage men who should have finished up hours ago now rushing against the onslaught of rush hour. You dance home--or it feels like it though it comes off more as staggering, in torn stockings or borrowed sweatshirts. Maybe you hope your roommate is still there since you lost your keys. Well-laid or just well-danced and content, still high, the music throbbing in your blood still, you pass the showered-and-shaved people going to work around you either still groggy or freshly perked from their early AM jogs or coffees. Either way, it's nice to see them, as you're headed off to bed, and you remember being one of them and remember how badly you wanted to turn around and go back to bed, so you are kind of living that dream for them. Your destination is their fantasy. But there's no animosity; you and the commuters share a conspiratorial smile, for the gap in consciousness between the danced/laid reveler staggering or sauntering home to bed and the freshly woke commuter off to work, is so vast that there is no uncanny valley - no resentment is possible.

Good night, baby / Good night / The milkman's on his way /Sleep tight, baby / Sleep tight / Let's call it a day
1935 marked a Hollywood's total submission to the draconian code, but--perhaps it's because there's no dialogue--the "Lullaby" vignette is  remarkably risque. Maybe they got to keep it intact as there's almost a moral: wanton harlots weren't yet barricaded from ye olde folks at home by steel shudders, as long as they suffered. See a good insight on this via the Grand Old Movie blog ("In the End, she Dies")

The code may be in effect, but the "walk of shame" carries no stigma for this Broadway baby, anymore than any of us slumping home from our day job. The men she meets on her way upstairs glare not, neither do they scold, neither do they leer. This isn't Hicksville. This is NYC and everyone knows she works as hard for the money as they do.

But the working man's and the milkman's familiarity with the sight of this jazz baby coming home every day/night at dawn bodes ill. One can't keep this lifestyle up forever. The dancing and the partying whirl and whirl until one is accidentally thrown off a 30th floor balcony (2) or winds up in Bellevue, loaded with digitalis, screaming one's head off.

On the other hand, when everyone around you is screaming too, you begin to realize at last just what 'hitting bottom' really means. It's so terrible it's kind of grand. Even after the splat, you can keep dancing, or at least singing. Sleep tight, baby. The Milkman Cometh...

1. There's no brief of small town morality to guide our understanding of what's going on here - what the original purpose of an 'engagement ring' was for, or promissory notes of marriage being valid tools to sue for breach of promise, as in taking of virginity = $$. If you want to have sex before marriage, an engagement ring says at least you'll have something to pawn when it's time to pay the midwife. The ideal state was divorced or a widow and with the Great War slaughters, widowhood was not uncommon. 
2. For me, the balcony itself crashed (from 1997-9/11 our Thurs. haunt was Windows on the World on the top floor of Tower A.) 

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