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Preface: As I've said, oldie writing will be dusted off and plunked blogside (at least at first; new stuff should gradually overtake i...

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Double-shot of recycling

Having plunked nothing on the blog for nearly a year, and needing to maintain the fiction that I'm a bustling, producing writer, cranking out the critical stuff at a dizzying rate, let me publish a double-barrelled post--largely an extrapolation and expansion of some recent tweets on Twitter (where your super-annuated kvetch really does maintain a deplorable productivity) and somewhat a consolidation thereof. Namely:

1) "Journey to the land of make-believe"-- an article written in 1982 while Arts Editor of the student newspaper Gateway (original here, and here) after surviving a junket to Hollywood lavishly funded by 20th Century Fox (adventure mentioned in passing on Twitter). Yes, I stole nearly all the hotel-room stationery at the Beverly Wilshire (it's meant to be stolen, right?) but left the towels, since I'm a writer of integrity. And hey, your critic did promise you oldies reprints, way back yon...

2) "Bob Dylan's Hellbound Buick"--a compilation, consolidation and expansion of some tweets about Dylan's "From a Buick 6" and what the song's wacky-as-usual lyrics might mean. No, NOT "another of Dylan's paeans to his female ideal" as Mr. Gill would have us think (gawd, I wonder what Dylan must think when he reads crap like that--perhaps he just laughs himself silly...)

          *       *       *

(Jan.-Feb. 1982)

Journey to the land of make-believe

    Arts Editor Jens Andersen went to Los Angeles last weekend on a junket sponsored by 20th Century Fox, who are attempting to promote three upcoming films through campus papers in Canada and the States. The following is his report.

Friday, 6:15 AM MST

Made it to the International Airport on time, confirmed my reservation, checked bag, and now I am waiting to board the plane that will take me to Hollywood, Home of the Stars.
    I should be thinking of the three films I am going to preview prior to their release in February and March, but somehow my mind dwells on other details. Is our plane a DC-10? How well have the mechanics checked it over? How slippery is the runway?
    And how will I recognize the Fox representative at the L.A. airport? Will he/she be a glad-hander? Are beige cords appropriate attire for the Beverly Wilshire? (The promo sheet for the Wilshire, which came with the itinerary, shows a doorman in red coat and tophat greeting an arriving Rolls Royce). Will the Great Overdue California Earthquake strike during my stay?
    Such thoughts raise an obvious question: why am I going on this junket in the first place? Certainly not for a good time, for I am by nature a workboy, not a playboy, and even if I weren't, I could have a much better time (I believe) at tonight's unassuming Gateway party than at the scheduled orgies among strangers and publicity agents. Nor am I going because I get to see Quest for Fire, Porky's and Making Love before anyone else, for that is a cheap distinction, and one that will last only a month or two. And it certainly isn't for the plane ride, because I have a holy terror of flying machines.
    No, the reason why I instantly fell for the junket is explainable in a word: curiosity. Are the films as bad as the advance publicity leads me to believe? How will 20th Century Fox attempt to sell them to us? What are directors, actors and whatnot like in the flesh? And is L.A. really the gaudy, vulgar place of legend?

Friday, 3 PM PST

After five hours of gut-wrenching fear in the skies (caused by nothing in particular) I am in Los Angeles. A servitor with a walkie-talkie greets me at the plane, guides me to baggage pickup, and then departs to rescue another delegate. My travel bag is the first off the belt. I stuff my ski-jacket into it and step out onto the sidewalk, as my guide has instructed me to do. The sun is shining in a clear blue sky, the temperature is 61F and palm trees flutter idly in a light breeze. After a minute or so, another young man with a walkie-talkie comes along and guides me to a waiting van. One delegate is already on board, and we cruise around the airport complex for another hour or so, picking up seven more arrivees one by one as they fly in.
    At every curb are loudspeakers droning, "The white zone is for immediate loading and unloading only; no parking." The message is repeated alternately by a male and female voice, over and over again. Just as we junior journalists are running out of small talk, and just before the "white zone" mantra begins to seriously affect our sanity, we get the last person aboard and head for the hotel.
    Along the way the van driver talks about the stars he and his friends have met. A delegate mentions that he saw William Kunstler ("the famous defense attorney") at some airport. I mention the Gateway seizure by the police. Another delegate relates how some army officers seized a whole press run of one of their papers containing a story about the ROTC on campus.
    At the Beverly Wilshire we are met by Fox representatives who help us get room keys, and bestow a canvas shoulder-bag on everyone. In the bag are two t-shirts, one for Quest for Fire and one for Porky's, and a second set of press-kits for all three films. We are allowed two hours to settle in before hors d'oeuvres at 4:30.
    My hotel room is a surprise. It is large, has two single beds (giving rise to interesting questions) and is furnished with the ego in mind. There are three telephones in the suite, one by the bed, one on the desk and one in the bathroom; each one has a notepad and pencil nearby. The bathroom itself has a white marble floor, grey marble walls, and a seven-foot-long grey marble vanity complete with stool, seven-foot-wide mirror and make-up lights. It is also equipped with recessed kleenex-dispenser, a shoeshine rag, a plastic imitation-tortoiseshell shoehorn, a package of needle, thread and buttons, two glasses with paper covers bearing the coat-of-arms of the hotel, an ashtray with a matchbook, each bearing the same coat-of-arms (there are four more ashtrays with matchbooks in the suite), and two soapboxes (with coat-of-arms) containing two different kinds of soap. There are also enough towels to make a window-escape from the fifth floor, though they are probably intended for some other purpose, since I am only on the second.
    The rest of the suite is rather posh too: a dormer window opening onto a foliage-secluded balcony, an antique writing table with stacks of stationery, postcards and pens, an ante-room to the bathroom containing another make-up mirror, a third full-length mirror, a huge chest of drawers and a small fridge, four Los Angeles guidebooks and magazines, a leather easy chair and ottoman, color TV, etc. etc., etc. On the walls are two flashy but cheap bits of heraldry, a banner with a coat of arms (different from the standard one) depicting an anatomically preposterous arm holding a flag, and opposite this two eagles fashioned from stamped sheet-metal which surrounds a fourth small mirror.
    I am almost beginning to believe I am a person of consequence.

Friday 11:30 PM

Another shock as the 75 or so journalists get together for hors d'oeuvres: no alcohol. The legal age in California is 21, and since our contingent has some underage people in it, we must all suffer Coke and 7-Up.
    Also, I'm beginning to get an inferiority complex listening to all the delegates rattle off the names of actors and all their roles in every film they ever played in. My own opinion is that a good actor is like a good bricklayer, praiseworthy but infinitely inferior to the architect (i.e. the scriptwriter and director). Thus I have never bothered to keep track of them, and 80% of the names being mentioned mean nothing to me.
    The talk about various films is likewise depressing since I have probably seen less than 20 films made in the seventies, and missed everything from American Graffiti to Apocalypse Now. Usually the advertisements are enough to turn me off. I feel like asserting that I am proud of my avoidance of certain films, and that I don't give a flying puck about the stars, but why cause friction?
    Besides, as a reviewer I probably have a duty to examine even apparently pathological films.
    After the hors douevres we are bussed to the 20th Century filmlot where Quest for Fire is to be screened. At the theatre we are given a Quest for Fire button and a slick color brochure explaining the film.
    Quest for Fire, you see, is a film about primitive tribes living 80,000 years ago, who speak a language invented by Anthony Burgess, and gesticulate with gestures contrived by pop anthropologist Desmond Morris. Alas, one cannot read the glossary and watch the film at the same time, but thankfully one can, without the pamphlet, determine that the film is a Grade A, oven-ready turkey.
    The film centres on a tribe called the Ulam, who use fire but do not know how to make it. When their fire goes out, and wolves chase them into a swamp, they send out three tribesmen to fetch some. Their adventures as they search for some fire are improbable, unrealistic, and have the unmistakeable aroma of a B-flick.
    Take for instance the scene where the three fire-searchers are sitting around at an encampment, and suddenly a pack of nasty-looking Neanderthals appear over a hill and make menacing noises. What should happen but a pack of nasty-looking woolly mammoths appear on the opposite rise, and add their growling and trumpeting to the din. The film-makers, probably proud of their ingenuity in creating such a novel situation, full of dramatic tension, linger on it as long as possible, cutting back and forth between the nasty Neanderthals, the nasty mammoths and the knock-kneed tribesmen.
    Finally, having milked the basic setup for every last drop of suspense, the film-makers have one of the fire-seekers grab a tuft of grass and slowly climb towards the mammoths. It takes an eternity of screen-time for the fellow to reach the mammoths, with the cameras again cutting between the disgruntled mammoths, the quaking grass carrier, the other two pop-eyed tribesmen, the mammoths, the hesitant Neanderthals, an extreme close-up of the scowling brow of one of the mammoths, who lets loose with a savage honk every few seconds just to keep everybody on the edges of their seats, then back to the fellow approaching the beasts with the clump of grass, who has apparently only edged two feet up the hill, then cut to the Neanderthals, who look impatient to attack, then back again to the grass-carrier who has advanced another1/4th of an inch towards the ferocious mammoths, at which point I feel like getting up from my seat and screaming, "Enough of this crapola! Give the mammoths the grass for chrissake, so they can chase the Neanderthals away and we can get on to the next imbecility!"

    Or how about the  typical specimen of comic relief where one of the fire-seekers (the one typecast as a dumbbell, because who else would the tribe choose to accomplish a heroic feat?) is gathering some long cylindrical squashes to eat. He places them in the crook of his arm, but when he has half an armload he drops one, and as soon as he picks it up he drops another two.
    The sight-gag is far too hilarious to merely be repeated once or twice, so the film-makers repeat it over and over again until it becomes as interminable as the mammoth scene. It finally reaches a climax when Dumbbell returns to camp and finds one of the others discovering oral sex with a stray nymph from another tribe, whereupon he drops his whole load--and the audience is expected to explode in gales of laughter.
    It is my sad duty to report that some of the assembled journalists actually did so.
    Other flaws mar the film