Tuesday, March 27, 2007

My shameful literary past

I’ve got a confession to make.

I used to read movie novelizations. Lots of them.

Before you condemn me, I would like to explain myself. As a kid, I was always into comic books. I was also very into sci-fi/horror movies from a very young age, kicked off by television viewings of stuff like “Planet of the Apes” and “King Kong”, then followed by old Universal horror movies, etc. Then, around 1977 or so, I became straight-up obsessed with movies, probably due to “Star Wars” and “Close Encounters”. I initially gravitated towards genre films, but then as I went through middle school and early high school (1978-1982) it became a matter of wanting to see pretty much every movie released, with the exception of “On Golden Pond”, “Ice Castles” and “One on One” (I guess I wasn’t a big Robby Benson fan).

I started favoring directors, read “Starlog” magazine to find background info on upcoming productions, and my friends and I went to movies constantly. But this wasn’t enough. I needed more. Enter the movie novelization.

I knew they were trashy and poorly written. I didn’t care. It was a way to see the movie again (remember, this was before the advent of home video) and even gain additional background info, as most of the books were padded with stuff that wasn’t in the movie in order to make it ‘book-length’. Even better, some of them were written by the directors! The “Star Wars” novelization? Written by George Lucas! “Close Encounters”? Written by Spielberg! “Dawn of The Dead”? Written by George A. Romero! “Animal House”? Written By Doug Kenney and Chris Miller, with cool art by National Lampoon artists to boot!

The king of the movie novelization genre was a chap named Alan Dean Foster. He wrote the lions share of the horror/sci-fi ones, and even wrote the “sequel” to “Star Wars” titled “Splinter of the Mind’s Eye’, which was released before “The Empire Strikes Back.” I guess he could generously be called a hack, although I must say that I re-read my dog-eared copy of “The Thing” novelization this past summer and thought it was not bad at all.

Here is a fairy complete list of the movie novelizations I read as a young lad, in chronological order. An asterix denotes titles written by Alan Dean Foster. Keep in mind as you hurl derision upon me is that I did read plenty of “real” books at this time as well:

Star Wars
Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Saturday Night Fever (!?!)
*Splinter Of The Mind’s Eye
Dawn of The Dead
National Lampoon’s Animal House
Heaven Can Wait
Murder By Decree
Fade To Black
The Howling
Escape From New York
*The Thing

Alas, “Tron” was the end of the movie novelization line for me. First of all, it was a really bad book (shocking, I know). Let’s just say that the movie’s computer world imagery did not exactly lend itself to the prose format. Secondly, I was a freshman in high school by this time, and I quickly discovered that explaining to girls what “Tron” was about wasn’t exactly going to result in me getting to “first base” (sadly, it didn’t occur to me until later that them passing around a copy of “Flowers In The Attic” was no better.). I'd also like to think that my tastes had become more discriminating at this point, although that's certainly up for debate.

Whew. I feel much better now that I’ve unburdened myself.

Monday, March 26, 2007

My finest hour in advertising

The other day I was watching some of the bonus features on “The Squid and The Whale” DVD (a fine movie), and all the actors kept commenting on how strongly they reacted to the script, how great it was, how they couldn’t put it down, etc. And they’re right: it’s a great script.

But as someone who’s been cranking out tons of ideas, scripts and copy for over a decade now, it got me thinking: where is my rapturous feedback? Where are the accolades raining down upon my work? Granted, there is certainly no shortage of comments about what I generate. In fact, everything I write has to pass a gauntlet of co-workers, bosses and clients, all of them eagerly drawing a bead on whatever it is they’re looking at in order to kill it with a single shot, ala’ DeNiro in “The Deer Hunter.”

Then, a memory kicked in. Someone famous did comment on my work! And it went a little something like this…(cue blurry flashback effect)

The year was 1998. I had written some TV spots that the agency I was working for was producing for the Milwaukee Brewers, a baseball team that was (is) perennially mired in mediocrity. And they were cheap, too. So cheap that we had to shoot 3 spots in one day, no small feat when your actors are athletes that didn’t exactly grow up reciting the works of the Great Bard.

We were also forced to use the comedic “talents” of Bob Uecker, the Brewers venerable radio announcer, frequent “Tonight Show” guest and star of the smash-hit TV show “Mr. Belvedere” and critically acclaimed “Major League” motion picture trilogy.

As we prepared to film our first spot, it was apparent Uecker hadn’t bothered to read the scripts he was sent weeks earlier. In fact, he ad-libbed every single line once the cameras started rolling, mugging wildly and laughing at his own jokes. The spots were supposed to be :30 seconds long, so any takes had to be about :25 max so that the Brewers could slap on a tag begging foggy-minded Milwaukeeans to vote ‘yes’ on their tax-payer subsidized new stadium initiative or whatever. Uecker’s takes were coming in around :45 / :50 seconds, and he grew visibly upset when we told him this. Eventually we got a few takes that worked timing-wise, if not aesthetically.

The second spot went no better. Uecker continued to ad-lib, and got super-pissed whenever we tried to get him to stick to the script, which was carefully written to time out to a certain length, in order to save us time/effort in expensive editing suites that The Brewers would balk at paying for.

We wrapped the second spot, and the crew started preparing for the third. Someone gave Uecker the next script, in which he was to star with Brewers legend Robin Yount (who, just to be clear, was cool, helpful and tried hard). I’m sitting in a chair about 30 feet away, watching Uecker’s beady eyes dance over my script as he munched on some cold cuts. He finished reading my script, then looked up and around the room, and loudly said for all to hear:

“Who wrote this crap?”

Awesome. The guy who made “Major League 3: Back to the Minors”, a movie so shabby that Ted “Series Killer” McGinley was one of the stars, was publicly deriding my work. Some lackey that worked for the Brewers scurried over to try and diffuse the situation, while I sat in my chair and laughed. Yount overheard the ruckus and said “What’s the matter Bob, you don’t like the script? I think it’s funny.” Upon hearing that Yount liked it, Uecker changed his mind and agreed to do it. But he still ad-libbed.

“Who wrote this crap?” Who indeed.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Rock and Roll is not Dead...

...it could just use a nap.

Pictured above is the world’s coolest bass player, although you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s actor Joe Don Baker of “Walking Tall” fame. This god among men took a break from laying people off / golfing / making bird houses in his wood shop to hold down the bottom end in what was either the worst or the greatest cover band I’ve ever seen. It was comprised entirely of flabby white guys who were over 50+ years old, and they thumbed their collective nose at the very-real possibility of heart attacks to carve out their legend in a St. Paul parking garage during a St Patrick’s Day soiree this weekend, tearing (read: wheezing, limping, etc) though a succession of bold and offbeat song choices such as "Twist and Shout", Elvis's "Burnin' Love" and "Glory Days."

These guys were so white that they made Air Supply look like the MC5. Even the tried-and-true technique of not altering your garb in any way but just tossing on a pair of sunglasses somehow failed to give them the element of danger and sexuality every great rock band needs. Thus, we dubbed them “Ken Lay and The Enron Band.” A co-worker summed it up nicely when he said “the only thing that would make these guys hipper is if Clinton was up there playing the sax.”

Sorry about the poor quality of the cell phone pics. They don’t accurately convey the majesty of this man, but I suspect only a giant oil painting could hope to do that. My wife’s cell phone only cost $400 or so, and I guess you just can’t expect decent quality for that pittance. Down with Treo! Boo!

Friday, March 16, 2007

Send over the female stripper cop, cupcakes and balloons

One year ago today a bold new blog burst on the scene. Taking no prisoners with a tough, terse writing style reminiscent of a seasoned boxing reporter, it purloined material from other blogs with an eerie swiftness, while also tirelessly championing the belief that a giant, hirsute beast does indeed stalk the forests of North Amercia.

That blog, for readers who may have been dropped on their heads as infants, was this one. Happy 1-year birthday, Blogfoot! And thanks to you, my readers. It is your patronage, and desire to avoid working, that makes this blog what it is. Although technically, I make it what it is, and you just read it. But you get the point.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

A rich, emotional backstory

Although I've always enjoyed the character of "Jaws" (as played by Richard Kiel) in the James Bond films "The Spy Who Loved Me" and "Moonraker," I did feel he was a bit one-dimensional - you know, just another variation on the seemingly unstoppable henchman / brute that we've all seen a million times before. But that was before I unearthed this info on the web, as culled from the novelization of "The Spy Who Loved Me" by Christopher Wood:

"Jaws's real name is Zbigniew Krycsiwiki and he was born in Kraków, Poland. Krycsiwiki was arrested by the secret police for his part in the "1972 bread riots". Whilst he was imprisoned the police "beat him with hollow steel clubs encased in thick leather" until they thought he was dead, leaving his jaw broken beyond repair. Krycsiwiki later escaped and stowed aboard one of villain Karl Stromberg's vessels. Eventually he was caught, but instead of turning him in, Stromberg hired a prestigious doctor to create an artificial jaw. After 14 operations Krycsiwiki's jaw was restored using steel components that created two rows of terrifying razor-sharp teeth."

Seems more fleshed-out now, yes? Even a bit tragic. Jaws isn't bad; he was just trying to get some bread. And he's not really trying to bite Bond - 007 is really just a metaphor, a substitute if you will, for the delicious, aromatic loafs he was arrested for trying to get his giant paws on in Poland lo those many years ago.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Interesting fact

Though not an amphibian, Godzilla has an amphibious lifestyle. He spends about 1/2 of his life in the water.

Famous people with gout

Those who have suffered from the "disease of kings" include:

Henry VIII, Charles Spurgeon, Kublai Khan, Nostradamus, John Milton, Queen Anne, Isaac Newton, Gottfried Leibniz, Henry Fielding, Samuel Johnson, Charles IV, Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor,[14] Pablo Neruda, Alfred Lord Tennyson, George IV, John Hancock, Thomas Jefferson, Karl Marx, William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham, Benjamin Disraeli, Kirk Reuter, David Wells, Peter Paul Rubens, Alexander Hamilton, George Mason, Benjamin Franklin, Henry James, Frederick the Great, Don Nelson, Jared Leto, Pope Clement VIII, Curt Schilling, and perhaps most interestingly, the T-Rex skeleton called "Sue."

Go easy on the sweetbreads and offal meats, kids, lest you join the ranks of the gout-stricken.

Y'all had best back off

The geek movie website Aint It Cool News is reporting that some brain-addled producers are planning to attempt an ill-advised remake of John Carpenter's boffo 1981 sci-fi/action epic "Escape From New York", with "300" star Gerard Butler slated to star as anti-hero Snake Plissken.

There is no reason the remake this movie. The first one is just fine as it is. It had a fresh-off "Used Cars" Kurt Russell with an eyepatch, Harry Dean Stanton, Ernest Borgnine, Lee Van Cleef, Adrianne Barbeau and her giant rack and last but certainly not least, soulmeister Issac Hayes as the Duke of New York, the man who runs the city and is so stylish that he has chandeliers on the hood of his Cadillac (it is New York City, after all). You could not possibly hope to top that all-star cast, so why even try?

If you're not familiar with the movie (in which case I weep for you and your offspring), it was set in the year 1997, and the USA has basically become a police state. The island of Manhattan has been walled-off and converted into the country's one maximum security prison. You commit a crime, and you are dumped in there with the rest of the scum and forced to fend for yourself, as there are no guards. Air Force One crashes inside with President onboard, wherein he is made hostage by prisoners. A condemned criminal and former war hero named Snake Plissken (Russell) is offered his freedom if he can rescue the President in time to get him to some important peace talks with a cassette tape(!) that contains the secret of nuclear fusion. Snake proceeds to land a glider on top of the World Trade Center and get busy on some sewer mutants and criminals. A perfect canvas, I'm sure you'll agree.

Back off, Hollywood, you hear me? The memory of this fine film has already been tainted enough by the wretched "Escape From LA" sequel in 1996. I suffered through the indignity of your "Planet of the Apes" and "Godzilla" remakes, but now I must draw the line.

Monday, March 12, 2007

He's gone to that big guitar / spaceship in the sky / outer space

Brad Delp, the golden-throated singer of the 70's rock behemoth Boston, died this weekend at the fairly young age of 55. Dang. He's the one on the right with the Andre The Giant as Bigfoot-style hairdo-beard combo, although in the video below he has ditched the beard in favor of a more Doug Henning -like appearance. These guys sold 17 million copies of their self-titled debut album in 1977. Which would explain why they are sitting on their own plane in the above picture.

Say what you will about them, but "More Than A Feeling" is a song that rocks your balls off. It's easily one of the best entries on the mighty "Guitar Hero" video game (although I'm growing increasingly fond of G-n-R's "Sweet Child O' Mine" on "Guitar Hero 2.") Anyway, here's a grainy video of "More Than A Feeling" for you to sing along / cry to.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Flirting with genius

And now, for your reading pleasure, I'm going to post my second favorite of the McSweenys "Short Imagined Monologues." This one is written by Robert Hornack and is titled:

Bob Hope Auditions for the Role of Quint in Jaws: April 12, 1974 (The USS Indianapolis Monologue).

What? This scar, right here on my arm? Oh, that's just a souvenir from my trip to Tinian back in '45. Onboard the Indianapolis. You know what the Indianapolis is. That's 12 hundred men and a worn-out Betty Grable pinup.

Yeah, back on the boat, we got a big surprise. The Japs unloaded two torpedoes into our side. Boat sank in 12 minutes flat. A minute less, it would've beat the old record set by the McGovern campaign.

Over a thousand men went into the water. And it was the middle of the night. Water was 40 degrees. I tell ya, I haven't been so cold and wet since I hugged Nixon.

Well, we didn't see the first shark for a half-hour. Tiger shark, 13 feet long. You tell that by looking from the dorsal to the tail. Good thing Robinson remembered his tape measure. Course, then he was the first to get pulled under. Good kid, Robinson. Never knew he could hit an F-sharp over high C.

By then the sharks were on to us, all right. Swam right up, looked us in the eye. Funny thing about a shark, he's got lifeless eyes, black eyes, like a doll's eye. Like Kissinger at the press-pool snack table. I tell ya, when a shark comes at you, it doesn't seem to be living. Not, at least, till it bites you and those black eyes roll over white. I saw that and I knew it looked awfully familiar. My wife, closing time at Tiffany's.

So they didn't list us overdue for 'bout a week. That's a long time just floating in the water. My skin got so wrinkled I looked like Rose Kennedy at a Shar-Pei convention.

Finally, a PBY rescue came along, started picking us out of the water. It was a long, terrifying ordeal, waiting our turn while the sharks circled under our feet. I won't say the men felt doomed, but I heard one guy scalping his Dodgers season tickets. Another one tried to talk me into his watch. Said it was hand-carved, worth $400. And I thought the sharks were all under the water.

So 11 hundred men went in the water, 316 men came out. They call that another typical day over at Liberace's house.

Anyway, that's my story, made it out alive, June 29, 1945. Thanks, ladies and gentlemen, and remember, we're all supporting you out here, and believe me when I say I'm gonna do everything I can to get you boys home and with your families before next Christmas morning. If not, then look forward next year to Angie Dickinson and Raquel Welch in a tap-dance number that'll knock your socks off. Good night.


The word 'genius' is one that is used all-too-often these days. People throw it out like candy from a parade float. But I think in this case the use of the word is entirely justified.

I speak of the following excerpt from the humor / literary website McSweenys, an off-shoot of the publishing imprint started by a fine writer named Dave Eggers. The site adds new content often, and even accepts submissions it deems worthy, which is cool. One of the regualr features I enjoy is "Short Imagined Monologues", where the writers create the thought process for real or fictional characters, for instance, "Christopher Walken Attempts to Convince a Harlem T-Shirt Vendor That Scarface Can Be a Religion" which depicts Christopher Walken doing just what the title says he will do, or "Aquaman, King of the Seven Seas, Has Fucking Had It With You, Man" or "Wario Gives an Account of a Mario Kart Race for Strangers at a Bar", and so on. Below is my all-time favorite. I read it at least once a week. It is quite literally perfect in concept and execution. It was written by Ralph Gamelli and it's called:

"Final Thoughts of the Big Bald Shirtless German Soldier Who Beat Up Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark."

Oh, Helga, why did you leave me? We could have made it work.

Bah! I must stop obsessing. It has been weeks. I will get some fresh air. Perhaps a nice walk will put things in perspec—

Hmm? A ruckus going on near the plane, and with the propellers in motion, too. Someone is pounding the schnitzel out of Franz. I've never been particularly fond of the fellow—this pseudointellectual who quotes Nietzsche too often—but I must go to his aid. Also, a beating will soothe me more than any walk. I will take out my frstrations upon this stranger.

Hat ... off. Shirt ... off.

Down goes Franz. Even with a giant monkey wrench for a weapon, he is still a muschi.

I approach the intruder. He is an American. Stranger still, he is wearing a leather jacket. It must be 120 degrees in the shade. I challenge him with my upturned fists. I shall pound him once for each day, each hour, Helga has been gone.

Wait. He's pointing at the ground. I must look. A coin, perhaps? Nein! He has kicked me in the crotch, the filthy swine! A literal kick to accompany my Helga's figurative kick.

No matter. I stand my ground. I show no pain. In fact, I embrace the pain. Yes, physical pain is a welcome relief compared to my emotional pain.

Why, Helga? Why? Is it because I refused to shave my mustache, yet continued to shave my head? You complimented my look when we first met. Called it distinctive. How could you ask me to change?

One punch and the American goes down, yet I feel no better. I am still empty inside. Empty without my dear Hel—

Acht! The bastard has bitten my arm! But I will embrace the pain again. I deserve it for letting her go.

He is avoiding me now, weaving around the plane. Fight, Herr Fedora! I must feel more pain. I punch, punch. If I must beat you senseless to keep you fighting, so be it. Punch. What does not kill you, my American friend, makes you stronger ... as long as a woman is not involved. Franz would tell you that, if he were not lying face down in the dirt.

Argh! He's thrown sand in my eyes! That's more like it!

Why does he keep looking at the plane? Ah, his woman is locked in the cockpit. I should have locked my love in a cockpit so she never could have escaped.

I see the fräulein knows how to work the onboard gun. She just mowed down a truck full of my countrymen. Isn't that like a woman? If she is not leaving you, she is mowing you down with a machine gun.

The stranger swings. One, two, three, four straight punches and I do not flinch. Blood is pouring from my nose. Good. It is undoubtedly broken, like my heart.

I punch again, to prod him more than anything else. But he goes down. Get up, coward. I need more pain. I need to hurt.

What's this? He is looking behind me. Perhaps it is Helga. She has changed her mind and returned to me. Or perhaps it is the plane's propeller. Yes, of course, it is the propeller. He is ducking down and covering his head. I should duck down myself, but I cannot bring myself to care. She is gone forever and nothing else matters and I don't wish to be overly philosophical like Franz, but perhaps if you look into the propeller, the propeller also looks into you.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Wanta Wampa

OK, read that headline again, but this time imagine the music / theme from the incredibly bouncy and catchy "Wanta Fanta?" soda commercials featuring a bunch of colorfully spandex-clad skanks gyrating around that blight TV and movie screens in the summertime. Witty, huh? No, you're right. It's not.

Anyway, the reason for the Wampa reference are these old behind the scenes photos from 1980, taken during the filming of "The Empire Strikes Back" that show an actor getting into a Wampa ice creature costume. This thing is huge! I really like the one where it shows the cables that are used to hoist him up. I want one of these that I can wear during the winter months when I shovel my driveway and walk my dog.

I'm presuming this full-body costume was used for the deleted "wampa attack en mass" sequence, as the only shots used in the final 1981 film are of a puppet/maquette head and arm. A sequence was filmed but not used that showed a bunch of Wampa ( A herd? A pack? A pride? A gaggle? ) attacking the rebel ice fortress right as the Imperial Walkers showed up. Jeez! A glimmer of this sequence can seen in the film, as R2-D2 rounds a corrider / passageway, and some snow dislodges and hits him in the head. The snow was dislodged due to some Wampa busting through the walls into the tunnel. True story.