Thursday, July 27, 2017

Drive-in Movies - Ape Shall Not Kill Ape

I went to a drive-in movie recently. The last time I went to a drive-in movie was, I think, in 1970, around 47 years ago. What a shame this delightful experience is so little known today.

My thanks and a nod of acknowledgement to the Mansfield Drive-In in Mansfield, Connecticut, where my twin brother John and I relived the experience of our eight-year-old selves.  Back in 1970, we saw a double feature of Doris Day in With Six You Get Eggroll (1968) and The Boatniks (1970), which I mentioned in this previous post about drive-in movies.

The Mansfield Drive-In has three screens, with double features playing on each.  Our double feature was War for the Planet of the Apes (2017) and Wonder Woman (2017).  We didn’t finish the second movie as it was getting into the wee hours and we had an hour drive home.  By that time, I confess, I was a little weary of violence and simplistic characters that would entertain a child or someone with the mind of one.  Not that I don’t applaud Wonder Woman’s getting her due on the big screen—hurray for the girls—but she’s still no match for Tracy Lord, Stella Dallas, Ilsa Lund, or Mildred Pierce, if you get my drift.  Margo Channing would have chewed her up and spit her out.  Heck, so would Birdie.

As for the Apes, I noticed that though the makeup and CGI combined had made the ape creatures incredibly realistic compared to the original series, the script was much more inferior when it came to dialogue or any kind of message, or indeed, any kind of point at all.  There was actually very little dialogue.  The new movie follows the ape leader Caesar on an act of revenge with no purpose.  It is left to others with more sense to save the ape colony.  The original Planet of the Apes (1968) I had blogged about last summer when it came to the big screen at the local cinema as part of the Fathom Events partnership with Turner Classic Movies was not as sophisticated technologically, to be sure, but it had a far more literate and intelligent script.  This is from my blog post on that experience last year:

The other thing that surprised me was how the themes in this much-parodied pop culture movie-turned-“franchise” have remained relevant: the ape council’s rejection of science because it threatens the power of a fundamentalist government, the refusal to acknowledge truths that are not politically convenient, the cycle of prejudice and subjugation. Rod Serling wrote the script based on Pierre Boulle’s novel, and Serling's introspective and intellectual imprint is all over this movie.  There is a late 1960s feeling of the exhilaration of rebellion, without all the tired dystopian bilge we are beaten over the head with today.

When Charlton Heston comes upon the half-buried Statue of Liberty and screams his last lines, I’m sure all in the theater were quite familiar with the end of the movie, but there was still an awed silence, then the audience erupted in applause.  

I am still tired of dystopian bilge.  I find its parallel with the current fascist regime in the White House and Congress to be appalling, and yet is somehow something we have allowed to happen by our lack of meaningful entertainment, our shallowness, and lack of a true spirit of adventure, despite our ape leader trudging through the snow to kill his enemies, and despite Wonder Woman leaving her island paradise to save mankind.  As a society, we have gotten lazy and stupid. Instead of taking charge and defining our era, we have sat back and allowed it to define us.

Hey, TCM, hey Fathom Events...what I'd love to see is some classic films on the drive-in screen.  Can you do that?

What I found totally unexpected and quite charming in this drive-in movie experience was the pre-movie 1950s and 1960s music on the FM frequency we were to hear the sound from – no more speakers on your car door (we brought our own radio so as not to drain the car battery) –and also the classic TV commercials that reminded us Boomers of the heyday when drive-ins could be found pretty much anywhere.  There are no more drive-in theaters in my area – the closest are the one in Mansfield, Connecticut, and another in New Hampshire—but back in the day there was one in my town and several more within probably five miles.  They are all shopping plazas now.

Next on the screen, another totally unexpected delight, was the classic “Let’s all go the lobby…” promo cartoon and the audience in their cars and lawn chairs erupted in cheers and applause.  It was not for the quality of the grainy 70-year-old cartoon urging us to go to the refreshment stand “and have ourselves a treat” that they applauded.  It was for the memory of simpler joys and being too young then to really appreciate them.  

I did see a little girl in her jammies, and that was cute.  I remembered those days, and having to be carried into the house by my father when we got home because I had fallen asleep in the back seat.  

But I also saw a grown woman in pajama bottoms.  Well, I’ve seen people wearing them at the post office, too, so I don’t know if she expected to fall asleep or that was just what was in her closet.

Between the two features, we got another ten-minute burst of a “Let’s all go to the lobby….” adventure with the well-dressed, white, middle class American family who ate refreshment stand goodies like goats eating the lawn, and large hot dogs and cups of soda coming to life and dancing for us.  It would have been surreal, except that it was so comfortingly familiar and innocent.  It was the kind of stupidity that didn’t make one angry; it made one smile.

Interesting that nobody clapped for the science fiction characters who had adventures in our place—not representing us but substituting for us; the audience applauded the dancing popcorn cartons and the voracious cartoon family that could not get enough treats.

Perhaps more than the apes and humans seeking revenge on each other, I enjoyed the black sky full of brilliant stars.  The Big Dipper hung just over the top of the screen.  The summer night air was heavy with scents from the woods nearby and freshly cut fields, and maybe bug spray.

We left before we got too tired because if we had fallen asleep, nobody was going to carry us into the house.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

George M. Cohan's movies

Independence Day wouldn't be the same without Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942).  Fortunately, Turner Classic Movies seems to agree.  James Cagney might well be inextricably linked to George M. Cohan, to the extent that Cohan's career in theatre far outstrips his handful of film appearances.  Cohan did, however, make a few movies.

His first, Broadway Jones (1917) transferred his stage persona to screen, though a silent film is obviously not the best showcase for a musical star.  It was based on his stage show and filmed by his own company, Cohan Feature Films Company.

His play Seven Keys to Baldpate (1917) was his next try at films.  Hedda Hopper was his co-star.  This and his next film were produced by Famous Players.  That was Hit-the-Trail Holliday (1918), a comedy about a temperance crusade --  before Prohibition.

The Phantom President (1932) is interesting for its election year subject, and especially that his co-star was Claudette Colbert and Jimmy Durante.  This was produced by Paramount.  Have a look at a clip here.

Gambling (1934) was George M.'s last movie, for Fox this time.  Films were not his forte -- like some stage actors, he preferred the live audience reaction -- but his prodigious theatre career is remembered mainly by Cagney's movie about him. 

photo by JT Lynch

The statue on Broadway is, like Cohan himself, larger than life.
photo by JT Lynch

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