Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The Seventies Sucked Everywhere

Including Newfoundland, it seems, though less because of economic depression (that came later) than because the island's inhabitants remained isolated and what they received of contemporary popular culture was sad and shabby. From the National Geographic*:

"In many an outport I found one establishment emblazoned 'General Store and Entertainments.'" (This should give you a good idea of what the author was in for.) In "prosperous" fishing communities, the Entertainments "consisted of a pool table and a jukebox; if not, they consisted of a couple of pinball machines." I imagine at least one of these didn't work. The other was emblazoned with clowns. Sad clowns.

Moreover, "in only two outports did I find a movie house, each of them showing a ten-year-old movie on a screen of wrinkled canvas silvered with blotchy radiator paint." The author doesn't say, but I'll bet the movie was the original Ocean's Eleven (1960). A tedious film in the best of circumstances, despite its partial redemption by Sammy Davis Jr.'s singing.

For more provincial fare, Newfoundland residents had access to TV broadcasts from all three of the island's principal towns. And "for a more riotous social life, an outport may stage an occasional net-knitting contest, while fairs may feature competitions in fish cleaning." It almost makes Indiana sound cosmopolitan by comparison. Almost.

* G. Jennings, "Newfoundland Trusts in the Sea," Jan. 1974.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

The A-Number-One President

I've remarked elsewhere on my fondness for the cult movie Escape from New York (1981), and a recent viewing of the film with my petite amie, along with an email conversation with my brother regarding the director's commentary (which is quite good), got me thinking about what still makes the film compelling. There are many answers to that question, one of which is “first-rate acting.” Adrienne Barbeau turned a throwaway part into a major character; Ernest Borgnine, Lee Van Cleef, and Harry Dean Stanton showed off their decades of acting experience; Isaac Hayes brought just the right amount of eye-twitching menace to the big villain's part; Kurt Russell, fading teen-movie star, transformed himself into an action hero; and Donald Pleasence played a surprisingly convincing president.* Pleasence's chief executive was one part ineffectual cipher, a blend of Nixon's charisma with Carter's effectiveness, and one part fraying victim-turned-madman, a manifestation of Pleasence's own experience as a POW in the Second World War. I think I would prefer either part to one of the major-party candidates running for president this year. So herewith I offer:

Reasons why The President in Escape from New York was a better president than Donald Trump would be:

1) Had a better hairpiece

2) Showed respect for his social betters (dukes, etc.)

3) Personal jetliner had more modest escape pod

4) At least minimal respect for those who died for their country

5) Able to pray convincingly

6) Understood that tritium creates only one one-millionth of the biological damage of iodine-131

7) Gave useful counter-terrorism advice to member of Ford family

8) Did not insult Native Americans, even when fighting them

9) Maintained a decorous distance from the Russians

10) Didn't need an escalator – could run down fifty flights of stairs.