LOST IN SPACE (1998) viewing LIVE BLOG, 10-11-20

I originally planned to watch Robot Carnival tonight, but I’d rather do it on another evening when my brain Isn’t so muddled. Instead, we will be featuring Lost in Space, the feature film adaptation of the 1960s TV show that was released to theaters in 1998, starring Gary Oldman as Dr. Smith, clearly the best asset in the movie. I’m parking my brain in neutral for this one; I haven’t seen it in a long long time, but I remember it was a light-hearted family adventure for the most part, mixing in a couple of dark turns for good measure, much like the original black and white episodes of season one, plus a lot of Irwin Allen-style space opera silliness as well.

The annoyed leading the confused.

First off, we have Matt LeBlanc, better known as Joey from the sitcom Friends, playing Major Don West, a hotshot space pilot and fighter jock originally played in the TV series by actor Mark Goddard. Why Joey from Friends, exactly? He is pretty cute, and he looks good in a spacesuit, and he can do light comedy and adventure just fine. But he’s still Joey from Friends, he’s never not going to be Joey from Friends. At least Mark Goddard, who plays a general who just happens to look exactly like the original Don West in a cameo, is able to maintain his dignity with a credible performance.

How YOU doing?

The first steaming turd of dysfunctional stereotype we meet among the Robinson family is young Will Robinson, who is cute enough I guess, but he is no Bill Mumy, who played the character in the original TV series. He’s supposed to be a lonely little genius boy whose father doesn’t pay attention to him enough, but any sympathy we feel for him is immediately tainted by this puerile sight gag that ruins the cameo of original TV series star June Lockhart. Boy, this movie sets a tone *real* early.

Lassie’s mom? Seriously, you thought THIS was a GOOD idea? Oh, boy.

And now we have cute little Lacey Chabert from Party of Five being all cutie cute cute as Penny Robinson, who, this time gets an actual job or something as a member of the crew of the Jupiter 2. Yay, representation, kind of. Anyway, she’s pissed off to be leaving Earth at the age of 14, because, among other things, she hasn’t kissed a lot of dudes yet. Because Penny Robinson is definitely into dudes, as at least one inappropriate interaction with Joey demonstrates quite creepily.

Lacey Chabert went on to become a Mean Girl, so don’t feel bad for her.

And here enters the essential villain of the piece, the nefarious Dr. Zachary Smith, supposedly an ally but actually an agent of enemy powers, seen here getting inappropriately touchy with the Robot, as he does with every single other member of the cast, because, he’s *real* fucking creepy that way. Gary Oldman tears into the role with superbitchy aplomb and often seems to be the only person in the entire cast having any fun at all, not unlike certain episodes of the original series featuring actor Jonathan Harris in the same role. Definitely the sole character (again, except for the Robot) deeply connected to the original show. Oh, the pain, the pain.

Show me on the Robot where Dr. Smith touched you.

And here we get the two adult female corpse members of the Robinson family, Dr. Judy Robinson (Heather Graham of Boogie Nights fame), and Professor Maureen Robinson (Mimi Rogers, who appeared in the first Austin Powers the same year). As mother and daughter, these normally engaging actresses have little chemistry and seem ill at ease amid the space spiders and ’90s sci-fi technobabble (not an easy form of acting, to be sure). They both pull it out in the end by pulling out the charm at full blast, but it’s close. Gary Oldman, who gets to embrace his original character instead of running away from it characterization-wise, fares much better by comparison.

Going for the “Best Staring At Monitor Screens” group acting award.

The creepy “sexy” banter between Judy and Joey is just slimy, hilariously laughable tripe, some of which is plainly ADR’d in post because reasons. Hard to believe Akiva Goldsman wrote these flaming turd nuggets.

Joey: I like your spacesuit tiddies, like, a whole lot.
Rollergirl: Zzzzzzzzzzz …

Introducing the character who was in reality the second lead of the original 1960s television show and serves the same function in this movie, being the only really pro-active character in the entire cast except for Dr. Smith. Voice actor Dick Tufeld is the only member of the original series cast to reprise his original role as the voice of the Robot. He does a fine job here, just as he did during the original incarnation. Ultimately, you’ll find that he’s the only character that you want to root for.

What is it with this franchise and the implicit threat of molesting little boys in space, Robot?

The new Jupiter 2, like the old Jupiter 2, is a character unto its own, often behaving as if it had will and a personality that is never quite fully expressed. By far one of the best elements of the movie, though I missed the Chariot and Space Pod from the old show, supposedly trashed when Joey fucks up and crashes the ship, like an asshole.

The Millennial ThunderCougarFalconBird

“We’re lost, aren’t we”? asks Penny, who must follow the cinematic trope of alluding to the film’s title in dialogue. Yeah, Penny, we KNOW.

We need to get this right for the trailer shot, Lacey. Try again.

GHOOOOOST SHIIIIIIP! Another original series trope, updated with a new time-travel twist as the Jupiter 2 unknowingly leaps decades in the future. Some actual gosh-wow sci-fi, at last.

When Dr. Smith says dramatic ghost ship shit when you’re exploring the ghost ship

OH MY GOD, MAC AND ME!!!!

Yikes. Just … yikes.

Did they honestly not notice the similarities, or was this a purposeful homage to shitty cinema space aliens gone by? I would love to know.

Except Blarp (for reals) doesn’t have an expression like he’s constantly getting an anal probe
Space spiders, GAAAH!
KABLAMMS, JOEY!

Last among the Robinsons and definitely least, ostensible protagonist Professor John Robinson (William Hurt, who usually plays quietly depressed suburban idiots) suffers from his portrayal as icy, remote, bored, exasperated and vaguely annoyed ALL THE TIME, even when playing hero in the third act. Unfortunately (fortunately?), he’s not the real hero, as we shall see.

Like Elon Musk without the savage animal magnetism

The real hero of the picture, Future Will Robinson (Mad Men’s Jared Harris), whom sacrifices his future and very life for his family. And he’s only a walk-on cast member. Original cast member Bill Mumy lobbied to play the role but was inexplicably refused. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Still, adult William and his mini-arc is just about the thing that saves the whole picture. Goodbye, Future Will, we hardly knew ye.

I am nothing like Regular Will Robinson, but I’m still the most sympathetic character

Future Smith, the Chekov’s Space Spider that is Oldman’s primarily motion-captured contribution to the third act. Acceptably creepy, but crude compared to the considerably more polished character CG used in Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace a year later (1999).

Never fear, Smith is here

What can I say, I actually still like this movie a lot. It’s not your serious, thought-provoking science fiction for the most part, but it touches on some good, fertile areas for exploration. The open-ended finale indicated they expected this to be a renewed franchise, but that’s okay; the original TV series never had a definitive ending, either. I have to admit that, despite the very different, post modern interpretation of these characters, the original concept is solid enough to carry me through for the most part, even colored as it is by the patina of nostalgia (I admit I had an avid boy-crush crush on Mark Goddard – Don West – when I was little, and I imagine that the same could apply to 1990s kids with Matt LeBlanc).

The feeling is exacerbated by the fact that this was the first version of Lost in Space that my son encountered, and frankly, he fucking loved it. I bought him several of the better merchandised toy tie-ins, which immeasurably stimulated his imagination. And I treasure that. It’s a fun movie, I had fun watching it. It’s still very much a 1965 TV pilot at its heart, essentially a combination of the first three or so episodes of the TV series with a brand new ending to cap off the first film’s narrative. I’m almost sorry that it did not continue as a film series, though except for the hideous Blarp (the horrible yellow monkey lizard that, in the original script, played a much bigger part), I’m now interested in obtaining some of that old 1998 Lost in Space merch for myself. I’ve already got the robot coming my way.

Lost in Space is now streaming on HBO Max.

Stayin’ alive

Getting things back into place after a long hiatus requires picking up and gluing together a lot of broken pieces. Some of those pieces are too fragile to go back together. Some pieces are just gone, dissolved into nothingness like wisps of cigarette smoke.

How do you put a life back on track when there is no track?

You make one.

Man at work.

Star Crash (1979)

Like George W. Bush, Star Crash is very much a creature of simple tastes dazzled by pretty colors and big machines that go ZOOOOOOOM. Like the former president, there’s no mucking about with Star Crash – you’re either good or evil, for it or against it, and if you’re against it, then you hate freedom and Disneyland.

A girl’s best friend is her pistol-packin’ robot

I’ve been obsessed with this movie ever since I was about 11 years old, ever since seeing a dazzling but brief TV commercial for it on my old black and white Sylvania one afternoon during “Boo! Theater”
– it was among the first of the Star Wars rip-offs green-lighted in the wake of George Lucas’ spectacular success, in this case made by a bunch of resourceful Italians who had never seen the movie they were supposed to be copying, which is all for the better.

There is no characterization in Star Crash, absolutely none – people simply pop out on screen shooting and screaming, or else announce who they are and what they are going to do right before doing it. The closest thing to a character moment we get is the bizarre case of the lead villain shouting his own name (“Zarth Arn! Zarth Arn!”) at random moments for inspiration, or a strangely touching but awkward sequence in which a Texas-accented gunslinger robot proclaims his sweet, sweet love for heroine Stella Star (former Hammer Studios scream queen Caroline Munro).

Given the low, low budget and the need to attract as many eyeballs as possible, lovely Brit Munro provides the generous helping of tits and ass that had been conspicuously missing from Star Wars – yet it remains as eternally chaste. Director “Lewis Coates” (AKA Luigi Cozzi, a protégé of producer Dario Argento) keeps matters strictly PG-rated, despite all the planet-smashing, robot-decapitating mayhem.

The film is, in fact, populated with a bizarrely impressive cast, some of whom must have thought they were signing on for “Star Wars II” before they realized what they had done. Aside from up-and-coming nobody David Hasselhoff in his pre-‘Knight Rider” days, the brain-damaged space opera also features Godfather Part II and Taxi Driver co-star Joe Spinell as Zarth Arn, “Earthquake” and perennial TV guest star Marjoe Gortner as  mystical space-fu expert Akton, and Holy Shit is that Christopher Plummer?! It Is! as the Emperor of the Galaxy.

As indicated, I’d been waiting to see this film since I was a kid, and upon its release on DVD and Blu Ray in 2011, it did not disappoint: Star Crash is a wild and woolly camp fest that gives no fucks at all. There’s no plot to speak of, but rather a series of episodes where cool/crazy shit happens with breathtaking rapidity and regularity. Want to get at the main villain in his floating star fortress? Then just pack torpedoes full of soldiers and fire them though the plate glass windows of his HQ, because THIS universe doesn’t give a fuck about blunt force trauma OR explosive decompression in deep space. Need to halt the flow of time so our heroes can escape a doomed planet? Just have Christopher Plummer bark it out to his imperial starship and it happens (though, paradoxically, he can “halt the flow of time” for only five minutes).

It’s a bit of a shame this film isn’t better known outside Europe – it never got any of the merchandising that many of the other late 1970s-early 1980s space operas received, so it’s unlikely I’ll ever get to have my own action figure of Elle, the one-liner robot with a soft spot for Caroline Munro. But that’s not a regret a six-pack of Foster’s and a session with the deluxe two-disc blu ray won’t cure.

Originally published on VideoWordMadeFlesh on December 29, 2011

Giorgio Moroder Presents Metropolis, Only Trippier

Growing up in a dusty South Texas burg without a single revival theater was like living in cinema purgatory in the late 1970s, when my first really intense interest in the technical and artistic aspects of film began to blossom. Cable television “superstations” and premium movie channels like HBO – then known as Home Box Office – had begun to appear, but they had a limited library of films back then, and the classic silent era of the movies was represented nowhere on the menu.

Metropolis was one of those legendary silent classics that held particular allure to me. A titanic, hyper-budgeted depiction of a 21st century world that only the excesses of the 1920’s Weimar Republic would have allowed, director Fritz Lang’s science fiction opus shone as a tantalizing, but never-to-be-glimpsed jewel to a 1970s kid movie buff weaned on endless issues of Famous Monsters of Filmland and Starlog magazines. FM editor Forry Ackerman’s breathless prose about how impossibly awesome the infamously cut-down U.S. release was, seen back when he was an impressionable youth, stirred my imagination, as well as a continual and frustrating longing to see this magnum opus of German expressionism.

This is the kind of breathless prose I’m talking about.

Consumer home video decks had recently become available, in the competing Beta and VHS formats, but prerecorded movies on cassette were rare and expensive, even for rental, and the early home VCRs themselves, no matter the format, tended to be large, noisy and heavy – about the size, weight, and price of an AMC Pacer. Everyone I knew whose parents could afford one seemed to have a bootleg copy of Star Wars (no “Episode IV” subtitle back then) and at least one porno (usually Taboo or Debbie Does Dallas) but there were no copies of Metropolis lying around.

The advent of the low-cost second-generation videocassette recorder – very specifically, a Sanyo Betamax I received as a high school senior in late 1984 or thereabouts – and a simultaneous revival of interest in Lang’s visionary silent film finally allowed me to ingest this marvel over and over again on my parents’ Magnavox and over at my friend Eric’s house. At that time, famed electronic music producer Giorgio Moroder decided to issue a “restored” version (meaning cleaned-up – huge chunks of the original release had been edited out and lost over the years), colored to emulate hand-tinted film stock.

Moroder had also composed a new, house-thumping disco-pop soundtrack to go along with it – which sounded to most serious film buffs at the time as the Gayest Thing Ever in the History of Very Gay Things. Here was a version of Metropolis you could snort MDMA and dance all night long to.

Yeah, I could trip balls all night to this shit.

Needless to say, I fucking loved it. Yeah, it was a weird MTV-ization of the movie, but the Teutonic beats were somehow in keeping with the industrial rhythms of the film itself, thumping along with the strange pulsing of the Robot Maria’s own mechanical heart.

A tie-in music video for Queen’s “Radio Gaga” single led to singer Freddie Mercury contributing the most perfectly performed and realized solo track of his career, the incendiary “Love Kills,” a true highlight amid the curious selection of pop artists assembled as per producer Moroder’s tastefully camp electropop aesthetics.

Besides, the movie just races along in this form. The classic inter-title cards have been largely replaced by the sketchiest of subtitles to explain things (including, unfortunately, Freder’s stylized “Moloch!” exclamation), but the visuals still dazzle and compel with vast imagination and hyper-technical zeal. It’s a cartoon of a movie – characters fall in love, change alliances, and commit the most outrageous plots to action at the drop of a hat – but what a glorious cartoon.

Though, chances are you won’t be seeing this on Cartoon Network.

No doubt, this is the EZ-to-digest version of Metropolis – the full, restored version, finally available after many decades, can be a little trying for viewers unfamiliar with the peculiar conventions of silent film, and the expressionist age in particular. But back then, it was the only ticket around. I wore out my Betamax cassette and replaced it with a much more durable 12” Laserdisc, which I have to this day, and was a happy investment – the Moroder version of the film disappeared around 1991, and has remained unavailable in any video format for twenty years.

For many of those years, Giorgio Moroder Presents Metropolis was regarded, if at all, as a sort of oddball cinematic/pop music embarrassment typical of the period, hardly ever talked about except after a few strong cocktails – like the Peter Frampton/Bee Gees Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, or The Pirate Movie.

However, if you pay close attention to the documentaries released with Kino’s meticulous Metropolis restorations, you’ll note that many of the younger staffers whom worked on the project will mention their regard for the weirdo 1984 release as the event that fired their interest in the classic film.

And of course, my interest in the 1984 version never really died, either. I’ve run off countless copies of my out-of-print Laserdisc in VHS and other formats for fellow fans over the years, and our patience was finally rewarded with a new Kino DVD and Blu-Ray release last fall. It’s not perfect – no extensive restoration here, and sparse special features – but it still feels as good going down now as it did back then.

Originally published on VideoWordMadeFlesh on March 5, 2012

There is plenty of life on Mars in John Carter

A human being arrives suddenly on alien world, befriends a savage but honorable native tribe, hooks up with a badass native woman, and saves the day with his superior abilities and noble courage.

So, John Carter has the same plot as Dune.

And Stargate. And Avatar. And any other number of stories from that particular branch of genre fiction once known as the Planetary Romance. But John Carter, the Warlord of Mars, was there first, the granddaddy of them all: appearing in the pages of All-Story Magazine under the title of “Under the Moons of Mars” exactly one hundred years ago, the influence of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ seminal novel A Princess of Mars cannot be easily overestimated. Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, Star Wars, Superman and several generations’ worth of otherworldly fantasies walk in the footsteps of this Gentleman from Virginia-turned-interplanetary savior.

The key to survival on Mars is nudity and metal pasties.

A Southern Cavalry officer during the Civil War, former Captain John Carter (played in Disney’s film version by Friday Night Lights star Taylor Kitsch) is a shell-shocked husk of the man he once was, searching for gold in the wilds of 1880s New Mexico, when he’s caught in the conflict between the U.S. Army and the Apache. While attempting to rescue a jingoistic colonel (Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston), Carter stumbles into a remote passage between worlds, and onto the desiccated surface of the distant planet Barsoom – known on Earth as our neighboring world, Mars.

With Mars having only a third of the surface gravity of our home planet, the dislocated Earthman soon finds himself capable of superhuman feats, such as leaping far into the air (like the Golden Age Superman) and felling much larger opponents with a single blow, much to the amazement and consternation of the alien warlord – or “Jeddak” – Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe) and the Princess of Helium, Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins). With Carter’s arrival on Barsoom, a planet-wide conflict reaches its climax, and his presence as a wild card upsets the plans of the wicked Sab Than (Dominic West) and the mysterious Therns, led by Matai Shang (Mark Strong).

While the book series has been incredibly and consistently popular among science fiction and fantasy readers over the last century, the lavishness of Burroughs’ imagination made a straight-up film adaptation of his adventures difficult at best. As far back as the 1930s there were attempts to bring the Mars series to the screen, but while imitators such as Flash Gordon became industries unto themselves, the John Carter books never really had that sort of cross-platform success.

On the Depression-era movie screen, the Lion Men of Flash Gordon’s Mongo were simply portrayed by thickly-bearded actors, but how do you simulate armies of 12-foot, six-limbed, green-skinned Tharks with pre-CGI film technology? In the hands of others, Burroughs’ Tharks would become the aforementioned Lion Men of Flash Gordon, Star Trek’s Klingons, the Fremen of Dune, Star Wars’ Tusken Raiders, and eventually James Cameron’s blue-skinned Na’vi. Practically and financially, it was far easier to film the Earth-bound scenario of Tarzan of the Apes, Burroughs’ second novel (also 1912), and the primary source of his wealth and fame thereafter.

Indeed, the cinema buck on A Princess of Mars – the first installment of what eventually became an 11-book series – kept getting passed around over the years, though it fell through some interesting hands along the way, including those of directors Jon Favreau (Iron Man) and Robert Rodriguez (Sin City).

Plus, they had to wait for Taylor Kitsch’s abs to be born.

Enter Pixar Studios’ Andrew Stanton, whose credits read like a laundry list of Disney’s most successful products: Director of Wall*E and Finding Nemo, co-director on A Bug’s Life, writer on all the Toy Story films, etc.  Stanton brings with him screenwriters Mark Andrews (also of Pixar fame) and Michael Chabon (Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Wonder Boys and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay) to help smooth out the rough edges of Burroughs’ original, episodic serial.

Though accused of being an unwieldy pile of excess – sight unseen – by entertainment writers slavishly following the established narrative that the film is a fiasco of Ishtar-ian proportions, John Carter is, in all honesty, a much leaner, meaner machine that any of the entries in Disney’s grotesquely bloated and creatively bankrupt Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, which seems to get along exclusively on the basis of Johnny Depp’s considerable, if goofy, charm.

While no Depp in the goofiness department, John Carter star Kitsch has considerable charm of his own, deftly holding his own against veteran scenery-chewer Dafoe and Carter’s scene-stealing alien “dog,” the ingratiating Woola.

WOOLA!

The result is fun and luxuriously fantastic, impressing the 10-year-old in me – who once feverishly wished himself transported bodily to the Mars of Burroughs’ breathless imaginings – enough to wring a few wistful tears from these eyes. During an early battle scene, when John Carter sprints and leaps far into the sky to snatch a plummeting Dejah Thoris out of thin air and from certain death, it soars with the ebullient joy that only a pure cinema experience can provide, triggering that rare, sublime thrill of deep pleasure tingling up the spine and into the brain.

While the story goes a little bit off the rails with multiple subplots toward the middle – the result of tying together disparate elements from the first three Mars books to establish a coherent mythology for the culture of Barsoom – it recovers impressively for a rousing, swashbuckling finale.

And while, yes, John Carter is somewhat of a throwback, it is not to the long-ago days of Buster Crabbe, Betty Grable and war bonds. Rather, it recalls the post-Star Wars era of science fiction and fantasy film adventures, the period in the late 1970s to mid-1980s when studios embraced fantastic storytelling, anything goes fashion, in a race to exploit the newly discovered sci-fi megabuck market, a scenario that led to some wild and wooly storytelling: Superman: The Movie, The Black Hole, Clash of the Titans, Tron, Conan The Barbarian, Krull, The Last Starfighter, Enemy Mine, Dune, etc. – films with at least one foot planted firmly in sense-of-wonderland, which employed breadth of imagination instead of witless violence and ever-larger explosions to entertain the masses.

Whether or not the film was a wise move financially for Disney is not really within my purview, and I find it both amusing and distressing how so many film critics suddenly find themselves cast in the role of marketing and business experts when it comes to productions tainted with the negative buzz of studio infighting, budget overruns and post-production reshoots, matters that often have nothing to do with the eventual quality of the final film (or lack thereof).

All things being equal, John Carter is no Ishtar, Howard the Duck or Cutthroat Island. It’s a magnificently realized fantasy world, one that may be out of its age, but a world worth visiting nonetheless – for a Saturday afternoon matinee, and a lifetime of dreams.

Originally posted on VideoWordMadeFlesh, March 14, 2012

A Conspiracy of Bacon: Strange Rumblings in Porklandia

Endangered species?


In our last post, I was busy relating the Bohemian Radio Institute’s latest findings on pointless fascination with things that never happened when I encountered an example of what the poets and travelling salesmen call serendipity – which seems to be a form of coincidence in which something pointlessly trivial becomes trivial in a much more meaningful way. Or so my gut tells me.
 
Many of you dear readers happened to remark that, just as I was conveying the magnificence of the never-to-have-had-existed Bacon Toaster of Future 1975, something was happening in our contemporary, real future in a way that may or may not actually happen in our actual future lifetimes: A worldwide shortage of the most important ingredient of our imaginary toaster: Bacon!
 

Also the main ingredient in canned emergency bacon. Because you never know …


Now, being somewhat a student of the science of circular logic and unfalsifiable propositions, I immediately became intensely suspicious and paranoid: Something was happening in the world that I, as an individual, couldn’t quite understand or control – elegant proof that someone or something ELSE was controlling things beyond my ability to understand or control things beyond my understanding or control, wouldn’t you say?
 
Resisting the temptation to immediately go off-grid, living out of dumpsters and public libraries while going under the nom de voyage Susan P. Bugblatt (long story), I instead settled down for some intense research on the subject of bacon. My first step was the laborious typing of the word “bacon” into the search line on Google. I was expecting to learn something, but … I wasn’t quite expecting this:
 

Something wonderful


“How clever,” I thought. “Devilishly clever.” A certain fast food restaurant had just introduced the brilliant and tantalizing combination of fried heavenly goodness and a vanilla-esque soft-serve iced cream-like substance, calling it the Bacon Sundae. And just as a years-long drought threatens the supply of feedstock that may or may not result in a shortage and slight increase in the price of the most important ingredient. I was deep in the rabbit hole, with no electric carrot to light the way.
 
Before I go on, a little history may be in order. I know most people, like I do, think of bacon as a carefully cultivated result of the Apollo astronaut programs of the 1960s, along with Tang, Velcro and Richard Nixon. But did you know that it was actually discovered by our ancient human ancestors of thousands of hundreds of years ago – serendipitously – that the giant monster pigs they had been spearing for food actually tasted like delicious fried bacon? Or, at least, they would when they eventually discovered fire and pan-fry cooking.
 

An animal that just happens to taste like delicious bacon, eh? Nice try, Evolution.


Bacon was so useful and greasy that the Romans paid their soldiers with giant slabs of bacon called petaso, which they mixed in a bag with wine, spoiled figs, spices and feral cats before drinking. And the ancient French, when not making up words far too complicated for modern Americans to pronounce without local anesthesia, eventually domesticated some wild Germans accompanied by their porcine lords and masters, thus acquiring not only the Germanic bakkon, which means “delicious treat from filthy swine,” but also the magnificent animals they would ride gloriously into battle during the Norman Conquest of England in 1066.
 

The history of the Norman Conquest.


During World War II, the U.S. government required all bacon aficionados to save their bacon grease and send it back to the Government Men to make into bombs. Just how many kitchen grease bombs were made is not recorded by the military – quite possibly because it was total bullshit – but my theory is that since Hitler was a vegetarian, he’d have been extra-offended by bacon-derived explosives. Who’s to say who hasn’t really bothered to look it up? Not me, my dear readers. Not me at all.
 
Even people named after the foodish substance were disproportionately influential on world history. Sir Francis Bacon not only invented the Declaration of Independence and Shakespeare, but his grandson Kevin Bacon is never more than six degrees of awesome away from anyone else on earth.
 

Is there any mane bacon grease can’t tame?


So, now that you know all these arcane, knowledge-like factlets, can you really believe that it is a coincidence that much of our most dearly delicious natural food resources – bacon, ham, pork chops, sausage, pizza, beef jerky – all come from the same amazing animal? It’s almost as if someone had planned the biggest mass dependency on a staple food item in the history of planned mass dependencies, only to then ruthlessly make it slightly less convenient to obtain.
 
There’s no telling how far this conspiracy of consumption goes. I’m not telling – mostly because I don’t know. There doesn’t seem to be a lot more on the Internet about the Great Bacon Conspiracy other than what I have just posted right now. Or did I just Blow Your Mind?
 

Just a brief note here to thank everyone who stopped to read, like, comment or temporarily glance at my blog over the last two days; it’s a been an overwhelming privilege to be Freshly Pressed. I hope you enjoy what’s to come. Also, an especially grateful and loving thank you to my wonderful friend and benefactor Courtenay Bluebird of Bluebird Blvd., whose brilliant writings are always a pleasure and an inspiration.

Bacon in a Toaster: A Future Too Awesome to Happen

This month marks the 50th anniversary of the TV show The Jetsons. What was awesome about The Jetsons is that it showed us a marvelous 21st century future of flying cars, robot slaves, two-hour work weeks, semi-articulate dogs and push-button … everything.

It was all bullshit, of course; practically none of it came true. Sure, buttons are everywhere, and dogs are closer than ever to speaking in adorably dog-accented English, but domestic robot technology is still limited to minor vacuuming and assisted masturbation duties. Two-hour work weeks only exist for members of Congress. And don’t even bring up the flying car, that shibboleth of retro-TV sitcom futuristic-alization.

04373daf928746f991c478edf880170a
Total bullshit

Damn right,  TV does lie to us. But that’s not all. Books lie too. I’ve read entire books full of lies, and I’m not just talking about David Barton’s book on Thomas Jefferson here. I’m talking about books like 1975: And the Changes to Come by Arnold B. Barach, which was published in 1962, the same year The Jetsons debuted. It was one of those vaguely edu-taining books about how incredibly awesome The Future was supposed to be – in this case, the far-off future world of 37 years ago – by making tantalizing prognostications about cool technological innovations that were certain to come. Only one thing about this book is really certain, however: 1962 was a huuuuuge year for bullshit.

Here are a few of my favorite failed dreams of awesome-itude from 1975: And the Changes to Come:


Bacon in a Toaster. In a goddamn TOASTER! No more searing flesh burns from spattering pan grease or from flipping the strips over with your tongue. The bacon would come pre-fried, hermetically sealed in a futuristic aluminum space-pouch to keep away future bacteria and roving bacon-hunting Totoros. All you do is slide the pouch in your friendly 1975 toaster, set it to “Baconate,” and – a few minutes and searing flesh burns later – Instant Bacon Goodness. In a futuristic aluminum space-pouch, because, you know, the Future.


The Hi-Fi Sphere. In the same way that bacon tastes better when re-heated in an aluminum pouch, sound sounds better when it’s coming from a round aluminum thing. Long-playing Hi Fidelity records are round. Rolling Stones are round, Barry White is round. Your ears are round. Your head is round, and your face-talking hole is round. So should your high-fidelity, sound-barking, audio-making equipment set be: Round. EXTRA BONUS: Round(ish) speakers on an extendo-matic telescoping antenna-looking thingy, for maximum head-injury potential. When not in use, the giant round sound thing closes to form a perfectly symmetrical aluminum sphere, blending in naturally with all your other giant ball-shaped décor.


Giant Television … Something. We all knew the future of big-screen TV was going to be dozens of cluttered dials and twisty control things all crammed in together at convenient standing eye-level for maximum getting-up-out-of-your-chairability, and here our technological miracle stands – about six feet from your chair. The ultimate in deluxe televisions comes over-the-air, wired-antenna ready, able to receive grainy state-of-the-art analog signals from dozens of miles away, or maybe from around the world if something something. Set-top dials can be set to different time zones just in case you have that urgent OCD need to tell time that way, or maybe they’re kitchen timers for the bacon toaster. Plus a world map so you can keep track of where orbiting astronauts are. In the Future.


The Turkey Gun. With all the astronauting we will have had been doing in 1975, naturally we’ll have had needed revolutionary new food-to-face-hole delivery devices to take advantage of the huge pain-in-the-ass convenience of Zero Gravity. Based on absolutely no evidence or experience, the top futurologists of 1962 determined that earthly utensils, dishes and even solid food itself would be absolutely useless, if not deadly – and possibly Communist – in 1975 outer space. The answer? Based on the same physics principles that modern, 21st century pastry bags employ, this marvelous “Expelling device screws onto punctured can and is operated by squeezing to force food through the nipple.” Say that again: “Force food through the nipple.” Science!

I could go on, of course; there’s plenty more. In 1962 people were both anxious and hopeful about the future in that special way that only a culture on the cusp of both conquering space and self-annihilation could appreciate, and I suppose predictions like these held a special fascination for them. By now, of course, we’ve long since figured out that ball-shaped sound is for chumps and that we could hire other people to toast our pre-fried bacon for us, so perhaps we don’t look at the future in quite the same way – or maybe we do. I don’t know, I’m not fucking Carl Sagan here.

Photos from the book 1975: And the Changes to Come, by Arnold B. Barach; Harper, 1962

See more information about all things bacon in my next post.

Constellations

 

Time of silk scraping and delicate shallows, kisses like bee stings, the ripple of air is too much for the breathing, the taste of her flesh is too rich for the blood

Flow tresses like rainfall in cool draughts unlasting, starlight strikes beaming through shadows of doubt, prey slinks through the brush of her mind’s tangled weaving

Sprays of sweet sangre within lips cracked by wanting, desires a fortune of cares without hope, in passing we touch with our magnets and fingers and gazes long gone

Whither the Glow-In-The-Dark Baby Jesus?

A constant reminder throughout the darkness that you are just a goddamn sinner.

When I am at my best, I can lose myself in writing. I am no longer a weary bag of flesh and neuroses when in the grip of muse – I become sounds and words and letters and the very punctuation of thought, the tiny impulse of electric fire that darts from neuron to nerve fiber to finger to plastic keys. Consumed by the wash of electromagnetic foam, springy globes of cognition floating in the salty brine, one shiny saliva bubble perched tenuously on the tongue tip of God – it’s the perfection of creation that thrills my gills.
 
That, I remind, is when I am at my best. That has not been the case most of these late days. Most of the time, when I sit down at the keys of my chosen instrument – a compact and extremely scruffy netbook of dubious origin – I feel like Bigfoot attempting a rendition of Moonlight Sonata on a Pianosaurus. Anyone remember Pianosaurus? What about Bigfoot? If not, then perhaps you see part of my problem.
 
I was born in 1967, but spent the bulk of my formative childhood in the 1970s. Richard Nixon, Sesame Street, Apollo 13 and the break-up of the Beatles were at the top of my hot cultural 100 just when cognition began to settle in within the confines of what would turn out to be a rather elastic mind of mine. Vietnam, Watergate, Cambodia and the Munich Massacre unfurled before my incredulous eyes and ears every evening around dinner time, usually after heavy afternoon doses of Leave it to Beaver, Lost in Space and Batman. A glow-in-the-dark Baby Jesus was my nightlight lamppost to salvation and Evel Knievel was my stunt cycle hero in red, white and blue. In my eyes they were probably about equal back then.
 
When I was a child it was easy to think of them as equal, because back then they were both very popular and equally ubiquitous, like Dick Cavett and Hong Kong Phooey, and it was easy to suppose they had similar or perhaps complimentary superpowers. Kneivel would smash his bones to bits attempting to jump a dozen greyhound buses, while baby Jesus could heal those broken bones and turn water into gasoline to power those greyhound buses, and perhaps they would tour together in a great bus caravan across the highways and byways of the land, righting wrongs and getting into adventures as they discovered Richard Nixon’s America.
 
These days it’s a little harder to find Evel Knievel’s toy stunt cycles or glow in the dark baby Jesuses on store shelves. Evel soared too close to heaven when he attempted to jump the Snake River Canyon in a slapped-together, steam-powered rocket cycle, and subsequently had his wings clipped. I’m not so sure why glow-in-the-dark Baby Jesus disappeared, except that the glow-in-the-dark fad went away with Pet Rocks and lawn darts, and by the time the 1970s ended I was well stuck in the muddy ditch of puberty, and you’ll note that the Bible makes nary a mention of the smelly, insecure, girl-crazy and Star Trek-obsessed teen-age Jesus. So perhaps you see another part of my problem.
 
Then we also had Bigfoot, that cryptozoological superstar whose own career peaked around the time he did a guest shot on a two-part episode of The Six Million Dollar Man, where it turned out he had a robot arm like Darth Vader, years before tall, dark cyborg anti-heroes became the rage. Around the same time he had a Saturday morning program in which he played single parent to an orphan waif known as Wildboy, again ahead of the single parent craze that seemed so cutting edge back then.
 
Now, of course, such cultural icons are simply nebulous, misty vapours of memories sloshing about in my brain’s chemical soup mix, and the simple joys they once engendered are as much a part of the past as my virginity, my appendix and a simple faith in a better world to come. Not all of these things are bad to lose, but it’s a shame nevertheless to brush against those little hollow gaps in my soul they once filled up.
 
Those gaps are particularly keen on those days when the muse won’t come, and the feeling of Bigfoot uselessly mashing his fingers against the keys of a dinosaur-shaped toy piano comes again to mind – which is not such a bad thing as it could be, when you get right down to it.