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June 14, 2005

This Week on the Year That Was:
1980: Have you ever been to a Turkish prison?

25 years ago this week, I graduated from high school. That's TWENTY-FIVE. A classmate had a baby right after graduation. That "baby" is an adult now, and a mother. That's how long it's been. I have a classmate who is a grandmother.

1980. Stamps were 15 cents. Gas was a $1.25. Jimmy Carter was president. I was rocking out to Van Halen and Pink Floyd (how weird is it that 25 years later, my own kid is rocking out to those very bands?), having near death experiences and wondering what the hell I was going to do with my life.

Ah, but I'm not going to muse about how old I feel or how life moves pretty fast, or what graduation means. No, I'm here to discuss another significant, historical, life-altering thing that happened in 1980:

Airplane! was released.

ariplaneguy.jpgThat's right. The most significant event to occur in 1980 was not my high school graduation, the Iran hostage crisis, the Miracle on Ice, the death of John Bonham, the invention of the 7-11 Big Gulp™, the bulky, cumbersome home video recorders hitting the market. The earth shattering moment in 1980 came when Jim Abrams and the Zucker Brothers released the most quoted movie of my life. And, quite possibly, the funniest.

While gas prices rise and fall and Olympic hockey teams come and go, Airplane! has remained a constant, a stalwart fixture that has become an intrinsic part of my world from my vocabulary to my dance moves.

There is no other movie, not Star Wars, not Caddyshack, not Big Lebowski, that has offered the world so many repeatable lines; lines that aren't just thrown out there in conversation for comedy sake, but phrases that fit into the tapestry of every day life.

How many times have you pulled up at an airport and said Look Betty, don't start up with your white zone shit again?

I can't tell you the number of times someone in my family has reached for a second cup of coffee and we race to be the first to say "He never has a second cup of coffee at home," which leads to "I take it black, like my men."

And: "I've got to concentrate...concentrate...concentrate..."

You know what I'm talking about, because you're always saying things like "Have you ever seen a grown man naked?" or "Do you like movies about gladiators?" And I KNOW you have said at least once in the last 25 years "Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit amphetamines/smoking/sniffing glue."

What do you say when someone mentions the word hospital?

What is it?
It's a big building with patients, but that's not important right now.

On the occasion when someone says to me "Are you ready to go?" and I respond "We have clearance, Clarence," I know I have a soulmate in that person when they answer with "Roger, Roger. What's our vector, Victor?"

And this one is so handy, I've used it (or a variation) about twenty times on this blog alone: They bought their tickets, they knew what they were getting into. I say, let 'em crash.

I don't know about you, but if any member of my family is at a party where the DJ plays "Stayin' Alive," we're up on the dance floor doing the knife-in-the-back thing.

On the occasion of having a shitty day: Do you know what it's like to fall in the mud and get kicked... in the head... with an iron boot?

My favorite character in the movie: Johnny. He's the one I definitely imitate the most. The tower, the tower, Rapunzel.

Airplane! will live forever because its comedy is timeless (and it was the start of a long-running genre of parody movies). Bad puns (ham on five, hold the mayo), cheap shots and campy one-liners never go out of style. Millions of parents will pass the love of this movie down to their children. I know that one day in the future I will be lying on my death bed, my children and grandchildren gathered around me, waiting to pull the plug and a doctor will say "She's alive, but unconscious," and someone in my family will respond "Just like Gerald Ford." There will be big laughs right as I die. Thank you, Zucker brothers!

Surely, Airplane! must be the most quoted movie of all time.

And don't call me Shirley.

(You saw that coming, didn't you?)

Update: I meant to add - aside from the quotes, what's your favorite moment in the movie? (Which someone in the comments answered before I even asked!)

February 04, 2005

I Feel the Earth Move: Earthquake! and the Disaster of Marjoe Gortner

First: Thanks to James for the link. He explains in today's Bleat a bit more about why he doesn't like Towering Inferno, but that's an issue I'll address later. Also, I have to revise my list of disaster movies - I am no longer going to include animal/insects run amok as being in the disaster genre. In fact, they will get their own series when I'm done with the disaster theme.

Today is Earthquake day, and Part II in the Disaster! series.

earthquake.jpgSo much makes sense about this movie when you read the IMDB listing. Director Mark Robson's previous credits include Valley of the Dolls and Peyton Place. It was written by - and I didn't know this until now - Mario Puzo of Godfather fame. All this perhaps explains the melodrama that threatens to turn this disaster flick into a soap opera with the shakes.

But - before the drama, before the disturbing sexual undertones, before the Evil Kneivel rip off scenes, we must address the issue of Sensurround.

Continue reading "I Feel the Earth Move: Earthquake! and the Disaster of Marjoe Gortner" »

February 03, 2005

The Ultimate List of Disaster Movies

Which, of course, is of little interest to anyone but me. I started with the 70's, as that's when my interest in disaster films began. So you can help me fill in the 70's blanks and start piling on the 80's and forward.

Why? Because. I feel like it. Eventually I'll review all the movies I've seen, just for the hell of it. If anything, it will give me an excuse to watch all these films again.

I'll eventually put them into categories, like man made, natural and bees.

Do insect and animal gone wild movies count as disasters? I think the criteria here has to be that they threaten more than just one town. Still working on that, but for now I'll accept species-related disasters for the list. After all, worms coming out of your shower head would certainly be a disaster, no?

MovieYear
Airport1970
Poseidon Adventure1972
Earthquake1974
Towering Inferno1974
The Hindenburg1975
Airport '751975
The Savage Bees1976
Squirm1976
Food of the Gods1976
Empire of the Ants1977
Airport '771977
Rollercoaster1977
Swarm1978
China Syndrome1979
Beyond the Poseidon Adventure1978
Meteor1979
Airport '791979

Now, I've seen every single one of these movies. Let me tell you, Food of the Gods scared the bejeebus out of me. My mother took us to see that in the theater - I was 14 years old and told her I was way too cool (or something like that) to go see some ridiculous movie about giant chickens. But she dragged me with her anyhow and it was a long time before I could look at a chicken - even one dead, cut up and covered in seasoning - without shivering.

I do think I need your help here not just in compiling the list, but in defining just what makes a movie a disaster flick. No, not the Uwe Boll kind of disaster. The other one.

Update: Thanks to Jeff Goldstein for reminding me of Rollercoaster. Helen Hunt and Henry Fonda!

The Roof is on Fire: A Treatise on The Towering Inferno

Welcome, Bleat readers. When you're done with this post, you might enjoy today's installment in the disaster series, in which I take on Earthquake.

[Part I in a series on disaster movies]

Yesterday, James Lileks wrote something that struck a nerve. It was as if his hand reached all the way from Minnesota to New York and slapped me right where my film aesthetics lie.

And now back to the Towering Inferno, which just sucks.

My first reaction was childish. I stuck tongue out at The Bleat and said does not!

Maybe we just have to define our meaning of the word disaster. See, there's disaster as in so bad that anyone who worked on this movie should never be allowed to work in the film industry again (see Uwe Boll). And there's disaster, as in Death! Destruction! Former A-list actors emoting! Special effects gone wild! One cannot apply the word sucks to the latter.

I'll admit it. The Towering Inferno does, in a small way, fit both categories. The dialogue was cheesy. The special effects elicited laughter. And, thanks to my fireman father, I can recite from memory the litany of things they just got wrong in regards to fighting fires.

So what does Inferno have going for it, then? Simple. The 1970's were the heyday of the disaster genre and Inferno - even though it wasn't the first of its kind -paved the way for all other movies like it because of its critical success.

We had our first disaster in 1972, with the Poseiden Adventure. The success of that party cruise gone wrong movie spawned Inferno (also directed by Irwin Allen of Poseidon fame) and Earthquake in 1974, and Airport '75 in, yes, 1975 (the first Aiport movie came out in 1970, but that was so lame as to not count) as well as Swarm ('78) and Meteor ('79). Inferno, Earthquake and Poseiden formed the Earth, Water and Fire trifecta of 72/74 (Wind didn't make an appearance until the 90's with Twister, unless you count Wizard of Oz).

The Big Three of disaster flicks had similar threads running throug them: children in peril, clandestine love affairs and what would become the staple of all disaster movies - the greed/laziness/evilness of man. After all three of this movies, the viewer is left thinking, is nature our enemy or is progress our enemy? Or, are we our own worst enemy?

No, not really. I think I might be the only person who went off on a philosophical/sociological bent after watching these films. And I was only ten when Poseidon came out. Most people, after watching any of the films, were left thinking, holy shit, the cheese in that movie could feed an army of mice or, did you see when that boulder bounced off the actor's head?

This is why Inferno rules above all other disaster flicks. It's not just about the fire. tf2.jpgSure, there are people to rescue, flames to douse, love to be rekindled (no pun intended). But there's a message, too. A deep, resounding message that is made quite clear when Steve McQueen as Chief O'Halloran says:

Now, you know we don't have a sure way to fight a fire over the seventh floor, but you just keep building 'em higher and higher.

Damn you and your filthy progress!

Another choice quote from the Chief:

You know we got lucky tonight, body count's less then 200. Someday your gonna kill ten-thousand in one of these firetraps, and I'll keep eating smoke and carrying out bodies until someone asks us how to build them.

See? If you think this movie is just about burning people falling out of glass elevators and cheating husbands incinerating themselves so no one finds them dead in the arms of their lover, you're missing out on the meat and potatoes. It's the classic battle of man v. man, when one man is the good public servant and the other man is the evil, greedy bastard who just wants to make his money, damn humanity. But, of course, in the end the evil man either gets his comeuppance or he realizes the error of his ways and crawls on his hands and knees to Steve McQueen or Charlton Heston, begging to be shown how to make things right. So he doesn't go to hell, of course.

I'm not making my case, I know. Ok, you know why Towering Inferno doesn't suck?tf3.jpg What other movie can boast numerous deaths and Fred Astaire? Fred was nominated for an Oscar for this role! Earthquake may have Victoria Principal's boobs and Sensurround and Poseidon Adventure may have Shelly Winters's deathly water ballet, but Inferno has a Brady kid and O.J. Simpson.

tf4.jpgAnd really, it's riveting in the way few movies are, because it works on so many levels. You have the inter personal stories involving love, greed and corruption. You have impending doom, certain death and explosions. All this is combined with dialogue served with so much fromage, it's like the Atkins platter of movies.

James Duncan: Senator Parker is flying in from Washington tonight for the dedication ceremony. He's almost guaranteed to sign the Urban Renewal Contract. Do you know what that means? Skyscrapers like this all over the country. You design 'em and I'll build 'em.
Doug Roberts: Don't you think you're suffering from an edifice complex?

I rest my case. How can you not be a sucker for a line like that? Especially when it's spoken by Paul Newman.

A-list actors. Bad dialogue. Unbelievable script. You know, this is nothing different than George Lucas is doing these days, and people stand in line for months to see his movies. At least Inferno didn't pretend to be more important than it was.

If you have never seen this movie, I dare you to watch it and not be riveted. Look past the cliche script and you'll see great cinematography in action, a few good acting turns and a story line that makes the 2 hour viewing time go by in a snap.

Don't listen to Lileks and other naysayers. Earthquakes, tornados and global warming be damned. Astaire, McQueen and Newman make Inferno the greatest disaster movie ever.

Here's your proof:

The Towering Inferno received Academy Awards nominations for Best Picture, Supporting Actor (Astaire), Cinematography, Art Direction, Sound, Editing, Song ("We May Never Love This Way Again"), and Score. It won three of the awards, for Cinematography, Editing and Song.

What other disaster movie can claim such pedigree?

Next up: My statement in support of Earthquake.