Thursday, December 17, 2009

christmastime is here!

Don't know about you ladies and gents, but Mr. Miller is puttin' this at the top of his Cul Yuletide Presents list.

From the press kit: "Are you tired of the same old Christmas TV specials? Popular culture author and researcher Joanna Wilson has written a new book, The Christmas TV Companion: a Guide to Cult Classics, Strange Specials and Outrageous Oddities that will add a twinkle to your holiday viewing entertainment. She has collected the most unusual, overlooked and often bizarre episodes with a Christmas theme to add to your regular holiday TV schedule.

We all look forward to watching Christmas specials on TV. But, our best Christmas entertainment doesn’t need to depend on whatever happens to air in a particular year. There’s a lot more interesting Christmas programming out there than what actually broadcasts. You can choose and control your viewing schedule according to your own unique tastes. For TV junkies and pop culture aficionados, this book offers suggestions as well as commentary for an expanded array of holiday material. The Christmas TV Companion includes science fiction episodes, macabre Christmas-themed installments, off-center animated programming, extraordinary musical experiences from variety series, and a miscellany of dark-themed installments and stylized films that are surprisingly antithetical to traditional Christmas. The listings are specially selected for their unusual interest as well as their accessibility. There is something here for every TV viewer looking to watch something different this holiday season.

Loaded with pop culture references, Wilson’s book is an engaging survey of fascinating Christmas programming from television and film history, as well as the cutting-edge, irreverent material of today. The book is filled with summaries and commentary written with the enthusiasm of a true pop culture lover. Wilson’s passion for this unique subject is infused with humorous dry wit and insight which is contagious for her readers.

Not only does Wilson uncover interesting cult themed chapters of the most unusual Christmas material, but she also makes the book a practical guide. She includes family-friendly suggestions for each themed chapter for children to participate along with adults. And, there are nine Make Your Own Marathon (MYOM) recommendations to help one schedule their own holiday viewing. Of the nine, there are MYOM lists for each themed chapter (i.e., sci-fi, macabre, variety, animation, and dark). Have you ever considered watching a Star Trek-inspired Christmas marathon? There are also MYOM lists between each chapter that provide additional unique viewing opportunities. For example, Wilson compiles a marathon on the coolest and hippest of our culture who appear in Christmas material. Did you know Steve McQueen stars in a Christmas episode of the classic TV western Wanted Dead or Alive?

Another example of a MYOM features overlooked Christmas specials of the past that deserve a second chance
for a wider audience. Additionally, the book’s appendix offers readers some guidelines for creating their own holiday viewing marathons on a theme befitting their own tastes.

The Christmas TV Companion provides every TV junkie and pop culture fan a new source of Christmas joy. Readers will be surprised at the depth and breadth of the amount and diversity of Christmas material produced for film and television in the past six decades. These installments are accessible because the book is organized into chapters by themes or genres familiar to TV fans.

Wilson’s book is a one-of-a-kind assemblage of pop culture research and commentary. It is sure to be a must-have Christmas book for every TV junkie and pop culture fan.

Author Joanna Wilson is a bona fide popular culture expert and researcher. She draws upon her education in film and philosophy to create insightful commentary on pop culture of all kinds. The Christmas TV Companion was carefully drawn from research materials Ms. Wilson has gathered for a larger, forthcoming project: a more comprehensive TV encyclopedia of Christmas-themed episodes, specials and made-for-TV movies which is due for release in 2010. This is her first book.

The Christmas TV Companion: a Guide to Cult Classics, Strange Specials & Outrageous Oddities
by Joanna Wilson"

Go here to the website get it for me, Santa... er, for yourself, I mean.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

"but where are the lumps...?"

Kickin' off the Turkey Season with a favorite commercial from back in the day. Not necessarily a Thanksgiving TV ad, but it's about gravy... and that spells turkey to me.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

"it's whisky, I can taste it... it's whisky!"

Oliver Reed is one of my favorite actors. Even in my early childhood I remember knowing who this ballsy Englishman was. He first came to my attention after watching a TV afternoon matinee of the Hammer classic Curse of the Werewolf. I was a tremendous Hammer fan, and the regular Hammer cast members were pretty much an automatic on the list of actors-I-think-do-clearly-rule. But there was something else about Reed that drew me to him. He was intensely frightening, but at the same time a gentlemens' gentleman.

In a random youtube search for Shelly Winters (it's fun to random search on youtube!!), I came across this bizarre exchange between Ms. Winters (another of my favorite actors -- thus the random youtube search) and Mr. Reed. It happened on the Late Show, where both were guests of Johnny Carson's. Neither had worked with the other, nor had they met previously. But, the fireworks were almost instantaneous.

How could they NOT rub each other the wrong way? She was a very vocal feminist from way back, and he was a firm and outspoken believer that the woman's place was in the kitchen.

What's most enjoyable about this videotaped tiff between egos is the ferocity that juxtaposes the civility. Winters whole persona is one of crassness -- her roles are littered with woman who speak their minds -- but she is still apologetic for her exuberant interruptions. And Reed is simply the typical English gentleman, who can shush her without ever uncrossing his proper legs. In a pop culture world riddled with celebrity feuds between adults who shoot out insults that would make a 7th Grader roll her eyes, it's great to see a couple egos be genuinely entertaining while bickering.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

scarecrows are creepy

Easily, one of the most treasured memories of my childhood was of the Disney flick The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh -- aka Dr. Syn Alias the Scarecrow.

was one of those TV memories I held onto tightly-- vivid images of the Scarecrow, his face covered by a very creepy sack-mask, riding atop his horse, chasing through eerie moonlit English countrysides. I'd only watched the program once, but man did it stick with me for a long long time.

In the early 60s, NBCs Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color (aka The Wonderful World of Disney) ran The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh for the first time as a 3-part miniseries. Then, over the next several years, released the program again as a theatrical release (as Dr. Syn Alias the Scarecrow) and as another freshly edited 2-part TV miniseries.

It wasn't until the later 90s that I was able to catch another glimpse of the sinister sack-faced man of my nightmares, when after loads of tooling around on the Internet, I found some other Scarecrow lovers who had copies of the Dr. Syn Disney movie. It wasn't the miniseries, but heck, it was something! And I absolutely appreciated seeing Patrick McGoohan dawn his scarecrow mask, once again.

Then, by all coincidences, I discovered, via a website dedicated to all things Dr. Syn, that the Disney Channel was going to re-air the miniseries in its original 3-part glory!! I was never a fan of Disney (I actually despised them when I was a little tyke), but man, was I pleased with them that day. I ran out and got the digital cable, so we could get the Disney Channel, and hooboy, I was in heaven. Color me Disney!

The nightmarish landscapes and bleak lighting really attracted me. It was programming such as this (along with Dark Shadows, Land of the Giants, The Avengers, etc...) that began to shape my tastes for the macabre and off-beat. I was already a fan of the bizarre and the macabre, having been a fan of Vincent Price and Hammer Horror, and even though there was no supernatural goings-on in Scarecrow, I still enjoyed the hell outa the program for its Halloween-like atmosphere. And those masks! Man o man!! Dr. Syn's scarecrow sack was brilliant, with the Frankenstein stitching and oddly shaped eye sockets, but the mask that really sent the chills up and down my squirmy spine was the owl mask, worn by one of Syn's cohorts. Jeezymaude that thing was creepy. I wanted so bad to have one for Halloween, with all the feathers and the little pointed beak. Something about it really blew me away.

It wasn't until I started looking for copies of the TV program on the Internet that I discovered Dr. Syn, the Scarecrow, was based on a series of books by author Russell Thorndike. And you know what else I found out? That I didn't give a hoot about that!! I wasn't big into swashbuckling stuff (give me a scary pirate like Blackbeard over a Scarlet Pimpernel anyday), so Dr. Cleggs legendary swordplay wasn't lighting me up like the monstrous masks worn by McGoohan and gang.

For a real treat, check out this comicbook over at Beware, There's A Crosseyed Cyclops In My Basement!!!

This little gem below is from the fine folks over at The Give-A-Show Blog. Go give 'em some love!!

Have a groovy day, cats!!
Mr. Miller

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

why i didn't care to go see star wars that summer ( or why i love sorcerer)

The Summer of 1977… That was the summer when everything changed. After those few sunny, splendid months movies had changed forever. Marketing changed. Even the movie goers changed – a whole new generation of fanatics were born, sprung from the fertile imagination of one filmmaker. A generation of fans so enthusiastic, so rabid that they would one day, and forever after, alter the way movies were brought to the screen (or not brought to the screen). That was the summer of Star Wars. And it was the worst thing that happened to me.

I can’t say that I hated Star Wars, ‘cause I didn’t, really. It’s more a kill-the-messenger kinda thing. After that first outer space cowboy chase, or that iconic bzzwert of the light saber ©, I could see that filmmaking would become something different, pushing style over substance. I saw the writing on the wall… or rather, the writing on the screen, scrolling off into space.

I may have been just a 14 year-old kid from upstate NY, with only a couple short hairs in the armpit worth of life experience, but the one thing I definitely did know about was the movies. I watched them since I was a squirrel nut. Every day I was in front of the boob tube, watching something or other. I read about the movies, too. I may not have seen all the movies that I knew about, but I read about them. I knew every player from Lillian Gish to Bogart to Burt Reynolds. I even knew who the producers and directors were, and some of the writers, too. Oscar night was up there with Christmas and Halloween on my list of days that I would enjoy the hell out of.

The movies that made an impact on my youth weren’t the usual kid fare, either. Screw Disney. The hell with Benji. Wizard of Oz was fine and good, but what really tweaked me was a clandestine viewing (on the Starz channel at some family friends house) of Rosemary’s Baby and Lina Wertmüller’s The Seduction of Mimi . These were the kind of movies I could really enjoy, filled with rich, deeply etched characters, and stories that seemed to unfold around you. I really did love movies. And, with all the hyperbole surrounding Star Wars —the figurines, the behind-the-scenes stories – I can remember recognizing that the movies that I enjoyed, the stories and characters, were all in danger of being blown out of the universe like a Death Star.

What really drove this point home for me was the conundrum of another movie that came out that same summer. William Friedkin’s Sorcerer.

You couldn’t find two movies more opposite each other than these two. They were like chicken wings and caviar – not even on the same menu. One was from the new kid on the block, unproven, but bold, the other from the old guard, trusted and respected. And what was most telling was the treatment of these two directors and their films. Lucas couldn’t have been more loved if Santa Claus himself made him newly in charge of Christmas. He seemed to have the magic marketing touch, which pleased studio suits and the consumers nicely. Friedkin, on the other hand, a multi-Oscar winner, fresh off the success (and controversy) of The Exorcist and The French Connection, an auteur filmmaker deeply invested in the industry, couldn’t catch a break. He’d thrilled people with his notorious car chases through the streets of NYC, and pissed people off with his blasphemous religious horror flick (to which they still seemed to swarm to), but with Sorcerer, everyone seemed to shun him.

So, while every other kid across the country – and many a man-child, too – were crawling out of their Star Wars bed sheets to go to their umpteenth viewings of Princess Leah’s cinnamon rolls, I was, myself frequenting the local bijou. I saw Sorcerer three times during the one week run at the Westmar Cinema, and I was mesmerized (and that may have been due to the hypnotic soundtrack by Tangerine Dream). I was already a fan of Roy Scheider and his shark-battling, good-guy toughness, but geezus! that insane scene with the ten ton truck trying to make it’s way over a ramshackle rope bridge, as a driving rain storm rocked it from side to side – as the girls like to say these days… OMFG!

Let me try and capture the excitement for you. We’re deep in the jungles of South America, the skies have opened up like the day Noah built his arc, and a band of fugitives are maneuvering through the trees in a fifty ton truck, carrying cases of volatile TNT which, if jostled just enough, could blow them all to China in tiny bits. They’ve already lost one truck off a cliff-side dirt road, and endured everything from murderous bandits to fallen trees. Now they’ve come upon a most insurmountable obstacle: a dilapidated, narrow rope bridge that spans a raging river. The choice is there is no choice – they need to cross. So, Scheider takes the wheel, steering the five hundred ton behemoth over splintering boards and frayed rope. The temptation would be to gun it, but that would mean certain death. Shrewdly, and begrudgingly, he crosses slowly, inch by excruciating inch. Co-hort Paco Raba has the treacherous task of guiding him, placing himself precariously seated on the wavering overpass. The truck trudges along, splintering boards, the wheels turning with painful precession, compensating for wind and fear. The monsoon winds are so perilous that the truck doesn’t sway so much as swings widely, so widely that it comes within a degree of vertical, tossing Paco around and threatening to spill everyone into the river. The entire event takes only minutes of screen time, but gauging by the amount of sweat that’s soaked into the fabric of your theater seat, it feels like hours.

Had this scene been created by a team of tech-heads with computers, instead of filmed on location, the impact, the suspense would’ve never been as palpable. The beauty of it is that it’s all real – the truck, the bridge, the water, the motion, the peril. There’s no CGI strings attached. Sure, the action is controlled by stunt people, but the point is, it’s corporeal. It’s organic. You feel every ounce of sweat and fear, because the thing is happening before your eyes, not in some controlled digital dimension.

It’s this scene on the bridge that would proscribe my aversion to CGI or other big bang effects. The thing is, that stuff doesn’t move me. I can’t get revved up watching a pair of motorcycle dinks, speeding down a digital city street, bumping each other off the road. I don’t get blown away when Bruce Willis ducks down as two CGI’d cars narrowly miss him, flying over his head in perfect sync, because, to me, there’s no real danger. The more real they make it look, the less real it plays.

Hell, I’m a student of the Evel Knievel class of bone-breaking stunts. So, knowing that they’ve spent three months digitally maneuvering the hairs on an green ogre’s head to flop and flow like real natural hair—that ain’t filmmaking to me. You think Friedkin stopped camera because he noticed that Scheider’s thinning hair wasn’t flitting about properly? When did spending millions of dollars, and gallons of soy lattes, on getting the topography of the ocean floor excruciatingly perfect, so much so that it looks exactly like the real thing, become a part of story-telling? How did the exact replication of our daily minutia become filmmaking?

I know I’m being a royal buzzkill, but, for me, I go for the old school. I like the clunky effects designed by craftsman – they’re real, they’re there. They serve the actors well, ‘cause they have to react to them. CGI has it’s uses, no doubt, but when the emphasis centers on how the movie looks, instead of how it feels, the suspension of disbelief is about as stable as a suspended bridge with a five hundred ton truck on it. The more real they make the images, the less real it becomes.

In film, it’s the imagination that makes it real.

Oh, I did eventually see Star Wars, and I gotta say it was one of the most memorable nights of my life. Seriously! I remember it vividly, ‘cause I saw it in NYC on a visit with my oldest brother. We saw it in Manhattan on the very night that the Son of Sam was caught: August 10, 1977.

That occasion actually meant more to me than that Star Wars movie ever did. I mean, that’s just me.

(originally printed in Penny Blood Magazine, January 2008)

Written by Barry Meyer

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Ye Ye!

There's one thing that Mr. Miller here really enjoyed as a little sprout, and that was girls singing some really sugary, candy-sweet, bubblegum music. Miss Petula Clark was always a favorite of mine, with her love of the Downtown escapades and all. And also the former Mrs. Andy Williams, Claudine Longet -- she's half the reason why I loved to watch the Andy Williams Show (well, beside the funny chap in the bear outfit)!

Other mod chicks that I dug were Mia Farrow (Rosemary's Baby changed my life!), Goldie Hawn, and Twiggy with her big innocent eyes.

Now, with YouTube and record sharity sites, my world of mod girls and 60s pop music has opened up. Here's one song that has me banging my cans all around the room...

France Gall -- der Computer nr 3

Here's a translation from Google. I thought about tightening the lyrics up, and trying to make them flow better, but the loose translation sounded pretty funny:

The computer No. 3
I am looking for the right boy,
and love is guaranteed for both here.
The computer
for every man the right woman
and happiness is at the moment
from its register.

Indeed, one of many millions,
of waiting for me somewhere.

(Gross: einszwoundachtzig, collar: 39, Shoe size: 46, stop!)

The computer No. 3
I am looking for the right boy,
and love is guaranteed for both here.

Lange, I was lonely tonight 'I'm in love,
and the only question is so
because the technology and science
and electrical brains there.

The computer No. 3
I am looking for the right boy,
and love is guaranteed for both here.
The computer knows exactly
for every man the right woman
and happiness is at the moment
from its register.

Indeed, one of many millions,
of waiting for me somewhere

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Isis... I Love You

You know that old standby about little boys and how they hate girls - yuck!! I was always puzzled by that. I mean, I realized that I was suppose to hate them, having been told so by just about every kid character on TV. Beaver hated 'em. Opie couldn't stand 'em. Bobby Brady stood clear of 'em. So, what the hell was wrong with me? Why wasn't I like them? Why wasn't I a member of the He-Man Woman Haters Club?

Thank goodness I never got that membership card in the mail, 'cause I never would've paid any mind to the awesomeness that was Isis.

Saturday Mornings were already a little slice of heaven for this kid. But when Joanna Cameron popped on the screen scene, this boy became a man! The mini Superhero skirt outfit. The toned arms. The shapely legs. Wait a minute... can someone please, please explain to me what exactly it is that a boy is supposed to find gross about all of this!! "Cause, man! I was in love.

Even with the saucer sized spectacles on, as Isis' normal-person person, science teacher Andrea Thomas, still the girl has got it all sewn up and ready twirl.

Of course, there were a load of other interesting things about the TV program. There was Bigfoot, Andrea's cute student friend Cindy, fast cars, criminals on the run, Cindy and her jeans, mystery, adventures, and Cindy's molar exposing smile.

Boys, it's time to drop the facade. Go get the DVD Box Set a BCI Eclipse/Navarre.

Oh Zephyr winds that blow on high, watch this clip or you'll just die!

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