The Summer of ’77

August 16, 2017 — Leave a comment

The Summer of ’77 started with a bang: STAR WARS

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It ended with a thud when news broke over the radio at Echo Valley’s neighborhood pool: Elvis Presley, dead at the age of 42.

In between we saw SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT, read with morbid interest about the Son of Sam as he terrified New York City, and sang Cold as Ice in our cars along with Foreigner.

But I’ll never forget the late afternoon of August 16, 1977. A couple of my friends and I were swimming when the DJ broke into whatever song was playing and made the announcement of the news coming out of Memphis. The half dozen of us at the pool all looked at each other, what did he just say? According to the AP crowds were gathering outside of Graceland. The DJ promised to keep us informed and then he played an Elvis record — even though it’d been a while since Elvis had been a staple of Top 40 Radio.

No social media, no round the clock cable news, no smart phone notifications. Just Elvis songs playing over the radio for the rest of the night and people making their way to the pool to share the moment, talk about the songs, swap some stories, and get in another swim.

Much will be said in the coming days about Martin Landau’s talent and career. It will all be deserved. He was a remarkable actor. Whether you consider actor an art or a craft, he was a master. And he was passionate about it until the end. If you haven’t heard his interview on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast earlier this year, find it now. It’s incredible.

When I started pulling at the thread of what my favorite performance of his might be, the thought was torn open and a dozen titles spilled out before I knew it. His Lugosi in ED WOOD will be talked about — and it should be. Amazing. I never tire of it. CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS — one of the great performances of all time in what is probably in the Top 5 of Woody Allen’s movies. He smolders and menaces in NORTH BY NORTHWEST — leaving little doubt that his character is both loyal to and in love with his boss, Mr. Vandamm.

I love those and a baker’s dozen more that I could rattle off here. But there are a couple of performances a little off the beaten path that I’ll always remember fondly. His work on TV (Mission Impossible, Space 1999) never felt like he was slumming. He became whatever part he played. I loved his turn as twin brothers — both villains — in an episode of Columbo. And I still get a little emotional thinking about what he brought to TUCKER: THE MAN AND HIS DREAM. It was another well deserved nominated performance.

 

Here’s The Hollywood Reporter’s announcement that Mr. Landau has died.

IndyDay.jpgSee if your favorite patriotic movie made it onto EW’s list.

Thanks and well done to whoever put together this mash up of all the phone messages from the opening credits of the first Season of The Rockford Files. The show — a favorite of mine then and now – debuted on NBC 42 years ago today.

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Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock and William Shatner as Capt. James T. Kirk in Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek (NBC 1966-1968) The first episode aired 50 years ago today, September 8, 1966.

 

It’s hard for me to believe that I’m older than Star Trek but the numbers don’t lie. Star Trek is 50 years old today. I’ll be 51 three weeks from today.

The first episode of Star Trek that I remember seeing was “The Apple” (Season 2, Episode 5). I was at my grandmother’s apartment in Dallas — couldn’t have been much more than 8 years old. Flipping through the channels (which in those days was done by twisting a knob that was actually attached to the TV and made a “kachunk” sound with every twist) I landed on KXTX, Channel 39. And there it was.

I’d never seen anything like it. The bright red sky of a planet as a landing party just appeared out of nowhere. The landing party itself a marvel to my young eyes – an alien who looked like a devil, a bold Starship Captain (in the green shirt this time out), the country doctor, the young beatnik Russian, and a beautiful blonde woman. Three red shirt crew members were dead within the first 15 minutes.

Incidentally, Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network owned KXTX at the time. (Telemundo owns it now.) This was years before most homes in the U.S. had cable so Robertson was acquiring UHF stations around the country in those days to expand his network for The 700 Club and other televangelist fare. They rounded out the programming day with reruns of, among other things, The Andy Griffith Show and Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek.

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The Enterprise landing party meets the locals in “The Apple” (season 2, episode 5, original air date: 10/13/67)

I had to live on the memory of “The Apple” until miracle of miracles, Little Rock’s KARK started running the series five days a week after school. Joseph Pevney directed “The Apple.” A list of Pevney directed episodes and a list of my favorite episodes are practically interchangeable with titles like: “Amok Time”, “The Trouble With Tribbles”, “City on the Edge of Forever”, “The Devil in the Dark”, and “Arena”, to name a few.

I grew up in a loving, fun household. It was also strict, and not just by today’s standards. We were not allowed to wear shorts except for swimsuits (only when swimming) or if required by a sport in which we participated. Mom confiscated the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue every year when it landed in the mailbox. Modesty was the watchword around 2905 Echo Valley Drive. So, you can imagine how many lip smacks and eye rolls Carlene Jackson had for the women’s wardrobe of Star Trek, not to mention Captain Kirk’s romantic exploits. My Dad who was a big fan of all things sports, movie westerns and TV cop shows never got the appeal of watching people in their pajamas running around space with ray guns. But I was hooked from the get-go and only now really appreciate how my parents looked past their own discomfort to let me enjoy the series.

Star Trek and Planet of the Apes were the two biggest imagination-expanding entertainments of my pre-adolescent years. Then came Star Wars and all bets were off. But Star Trek was first. To this day, much to the chagrin of my wife and bemusement of my son, a life-size cut-out of Captain James T. Kirk stands watch in my office.

It’s hard to believe that I’m older than Star Trek. It’s odd that I have Pat Robertson to thank for introducing me to the series. It’s a testament to my parents’ patience that they let me indulge such an obsession. It’s amazing that a ratings-challenged sci-fi TV series that limped through its third and final season before NASA could land a man on the moon, endures to this day – having accurately predicted much of our current technology while presenting a hopeful, egalitarian, and non-cynical vision of a future yet-to-come.

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Deadline posted a clip earlier today from Jesse Moss’s documentary, THE BANDIT, which premieres this weekend at SXSW in Austin. Word has it that none other than The Bandit himself — Burt Reynolds who recently turned 80 — will be there to intro the doc when it unspools at the historic Paramount Theater.

NOTE: It may have been changed by now, but in Deadline’s first post they listed the year of SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT’s release as 1997. We all know better. The movie was the runaway hit of 1977.

Here’s a clip from The Bandit

I have a love/hate relationship with David Thomson’s writing. (I don’t know the man at all so there’s no reason I could have a love/hate relationship with him personally.) His writing seems to me to be preoccupied with sex. Or maybe he’s occupied with sex the normal amount but he writes about it more than  other film critics. It seems to take me longer to read his books than other books. Not because they’re necessarily harder to comprehend, they just hit stretches that fail to keep my attention. I’ve been reading Thomson’s The Big Screen off and on for over a year. Inevitably, after I pick it back up, I hit a patch that opens a newly discovered subject for me or gives a rich insight into something about which I thought I was completely conversant.

Shortly after this past Christmas, I wandered into Barnes & Noble with a  gift card I’d received in my stocking. I walked out with Thomson’s How To Watch A Movie — knowing full well that it would be more (and less) than advertised. The book is a collection of meditations (a little over a dozen) on the elements that make up a movie – and therefore shape the movie watching experience. Compared to previous experiences with his work this book is short and to the point. My copy is full of notes in the margin and lists of films scribbled on the flyleaf that I must see.

Just when I think Thomson will lose me again, he comes up with a line like this:

One might as well, in considering how to watch a movie, recognize the extent to which public life in America has itself become an untidy, unrated motion picture that has a captive but disenchanted audience. – How To Watch A Movie, David Thomson

A disenchanted audience, indeed. It may be more my problem than Thomson’s.

HOW TO WATCH A MOVIE | David Thomson | 2015 | Knopf 228 pgs