Thursday, August 31, 2006

Guilty Pleasures in Movies

When it comes to movies, do you have any guilty pleasures? I'd have to say the old SciFi probably falls into that category for me. Although most of those old movies were originally intended to awe and inspire, some were very funny in ways that would probably only embarrass the producers now.

You can tell that the producers, directors and actors were very earnest in their intent, but yet there they were with the actors wearing cheesy space suits that look like pajamas made out of aluminum foil, dealing with aliens that were obviously just people dressed up in rubber costumes, holding ray guns that looked like a child's water squirt-gun, and they showed spaceships where the best ones looked obviously like models, and the worse ones looked like bathtub toys and sounded like an electric razor, while shooting sparks like a broken toaster. Many of the spaceships seemed obviously suspended on a string, judging by the ways they moved, as they sometimes bounced and swung. Some of these movies looked, in some ways, like a project that teenagers might come up with today. The worst of them, by reputation, was "Plan 9 From Outer Space", a famously bad movie. Known for being the absolute worst movie ever made. I must admit, that one is NOT a guilty pleasure for me. It was just TOO trashy for my taste.

On the other hand, although some had less impressive technology and special effects than today's movies, still they had good stories, or decent acting, or a good message, or imaginative approaches to things. They had value, even if the props didn't. Some of those movies are still enjoyable on more levels than just the kitch or nostalgia factor.

These were movies like Forbidden Planet (shown here with Robbie the Robot, Anne Francis, and the alien power center and the "invisible creature from the ID" where the Krell used a massive power source to bring to life a creature invented out of the fears of men), and "The Day The Earth Stood Still" (where mankind's greed, and fear were being tested by Klaatu, seen here exiting the ship accompanied by his robot Gort) and Fantastic Voyage (where they shrunk the ship to the microscopic level and injected it into the body of a man. So they navigated around inside his body) and "The Fly" (Starring Vincent Price as a scientist trying to develop a transporter and got his DNA mixed with a fly and became a hybrid creature. Who can forget the final scene where there is a tiny fly caught in a spider's web that has Vincent price's head and he is calling out, "Help Me! Help me!"), and "War of the Worlds" (HG Wells story of Martian invasion) and The Time Machine(HG Wells' classic book), and Journey To The Center of the Earth, etc.
For TV series, there was Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits. I love both those shows and have collections on DVD of both series. Twilight Zone had a sophisticated, literary feel. The episodes were are very well written and had excellent ideas at the time, but now have been copied so much that they have become actual cliches. Nevertheless, they are still great fun to watch. What was once novel and erudite, became cliche and predictable, then was forgotten for a time, then became kitch, and now has become classic and nostalgic.

The Outer Limits was one that actually scared me as a child. The images they showed, and the ideas of what they portrayed just spoke directly to the fears and imagination of my young brain. I remember some of those ideas that haunted me. And that music haunts me even to this day. In fact, I am spending some time each night at the moment, watching these old episodes on DVD just before bed. I am happy to report that there are no nightmares.
And The Time Tunnel was a fun series. That was a great creative medium to be able to have any kind of adventure in any place in the world, in any perdiod of history. It was probably responsible for sparking all my thoughts about time travel that I have had most of my life. Barely a day goes by that I don't have some sort of thought, or musing about that. Think about introducing french fries and hamburgers to the king of England in the 1500's, or inventing the automobile or the airplane a hundred years earlier.
Also Lost In Space was a tongue-in-cheek one that was fun too. A family on a mission to establish a base on Alpha Centauri to allow Earth to branch out and colonize to the nearest star. That one started out serious, but ended up being deliberately funny. Who can forget the robot in that series: "DANGER Will Robinson. DANGER!" With the evil, conniving, cowardly Dr. Smith who sometimes called the robot "You bubble-headed booby!" There were some REALLY ridiculous aliens in that one. It was just so FUNNY.

Those movies perhaps lacked some of the technical sophistication of modern day SciFi movies to give them the authority and authenticity of at least looking realistic, even if the subject matter might be implausible. Perhaps the old ones expose the naivete of people in general at that time - but that is part of the charm they have for me. This is because those old movies also tell me something about the innocence and optimism of that era. That innocence of youth of an entire culture is something I can look back on with nostalgia now.

Let's take a look at cars and guitars for some more examples of the sense of that era.

In 1958, there was no doubt in anyone's mind that scientific progress was making life better and better, and that every year things would be better than the last year. People were caught up in the idea of "The Space Age" and being ultra modern. Because to be modern, meant to be enlightened, intelligent, forward-thinking, and part of a bright future.
It was a time of great hope and optimism.
In the spirit of that sense of hope and optimism, people made cars with big fins to make them look like rocketships on the ground, and tailights that looked like afterburners for the rockets. That was the style of the time. Think of the cartoon "The Jetsons". That post-modern style was all the rage at the time.

Just look at these cars from the late 50's. From top to bottom, here you are looking at a 1959 Cadillac Eldorado tailfin and taillight. In pink, of course! Pastel and light colors were also a big favorite at that time, because it seemed more modern and enlightened than the previous decades of all black cars. Next is a 1959 Cadillac Cyclone, A 56 Firebird III, a 59 Corvette Stingray, d, a 59 Cadillac DeVille, and a 54 Firebird I. Some of these are road cars, some were concept cars at the time, but it's easy to see where the styling cues came from. This was where people's tastes were at that point. This was American culture for the era of the 1950's and 1960's. It was all about space and rockets, and progress and science, and a better and better world.

Also, in that same spirit of optimism, in the world of electric guitars, Gibson came up with the "Moderne" series of guitars in 1958. There were 3 models: The Flying V, The Explorer, and the Moderne. They made 82 Flying V's, 18 Explorers, and 5 Modernes, (these last were not made commercially available).
These guitars were wild-shaped, and angular. Ultra modern-looking. Something right out of the future. They were a dramatic divergence in direction from traditional guitars. One looked like a rocket ship, the other looked like perhaps a stylized supernova explosion.
I bought one of each for my guitar collection, and these pictures are of my own guitars, which I took and posed this way for my guitar calendar I create d earlier this year called "Guitart: The Guitar Calendar, with a picture of each of my 19 guitars at the time(although I now have 20). Since I name all my guitars, and since it is relevent here, I will tell you their names. The Flying V you see here is called "Flash" after Flash Gordon, the old 1940's SciFi superhero in a silver suit. And my Explorer is called "The Jetsons" because, not only does the style match the general stylistic theme of that TV series, but also, I remember some episode of it when I was a kid where Judy falls in love with a futuristic rock star ("Sky High" maybe?) and this guy would zoom around on a flying surfboard, and played a guitar with all these angular fins much like this.
I also wanted to call this guitar "Cadillac" because of it's likeness to the old late 1950's Cadillacs with the big angular fins. Just like the big fin on this guitar. When I hold this guitar while playing, I feel that big fin sticking out behind me and have to be careful turning around suddenly, that I don't knock on anything or anyone.

In 1958, these guitar designs were all about looking forward with great optimism to a bright future of high expectations.
Surprisingly, these guitars are not just about the wild looks, either. They both play and sound fantastic. I use Flash as one of 7 guitars in my current performance set. And I use it, not because of the flashy, showy looks, but purely because it has the exact aggressive rock sound I need for one particular song. Also, without the normal upper and lower bouts, it is very easy to see and access the high fret areas on the guitar. It's actually a very playable design.

So - guilty pleasures? Yes. The whole 1950's/1960's SciFi scene would be my secret guilty pleasure. But if that is so terrible - then sue me.


At 9/05/2006 3:21 PM, Anonymous igor said...

Val, I think it's not "guilty pleasure", it's imprinting:

Speaking about myself, for example, I don't like Beatles. How come? Everybody says: it's impossible, everyone at your age (I was born in 1964) must love them! Well, I don't. I say: "Beatles,... phew... lame". But! I love ABBA! And people say; "ABBA!... meh!".

So I was thinking: how come? QAnd I think I know the answer - when I was a teenager, I didn't listen to Beatles. (Yeah, that's possible!) The first time I listened to them - when I was an adult. You have to admit - as music, singers they are ... lame. (the poetry is ok). So it's what I think.

But ABBA is a heavenly singing! (he-he, I am not an idiot!) Why ? Because it was ABBA we (me and my first girlfriend) were listening to! And now - ABBA is my #1 playlist in iTunes.

Same with Star Trek - only those who were impressed by it in childhood/teenage think it's ... pleasure to watch.

.... my 2cents ....

At 9/06/2006 8:23 AM, Blogger Val Serrie said...

I agree with you.
People tend to identify with the tastes and the ideas that they have known since childhood.
Somehow, if you have believed an idea since you were 5 years old, it becomes an unassailable truth for the rest of your life, and it takes a strong mind of high ethics to resist that and come to believe the opposite later when confronted with the evidence.
I am speaking of ideas here more than musical tastes, but musical tastes run the same way. The mental processes are similar.
You build an early affinity to that music and that stays for life.

And I believe I understand why this happens. I will explain more later because I have intended to write an article on this very subject, but for now, let me just say that I think we are this way because of layers of thinking.
As we get older, more layers of knowledge and understanding about the world are added to our world view.
So the ones we learned earliest are the most entrenched. And all new things we are exposed to are filteresd and colored by our understanding, which is based upon our existing knowledge - which includes those early layers.
So, to re-think some basically understood concept later in life is almost unthinkable - it would mean having to re-think everything that was based on that as well - you whole interpretation of the world.
You'd have to go back and relearn almost everything since that early layer. AND you'd have to admit you were wrong all these years about all those things. It far easier to simply deny the new perspective.
And so you have the human factor. The resistance to change despite unfailing evidence.
The old mind that is willing to cast aside a lifetime of misconceptions and embrace a newer, better idea - is a stong and powerful mind indeed.



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