Chitty-Chitty-Bond-Bond

Ignore the image above for a moment, and try to name the following movie from the 1960s: it’s written by Ian Fleming, it features car chases where the hero uses a tech-savvy vehicle, and has a megalomaniacal villain bent on conquest. Also: bizarre henchmen; foreign intrigue; and finally weird sexual tension but said mega-villain and his “Baroness” as they try to kill each other.

You could say any number of Bond films. And you would be wrong. I just described half the fucking plot of the 1968 proto-steampunk, kid-film extravaganza, Chitty-Chitty Bang Bang. Ian Fleming write the book that inspired the film but he died in 1964, so they needed another dude for the screenplay. They found none other than Roald Dahl, creator of Willy Wonka and other mind-bending stories for scaring kids in the proper British way.

So any other Bond linkages? Oh, my yes. The villain in 1964’s Goldfinger plays the villain here, Baron Bomburst of Vulgaria. Q, the beloved quartermaster of Bond’s gadgets, plays (with a sly wink and a nod) a junk dealer. The director of Casino Royale is here directing and co-writing. The producer on no less than 5 Bond films, Albert Broccoli, is also on staff.

Dahl plays fast and free with the book and adds his own style of wackadoo. Then we have famous English cartoonist, Rowland Emett, building the contraptions in Caractacus Pott’s house. His delicious Rube Goldberg-esque, steampunked madness earned him the title “the fantasticator.” Brit comedian and genial pervert Benny Hill plays it straight as a repressed toymaker. And the scariest villain is the Child-Catcher, an evil pied piper, with a ridiculous nose and a wicked dancing step who tricks the kids into prison (the actor was famous for playing bad guys, but was actually a professional stage dancer). The songs are horribly sappy, and I still remember them fondly from my own boyhood.

There’s even a stand-in for the Bond Girl: Truly Scrumptious, the PG version of Pussy Galore. Watch it with your kids, you’ll love it.

 

It’s a Beautiful Thing #27:

BAMFs kick ass but no one expects them to actually … act. It is a little bizarre to me to see Chuck “My beard is death for you” Norris or Ah-nold thunder their way through a flick while their fellow thespians act circles around them like moons about Jupiter. It is a curious joy and a intriguing travesty, and I always wonder what the actors who can act think as they wait for their line amongst the HTH carnage.

Case in point: 1981’s revenge fest, Eye for an Eye, featuring classic Chuck. Every movie Steven Segal did in the 90s, Norris did in the 80s. Except Norris occasionally did it while rocking a red sweater. So, the plot that justifies the violence is standard fare: ex-cop Norris has to find a way to get revenge against a highly connected drug gang for killing his partner and his grilfriend. One wasn’t enough, see.

So, after a bevy of blockheads and mysteries, we get to the finale. At the end, he must beat the iconic tough guy, Professor Tanaka, who is the human equivalent of a concrete wall, so he can get to the boss, Dracula. No, not a vampire, but the much beloved Christopher Lee who is quite happy with his pay, and has been cashing checks from B movies since the 40s.

Just as Norris has stretched his action jeans enough to make mincemeat of Tanaka and Count Dooku, everybody else shows up.

We have the grumpy Police Chief played by none other than the original BAMF, the very originator of the term, Richard Roundtree. Who’s that? I’m just talkin’ about Shaft. Everything Norris did in the 80s, Shaft did in the 70s, but with super-fly style and black leather. Then there is the father of Norris’s girlfriend played by Mako, the versatile actor who can be the wizard-chronicler in Conan, voice a hundred cartoons, and cameo in your TV series with complete dignity and humor.

So Shaft and Mako show up for the finale just in time to remind Norris to be heroic and not kill Saruman.

With forty years, and their other roles tripping through my head, the film is a completely different experience for me as an adult, and it’s a B-YouTube-able thing too.

 

Pop-up Fact #123 – Effluvia – Scooby Doo

Parents today can delight in Scooby Doo for several reasons, but there’s crackin’ deep history there too.

Today, Scooby and company enchant my daughter so much that she requests that I tell her bedtime stories about the Mystery Inc gang. And I can because their story logic is wrapped into my psyche. True, Daphne has evolved into a functional adventurer instead of a damsel, and Velma has developed a nerdy chic, but Fred is still in the closet and Shaggy still smokes the wacky tobacky offscreen. Ruh roh! As I told my umpteenth Scooby story, I wondered where did the gang and the cowardly mutt come from. Harken!

In the late 1960s, a parent group, A.C.T. (Aimless Control Tyrants), worried about violence in cartoons, and lobbied against them. Our jaded, modern minds might look at Jonny Quest, the Herculoids, and Space Ghost and wonder – “what violence?” – but back then cartoons were supposed to focus solely on mouse-on-cat violence. While we can credit the A.C.T. for limiting some nefarious marketing activities aimed at kids, they effectively killed all the cool cartoons. Lame fair like the Archies replaced it.

If you’ve stood in a grocery checkout line and flipped through a mild-to-the-point-of-suicide-would-be-fun Archies comic while waiting for grandma to figure out her new debit card, then you know why some TV executive finally said: deliver me from this poxy shite.

Enter the only pre-Pixar animation outfit to rival Disney: Hanna-Barbera. Main H-B writers, Joe Ruby and Ken Spears, created Scooby scripts that were actually scary, and Iwao Takamoto’s art did not feature a Great Dane, but they were eventually toned down, and the tiny dog evolved into skittish Scoob. Takomoto learned art in Manzanar, the WW2 internment camp for Americans that looked Japanese, so Scoob touches that tragedy as well. Thank Takei we’re past those times (Guantanowhat?). Takomoto also directed Charlotte’s Web (which was written by author E.B. White, who also penned Stuart Little, and was presumably the funnier half of Strunk and White, the grammar gurus).

Back to Scooby Doo. Go and search for images of the 60’s black-and-white TV show, Dobie Gillis. Look for a young, goateed Maynard Krebs aka Gilligan. That’s Shaggy. Scooby Doo was influenced by Dobie Gillis, 40’s radio serial, I Love a Mystery, and Enid Blyton’s Famous Five mystery books. Or so Wikipedia tells me.

After Scooby-success paid for their diamond-encrusted bell-bottoms, Ruby-Spears knew shame with the Jabberjaw cartoon, but also managed to scrawl catchy tunes with Josie and the Pussycats (try not to sing the theme song once you’ve heard it), and then they finally came full circle to reclaim that old Herculoids fun with the ultimate hero of post-apocalyptic earth: Thundarr the Barbarian.

Princess Ariel. Ucla the Mok. Super-sorcery and sun swords. Fuck yeah.

Pop-up Fact #6 – Unsung Writer – Romeo Muller

The holiday season is almost wrapped up. I for one got to watch my chillun become enraptured with the Rankan-Bass stop-motion extravaganzas of the 1960s.

The what?

Remember the effin Bumble? Yukon Cornelius licking his pick axe? Hermey the Elf dreaming of being a dentist? I’m only talking about the most popular holiday television special of all time, Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer. We all know the song, but that claymation flick took the song and the story, and did mad science to it. King Moonracer soaking up the Aslan vibe? WTFuckery is this? Romeo Muller happened is what, and that was just the beginning.

Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town, The Little Drummer Boy, and Frosty the Snowman. This guy penned the script to my every snow day wish. And he wrote, oh, a few dozen more films including the animated Wind in the Willows flick, and Puff the Magic Dragon. So, this guy has been amping the childhoods of at least two generations, but why is a scifi site happily flogging his legend?

Well.

Peter Jackson did not inflame our mortal minds until 2001. Until then, all a
nazgul-ridin’, longbottom leaf smokin’ dude had to watch was the late 70s animated version of The Hobbit and The Return of the King, which Romeo adapted. Every geek worth their bantha poodoo needs to watch these two with their kids (especially the scary parts). It’s worth it just for the songs.

Hail the unsung writer: Romeo Muller (1928-1992).

PS. For something that speaks to the true holiday spirit, I need to relate a story behind the story. Rudolf was created by one R.L. May, then an employee of Montgomery Ward (MW), the Walmart of the first half of the 20th century. A scrawny, oft-picked on child, May found a job as a copywriter at MW during the depression. He married, had a child, but then his wife got cancer and died near X-mas, and May, too poor after the medical bills to afford any presents, gave his daughter a story of a plucky misfit reindeer.

MW was looking for a story to sell at Xmas and bought it for peanuts. It became so popular, that industry types wanted to make songs and movies, so the retail giant gave the rights back to May, and he remarried and became wealthy. (In the 1940s, May’s brother-in-law wrote the song everyone knows and the legend grew.)

Can anyone imagine Walmart, or Wall Street, or any Big Music Label giving the rights back to the creator? A lost time, you say? Only if we let it be lost. I think it’s time to channel some plucky misfit reindeer, and take the country back from the Bumbles in Washington and Wall Street. And I don’t mean Tea Party rage. I mean better government, not an absence of government. Oops, I’m getting political. I better stop before I go all post-apocalypse on you.

See you in 2012. Sincerely, The ScribbleNinja.

Pop-up Fact #42 – Unsung Writer – Albert Pyun

Born in 1954 during a zombie moon, suckled by rabid ferrets, he would grow up to be the best thing for film since Ed Wood and the House of Hammer. As a teen, he was sponsored by legendary Japanese actor and cinema samurai, Toshiro Mifune, and worked under the shogun of all directors, Kurasawa. Then he took that auspicious beginning and did mad science to it.

1982 had seen Conan bulge into the box office. Pyun struck while the riddle of steel was hot, and rammed Sword and the Sorceror into my teenage brain, where it quivers still like only a three-bladed sword can. When Pyun helmed Cyborg in 1989, and showcased Van Damme in the best post-apocalyptic-combat-chase scene ever, I knew scifi had found its true master.

Who else could rule over the B-movie kingdom with such verve? Who else could scramble for every camera lens, and shoot two movies at once? Pyun! Who could write, direct and sometimes edit his own films? Pyun! Yes, he gets massacred by executive producers, but only Pyun could work with supermodel Kathy Ireland and Snoop Dogg. Only Pyun could put Christopher Lambert and Ice-T in the same movie. Only Pyun could reuse the sets and props from the aborted He-man sequel and use them in Cyborg. Only Pyun could put “heroic” Andrew Dice Clay with hottie Teri Hatcher in 1993’s Shaolin monktacular masterpiece, Brain Smasher.

He’s got 47 movies to his credit, and it will probably be 50 before I finish writing this post. Here’s to you, Mr. Pyun. At least you’re not Uwe Boll.

Pop-up fact #36 – Know your BAMF – Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson

How many scientists take the axiom “sound mind in a sound body” and crush it into little bits before feeding it into a satellite bound for the nearest black hole? Answer: none. Until Dr. Tyson was born in 1958 and achieved off his ass in wrestling, dance, and astrophysics.

Yes, he was anointed our next Astronomer King by no less a luminary then Carl “Billions and Billions” Sagan, but maybe he’s no fun at parties, you say. Stephen Colbert doesn’t think so and neither should you. In fact, Dr. Tyson is a nationally recognized booster for science in general, and it is a proven fact that your IQ goes up after having a conversation with him.

So, the man can rock a unitard, a dance floor, and kill a planet. That’s right. Tyson killed Pluto. They say modern science finally had to reclassify the runt celestial object, but really, between you and me, it was Dr. Death Star.

When he’s not rearranging the cosmos, he’s trying to launch the human race out to the stars, and inspire us (and Congress) to make space travel and science as popular as the Kardashians.

To see an awesome video of Dr. Tyson waxing poetic about the universe, and what objects in it might smash your head someday, click the YouTube link beside the pic, or go to the Hayden Planetarium’s site.

Dr. Tyson, a BAMF for science. Now you know.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YXh9RQCvxmg

Pop-up Fact #66 – Know your BAMF two-fer – Buster Crabbe and Jimi Hendrix

How much testosterone bulges your sack when you’re cast to play Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, and Tarzan. Despite the birth name of Clarence Crabbe, Buster persevered, renamed himself, and had enough manjuice in his system to win two swimming medals at two different Olympics. Then he starred in over 100 movies, and is most remembered for playing the scifi alpha males of the 1930s. He even did a cameo as a retired pilot in the 1979 Buck Rogers and snapped witticisms with Gil Gerard: “I’ve been doing that sort of thing since before you were born.”

How does Jimi fit in? Hendrix kept a trunk full of scifi books with him, and adored Buster Crabbe’s Flash Gordon serials. He even drew scifi art as a kid and used “Buster” as a nickname.

Jimi’s scifi roots don’t end there. Night Of Light by scifi writer, Philip José Farmer, features sunspots that disorient a distant planet’s population (similar to a hallucinogenic drug effect), and it inspired “Purple Haze.” In fact, Jimi wrote pages and pages of lyrics for “Purple Haze,” originally an epic tale of the history of warfare for the control of the planet Neptune. Reminds me of Flash’s adventures on Mongo.

Both men are sadly gone (Jimi, way too soon), and both are Scifi BAMFs. Now
you know.

Pop-up fact #87 – Know your BAMF – Harry Dean Stanton

Stanton is famously laid back and clearly it works since he’s in his 80s and has no less than 4 movies or shows out this year alone. He’s been quoted as saying that he plays himself as totally as he possibly can, “his own Harry Dean Stanton act.”

Now let’s go to the legendary chest-bursting scene from 1979’s Alien (YouTube has it). The actors were, as all geeks know, not informed of what would happen, and most of the actors react with shock or alarm. Stanton? He manages to slightly raise an eyebrow. The android shows more motion.

I’m not sure what sort of rough childhood Stanton had, but what sort of man reacts to that without flinching? A BAMF, that’s who. And now you know.

Pop-up Fact #25 – Synchronicity – Noah Hathaway

Was child actor Noah Hathaway the secret center of the 80s genre universe? He played Boxey, Apollo’s son, on the original Battlestar Galactica. Then he played the young hero, Atreyu, in the Never Ending Story. Then he played Harry Potter in Troll. That’s right, kids. Harry Potter.

So Hathaway starred in a seminal scifi show, an awesome fantasy film, and a cult horror-fantasy flick all before he was 16. Now his subconscious influence spreads as there is a metal band named Atreyu, and another tiny series about another H. Potter. Rumors abound about his return to TV and film. Can we handle it?

Judging by his current extreme incarnation as tattooed-motorcycle customizing-muay-thai-warrior guy, perhaps not.

Pop-up Fact #11 – Unsung Writer – Stanford Sherman

Sherman was a TV writer in the 1960s who contributed 4 episodes to the James-Bond-inspired spy show, The Man from Uncle, and a whopping 18 episodes to the cult camp favorite Batman. Then he presumably set himself on a spiritual walkabout and came back refreshed for the 80s season of post-Star Wars scramble that would result in Krull (1983) and Ice Pirates (1984).

After climbing to the pinnacle of fantasy and scifi, the Sherm disappeared. One can only guess what vampire madness his twisted brain will manufacture when he returns again to ride the Twilight wave. And he will return, resplendent, like King Arthur, answering the siren call for derivative celluloid that stays in your brain no matter what you do.

Hail the unsung writer, Stanford Sherman.