Monday, July 16, 2012

It's Been A Pleasure - Part 2

More of my guilty pleasures in pop culture! Let's begin!

1. Trail of The Pink Panther - okay. Imagine you're an executive at MGM. You had just green-lit another sequel to The Pink Panther because, aside from James Bond, Scooby Doo, The Muppets and Star Wars, the 70's were quite shit. Also, the Panther films are making lots of money. You've managed to talk Peter Sellers into doing another Panther by letting him plot and co-write the script. The new film, Romance of The Pink Panther, will be directed by Sidney Poitier - wait, the script's not done yet and he bowed out - okay, Clive Donner will direct it. The plot? Clouseau falls in love with a beautiful woman who is an ardent fan and a jewel thief. The film is likely going to be the series finale. Two drafts of the script are completed. Blake Edwards is not involved in this one.
Then...Peter Sellers dies. What to do? Edwards, for many reasons, is approached with "saving" the project by re-casting Clouseau, perhaps with Dudley Moore. Moore isn't quite interested. Edwards instead hatches a new idea, a new, cheaper continuation of the series with a new character - Clifton Sleigh - introduced with a "tribute" of sorts to Sellers as a transition film, using deleted scenes from two of the recent sequels and borrowing key plot elements from the aborted Romance script. But the budget is slashed, and the money that would have gone to buying scenes owned by another company (ITC, for Return of The Pink Panther) is gone, so Blake has to settle for adding previously seen "flashbacks" in the film's 2nd half. Stunt doubles for Sellers are used to give the "new" Clouseau scenes a narrative and ... it almost works. I enjoy this film for what it is - it's a YouTube mash up before there was YouTube, really. You get a lot of scenes of Clouseau engaged in mundane activity - bringing home groceries, filling his pipe with tobacco and setting off the sprinklers in his office, setting his car on fire - and Henry Mancini's music for the title sequence has neat variations on the familiar theme. Also, we get hints of continuity - the events of the first film are addressed in a way that has had fans on the Internet offering explanations for years and years. One explanation offered for why Cato is ordered to attack Clouseau often is because Clouseau has become paranoid after the woman he was married to for 20 years turns out to have been the lover of the thief he had been trying to catch for just as long.

2. The Adventures of Ford Fairlane - Andrew Dice Clay - remember him? Oh! This comedy/mystery, set in the music business, involves a pirate CD operation run by Wayne Newton, who murders his co-conspirators - Gilbert Gottfried, Priscilla Presley, Vince Neil - then chases after a private eye that had been hired to find the owner of a CD-Rom (one of 3) that holds copies of all the evidence. I just gave away the plot..oh!  Never mind, this film, based on a little-known DC Comic from the late-80s, is a nostalgia trip through early-1990s pop culture noise and funk. Clay's career was at it's peek around this time, but he's never nearly as offensive as people want him to be. There's much worse.

3. Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized Biography - I am not a fan of this series, but this book is irresistible. A collection of miscellaneous old photos, bogus newspaper clippings and doctored scrapbook-like items are cobbled together into a bogus autobiography that puts the spotlight on the elusive (and very distracting) narrator of A Series of Unfortunate Events. I thought it was more entertaining than the main series, which I found lacking in suspense or much in the way of a good cast of characters that would keep the interest up for as long as it went. It seems to have faded away once the Harry Potter series ended, as though it were just a stop-gap for people craving something else to read between HP installments. This biography of the digressing author is better.

4.  Dr. Sax by Jack Kerouac - I'm inclined to agree with Truman Capote when he commented on the Beat Generation/movement of literature from the late 50's-early 60's this way: "None of them can write - not even Mr. Kerouac - that stuff is not writing, it's typing." But it is possible to have mixed feelings about it - sometimes, my own writing reads like it when I'm not paying attention. Dr. Sax is Kerouac's possible account of his childhood in Lowell, Massachusetts and his own guilty pleasure - reading pulp fiction magazines, especially The Shadow. Dr. Sax is The Shadow in all but name only, the Lamont Cranston of young Jack's daydreams, whipping up potions and creeping around Kerouac's home town in preparation for the big confrontation with The Great World Snake, a Midgard Serpent-like creature promising destruction. Dr. Sax is Jack's imaginary friend; by the time the book ends, Sax has removed his costume and stands revealed as Kerouac himself as an adult, forced to face the world without herb potions or cloaks or floppy hats. Talk about deconstruction of a comic book hero - I'd say this is where it all starts. It's fitting that Alan Moore would eventually get around to writing him in one of his stories (he appears in the Kerouac-ish "The Crazy Wide Forever" pastiche in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier).

5. Never Say Never Again - fans of Sean Connery's 007 count it, fans of EON Productions do not, yet through a curious chain of events, the distribution rights for the movie belong to MGM and it airs alongside the other Bond films in annual marathon cycles on cable television. This film is a remake of Thunderball, even though it looks cheaper in places and Klaus Maria Brandauer is too "real world" for a Bond villain. But Max Von Sydow is perfect as Blofeld, Barbara Carrera is awesome as Fatima Blush and Connery is in fine form in his last appearance as Bond. Also, I thought the film had a better pace and a stronger mix of suspense and humor than Thunderball, which I thought slowed to a crawl after the pre-title sequence. If it weren't for Luciana Paluzzi as Fiona Vulpe, I'd probably not have the DVD at home.

Don't tune out now, rehab fans! The best is yet to come!

To be continued...

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