Pop Culture Ephemera
- Mark Twain – A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court (1889) (Penguin): “You can’t reason with your heart; it has its own laws, and thumps about things which the intellect scorns.” Thirteen years after Tom Sawyer (1876) and five years after Huck Finn (1884), Twain combines the best of his earlier satire titles with what feels like a Tom Sawyer story. There’s much more to this story than I had originally imagined. The time-travel aspect to the book predates H. G. Wells and others that would create a unique subgenre. Twain uses the Medieval setting to criticize his contemporary society. His observations about the ridiculous aspects of our society are some of the best of his career. The scene of knights riding bicycles is illustrative of a hilarious juxtaposition but also shows how our “progress” doesn’t make us better than previous eras in a way that we think it does. His dry humor isn’t for everyone and I can see where the language could put off today’s readers. There are some scenes of shocking violence for a Twain title but the observations and wordplay made it a really entertaining vacation read. I am still giggling at one of the first people he meets who introduces himself as a “page” and the Boss says, “You ain’t more than a paragraph.”
- Fantasy Island – “King Arthur in Mr. Roarke’s Court / Shadow Games” (S.5 E.13) (ABC) (1982): I don’t remember watching the show much by this season. I had forgotten the addition of Julie (Wendy Schaal) to the crew of Mr. Roarke and Tattoo. The King Arthur story takes an interesting twist. Ralph Rodgers (Tom Smothers) wants to meet King Arthur (Robert Mandan, terribly cast) and after two seconds in Camelot, King Arthur ends up with Ralph on Fantasy Island. Their out-of-time twist is full of so many things that don’t make sense about the island that it was hard not to keep being confused. Are there people on Fantasy Island who aren’t aware that other people are there for fantasies? The “Shadow Games” story is just as head scratching with Linda Blair as Sarah Jean Rawlins who wants to write one more hit song with her boyfriend whom she believes to have passed away. It turns into a weird Phantom of the Opera story with Donny Most (Happy Days) as the Phantom, in a mask that makes him look like a young Tom Smothers. An embarrassment of television actor riches for a single episode, the stories aren’t bad, only missing some internal logic.
- Christopher Cross – “Arthur’s Theme (The Best You Can Do)” (1981) (from Arthur: The Album – Original Soundtrack): “Once in your life you find her / Someone that turns your life around.” Time has not been kind to the film Arthur (1981) nor this #1 single from Christopher Cross (his second #1 single after “Sailing”). I love them both still. This Burt Bacharach and Carole Bayer Sager written song would win an Oscar but today it’s held up as over-romanticized . I think to the contrary that it’s the best way to interpret a Bacharach song. This song and “Sailing” almost single-handedly define the Yacht Rock genre of songs that people on yachts would listen to about the trials of other people with money. It still takes me back to idyllic summer days in the early ’80s.
- A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court (1949) (Directed by Tay Garnett): “Pardon, my lord, but the monster seemeth a gentle soul.” – Alisande. In 1912, Hank Martin (Bing Crosby) gets knocked out and wakes up in the England of King Arthur (Sir Cedric Hardwicke). He meets Sir Sagramore (William Bendix) and falls in love with Alisande (Rhonda Fleming), the King’s niece. Until earlier this month, this, above all versions, was my vision of the Twain novel. There’s no faulting the film for putting all the focus on Bing Crosby who was one of the biggest stars in the world at the time. That leads to an inordinate focus on his life as a mechanic in 1912 (which in theory could have made a better Wizard of Oz-type of focus to his time in Medieval England). The addition of songs takes away from the biting satire of the book. The film focuses mostly on the beginning of the book (changing the key eclipse scene unfortunately) and the end of the book (leaving out the dark events around the battles). If I hadn’t just read the book, I could see the joy of this film as a Bing Crosby film and not a Mark Twain adaptation. Rhonda Fleming should have been a bigger star. The work of William Bendix as the comic foil threatens to steal the film and shows that humor is timeless.
- Unidentified Flying Oddball (1979) (Directed by Russ Mayberry): “Right after I’m burned at the stake, I’ll tell the whole story to King Arthur.” – Tom Trimble. I prefer the alternate title, The Spaceman and King Arthur. Dennis Dugan, who would later direct multiple Adam Sandler vehicles like Happy Gilmore (1996), is Tom Trimble and his android double, Hermes. The voice of the Harry Potter books, Jim Dale, plays Sir Mordred. The idea of two people going back (a nerdy scientist and his robot double) is unique and the quality British supporting cast saves this picture from being unwatchable. The reliance upon the source material is about as reliable as any other adaptation. I was 11 when this first arrived in theaters and wasn’t keen on it. It’s not terrible and I found it rather difficult to dislike. The spirit of fun makes all the difference.
Best of the Rest
- For the film remake, they chose an interesting remake for the title song. This Fitz and the Tantrums cover isn’t nearly as reviled as the film remake. I can appreciate the additional horns and a more driving percussion but it doesn’t capture the magical aspects of the lyrics to me.
- I don’t know much about the artist, Rumer, although a search for this video turned up an excellent cover of “Sailing” also. I could be convinced that this song works best with a female vocal.
- The final Beatles song will be created by Artificial Intelligence. It’s likely to be a John Lennon song, “Now and Then” that was a possibility for a Beatles reunion. I want to hear the song but I don’t want to love it. I’m not one who is afraid of AI-generated songs and films. I’m just one who doesn’t necessarily want to live in a time when the work is indistinguishable from the human-created endeavors. It is an interesting thought that my grandchildren could live in a world where “The Beatles” release a “new” album every year.
Sunday Morning Tuneage Flashback
- On the Sunday Morning Tuneage of 1/6/2008, the year started with a couple 80-degree days and baseball tryouts for Christian. I was listening to some Juice Newton and getting ready to head into a Sunday workday. My #33 Favorite Movie of All-Time was The Wild Bunch (1969). The Sam Peckinpah western has been my favorite western from time to time and I think that’s an accurate ranking. Deep into the Writer’s Strike, we were getting classics like Dance War (ABC) and Parking Wars (A&E). There was a movie tie-in series that I was vaguely curious about.
- Transformers Animated – “Transform and Roll Out” (S.1, E.1-3) (2007) (TOON): “Hello, we’re repair crew. Please tell me you’re not actually thinking of taking on Decepticons!” – Bumblebee. The first Transformers (2007) movie was a success and it made sense to program a new cartoon series on Toon Network until the sequel was going to come out in 2009. The first three episodes aired as a “movie” in December, leading into the series in January. If you weren’t bothered by the animation on the original series, then you won’t have much to complain about here except for even more anime-influenced angular designs. I actually like the more action movie tropes of the films but that is missing here. In short, young Transformers discover the All Spark and geographically challenged, they crash land in Lake Erie in current day (somehow near Paw Paw, Michigan) and accidentally move technology ahead on Earth. Fifty years later, the series takes place with robot technology in use everywhere. The plot is too simplified and at times plays like Transformers, Jr. This series hasn’t improved with age and I would recommend some of their previous series or the films.
1973 in Review
- June – Nick Fury And His Agents Of SHIELD #3 is a release of slightly edited reprints with scripts by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, pencils by Jack Kirby and inks by Jim Steranko. Can you get more iconic than that?
- June 25 – The #1 song is George Harrison “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth)”.
- June 4 – Sports Illustrated features Chicago White Sox knuckleball specialist, Wilbur Wood. He would have four straight years of 20 or more wins, including leading the AL in victories in 1972 and 1973. After being 8-1 in May 1973, he would go 1-8 in June 1973 after this cover appearance. He would end the season 24-20.
What the Hell Did I Put in My Mouth?
Doritos: Tangy Ketchup
The year of ketchup flavors continues. Lays has had years to perfect the ketchup flavor on their chips in Canada. The tiny bit of spice to this ketchup translate well to the corn Doritos chip. The only drawback is an inconsistent application of the flavor dust across the bag. Some chips just didn’t have enough ketchup flavor.
Pringles: Las Meras Meras Habaneras
Essentially the same as the Enchiladas Adobada flavor I tried earlier this year, just with a different pepper. It’s habanero, lime, and salt. Not a difficult combination to capture and not much imagination. They taste about like you would expect. The lime mitigates any long-lasting heat, making them easy to keep eating but there’s really nothing special to make me want another can.
Kit Kat: Churro
If this was the Summer of Churro, I wouldn’t be sad. On paper, this sounds like a great combination. If you dial back your expectations about two fold, you will enjoy these. They are very okay. The churro flavor is just off in a couple key ways. It doesn’t have all the buttery flavor of the baked pastry and the biggest whiff is that they should have gone heavier on the cinnamon. That said, it’s okay and an okay Kit Kat is better than almost any other candy bar in my book.
“Deep in his heart, he’s just, he’s just a boy
Living his life one day at a time
And showing himself a really good time
Laughing about the way they want him to be” – Burt Bacharach, Carole Bayer Sager, et al.