Tag Archives: Film

Retro Linkage – 10/6/2016

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Hey, slackers.  Your humble narrator has been really busy for the past year trying to save Western Civilization for ourselves and our posterity.

The Good News – We’re almost there.

The Bad News – I’ve severely neglected Muh Blog!

Regardless, for the past two Halloweens I’ve been meaning to draft a YUUUUGE effort-post on all things Universal Monsters in the 1990s.  They were everywhere!  Seriously, man… toys, books, t-shirts, ridiculous numbers of print ads and even postage stamps.  I’m probably not going to get around to it this year, but I’ve discovered some other bloggers digging down that same rabbit hole.

Universal Monsters Universe is a very well-done and entertaining blog founded in 2016, that obsessively and compulsively blogs about anything even tangentially related to Universal Monsters.  Check out some of their 90’s themed posts.

It was in the early 90’s that Universal began releasing their classic monsters on VHS.  It was MCA Universal that released all of the classics and with their engaging box art, these films were soon welcomed into the homes of new fans and of those that grew up with them.  It was soon after the release of the Universal Monsters on video that the “merchandising frenzy” for the characters like Dracula and Frankenstein began.

Over 1993 to 1994, Playmates Toys released eight action figures across two waves of remodeled Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figures that were styled to represent the classic Universal Monsters.  During the early 90’s, Playmates Toys were a very dominant toy company as they also had the license for action figures and collectibles based off of CBS’ Star Trek property.  I think all of us that were around in the early 90’s remember the terrific Star Trek: The Next Generation action figures.  They also had a tie in with the Ninja Turtles as well.  In 1993, Playmates released Leonardo as The Wolfman, Raphael as The Mummy, Michaelangelo as Frankenstein’s Monster, and Donatello as Dracula.

OK, I’ll admit it.  I LOLed.

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Wait till you see the Ninja Metaluna Mutant Turtle.

The 3.5 inch Burger King toys were not only perfect representations of their classic film counterparts, but they came at a perfect moment when the Universal Monsters were being honored not only through the U.S. Postal Service, but also seeing the VHS releases revitalize interest in the brand.  If you were a monsters fan, Burger King was your go to spot for the month of October in the year 1997.

I’ll expand on these themes later, add context and search for the esoteric meaning behind it all.  Until then, check out the links, enjoy the pictures and show these guys and ghouls some love.

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TV CASUALTY – 7/1/2014

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I’m a lazy slacker and I was going to take the summer off of bloggin’, but there are so many outstanding and obscure drive-in-worthy flicks on the tube this month that if I let you miss them, I’d have to kick my own ass on general principle.  There’s stuff playing that I’ve never seen.  If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a hundred times, one can’t understand meta-retro without first understanding retro.  Thus, I, your humble narrator, will continue to peruse the Turner Classic Movies (TCM) schedule and other basic cable listings to highlight all the classic Horror, Monster, Sci-Fi and Cult films from the Golden Age of American cinema that regularly resurfaced throughout the 1990s.  Tune in, turn on, and veg out!  

TUESDAY, JULY 1, 2014

  • 8:00 PM The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939) – TCM
    Not the 1923 version starring Lon Chaney Sr., but still worth watching

WEDNESDAY, JULY 2, 2014

  • 4:30 AM The Raven (1963) – TCM
    Roger Corman directs Vincent Price, Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre and Jack Nicholson in this Edgar Allen Poe adaptation

SATURDAY, JULY 5, 2014

  • 12:00 PM Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958) – TCM
    Allison Hayes stars in this drive-in classic which arguably generated the best movie poster of all time
  • 10:00 PM The Invisible Woman (1940) – MeTV
    Svengoolie hosts a screwball comedy loosely based on the work of H.G. Wells

SUNDAY, JULY 6, 2014

  • 12:00 PM Viva Las Vegas (1964) – TCM
    Elvis & Ann-Margaret vs. Sin City

Ray Harryhausen Double Feature on TCM!

  • 8:00 PM Jason and the Argonauts (1963)
  • 10:00 PM The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958)

SATURDAY, JULY 12, 2014

  • 12:00 PM Queen of Outer Space (1958) – TCM
    I’m so gaga for Zsa Zsa
  • 10:00 PM Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954) – MeTV
    Svengoolie vs. my favorite Universal Monster

SATURDAY, JULY 19, 2014

  • 12:00 PM The Wasp Woman (1959) – TCM
    Another high quality Roger Corman Bee movie
  • 10:00 PM Svengoolie – Revenge of The Creature (1955)
    The second entry in Universal’s Creature From The Black Lagoon trilogy.  If you’ve never seen this one, make sure you do it now.  Outstanding.
  • 3:45 AM Tentacles (1977) – TCM
    Nothing goes better at 3 AM than a giant octopus flick

SUNDAY, JULY 20, 2014

  • 2:15 PM His Girl Friday (1940) – TCM
    Cary Grant being awesome

MONDAY, JULY 21, 2014

  • 5:00 PM I Married A Witch (1942) – TCM
    Gratuitous Veronica Lake
  • 6:30 PM The Ghost Goes West (1936) – TCM
    The horror comedy Ed Wood wishes he made

WEDNESDAY, JULY 23, 2014

  • 8:00 Bullitt (1968) – TCM
    Steve McQueen’s 2nd best film

SATURDAY, JULY 26, 2014

  • 10:00 PM The Creature Walks Among Us (1956) – MeTV
    Svengoolie hosts the thrilling conclusion to the Creature trilogy.
  • 12:45 AM The Mummy (1932) – TCM
  • The Boris Karloff classic!  “Do you have to open graves to find girls to fall in love with?”
  • 2:15 AM Spider Baby (1964) – TCM
    I’ve literally been waiting for years to see this obscure cult horror gem that influenced Rob Zombie and Mike Patton

SUNDAY, JULY 27, 2014

  • 2:00 PM The Blackboard Jungle (1955) – TCM
    The first film to ever feature a rock n’ roll soundtrack
  • 4:00 PM Rebel Without a Cause (1955) – TCM
    Obligatory James Dean
  • 8:00 PM Cat People (1942) – TCM
  • 9:30 PM The Curse of the Cat People (1944) – TCM

Good luck facing yourself in the mirror if you forget to set the DVR.

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007(B). All Things Godzilla

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Note: This post is the conclusion to previously published 007(A) – Remedial Godzilla Studies.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but during the 1990s Godzilla was everywhere.  Although it’s difficult to quantify this assertion, I can vividly remember being able to walk into any corporately or independently owned bookstore or gift shop and picking from a virtual cornucopia of Godzilla merchandise.  These magnets, t-shirts, coffee mugs and assorted knickknacks mostly brandished the image of the original movie poster from Godzilla, King of the Monsters! (1956). Additionally, I will cover in depth, the myriad Godzilla toys, video games and pop-culture parodies, which were simply ubiquitous during the fin de siècle.  Yet, the question remains…. Why?

As I mentioned previously, in the collective mind of Generation X, Godzilla held a unique status as something simultaneously retro, nostalgic and currently active.  In post 007(A) – Remedial Godzilla Studies, I described the legacy of the Godzilla franchise beginning in 1954.  If we go by the accepted definition of retro as a culturally outdated or aged style, trend, mode, or fashion, from the overall post-modern past, then the giant green guy is certainly retro.  Similarly, if we go by the accepted definition of nostalgia as a wistful desire to return to a former time in one’s life, then the feelings of Gen X-ers towards Godzilla were also nostalgic.  The difference being that one cannot feel nostalgia for something one did not directly experience.  While many of us loved Elvis Presley, for instance, he wasn’t part of our childhood as he was part of the Baby Boomers’ childhood and early adolescence.  Moreover, an affinity toward Elvis was nostalgia to the boomers, but retro to Generation X.  However, due to toys, cartoons, and syndicated UHF stations, Godzilla was part of our childhoods.  Additionally, Toho studios continued to produce Godzilla films well into the 1990s.  Although they weren’t widely available in the United States, there was a cursory awareness of Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991), Godzilla vs. Mothra (1992), Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II (1993), Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla (1994), and Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995).

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By 1994 one could walk into a national chain toy store such as Toys R’ Us and select from a plethora of Godzilla action figures.  TrendmastersGodzilla: King of the Monsters series released a full line of Godzilla toys falling into several subcategories.

  • Micro Playsets – The playsets came in a Godzilla head that opened to reveal a battleground city where two 1” daikaiju could throw down (Example: Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah in San Francisco).
  • Bendables – Rubber coated bendable, pose-able action figures ranging from 4.5” to 6”.
  • Hatching Monsters – These 2” figures came with an egg and a trading card
  • Battle Packs – A set of two 4” figures (Godzilla vs Rodan, Godzilla vs Mothra, etc.) and the respective trading cards
  • Battle Action Playset – These 6” figures often came packaged with tiny tanks and tinier green army guys
  • Giant Action Figure – These 10” figures featured each monster’s unique and terrifying roar, and came packaged with their own comic book

Trendmasters dug deep into the Godzilla mythos to produce a wide variety of daikaiju toys including Godzilla (regular and “Supercharged”), Rodan, King Ghidorah, Mothra, Mecha-King Ghidorah, Mechagodzilla, Gigan, Biollante and Battra.  Perhaps the best value buy was the 40th anniversary collector’s edition that contained four-inch figures of each of the aforementioned gargantuan B-movie monsters.  Obviously, Godzilla: King of the Monsters action figures commandeered a substantial amount of a toy retailer’s available shelf space.  In 1995, Trendmasters released their Godzilla Wars line, adding Anguirus, Baragon, Megalon, M.O.G.U.E.R.A , Varan, and the almighty SpaceGodzilla to the mix, which often left retro-minded consumers paralyzed by an overwhelming number of ridiculously awesome choices.  (For more information on the specifics of these toy lines, I highly recommend checking out Club Tokyo, as they’ve done all the research and dirty work already.)

Since children in the target demographic for these toys would have, at best, just been born at the time the last Godzilla film was released in the United States (Godzilla 1985), it made one wonder for whom were these toys manufactured?  This was one of the more bizarre micro-trends of the 1990s; action figures primarily designed for serious collectors and adults, rather than children who actually take the damned things out of the box and play with them.  Trendmasters wasn’t the only company to cash in on this market.  McFarlane Toys and their uber-detailed Spawn action figures contributed to this fad beginning in 1994, and they’ve since vastly expanded their scope and remain in business to this day.  While we’re at it, Sideshow Collectibles (also founded in 1994) pushed the envelope even further with their tour de force of classic Universal Monsters.  Between Trendmasters and Sideshow, toward the end of the 1990s, one could walk into virtually any toy store in America and pick up a full set of Gamera Guardian Of The Universe action figures, The Creature From The Black Lagoon(1954), Karloff’s Frankenstein (1931), Lugosi’s Dracula(1931), as well as the robots from Forbidden Planet (1956) and Lost In Space.  Granted, I loved all things retro as much as anyone, but whom other than the most obsessive compulsive MST3K fan would even think about buying a Gamera action figure?  I jest, but this only serves to further underscore my blog’s premise that the 1990s were conspicuously retro.

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In addition to action figures there was an utter renaissance of Godzilla themed video games across a multitude of platforms.  The popularity of fighting games like Street Fighter and Mortal Combat in the early 1990s may have helped to spur this trend, as giant kaiju beating the hell out of each other quite naturally lent itself to this format.  Never the less, here’s the rundown.

  • Godzilla (Nintendo Game Boy, 1990) – What started out as an unmade Rodan game for the Nintento Entertainment System (NES) became a Game Boy puzzle title where Godzilla rescues his son, Minya.
  • Super Godzilla (Super NES, 1993) – This was more of a fighting/action game in which Godzilla battles invading aliens and bosses at the end of each level.
  • Godzilla (Arcade, 1993) – This arcaded game was developed by Banpresto, and featured a story mode where Godzilla grappled with King Ghidorah, Mothra, Gigan, MechaGodzilla, Biollante, Mecha-King Ghidorah and Battra, as well as an all-against-all battle mode.
  • Kaijū-ō Godzilla (Nintendo Game Boy, 1993) – Created by Bandai and released exclusively in Japan.
  • Godzilla: Battle Legends (Turbo Duo, 1993) – Even the obscure Turbo Duo platform got in on the action with a Street Fighter-esque fighting game involving daikaiju.
  • Godzilla: Monster War (Super Famicom, 1994) – The Super Famicom was the version of the Super Nintendo platform made for the Japanese market.  This game had both a story mode and versus mode.
  • Godzilla: Rettoushinkan (Sega Saturn, 1995) – Also known as Godzilla: Archipelago Shock, this game ran on the Sega Saturn platform, and allowed the gamer to fight as the Japanese military against Godzilla and other giant kaiju.
  • Godzilla: Giant Monster March (Sega Game Gear, 1995) – The Godzilla Team, G-Force Team and Enemies battle it out through five levels based on Godzilla movies.
  • Godzilla Movie Studio Tour (PC or Mac, 1998) – Developed by Premier Systems and published by Toho, this computer based game came with a database of information on the Godzilla franchise and allowed players to take clips from different Godzilla films and cut them together to make their own.
  • Godzilla Pinball (Sega Pinball Inc., 1998) – Appearing in January of 1998, this game was part of the marketing push for the American “Godzilla In Name Only (GINO)” debacle.
  • Godzilla Trading Battle (Sony PlayStation, 1998) – Published by Toho Company Ltd. And released only in Japan, this game featured every version of every Toho monster and six new ones.
  • Godzilla Generations (Sega Dreamcast, 1998) – Select a kaiju and destroy everything.
  • Godzilla Generations: Maximum Impact (Sega Dreamcast, 1999) – The thrilling sequel to Godzilla Generations with more giant monsters wreaking havoc.

Popular culture also seemed to be strangely obsessed with Godzilla.  Throughout the decade, comedy and cartoon staples such as RugratsSouth Park, The Simpsons, Pinky and the Brain, and even The Wayans Bros all had Godzilla themed episodes.  Mystery Science Theater 3000 skewered Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973) and Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster (1966) in the early part of 1991.  In 1992 Nike aired a hilarious commercial featuring Godzilla playing one-on-one basketball against Charles Barkley in the burned out streets of Tokyo.  This ad was so popular that it inspired a line of t-shirts and a comic book printed by Dark Horse.  Barkley vs. Godzilla was a very important piece of 1990s Godzilla ephemera as it was the first to break the implicitly juvenile and nerdy confines of toys and video games and show Godzilla in a hip, athletic and urban manner.  Not only was Godzilla everywhere, he was also cool.

As bizarre as it sounds, even metal bands, those in the most conspicuously anti-retro and non-ironic of all 1990s musical genres, contributed to the ubiquity of all things Godzilla.  Sepultura released Chaos A.D. toward the end of 1993, and the album eventually went gold.  The sixth track was titled “Biotech is Godzilla”, and it quickly became a staple of their live shows.  The lyrics were penned by former Dead Kennedys front man Jello Biafra and dealt with the potential horrors of biotechnology gone awry.  A relatively obscure surf rock band like Man or Astro-man? writing songs about giant monsters was one thing, but a Brazilian metal band with a gold record and a video in heavy rotation on MTV was quite another.  Apparently, no subculture was immune to the wily charms of Japan’s favorite irradiated Godzillasaurus.

However, the epitome of the “Godzilla is cool” meme occurred during the 1996 MTV Movie Awards, when Godzilla was bestowed with a Lifetime Achievement Award.  Bear in mind, this was during a time when music videos still comprised roughly 80% of MTV’s programming, well before they descended into “reality” shows about whiny college kids and even whinier pregnant teenagers.  In the mid-90s, MTV still mattered and was still considered a very influential tastemaker.  Thus, by the end of 1996 Godzilla was officially deemed cool, hip and relevant to all facets of youth culture, mainstream and underground.

By the beginning of 1998, the stage was perfectly set for Roland Emmerich’s remake/reboot simply titled Godzilla (1998).  In fact, it would not have been possible to manipulate the zeitgeist into a more receptive environment for a big budget American made Godzilla film.  Nor would it have been possible to generate more buzz, as the pre-release marketing hype was relentless.  For example, in April of 1998, Taco Bell rolled out a 60 million dollar marketing campaign to unveil their delicious new gordita in tandem with a merchandizing tie-in for Godzilla (1998), presumably because “gordita” and “Godzilla” sound kind of alike.  But as fate would have it, the movie that was supposed to be the icing on the cake of the entire Godzilla franchise wound up being a kaiju-sized turd in the punch bowl.  The film was terrible, disappointing critics, hardcore Godzilla fans and the bastard public alike.  As I mentioned earlier in 007(A) – Remedial Godzilla Studies, the only descriptors that adequately articulated its’ awfulness were “scorched earth” and “prison rape”.  While the saga of all things retro in the 1990s is largely a tale of victory, pleasant surprise and the unmitigated joy of discovery, Emmerich’s Godzilla (1998) was a crushing defeat.  Of all the 1990s retro touchpoints I plan on covering via this blog, Godzilla (1998) is by far the bitterest disappointment.  Not only did the film murder its own sequels in utero, but it dealt Trendmasters a deathblow from which it never recovered, and effectively banished the franchise from American shores for sixteen years.

Gareth Edwards’s Godzilla (2014) opens nationwide at 7:00 PM tonight, and I hope, with the heart of a child, the heart of a post-adolescent slacker, and the heart of a grown-ass man, that he got it right.  Whether you say prayers to Jesus or sacrifice butterflies to Mothra, I implore you to appeal to your deity of choice for a rebirth worthy of Godzilla.

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Random Retro Reaction – 5/14/2014

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Last night I was catching up on my DVR and I watched The Misfits (1961) with Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable.  This was a great film, written by Arthur Miller and directed by John Huston, that centered on a newly divorced woman who met an aging cowboy and just decided to go with it.  There’s a memorable scene where they’re in a saloon at a rodeo with a bunch of drunken cowboys, and Marilyn makes a bet over how many times in a row she can paddle a ping pong ball.  (The action starts at about 0:55.)

So, I’m watching Marilyn with her;

  • 1950s-pointy-bra mams
  • tiny waist
  • fertile hips
  • squeezable booty
  • small feet
  • graceful movements
  • wide doe eyes
  • delicate jaw line
  • and her high-pitched, almost musical, uber-feminine voice

And for some reason I had the following thought,

“If she suddenly started doing kung fu and beating the crap out of all these cowboys….. that would be absolutely f***ing retarded.” 

Fortunately, that didn’t happen, and the story was not ruined.  None the less, I’ve come to the conclusion that in 60-plus years, IF we still have the technology to enable things like films, DVRs and television, people will look at all the action flicks from this decade starring Scarlett Johansson and laugh in much the same way we laugh at “guy in a rubber suit” monster movies from the 1950s.

So, Iron Man 2 (2010), The Avengers (2012), Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014), Lucy (2014), and Avengers 2: Age of Ultron (2015), enjoy your days in the sun, for you will soon be the new Gamera.
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UPDATE

Vox Popoli further extends the premise and gets in a couple of really good burns on Joss Whedon.

http://www.voxday.blogspot.com/2014/05/mailvox-pulp-future.html

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TV CASUALTY – 5/1/2014

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Spring has sprung, and here at Retro in the 90s that means even more vintage sci-fi, retro horror, exploitation, and film noir!  Enjoy the shows.

SATURDAY, MAY 3, 2014

  • 10:00 PM It Came From Outer Space (1953) – MeTV
    Svengoolie vs. Ray Bradbury in a no holds barred death match!

SATURDAY, MAY 10, 2014

  • 4:00 PM Our Man Flint (1966) – Turner Classic Movies (TCM)
    I’ve heard this influenced Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997).
  • 2:00 AM Blue Sunshine (1979) – TCM
    “Sweeten the ride, YEAH!”  White Zombie references a plenty, I reckon.
  • 10:00 PM Island of Terror (1966) – MeTV
    Svengoolie and Peter Cushing!

THURSDAY, MAY 15, 2014

SATURDAY, MAY 17, 2014

Retro Horror night on TCM

  • 8:00 PM The Haunting (1963)
    An excellent ghost story remade in 1999.
  • 10:00 PM The Legend of Hell House (1973)
  • 3:30 AM Burn, Witch, Burn (1962)

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  • 10:00 PM The Deadly Mantis (1957) – MeTV
    If Godzilla (2014) is sold out at your local multiplex, here’s your consolation prize!

MONDAY, MAY 19, 2014 – Bonus Retro Horror night on TCM

  • 1:45 AM The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)
    A classic from Hammer Films.
  • 3:15 AM Mr. Sardonicus (1961)
  • 4:45 AM The Haunted Palace (1963)
    Roger Corman and Vincent Price!

TUESDAY, MAY 20, 2014

  • 12:15 PM The Big Sleep (1946)
    Noir, baby.  Noir.

SATURDAY, MAY 24

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  • 10:00 PM The Land Unknown (1957)
    Man vs. dinosaurs in the Antarctic jungle!

SATURDAY, MAY 31 – Vintage Sci-Fi on TCM

  • 4:30 PM World Without End (1955)
    Kind of like Planet of the Apes, only with mutants instead of apes.
  • 6:00 PM From The Earth To The Moon (1958)

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  • 10:00 PM Munster, Go Home! (1966) – MeTV
    The Munsters’ first Technicolor trip to the big screen.

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007(A). Remedial Godzilla Studies

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Note: This post was designed as a companion piece or primer for 007(B).  All Things Godzilla.

As the sole proprietor of a retro-themed blog, it’s not very often that I get the opportunity to write about something currently relevant.  Thus, I can hardly contain my excitement over the prospect of the soon to be released Godzilla (2014) movie.  Seriously, I couldn’t be more stoked to see this.  The trailer looks awesome, and the word around the campfire is… they got it right this time.

While normally, I like to jump right into a topic, it would be difficult for most readers to truly appreciate the ubiquity of all things Godzilla in the 1990s without first providing some background on this very long and distinguished franchise.

By all accounts, the first Godzilla film, Gojira (1954), was produced by Toho Studios and released in Japan.  Although there were earlier American giant monster movies such as King Kong (1933) and The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953), Gojira (1954) was the one that truly launched the Japanese daikaiju (giant strange creature) genre.  More importantly, the film spawned an entire mythology and franchise, introducing the world to the likes of Mothra, Rodan and King Ghidora.  Regardless, the story of Gojira (1954), the sheer scale of the creature, and the cutting edge (for the 1950s) special effects were so impressive that TransWorld Releasing Corp. shot additional scenes with Canadian actor Raymond Burr, spliced them with the original Japanese footage, tastefully added some overdubs and rereleased the picture in the United States under the title Godzilla, King of the Monsters! (1956).  In the film, a 400-foot tall prehistoric reptilian sea monster, made even more powerful by atomic radiation, laid waste to Tokyo, while the Japanese government, military and their finest scientists tried to stop him.  The monster, Godzilla, was seen by film critics and moviegoers alike as a metaphor for nuclear war (specifically, the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki), the United States of America, and even the wrath of nature.  After becoming a box office success and grossing $2 million (unadjusted for inflation), the rights were sold to television and Godzilla, King of the Monsters (1956) became a late night staple well into the cable era.

Toho Company, LTD went on to create twenty-seven more Godzilla films.  Before listing these, it is important to note that although several of these films were released theatrically in the United States, many had a limited release, some went straight to television, and others straight to video.  Nevertheless, Godzilla films maintained a strong presence in theatres, drive-ins, network television, UHF channels, cable TV, and video stores from 1954 to the end of the 1990s.  In chronological order, the subsequent Godzilla films were;

I must stop here to mention Roland Emmerich’s remake/reboot/reimagining/regurgitation simply titled Godzilla (1998).  This travesty was an American-made boondoggle with absolutely no input from Toho Studios, thus negating its qualification for entry into the Godzilla mythos.  The plot centered on an ugly, hostile, gargantuan, asexual (ersatz female), mutated reptile with bad skin and a shrill roar, who malevolently attacked a once-great civilization.  This beast will henceforth be referred to as GINO (Godzilla In Name Only).  While the parties responsible for the 1998 version failed to adequately represent Godzilla as a horrifying metaphor for nuclear Armageddon, they couldn’t have found a more appropriate horrifying metaphor for late twentieth century feminism.  If I had the tolerance, fortitude and wherewithal to suffer multiple viewings of Godzilla (1998), I could easily churn out myriad deconstructionist academic papers with titles like “GINO: The Ultimate Riot Grrrl”, “Oh No, There Goes Tokyo! You Go Girl! Godzilla”, and “Roland Emmerich’s Godzilla and Sex In The City’s Samantha: Maneaters or Role-Models for Strong Independent Womyn?”  However, I’d prefer to hit myself in the head with a goddamned tire iron.

Unlike Mothra, Rodan, and Mechagodzilla, Emmerich succeeded in absolutely destroying the legendary giant monster we all knew and loved.  When it comes to describing what Emmerich did to Godzilla movies, the terms “scorched earth” and “prison rape” immediately spring to mind.

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Fortunately, for Godzilla fans, the Japanese are a very resilient people who take pride in their traditions and know how to rebuild after catastrophic cataclysm.  Thus, Toho recovered from the very worst that the Hollywood-Industrial-Complex had to offer in terms of nuking the bejeezus out of their mightiest creation.  They climbed from the rubble, brushed the dust off their collective shoulders, and went on to produce and release the following;

If you, dear reader, are interested in learning more about any of the aforementioned Godzilla films, I very strongly recommend Cinemassacre’s movie reviews, as they combine excellent footage from the actual films with witty and insightful commentary.  James clearly knows his stuff, he is unbelievably passionate about monster movies, and he often exhibits obsessive-compulsive tendencies that make me look like an apathetic slacker in comparison.  Of course, I mean that as the highest and most sincere compliment.

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Other than UHF reruns in the 1960s and 1970s, and cable reruns 1980s, members of Generation X had other significant forms of exposure to Godzilla.  In 1976, Mattel Inc. manufactured a line of toys known as Shogun Warriors, which were based on robots made popular by Japanese anime and tokusatsu series.  Unlike the puny 3.5-inch Star Wars action figures of the late 70s, Shogun Warriors stood two feet tall, and deployed an array of spring-loaded ordnance, consisting of missiles, shuriken, battle axes and in some cases their own fists.  It’s not often that I lend such descriptors to children’s toys as “badass”, but these guys were stone cold badasses, capable of leveling an entire building-block metropolis in a matter of seconds.  In 1978, Mattel Inc. added Godzilla to the Shogun Warriors line, complete with atomic fire breath, a shooting fist, and a bulky green tail that struck fear into the hearts of lesser toys.  I started kindergarten in 1978, and I can assure you, Shogun Godzilla was a very big deal amongst elementary school aged boys.  (The Yesterville Toy Room blog has some outstanding photos of Godzilla, Mazinga, Dragun and Gaiking.)

In 1978, Hanna-Barbara and Toho co-produced a Godzilla animated series that ran for two seasons on NBC.  There couldn’t have been a more perfect way to imprint a character into the psyches of children in the late 1970s than to have made him into a Saturday morning cartoon.  To round out the 1980s, Godzilla 1985 (1985) hit the screens at multiplexes nationwide, thus further cementing his legacy in the minds of Generation X.  As the 1990s dawned, Godzilla held an unparalleled status as something simultaneously retro, nostalgic, and still active.  In conclusion, one could make a convincing argument that Godzilla was bigger than Elvis.

I will expound on this point in an upcoming post titled 007(B). All Things Godzilla

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005. Joe Bob Briggs – Joe Bob’s Drive-In Theatre

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Of all the movie hosts who have come and gone over the years, one can easily make an argument that Joe Bob Briggs was the most prolific.  As the king of all lowbrow media, John Bloom’s alter-ego authored a multitude of film reviews, newspaper columns, editorials, and books, while he starred in a one-man show, hosted horror movies on two networks, made cameos in several major motion picturesTM, founded the Drive-In Academy Awards, released his own brand of hand-picked DVDs, and was twice nominated for the Cable ACE award.  Zacherle may have been the godfather, Svengoolie may have been the most likable, and Elvria was certainly the prettiest, but no one even came close to out-working or out-thinking Joe Bob Briggs.

For those of us outside the circulation zone of The Dallas Times Herald, our first exposure to the cosmic wisdom of Joe Bob Briggs came via The Movie Channel’s Joe Bob’s Drive-In Theatre (pronounced “theeate-ur”) which ran after 10:00 p.m. on Saturday nights from 1986 to 1996.  Continuing in the 1950s tradition of midnight movies, the programming on Drive-In Theatre was entirely consistent with Joe Bob’s philosophy of what made for a great drive-in movie, namely “The Three B’s”; blood, breasts and beasts. The films shown were always of the drive-in/grindhouse/b-movie variety, running the gamut from cult horror, to the myriad exploitation sub-genres, and sex farce falling just shy of soft-core pornography.  As a premium cable network, The Movie Channel was able to furnish more current films and show them in a completely unedited format, which gave Joe Bob a leg up on his horror host competitors.  However, Drive-In Theatre also hosted some great retro fare such as;

The opening sequence to Joe Bob’s Drive-In Theatre was a flawless execution of retro-awesomosity.  It depicted a man receiving a package wrapped in brown paper, which he promptly opened revealing a Joe Bob’s Drive-in Theater kit.  Then he proceeded to assemble the kit complete with a fake dashboard, car door, window speaker, steering wheel, rows of classic automobiles, a miniature snack bar and a dusky sky outline which surrounded the TV screen.  The end result transformed the man’s living room into a perfectly replicated facsimile of a Mid-Century drive-in theatre.  This was an extremely effective introduction which perfectly set the tone in approximately 20 seconds.

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Joe Bob’s Drive-In Theatre followed the same format each week.  Perpetually clad in a cowboy hat, western shirt and bolo tie, Joe Bob stepped out of his mobile home, sat down in a lawn chair, cracked open a beer and introduced the next film while regaling the audience with his unique Texan blend of scathing wit and down home charm.  As a true raconteur, Briggs always had several hilarious anecdotes about each film, actor/actress, or director, often bordering on the unbelievable.  One of my favorites was his introduction to Carnival of Souls (1962) an offbeat zombie move that preceded Night of the Living Dead (1968) by six years.  Joe Bob simultaneously explained the entire back story of one-hit-wonder director Herk Harvey, cited the film’s influence on George A. Romero and Brian DePalma (of Carrie (1976) fame), lambasted “egghead professors” as well as The New York Times film critic Vincent Canby, and still managed to work in a shout out to the Lawrence, Kansas Convention & Visitors Bureau.  Joe Bob Intoned, thusly.

 “So for all the people who watched Carnival of Souls at the drive-ins of America and didn’t need some gooney professor to tell ‘em it was a great movie, let’s reclaim this one for the good guys.  It’s a zombie movie!  It’s not about existential angst!  It’s not a symbolic parable!  It’s a zombie movie!”

During each introductory segment, Joe Bob tallied up the Drive-In Totals which always included the number of dead bodies and breasts shown in the film.  He would call to the viewer’s attention anything particularly shocking or noteworthy such as decapitations and car chase scenes.  For example the Drive-In Totals for Frankenhooker (1990) were as follows;

  • 27 breasts
  • 14 dead bodies
  • exploding heads
  • brain in a jar
  • brain in a fish tank
  • drill-through-the-head-psychotherapy
  • head-slicing
  • girlfriend-eating lawnmower
  • bunion-filing
  • candlelight dinner with a severed head
  • spewing body parts
  • explodin’ hookers
  • cameo appearance by John Zacherele
  • excellent Morton Downey Jr. impersonation
  • heads, roll, arms roll, legs roll, everything rolls.
  • Drive-In Academy Award nomination for Patty Mullen as Frankenhooker
  • 4 stars, check it out

In my humble opinion, mankind will never create a more efficient and user-friendly system for the review of movies, drive-in or otherwise.

After the movie, Joe Bob reappeared to give the viewing audience his final thoughts on the film, reveal a few more anecdotes, and answer fan mail.  In hindsight, it was Joe Bob’s familiarity with the legends and lore surrounding each film that truly set him apart from any horror host who’s come before or since.  Briggs appeared to have a photographic memory containing an encyclopedic amount of information pertaining movies, actors, directors, producers, crew, sets and ephemera.  Keep in mind this was well before one could just look it up on the internet.  The man did his homework diligently, but I’d wager it was a labor of love.  There were always myriad stories behind the story shown on the screen, and Joe Bob did a better job of telling those than anyone.  Below is a link to a fantastic clip from 1992 where Joe Bob reunited the original cast of Night of the Living Dead (1968) and remembered details that even they seemed to have forgotten.  This goes above and beyond how ridiculously cool it was that he reunited the original cast of Night of the Living Dead!!! 

Toward the end of each show, Joe Bob read news briefs regarding actual drive-in theatres that had recently closed, or were miraculously saved from closing at the zero hour.  These were alternately framed as either a “Communist Alert” or a “Republican Alert” to equally offend the political sensibilities of his audience of sleazy cinemaphiles.  He always concluded the segment with the chilling reminder, “Without eternal vigilance, it could happen here.”  Joe Bob always rounded out the segment with a couple of jokes, often dirty ones.

For example…..

Q: Do you guys know what the Polish guy calls his zebra?
A: Spot

Q: Why did the pervert cross the road?
A: He was stuck to the chicken.

Q: Did y’all hear about the anorexic nymphomaniac?
A: she swallowed an olive and 5 guys left town.

Q: Did y’all know what 10,000 battered wives have in common?
A: They JUST! WON’T! LISTEN!

Finally, Joe Bob ended each night’s broadcast by stating, “I’m Joe Bob Briggs reminding you that the drive-in will never die.”  Thus far, he’s been proven right.  The drive-in was a quintessential part of mid-century culture, and Joe Bob fought to preserve it, for ourselves and our posterity.  Perhaps his most important contribution was that he let so many of us know that there was a whole wide world of exploitation and cult films that we’d never even heard of just waiting to be rediscovered.  And much like the super-cool big brother whom many of us never had, Joe Bob not only told us all about these films, but also made damned sure we got to see them uncut.

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Furthermore, while watching these old clips of Drive-In Theater, I laughed repeatedly at the utter lack of political correctness.  At the time, the 1990s didn’t seem terribly permissive, especially on college campuses.  But I reckon the trite platitude “you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone” is a worn out cliché for good reason.  Outside of a Comedy Central roast, I can’t imagine anyone on cable today getting away with the utterly hilarious rants Joe Bob rolled out weekly.  The following clip speaks for itself.  Enjoy.

Note to hardcore Joe Bob Briggs purists: Hold off on the hate mail.  I intend to do follow up posts on Joe Bob Briggs – Monstervision, and Joe Bob Briggs – The Written Works.

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003. Quentin Tarantino – Pulp Fiction (1994)

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During the course of this blog, I plan on covering over 100 examples of 1990s retro touchpoints.  Some of these are well known, and some are relatively obscure.  Out of all of them, none will hold a stronger claim to being the retro shot heard round the world than Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 masterpiece Pulp Fiction.  While other movies became relatively successful despite their mid-century frame, Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction literally established retro chic as the dominant paradigm for the rest of the decade.  Pulp Fiction was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and Quentin Tarantino and Roger Avary won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.  The film quickly influenced all other forms of media, and even Roger Ebert deemed it the most influential film of the decade.

If you’ve never seen Pulp Fiction, get the hell off my blog and don’t come back until you have.  OK, I’ll throw a bone to the unfamiliar.  Pulp Fiction was a crime film with a nonlinear sequence of events that incorporated the humor, graphic violence and the intriguing dialog of pulp magazines and hardboiled detective fiction that were popular in the middle of the 20th century.  Additionally, the picture was highly stylized, reminiscent of film noir, and extensively utilized homage.  This much everyone agreed upon, and little else.  The critical reaction to this film spanned the gamut from accusations of shallow nihilism, racism, homophobia, and glorified violence to claims of transcendentalism, celebrations of multiculturalism, and redemption through honor.  Despite the discordant cacophony of critical theorist circle-jerkery, one thing was certain; Pulp Fiction allowed the critics to engage in psychological projection on a grander and deeper scale than any film that came before or has come since.

I remember seeing this film at the local multiplex with a group of friends in October of 1994.  For the first twenty minutes or so, we were all confused as to whether Pulp Fiction was set in the 1950s, 1960s, early 1970s or the present.  It wasn’t until Samuel L. Jackson’s Jules character referenced A Flock of Seagulls that we concluded it was either the present, or some version of the present in an alternate universe that was much, much cooler than ours.  This is an observation I’ve heard repeatedly over the years.  If I recall correctly, many people experienced the same conundrum with Reservoir Dogs (1992) until realizing that the characters were discussing Madonna.  There were several primary reasons, all of them retro, for the seemingly ambiguous time periods in which Tarantino’s films of the 1990s took place.

One of the things to register immediately with first time viewers of Pulp Fiction is that it doesn’t look like a 1990s movie.  Even when compared to other films that came out in 1994, such as Speed, True Lies or even the “present day” shots in Forest Gump, there is something fundamentally very different about Pulp Fiction.  It all starts with the film stock.

According to Quentin Tarantino, Pulp Fiction was shot “on 50 ASA film stock, which is the slowest stock they make. The reason we use it is that it creates an almost no-grain image, it’s lustrous. It’s the closest thing we have to 50s Technicolor.”

While this point was lost amidst the all existential and sociopolitical posturing of the literati, the fact remains that the director explicitly stated that Pulp Fiction was intentionally shot to look like a film from the 1950s.

Secondly, Tarantino made good use of the many remaining buildings in Los Angeles which were designed in the architectural style of mid-century modern.  Also referred to as “Populuxe”, “Space Age”, “Coffee Shop Modern”, or “Googie”, this type of architecture brought modernism to America’s post-WWII suburbs and incorporated elements such as upswept roofs, large sheet glass windows, boomerang shapes and starbursts.  Pulp Fiction opens with Pumpkin and Honey Bunny having breakfast in a coffee shop clearly displaying the hallmarks of classic mid-century design, such as rock walls, open spaces made possible by post-and-beam construction, and of course large sheet glass windows.  The diner scenes were filmed in the now-demolished Hawthorne Grill, which was originally built in 1956.  Unless one lived in the Los Angeles metropolitan area, it was rare to see still-functional examples of mid-century modern architecture by the1990s, outside of the occasional church or stray ranch house.  Moreover, to those of us from the heartland/flyover, these buildings were what the 1950s looked like.

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The majority of story line deals with Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta’s characters, Jules Winnfield and Vincent Vega.  From the moment we were introduced to the two of them driving around while discussing the names of various hamburgers in Europe, they looked strangely anachronistic.  Sure, Vincent Vega had a very 90s haircut.  Lots of guys had long hair in the mid-1990s, but it HAD to be all one length as alternative culture had declared all-out war against the mullet and other forces of darkness.  Jules’ Jheri-curled ‘fro and mustache combo, on the other hand, was straight out of the late 1970s.  This brings us to Jules and Vincent’s iconic black and white suits, reminiscent of the Rat Pack or a tuxedo-clad James Bond.  Nobody dressed like that in 1994.  While their suits were well-tailored, the style at the time was derived from baggy Italian designs.  Additionally, men’s suits were often very colorful in the early 1990s, with harvest orange, avocado green and Joker purple readily available off the rack.  Even dress shirts seemed to come in myriad multicolored paisley prints.  (Watch an old episode of Beverly Hills 90210, Married With Children, or Martin for context.)  Not being one to pull punches whilst beating a dead horse, I’ll continue to belabor the point.  The early to middle 1990s were the golden age of well-made wacky ties.  If I recall correctly, by 1995 I’d effortlessly acquired several expensive-looking silk Spider-Man ties, but I had to go to several stores before I could find a plain black tie.  Regardless, Tarantino stated that the black and white suits were homage to French film-noir director Jean-Pierre Melville.  Uma Thurman’s Mia Wallace character was the perfect feminine reflection of Jules and Vincent with her throwback white blouse and black Cleopatra haircut.  So much of Pulp Fiction could have been filmed in black and white without losing a shred of ambience.  Whether this was intentional or not, it adds to the retro feel of the film.

Next, we have the Pulp Fiction soundtrack, which was so influential in and of itself, that I debated covering it in an entirely separate post.  Soundtracks were a very big deal in the 1990s, as they filled the pop-cultural void between K-Tel and Now That’s What I Call Music!  Most of these featured currently popular songs from currently popular artists such as the soundtracks for Singles (1992), The Bodyguard (1992), and even So I Married an Axe Murderer (1993).  Others were more conceptual featuring popular artists of one genre covering formerly popular artists of another genre such as The Crow (1994) soundtrack which hit number one on the Billboard charts, or the Judgment Night (1993) soundtrack which forced collaboration between alternative/grunge/metal artists and rappers, often with striking results.  The Pulp Fiction soundtrack, however, was a retro smorgasbord of American surf music, soul and pop, which ended up going double platinum.  The music was very carefully selected, and each track fit the mood of each scene perfectly.  There was only one song by a new band, power-pop/alt-rockers Urge Overkill covering Neil Diamond’s 1967 hit “Girl, You’ll be a Woman Soon”.  For those of you keeping score at home, that still counts as retro.  Upon further reflection, the official soundtrack lists “If Love is a Red Dress (Hang Me in Rags)” by alt-country singer Mia McKee, but I’ll be damned if I can remember the song appearing in the movie.

From a pop-cultural standpoint in 1994, instrumental music had been dead and gone for decades.  Even for those with some conceptual knowledge of surf music, it was mostly limited to highly vocal bands like The Beach Boys or Jan and Dean.  It is impossible to overstate the impact that Dick Dale’s “Misirlou”, played during the opening credits, had on audience members too young to remember instrumental surf rock, yet old enough to appreciate the shock and awe of his loud, fast, intense and technically proficient style.  It often started with amazement, “This is incredible?”  Followed by curiosity, “Who is this?  I have to find this song!”  Eventually, one felt cheated, “Why have I never heard this before?  Why the hell doesn’t the local oldies station play songs like this?!?”  The exact same reaction happened all over again approximately thirty minutes later when the strains of Link Wray & The Wraymen’s “Rumble” and “Ace of Spades” would set the mood for Vincent Vega and Mia Wallace’s dinner at Jack Rabbit Slim’s.  Needless to say, both Dale and Wray experienced a huge resurgence in their careers and record sales as a direct result of Pulp Fiction.

In addition to Dick Dale and His Del-Tones, Tarantino introduced an entire generation to;

Furthermore, everyone was familiar with Chuck Berry, Kool & the Gang, Al Green and Dusty Springfield, but only from the same one or two hits that had long since grown stale.  Upon hearing this “new” material, it was as if Tarantino reached out from the screen, slapped the audience across the face and said, “Forget that Celebration and Johnny B. Goode shit!  These guys have HUGE catalogs of fabulous material, and you HAVE to hear them.”  The preceding sentence is much funnier if read with Tarantino’s trademark rapid, high-pitched, slightly lisping voice in mind.

Perhaps the most interesting legacy of the Pulp Fiction soundtrack was the effect it had on local music scenes nationwide.  Back in the 1980s, I remember hearing a music industry insider of some sort discuss The Ramones.  He said that in cities where no Punk Rock or New Wave scene existed, one would suddenly emerge overnight once The Ramones played a show in that town.  The same can be said of surf and rockabilly scenes immediately after Pulp Fiction was released.  (Note: I plan on dedicating many future posts to the 1990s surf music revival, the bands and labels involved.)

And finally we come to the retro pièce de résistance of Pulp Fiction; Jack Rabbit Slim’s.  This is quite simply the most perfect expression of all retro desires ever committed to film, from the Ed Sullivan impersonating maître d’ and the 1950s celebrity wait staff, to the vintage movie posters adorning the walls over the classic automobile tables.  You just felt it from the second Vincent and Mia pulled up in a convertible 1964 Chevy Malibu to the moment the scene faded during the twist contest.  Vincent Vega said it was “a wax museum with a pulse”, but I say this was retro-Valhalla.

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If Tarantino toyed with the aforementioned retro themes in the rest of the film, at Jack Rabbit Slim’s, he pretty much beat the audience over the head with them.  Mid-century modern architecture, early 1960s attire, hotrods, rockabilly music, and antiquated dance moves were to be had in spades.  Although not without humor, the sequence was entirely devoid of snark, sarcasm and detached irony, which allowed the audience to enjoy the date and the environment just as much as Vincent and Mia.  Tarantino was clearly an enthusiast, rather than a satirist, as the Jack Rabbit Slim’s sequence played out like an unapologetic celebration of the apex of American civilization.  If such a place actually existed, I and many like-minded individuals surely would have eaten breakfast, lunch and dinner there daily.

The Future Ain’t What it Used to Be

A common complaint or observation from critics was that Pulp Fiction was apolitical, but if one spent enough time contemplating the film, that assertion seemed lazy.  While not an overt political statement, there was definitely something different about Quentin Tarantino’s America.  Oddly enough, the only person to even acknowledge this was feminist cultural critic Estella Tincknell.  (Emphasis mine)

She contrasts the soundtrack with that of Forrest Gump, the highest-grossing film of 1994, which also relies on period pop recordings: “The version of ‘the sixties’ offered by Pulp Fiction…is certainly not that of the publicly recognized counter-culture featured in Forrest Gump, but is, rather, a more genuinely marginal form of sub-culture based around a lifestyle—surfing, ‘hanging’—that is resolutely apolitical.”

If I find myself in agreement with a feminist cultural critic about anything, then it must be true.  Regardless, while Pulp Fiction incorporated many cultural elements of the recent past, the film did not acknowledge the dominant counter-cultural paradigms of the late 1960s.  In Tarantino’s alternate universe, the hippies, feminists and pinkos implicitly lost the culture war, and failed to complete their long march through the institutions, which resulted in a much cooler present.  The important point to keep in mind is that every single character in Pulp Fiction is either a career criminal or an enabler.  It made one wonder, if these intelligent, interesting, strong men with their archaic, yet rugged codes of honor are the scum of the earth, what must the good men be like?  If in this world, Vincent, Jules, Butch and Marcellus are the losers, how magnificent must the winners be, ergo those with the will to power who are responsible for maintaining our advanced civilization?  Would such men have allowed political correctness to apply a terminal stranglehold to intellectual discourse?  Would such men tolerate a system where the likes of James Watson, Larry Summers and Jason Richwine lose their jobs for noticing repeating patterns?  Would such men have acquiesced to subsidizing a massive welfare state when we could be planting our flag on Mars?  Would such men be so submissively eager to legalize roughly twelve million third world illegal aliens because their enemies called them names?  If such men ran the media, would they think the single most important issue of our day is endorsing state-sanctioned same-sex marriage?  The answer to each of these questions is a resounding hell no.

One of the most appealing things about retro media is the ability to tap into the more optimistic and hopeful zeitgeist of a superior culture.  The future envisioned through The Jetsons (1962) was a lot more pleasant than the future envisioned so horrifically and realistically through Idiocracy (2006).  Much like that feeling of being cheated by withheld Dick Dale songs, many of us have a much more intense feeling of being cheated out of a shining future filled with jetpacks and space travel for a dystopian implosion filled with the many-splintered ticking time bombs of fiat currency, crushing debt and unsustainable equalitarian pipedreams.  It’s enough to make a righteous man want to strike down upon the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men with great vengeance and furious anger.  Or at least pour another drink.

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