Category Archives: Saturday Night

Saturday Night Documentary: “Dirty Oil”

A 2009 documentary about the deadly toxicity of Alberta’s tar sands. This remains true despite the crooning lullaby of TV ads from a tar sands advocacy group that is beginning to slither into view.

This is how you monitor significant changes in Harperworld: by the commercials it circulates among what it hopes is a drowsy-and-ready-to-sleep population.

Saturday Night Video: The Jacksons

“ABC” on American Bandstand

Michael Jackson died two years ago today.

His solo work is so saturated into the culture that there’s little point in representing it here. However, the work with The Jackson 5, even though it’s enjoyed classic status for decades, can still startle with its freshness. If this isn’t Motown at its best, it’s close. I don’t know if it’s possible to hear “ABC” and not feel joy — it’s involuntary, like a heart beat. If you’ve seen how the song is featured in Kevin Smith’s Clerks 2 — here you know just how exuberantly that joy can be rendered. (Thanks also to Rosario Dawson who reminds us what it’s like to fall in love during the course of a single song.)

More after the jump.

Continue reading

Saturday Night at the Movies: “The Bed-Sitting Room”


The Bed-Sitting Room is one of those oddball comedies from the 1960s that seemed to be possible thanks to a generalized countercultural outlook informed by some combination of drugs, free love, rock ‘n’ roll and fear of nuclear holocaust, the latter being the especially active ingredient in this post-apocalyptic black comedy. Movies were made at that time for relatively little money and only required a modest return (this was the days before the blockbuster and the franchise set the standard for profits), and mainstream audiences were perhaps a little more adventurous than they are now. There was also a remarkable lineup of writers, performers and directors who were willing to produce these labor-of-love films. In this case, the director is Richard Lester, who directed the Beatles movies, and the performers make up a high-end ensemble of character actors that it is difficult to imagine putting together now.

Here is the cast as they appear in the credits, in order of height:

Continue reading

Movie as Doggerel: “Plan 9 From Outer Space”


The entire glorious thing is available at the single link above

We’re following the science fiction thread begun with Solaris and followed by Fahrenheit 451 the week after that, but with a twist: Edward D. Wood’s Plan 9 from Outer Space.

Frye in “Rhetorical Criticism: Theory of Genres,” Anatomy:

The characteristics of babble are again present in doggerel, which is also a creative process left unfinished through lack of skill or patience. . . . Doggerel is not necessarily stupid poetry; it is poetry that begins in the conscious mind and has never gone through the associative process.  It has a prose initiative, but tries to make itself associative by an act of will, and it reveals the same difficulties that great poetry has overcome at a subconscious level.  We can see in doggerel how words are dragged in because they rhyme or scan, how ideas are dragged in because the are suggested by a rhyme-word, and so on. (CW 22, 259)

From this description we can see that any verbal structure might be generically considered doggerel if it lacks skill and patience, is not associative, is self-consciously rather than subconsciously processed, and generally betrays itself as the undressed word salad it invariably turns out to be.

Plan 9 from Outer Space is known as “the worst movie ever made” — so bad that you can’t look away; so bad that its unintentional hilarity provides zen instruction to anyone who thinks funniness is a specialized form of spontaneous combustion. If you haven’t seen it, please do.  It rewards in ways that are unique to it.  If you can’t bear to watch all of it, then at least take in the brief “Criswell Predicts” sequence that opens the movie — which will likely make you want to get to Criswell’s closing remarks at the end, and, just like that, you’ll have watched it right through.

The entire thing, every miscast word of it, is pure doggerel: the tautologies and non-sequiturs, the Dadaist moments of found comedy, the jack-knifing problems with continuity, and the absurd randomness of the elements of “terror” promiscuously thrown into the mix with winning confidence. (“Ah, yes, Plan 9: The resurrection of the dead.”)

Here’s a sample from Criswell’s opening remarks:

Greetings, my friends, we are all interested in the future because that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives. And remember, my friends, future events, such as these, will affect you in the future.

That’s got to leave you hungry for more because only people who can’t make ’em can make ’em like this.

Saturday Night Documentary: “Looking for Richard”


To celebrate Shakespeare’s 447th birthday, here’s Al Pacino’s excellent film about putting together a production of Richard III, Looking for Richard. Treat yourself: watch this. It’s very lively, and the performances are wonderful. As a bonus, there are French subtitles.

Continue reading

Frye at the Movies: “Fahrenheit 451”


We know that Frye read Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, met him and then corresponded with him at least once (see “A Little Chrestomathy of Frye on Sci-Fi” in the Denham Library).  We don’t know that he saw the film adaptation of Bradbury’s novel, but it does seem to be the sort of thing he might take the time to see. Despite the very limited special effects available at the time, it is an elegant little mainstream movie that we knew how to make in the 1960s, and then evidently forgot. It was directed by Francois Truffaut in his only English language film. Truffaut with minimal fuss creates a dystopian world characterized by compact but comfy suburban homes equipped with bigscreen TVs that provide unending interactive entertainment to fill otherwise empty lives; all of which rings true, as does his depiction of a familiar in-denial conformity that quickly morphs into furtive but willing collaboration.

The mass-produced codex we call the book has served us very well over the last five hundred years. This makes Truffaut’s rendering of the incineration of thousands of books a terrifying sight it is difficult to forget, especially one extended sequence in which we watch in close up the covers of familiar books peeled away by the flames. It’s like helplessly witnessing a mass slaughter, reminding us that books are to be loved and cherished, if only because they have, in some form or other, proven to be the surest way the dead communicate with the living, and the living with the unborn.

The film has an excellent cast. Julie Christie plays both of the women in the protagonist Montag’s life: his fully co-opted and prescription drug-addicted wife, as well as the tenacious school teacher who guides him to freedom. The end of the film is subdued and modest but very moving. It remains one of the most vivid movie experiences of my childhood: people quietly becoming the books they love.

The rest of the movie is after the jump.  It is in English with non-intrusive Chinese subtitles — which by itself suggests that dystopias like the one depicted here may remain probable, but they aren’t inevitable.

(The movie, unfortunately, is not embedded: click on the image above and hit the YouTube link.)

Continue reading