Monthly Archives: July 2012

Name That Theme Song – the kiddies edition

Here’s a special kiddies edition of the Theme Song Quiz – featuring 10 title tracks from cartoons and kids shows. With one or two long-running exceptions, these shows were wildly popular back in the day (along with LPs, cassettes and other analogue gadgets that are all but unknown to anyone born after 1985). So enjoy the blast back into your halcyon past and please let me know what you think…

TV Theme Song Quiz – the kiddies edition

For the answers, click here.

If you want to try your hand at the other editions, just click on the Quiz tab in the menu above.

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Pop Pilgrims visit the real-life locations behind famous movie scenes

One of my favourite features on the excellent AV Club website is the Pop Pilgrims series – a fascinating look at real-life locations that were featured in memorable movies scenes. From the Texas Chainsaw Massacre house, to the Exorcist steps, to the Night of the Living Dead cemetery – the Pop Pilgrims team travels around the states to check out these immortal sites and see how they look in the banal, quotidian light of the 21st century.

Each short episode also features interviews with people involved in the film and/or pedantic pop culture geeks who break down the location for your viewing pleasure. It’s a brilliant concept and highly recommended for all those nostalgic movie buffs out there (you know who you are).

So, for your viewing pleasure, I’ve embedded a selection of the best episodes below – just click and enjoy!

Visiting the Night Of The Living Dead cemetery

Austin: The Texas Chain Saw… family restaurant?

DC: The Exorcist stairs

Seattle: The diner from Twin Peaks, Twede’s Cafe

Los Angeles: The Graduate church

Die Hard‘s Nakatomi Plaza

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Peter O’Toole – always the bridesmaid…

From Wikipedia

Peter O’Toole as Lawrence of Arabia

The great actor, Peter O’Toole has announced his retirement from acting. Now aged 80, this idiosyncratic thespian said it was time to ‘chuck in the sponge’ and that he bids the profession ‘a dry-eyed and profoundly grateful farewell’.

It’s a great loss because he was truly one of a kind; a powerful presence wrapped in a fragile beauty that captivated both stage and screen. In his youth, the Irish-born O’Toole was known as a hell-raising, hard-drinking iconoclast who played by his own rules. And even in his dotage, he projected a devil-may-care insouciance that was irresistible. He was always one of my favourites.

The real tragedy of this news, however, is that it means the towering O’Toole will never win his Oscar. True, he’s won BAFTAs, Golden Globes and an Emmy – and he even won an honorary Academy Award for his body of work (a poor consolation, somewhat akin to getting the Miss Personality prize at a beauty pageant). But he’s never won a proper acting Oscar, despite being nominated a record 8 times.

His last nomination was for Venus, in 2006, and I clearly remember his face when they announced Forest Whitaker as the winner for ‘The Last King of Scotland’. It was a brittle mask of civility that barely concealed an ocean of disappointment, frustration and resignation. I was gutted on his behalf.

And it is somewhat incomprehensible that this towering figure has never received the Oscar. From his breakthrough role as Lawrence of Arabia in David Lean’s masterpiece, to his show-stopping performance as Henry II in ‘The Lion in Winter’, to ‘The Ruling Class’, to ‘The Stunt Man’, to the ‘The Last Emperor’, to ‘My Favourite Year’, to ‘King Ralph’ – Peter O’Toole always transcended the material (whether good, bad or indifferent) to deliver an engaging performance every time.

Yet the old pro could never crack the Oscars and ruefully accepted his fate to be ever the bridesmaid, never the bride (hence his ‘dry-eyed’ comment above, IMHO).

Then again, why am I surprised at the 50 years of Academy snubbery? The Oscars are, after all, a pretty unreliable indicator of quality – especially in the glaring light of hindsight. Alfred Hitchcock never won an Academy Award from his 5 nominations. Charlie Chaplin never won an Oscar (with only one real nomination). Stanley Kubrick (4 nominations), Robert Altman (5 nominations), Cecil B. DeMille (1 nomination), Orson Welles (1 nomination), Sam Peckinpah (no nominations) – none of these historically important directors ever got their hands on the golden statuette (apart from a couple who received an honorary ‘Miss Personality’ award, which don’t count).

The record’s no better when it comes to actors. Richard Burton (7 noms), Cary Grant (2 noms), Glenn Close (6 noms), Kirk Douglas (3 noms), Albert Finney (5 noms), Greta Garbo (4 noms), Deborah Kerr (6 noms), Peter Sellers (2 noms), Errol Flynn, Edward G. Robinson, Donald Sutherland, Fred Astaire and dozens of other significant figures never got the nod from the voters in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. And yet Hilary Swank’s won two! It’s enough to make you choke on your popcorn.

And don’t even get me started on the winners for Best Picture…

So, with such a spotty track record, why are the Oscars still considered the gold standard for film excellence? Truthfully, I don’t know. Maybe it’s because AMPAS has the most recognisable statuette, with the best nickname. Or maybe it’s the expensive awards show. Or maybe their press agents are just really good. Or maybe it’s just a matter of heritage – the one thing in Hollywood that can’t be bought.

What I can tell you is that the membership of AMPAS (i.e. the people who vote) is neither diverse nor adventurous. Although the exact details are shrouded in secrecy, the LA Times has done some digging and come up with the following stats about the people who ultimately decide to whom the Oscar goes. And it’s no shock to discover that it all comes down to old, rich, white men.

In fact, out of the roughly 6000 members of AMPAS (lifetime membership by invitation only, BTW) 94% are white, 77% are male and 64% have never even received so much as an Oscar nomination – in fact only 50% have appeared onscreen in the last two years, and ‘hundreds’ haven’t worked on a film in decades. Furthermore, the average age of the Oscar voter is 62, with people under 50 comprising just 14% of the organisation.

Not that any of this matters, in the greater scheme of things. The Oscars will continue to peddle its particular blend of hype and hyperbole, and Peter O’Toole will go down in history as one of the greats – with or without an Academy Award on the mantle. I can only wish him a pleasant retirement and hope that he may still be coaxed out for the occasional role (he’d make a killer King Lear).

In conclusion, allow me to quote one of the most chilling and revealing discussions about war I’ve ever heard, from Lawrence of Arabia – delivered to perfection by the peerless Peter:

I killed two people. One was… yesterday? He was just a boy and I led him into quicksand. The other was… well, before Aqaba. I had to execute him with my pistol, and there was something about it that I didn’t like.

General Allenby:
That’s to be expected.

No, something else.

General Allenby:
Well, then let it be a lesson.

No… something else.

General Allenby:
What then?

I enjoyed it.


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Name That Theme Song – the 16mm edition

OK, so this is how old I am… I remember the days before television. That’s right. When I was born, there was no TV. But I’m not yet 40 (almost, but not yet, dammit) so how is this possible? Well, it’s all because I was lucky enough to be born a South African.

You see, under the benighted apartheid regime, those lovable Nationalists believed that television was the ‘devil’s own box’; a means for ‘disseminating communism and immorality’ – like so many baked beans spewing out over Ann-Margaret in ‘Tommy’. Thus, they banned the medium entirely; refusing this filthy tool of dissolution access to our nice, clean, white homes. Bless ’em.

We even missed the moon landing (which was probably seen as a  blasphemy anyway). But despite being dismissed as a backward pariah nation by the rest of the world – for a whole bunch of reasons – the government held fast. According to Wikipedia, Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd compared television with atom bombs and poison gas, claiming that ‘they are modern things, but that does not mean they are desirable. The government has to watch for any dangers to the people, both spiritual and physical.’ What a mensch!

Even worse, Dr Albert Hertzog, Minister for Posts and Telegraphs, said that TV would come to South Africa ‘over [his] dead body,’ denouncing it as ‘a miniature bioscope over which parents would have no control.’ But his biggest fear was that, with the advent of television, ‘South Africa would have to import films showing race mixing; and advertising would make [non-white] Africans dissatisfied with their lot.’ Ah, the good old days!

But for all the King Canutes trying to order back the tide, the power of television cannot be stopped and finally, in 1976, the verkramptes relented. The first television station was duly launched by the government-run South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) and we have been playing catch up ever since.

So, what did we do for fun before the Devil’s Box came to town? Well, we just sat down in the lounge, put up a screen and consumed our media from the teat of a large, noisy 16mm projector. It was a fantastic ritual: first, we’d rent movies and episodes of dated American TV shows from the local film exchange. Then, we’d thread the supple celluloid through the projector’s marvelous concantenation of cogs and wheels. Finally, we’d flip the switch and feel the heat of the lamp as the header counted us down.

I can still remember watching, enthralled, as the reel spooled out at 24 frames per second – struggling to hear the dialogue over the sprokety rat-a-tat of the projector. Then, the screen would go white and you heard the slap-slap-slap of the film strip hitting the back of the projector. That was your cue to jump up and change the reel. It was an exhilaratingly mechanical process. And it’s the way I fell in love with movies.

To honour those long lost days of my youth, I have put together another Theme Song Quiz featuring TV shows that I first watched on 16mm. Some of them are pretty old, so you’ll have to put on your granny pants – but see how many you can get. And if you have no idea what 16mm is, forget about it!

TV Theme Songs 4

For the answers, click here


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