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Andy’s Gang, or Saturday Morning of the Living Dead

Friday, August 16th, 2013

I have a new article in Film International on the utterly bizarre 1950s children’s television show Andy’s Gang.

As I write, in part, “let us now consider Andy’s Gang, a horrific children’s television show from the 1950s. For those who live outside the United States, and didn’t grow up during the Cold War, this series may be absolutely unknown, and if this is the case, you can be thankful. For Andy’s Gang is the most twisted, most willfully odd and perverse television show imaginable, no matter what age group it’s aimed at. As one viewer put it, ‘the show reminds me of something David Lynch would come up with,’ but actually, that’s selling the show short. This one is truly off the charts, existing in a hermetically sealed land all its own, a phantom zone of non-performance and non-participation which is staggering in its dimensions and implications.

That’s quite a claim, but if I had to compare Andy’s Gang to anything else that comes under the heading of a moving image construct, I’d be almost instantly reaching for the horror films Castle of the Living Dead (1964), The Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism (1967), or Dr. Tarr’s Torture Dungeon (1973, a.k.a. The Mansion of Madness). For here is a television show, ostensibly aimed at children, in which the host never met – not even once – any of the members of his supposed audience, or was even in the same room with them, or even the same year – and which is comprised of such serial repetition of actual footage, as well as ceaselessly repeating its own internal structure, that it almost defies description. Indeed, as I’ll show later, there are virtually web support groups for aging baby boomers who seem to have been traumatized by the show as children, more than 53 years after the final episode of the series aired.

Saturday morning television in the United States in the 1950s belonged exclusively to children; this was a holdover from the tradition of Saturday morning shows in movie theaters in the 1920s through the early 1950s, when boys and girls would rush down to the local theater to see a double bill of two genre films, usually a western and/or a science-fiction or horror film, plus some cartoons, a chapter of a serial or ‘cliffhanger,’ some trailers, travelogues, shorts, and other assorted screen fare. When television took hold in the mid 1950s, it spelled the death of these morning screenings – serials, for example, ceased production entirely in 1956 as a direct result of competition from television – and television did its best to slavishly copy the model the movie theaters had followed so successfully.

So, on Saturday morning network television, you could forget about anything aimed at an adult audience; instead, one got a nonstop diet of such series as Kukla, Fran And Ollie, Howdy Doody, Flash Gordon, Lassie, Annie Oakley, Ding Dong School, The Paul Winchell Show, The Roy Rogers Show, Captain Z-RO, The Rootie Kazootie Club, Winky Dink And You, Super Circus, The Cisco Kid, Sky King, Captain Midnight, Rocky Jones, Space Ranger, The Pinky Lee Show, Sheena, Queen Of The Jungle and many more.

Each of these shows had their own peculiarities; Howdy Doody was a live puppet show, with a real live ‘Peanut Gallery’ where kids would scream and holler as the show progressed – in short, genuine audience interaction; Flash Gordon, starring Steve Holland, was filmed in West Berlin in converted beer halls on a miniscule budget; Winky Dink and You encouraged kids to actually draw on the picture tubes of their television sets with crayons to trace this week’s mystery clue – one was supposed to place a special “magic screen,” actually thin plastic film, over the screen before marking it up, but many kids, enthralled by the suspense, simply forgot this part of the process – and so on.

But Andy’s Gang was a breed apart. One thing above all set it apart from its competitors; all of the shows listed above were fiction, and presented themselves as fiction, and the audience – except perhaps for the very young viewers – recognized this. But Andy’s Gang was fiction masquerading as reality. None of it was real; the whole series was a fictive construct. But it didn’t start out that way; it took the death of the original host, and a canny television producer/director possessed of a peculiar vision to make this particular Twilight Zone of fantasy/reality.”

You can read rest of the article by clicking here, or on the image above; an amazing cultural Cold War artifact.

Breaking Bad Begins Final Lap

Monday, August 12th, 2013

“If that’s true, if you don’t know who I am, then maybe your best course would be to tread lightly.”

Never a fan of Breaking Bad, while at the same not a detractor — just disinterested — I accidentally fell into the first of the final eight episodes on AMC last night. While I don’t care about any of the characters, or their fictitious plights, and though the whole episode was laden with cliché after cliché, such as the montage sequence with Tommy James and The Shondell’s Crystal Blue Persuasion playing over a series of images of drug dealing – yawn – and Jesse’s pitching the ill-gotten gains of their criminal enterprise out the window struck me as as similarly obvious – and while for most of the episode I could actually predict what the next line of dialogue would be with almost unerring accuracy (which isn’t that hard), this last scene, easily the best part of the episode, shows two excellent actors at the top of their game, with lead actor Bryan Cranston also directing the episode.

AMC obviously thinks so, too, or otherwise they wouldn’t have singled it out as a special feature on their website. There are seven more episodes to go; I don’t feel I have missed anything by skipping the previous five (is it five?) seasons, and have no urge to view them now, but I feel I can now watch the conclusion of Breaking Bad with a modicum of interest – while having absolutely no interest in the series that hopes to replace it, Low Winter Sun – or is that Low Winter Ratings. But this scene really works; check it out by clicking on the image above; there’s an advertisement before it, but of course, I can’t help that. And of course, that last line – quoted right under the frame grab – is a killer, and Cranston delivers it with absolute perfection.

Gwendolyn Audrey Foster on Betty White

Tuesday, August 6th, 2013

Click here, or on the image above, to read Gwendolyn Audrey Foster’s new essay “Life with Betty White: Performing the Authentic Proto-Feminist in Pioneering Early Television” in the latest issue of Film International.

As Foster notes, “Betty White has always been ahead of her time. This has been both a blessing and a curse. Most people, even scholars who specialize in television history, have little to no knowledge of the importance of Betty White in early live television, in the invention of the television sitcom, and as a pioneering television writer, producer, and actor. At 91, Betty White couldn’t be much hotter. As of February 20, 2013, her television “Q” score – her “likability quotient” – was the highest in the industry. Her popularity amongst all different markets, regardless of age, race, and demographics, is truly staggering, giving the Kardashians a run for their money.

White currently appears in two first-run TV programs, the network series Betty White’s Off Their Rockers, which she also co-produces, and Nick at Nite’s Hot in Cleveland, a show worth watching primarily to catch White stealing scene after scene and to watch her inventively breathe life into a character (Elka Ostrovsky) who is a strong, smart, unapologetically sexy elderly woman like none other. White won a Screen Actors Guild Award for her portrayal of Elka (Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor) in 2011. And she is considered to be the most popular and most trusted celebrity among Americans according to a 2011 poll conducted by Reuters.

But being ahead of her time has not always best served the interests of Betty White. Back in the nineteen-fifties, both playing and living the life of an independent and very capable funny and pretty woman in charge of her own sexuality, Betty was arguably too far ahead of her time, and she was eclipsed by the dim-witted, clowning, simple-minded character portrayed by Lucille Ball on I Love Lucy. It’s fascinating to compare the trajectories of Betty White and Lucille Ball in early TV history, and even more interesting to think about how female gender roles on television may have had an entirely different influence on American women had Betty White’s Life with Elizabeth (1952-1955) and Date with the Angels (1957-1958) stayed on the air and enjoyed the success and seemingly endless syndication of I Love Lucy. Lucy was still in reruns when I was growing up in the 1970s and 80s and even now enjoys legendary popularity, despite its retrograde and sadly influential characterization of the female comic as sexless, clownish, childish, stupid and ever dependent on men, most significantly her husband ‘Ricky.’

Few note that well before Betty had success with Life with Elizabeth she had actually begun her TV career as early as 1939, when, only three months after graduating high school, Betty appeared on an early experimental Los Angeles TV station, singing songs from The Merry Widow. She did modelling, and during the war she served in the American Women’s Voluntary Services. She was very active in radio, in programs such as Blondie, The Great Gildersleeve, and This is Your FBI. She even had her own radio show, The Betty White Show. Even before White developed Life with Elizabeth, she rose to prominence as a beautiful, confident, intelligent, quick-witted comedic actress and eventual writer/producer known for her writing skills, her business acumen, her comic timing and her ability to ad-lib and write for television.

After an early career in radio and modelling, White was one of the first recognized early TV stars. White starred in the live five and one half hour ad-libbed variety show, Hollywood on Television, which was shown six days a week on station KLAC in Los Angeles from 1952 to 1956. This grueling trial by fire afforded White a platform to hone her skills as a writer and actress noted for both her audacity and her authenticity, the same elements she is celebrated for today. Hollywood on Television taught White to think on her feet, and connect with her viewers, most of whom were women working at home. They identified with White’s independence and resourcefulness. They enjoyed her intellect, her delicious sense of humor, and her ability to create a woman of both intellect and sensuality, especially in the repressive environment of the nineteen-fifties.

Betty had a mind for business, and in 1952, the same year she began solo hosting Hollywood on Television, she co-founded Bandy Productions with producer Don Fedderson and writer George Tibbles. The three of them created the comedy Life with Elizabeth. Betty was not only the star of the show but one of the producers. Life with Elizabeth enjoyed national syndication, and White was one of the only women in TV at that time with full creative control both in front of and behind the camera. In 2010, White won a Screen Actors Guild award for Lifetime Achievement, in recognition not just for her work on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Golden Girls, but also for her early pioneering work on Life with Elizabeth and [her other pioneering television series, discussed at length in the Foster's article] Date with the Angels. It’s truly a shame that most people are not as familiar with Life with Elizabeth or Date with the Angels, because in these very unusual programs, Betty White created and performed a very modern version of what I’d call a proto-feminist visionary in the 1950s.”

This is fascinating, deeply incisive work, with excellent research and detail. Read all about it here!

Bomb Girls Cancelled

Thursday, May 30th, 2013

Bomb Girls profiled the stories of four women working in a Canadian munitions factory during World War II, beginning in 1941.

Bomb Girls was an ambitious Canadian television series shot on a break neck schedule and minimal budget in Toronto with a converted furniture factory in Etobicoke standing for the fictitious Victory Munitions Factory, which dealt realistically and sympathetically with the vicissitudes of life in wartime Canada, as women struggled to contribute to the war effort, and also to gain equal rights, as well as equal pay for their efforts. The series ran for two seasons.

As the series’ production website notes, “Bomb Girls tells the remarkable stories of the women who risked their lives in a munitions factory building bombs for the Allied forces fighting on the European front. The series delves into the lives of these exceptional women from all walks of life – peers, friends and rivals – who find themselves thrust into new worlds and changed profoundly as they are liberated from their home and social restrictions.”

Season 1 was filmed from September 12 to November 16, 2011, a very tight production schedule from any point of view; Season 2 was shot with equal speed and efficiency. With standout performances from Meg Tilly, Jodi Balfour, Charlotte Hegele, Ali Liebert, Anastasia Phillips, Antonio Cupo, Sebastian Pigott, Peter Outerbridge and others, the show was a refreshing change from the endless series of cop shows, detective procedurals, dreary reality series and serial killer dramas — the same thing year after year.

Bomb Girls was something fresh and original, and you could see that everyone in the series was working as hard as they could to get the most out of every production dollar. In addition, several excellent directors were attached to series, including Anne Wheeler, whose film Bye Bye Blues (1989) was an equally interesting and compelling World War II drama told from a feminist perspective.

However, despite critical acclaim and a growing fan base on April 22, 2013 Global TV and Shaw Media announced that Bomb Girls would not return for a third season. They did however suggest that a two hour TV movie serving as a series finale could air sometime in early 2014. Disappointed viewers have launched a campaign via savebombgirls.com in an effort to get this decision reversed.

As Kate Taylor wrote in The Globe and Mail, “when it launched as a six-part miniseries on Global in January, 2012, Bomb Girls got mixed reviews, but it quickly caught the attention of viewers and critics for its content. Depicting the lives of female munitions workers played by Meg Tilly and a group of younger actors, it has covered such issues as sexual harassment, infidelity, abortion and lesbianism.

This year, Bomb Girls won the best-drama category at the Gracie Awards, the prizes for women’s television in the U.S., where the show runs on the digital cable channel Reelz. It also airs on more than 40 countries in Latin America and Europe. At home, industry insiders gave points to Global, a network with a feeble track record of producing successful Canadian content, for illuminating an unusual chapter in Canadian history.

In part, the show owes its success to the way it fits into two increasingly popular genres: the period drama, represented by Mad Men and Downton Abbey; and female-centric shows such as Girls. Its social-media presence reveals a strong following among young women charmed and intrigued by the story of how their grandmothers fought to get jobs and respect. Initial ratings in Canada were very strong for a Canadian series: The first episodes drew well over a million viewers to Global.

The second season, which concludes Monday, also started well: 1.1 million watched the premiere. Bomb Girls’ producers add that the show reached another 200,000 to 300,000 viewers who recorded it to watch later. Ratings remained in the 800,000-to-900,000 range, they said, until the show got bumped off the schedule in February. ‘We lost 25 per cent of our audience between February and March,’ says executive producer Michael Prupas. Even in the 600,000-to-700,000, range, the show would be competitive with many dramas in CBC’s predominantly Canadian lineup.

Getting the right spot on a crowded schedule is a tricky proposition for any show in any market, but Canadian series are at a significant disadvantage. The reason: Canadian broadcasters maximize ad revenues by accommodating popular U.S. programming first. (Under Canadian regulations, a broadcaster can require the cable and satellite operators to drop Canadian ads into a competing U.S. signal when the broadcaster airs a show at exactly the same time as the U.S. network.)

Simulcasting means that commercial Canadian TV schedules are largely determined in Los Angeles, and Bomb Girls was the unusual Canadian show that won a weeknight, wintertime spot. Global airs its other prime-time Canadian drama, the cop show Rookie Blue, in the summer, when U.S. dramas are on hiatus.

Ironically, when Bomb Girls returned to a new Monday-night spot in late March it was up against not only the U.S. shows The Following and Two Broke Girls but also the CBC’s Murdoch Mysteries. The competition between two rather similar Canadian shows might not have been the wisest use of tax dollars: It is not only the CBC that uses public money to make Canadian TV. Typical of Canadian dramas, Bomb Girls depends on the Canadian Media Fund for 25 per cent of its budget, while another 30 per cent is covered by government tax credits.

Seeing how successful Murdoch has been since it moved from CITY-TV to the CBC in January, some observers have speculated that the public broadcaster could rescue Bomb Girls. They have received, however, scant encouragement. ‘Our schedule for next season is set and … there’s no room to pick anything else up,’ says Kirstine Stewart, head of English-language services at the CBC. ‘Fans of Bomb Girls should talk to Global.’

But Global says it backed Bomb Girls to the hilt, and had always intended to program it in six-week arcs, like a miniseries. ‘We put massive support behind the show,’ says Barb Williams, senior vice-president for content at Shaw Media. ‘When it returned from hiatus, Bomb Girls was scheduled between heavy hitters like Bones and Hawaii Five-O and we put more marketing and publicity support behind it than any other Global show – in the hopes that the audience would grow over these successive story arcs.’

The broadcaster is now talking to the producers about creating a two-hour special next winter to wrap up the storylines. The producers want to proceed with that project – which Global unveiled this week in a press release that disguised the cancellation as an announcement of the special – but point out it has to be done in a way that leaves the door open.

“What we are trying to do, going ahead with this movie, is to ensconce Bomb Girls as an iconic show, so hopefully we can come back to the characters at some later stage,” Prupas says, pointing to British shows like Prime Suspect that have been revived after a long break. ‘Keeping the title alive is important to us. We hope it will have a future.’”

It isn’t likely the series will come back, and that’s a shame; it was one of the best things on television.

Behind the Candelabra

Sunday, May 26th, 2013

Steven Soderbergh and Michael Douglas on the set of Behind the Candelabra.

Much has been made of Soderbergh’s supposed “retirement” from filmmaking, but I’m beginning to suspect that the whole thing is just a ploy to make it more of a “coup” when someone snags him for a new project. Yes, Behind the Candelabra wrapped before Soderbergh announced he was stepping down, but now he’s in talks to do a new series for Cinemax entitled The Knick starring Clive Owen — which sounds like a very interesting project indeed, and I look forward to it — but it seems to me that his self-imposed exile just makes him all the more attractive to selective, high profile projects.

Which brings me to Behind the Candelabra — does it work? In a word, no. I was rather disappointed, because at his best, as in Magic Mike (which was on HBO right before Candelabra, and thus offered an immediate and welcome contrast to the the film), he’s a really accomplished filmmaker, both in directing the actors, and staging the entire production — but here he seems content to set it up and shoot it, for as usual, Soderbergh does his own cinematography under the alias of Peter Andrews, and then cuts it together — here, in a really routine fashion — again using an alias, as Mary Ann Bernard.

The resulting film is flat, predictable, and uninvolving, and though Douglas attacks the role of Liberace with gusto, he doesn’t really have the “larger than life” punch that the character requires. The rest of the cast tackle their roles with varying degrees of success: Rob Lowe is a standout, perfectly creepy as an unscrupulous plastic surgeon; Debbie Reynolds is all but unrecognizable as Liberace’s mother, and really doesn’t make an impression; Matt Damon is appropriately wide-eyed as Scott Thorson, and Dan Ackroyd is matter-of-fact as Liberace’s business manager.

I was surprised to see former sitcom star Paul Reiser in a very small role as Thorson’s attorney near the end of the film, and the film is certainly well mounted, with no skimping on production values. But in the end, it feels exploitational and hammered out, as most TV movies are. Magic Mike reminded me just how good Soderbergh can be when he really clicks with a project, but Behind the Candelabra too often descends into clichés and has a really syrupy finish — by the end of the film, I really didn’t care about anyone; the whole thing seemed like an animated waxworks, and little more.

Click here, or on the image above, to see the trailer for Behind the Candelabra.

Gwendolyn Audrey Foster on “I Was Impaled”

Saturday, April 27th, 2013

Gwendolyn Audrey Foster has a new essay on I Was Impaled and similarly warped “reality” TV shows in Film International.

As she writes, “television shows such as I Was Impaled (2012-) and 1000 Ways to Die (2008-) appropriate tropes from horror film and re-narrate them into digestible bite-size “safe” forms. I’d argue they have similar voyeuristic pleasures as the horror film, but they are almost entirely shorn of narrative and any sense of morality. In 1000 Ways to Die, ‘hilarious’ stories of death, loosely based on actual stories, are stripped of any humanism, and edited together as a series of graphic and repetitive mini-narratives of sadistic slaughter. It’s all for sick kicks; set to quirky music, sutured together by a wisecracking voice-over narrator. Here, the destruction of the body is almost a postmodern destruction of humanity, with a snuff-like lack of ethos; presented much in the same manner as the ‘funny’ clips from America’s Funniest Home Videos, which themselves often rely on the humor in watching, for example, children hurting themselves.

For anyone unfamiliar with I Was Impaled, I’ll offer here some brief plot summaries. I Was Impaled features people who accidentally end up with foreign objects impaled in their body. While examining how these mysterious items were often initially ignored and later ‘discovered,’ the program carefully reenacts the gruesome impalements and also features faux forensic material popular to any reality programming. Here, in CSI style, we are treated to gruesome reenactments of actors playing medics and surgeons who use the most groundbreaking techniques to extract objects from bodies as a flat voice over narrative explains what we are watching in excessively bloody detail. Using cutting-edge animation, firsthand testimony and sophisticated recreations, often including CGI, each 60-minute episode highlights the stories of three or four ‘impalements,’ from the time the injury occurs to the moment the person ‘realizes’ they are actually impaled by something, through the euphoric moment when the object is removed, and usually it includes an actor saying ‘I should not be alive,’ or some variant on that idea, in this way gesturing to the trope of the so-called ‘deservedness’ of death as it is featured on 1000 Ways to Die.

The stories include a woman who was impaled on a five-inch iron spike railing; a man whose esophagus was ripped open by a French fry; a gardener whom fell face first onto his pruning shears; a young man who was accidentally shot with a five-foot long fishing spear; a man who was impaled by a six-foot fence post; a woman who fell directly onto a hooked planter while gardening; a man who had a foreign object mysteriously lodged into his brain; a woman who was impaled through her neck by a Christmas tree; a boy who accidentally swallowed a barbed hook while fishing; a man who nearly died after being pumped full of enough air to blow up a thousand party balloons; a surfer who ended up with his fiberglass surfboard embedded in his skull; a motocross rider who crashed and ended up with a stick in his face; a 64-year-old woman who discovered a bug in her ear and a pencil in her brain; a carpenter who got a splinter in his eye; and an ex-Marine who was left with a pole penetrating his mouth after a car accident (TV Tango).

As you can tell from these plot descriptions, the definition of ‘impalement’ is stretched beyond credulity. The show promises the kinds of impalements one would expect from a horror film, but impalement from within by a French fry, or being pumped up with excess air seems hardly comparable with classic horror movie impalements. A classic horror film, usually a moral tale, often involves the impalement of a vampire by wooden stake, or a villain being impaled on an iron spike, specifically a black wrought iron spiked gate of the type found either in Victorian England, or the Transylvanian countryside. While I Was Impaled may borrow from the classic horror film (one that almost always features a clear morality tale), it leaves behind the moral binarisms of good vs. evil in the traditional horror film. Instead, the program foregrounds a series of impalements and dismemberments without the narrative conscience of a moral center.”

This is where television is today; essential reading. Click here to read the entire essay.

Heinz Ketchup 1968 TV Spot Storyboard

Monday, April 15th, 2013

Here’s a fascinating, at least to me, document, which is somewhat off the beaten path for this blog.

This is a storyboard for a 1968 TV spot for Heinz ketchup, which was presented at a company sales meeting as an alternative to the advertising the company had done up to that point. Created by DDB, the iconic advertising agency of the 1960s — and still a major force in the advertising world today — the ad emphasized the quality, texture, and taste of the product, as compared to other, cheaper brands. You can read the entire story behind the reasoning that led up to this spot here; sadly, the video of the commercial isn’t on the web, but I think this almost frame-by-frame analysis of the advertisement is much more enlightening than the finished version. This is how stuff is sold, folks; careful consideration, a lot of contemplation, and a desire to make all of us more effective consumers.

Federico Fellini’s Television Commercials

Saturday, January 12th, 2013

Yes, Federico Fellini directed television commercials — click here, or on the image above, to see them!

Just posted by the website Open Culture, here are a series of television commercials (!!) that the great Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini directed shortly before his death. Perhaps the most interesting one is for the Bank of Rome, in which Fernando Rey appears as a sympathetic psychiatrist. As the Open Culture website notes, “in 1991 Fellini made a series of three commercials for the Bank of Rome called Che Brutte Notti or The Bad Nights. ‘These commercials, aired the following year,’ writes Peter Bondanella in The Films of Federico Fellini, ‘are particularly interesting, since they find their inspiration in various dreams Fellini had sketched out in his dream notebooks during his career.’

In the commercial The Picnic Lunch Dream, the classic damsel-in-distress scenario is turned upside down when a man (played by Paolo Villaggio) finds himself trapped on the railroad tracks with a train bearing down on him while the beautiful woman he was dining with (Anna Falchi) climbs out of reach and taunts him. But it’s all a dream, which the man tells to his psychoanalyst (Fernando Rey). The analyst interprets the dream and assures the man that his nights will be restful if he puts his money in the Banco di Roma.”

Really worth watching; you can see Fellini’s masterful touch in every image.

Just the Facts, Man: the Complicated Genesis of Television’s Dragnet

Sunday, November 25th, 2012

I have a new piece out in Film International on the genesis of the classic 1950s television series Dragnet.

Here’s the part of what I have to say on the subject: The 1950s version of Dragnet was in many ways an “outlier” in the contemporary televisual landscape; easily burlesqued and imitated, there was still nothing else like it in terms of hard-nosed stylization, grimly procedural story lines, and, for the period, grimy authenticity. Just a look at some of the plot lines demonstrates just how out of sync Dragnet was in a world populated by the likes of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, The Donna Reed Show, Leave It to Beaver, and other enormously popular, family-oriented series of the era. Dragnet, in contrast, concentrated almost entirely on the downside of 1950s American existence; the misfits, psychos, drifters, conmen, and ne’er do wells who collectively comprised the series’ world. Dragnet’s world was the netherworld of American society; and every episode made it clear that only the LAPD was holding back the tide of scum that threatened to engulf Los Angeles, and by extension, the entire nation.

In “The Big Death” (January 17, 1952), an unsuspecting husband hires Joe Friday as a hit man to kill his wife; in “The Big Mother” (January 31, 1952), a newborn infant is abducted from a hospital by an unstable young woman, who is unable to have children herself; in “The Big Speech” (February 28, 1952), Friday delivers a lecture warning on the evils of drug addiction at his former high school, even as he tracks down a teenage hoodlum, who, seeking his next fix, beats up and robs a friendly druggist; in “The Big Blast” (April 10, 1952), which Webb both wrote and directed, a young mother is killed in her bed by a shotgun blast, as her infant son slumbers next to her; in “The Big September Man” (May 8, 1952), an unbalanced sociopath feels divinely inspired to kill “a sinner,” and his former fiancée is his most recent victim; in the justly infamous “.22 Rifle for Christmas” (December 18, 1952, Dragnet’s first “Christmas episode”), co-written by [James] Moser and Webb, a young boy prematurely opens a Christmas gift – a .22 rifle – and accidentally kills one of his friends while playing with the rifle, subsequently hiding the young victim’s body in the brush on Christmas Eve.

In “The Big Lay Out” (April 16, 1953), a high school honor student becomes strung out on heroin; in “The Big Hands” (May 21, 1953), a young woman is found strangled to death in a cheap hotel room; in “The Big Nazi” (November 25, 1958), Friday uncovers a high school neo-Nazi ring; and on and on it goes, a parade of beatings, stabbings, murders, rapes, robberies, and wanton brutality that seems to have no end in sight, an unstoppable tidal wave of human greed, violence, and corruption. Compared to the 1960s version of the series, which kicked off with an unintentionally risible episode on the dangers of LSD – the “Blue Boy” episode, actually titled “The LSD Story,” first broadcast on January 12, 1967 – the 1950s version of Dragnet bristles with menace, energy, and simmering social disruption; no one even thinks of “Mirandizing” suspects, because, of course, no such law existed.

You can read the entire essay by clicking here, or on the image above.

Capitalism Eats Itself: Gluttony and Coprophagia from Hoarders to La Grande Bouffe

Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

You really are what you eat.

Gwendolyn Audrey Foster has a new article in the journal Film International, entitled “Capitalism Eats Itself: Gluttony and Coprophagia from Hoarders to La Grande Bouffe,” which examines a number of television programs and films that deal with excess consumption and wastage, seemingly a more and more popular topic in contemporary throwaway culture. Here’s the opening paragraphs:

“Consumption. Excess. Gluttony. Hoarding. Waste. Massive debt. The pathologies of capitalism are our greatest export. Endless examples of unproductive expenditure only add to our credibility as gluttons with little or no use-value. Americans consume recklessly in order to convince ourselves that we are not alienated, and that late-stage capitalism will provide for us, and fulfill our emotional needs. TV and media reflect and take part in insatiable hoarding, gluttonous consumption, and excessive production and dissemination of images that reify the very same pathologies and deadly sins they purport to expose – in a cyclical loop that I call ‘capitalism eating itself.’

The US has a long history of excessive gluttony and hoarding, starting with people, as one prime example. Human beings, slaves were hoarded and gluttonously exchanged for their value in capital and manufacture of products. Our historical pathology of gluttony is easily demonstrated by our origins; we are a stolen nation; a huge gobbled up land mass birthed from colonial theft, gluttony, and hoarding. America’s bloody legacy of greed, theft, and violence is one we obsessively and compulsively deny. By replacing our primal beginnings with a narrative of so-called patriotic struggle for freedom, we deny, (like hoarders deny their compulsions), our long complex history of thievery of capital, bodies, countries, vast amounts of land, commodities and wealth.”

You can read the entire article by clicking here, or on the image above.

About the Author

Wheeler Winston Dixon

Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is an internationally recognized scholar and writer of film history, theory and criticism. He is the author of thirty books and more than 100 articles on film, and appears regularly in national media outlets discussing film and culture trends. Frame by Frame is a collection of his thoughts on a number of those topics. To contact Prof. Dixon for an interview, reach him at 402.472.6064 or wdixon1@unl.edu. Visit him at his website wheelerwinstondixon.com.

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