Posts Tagged With: 1970s

Where Were You in ’72? (Reflections on the passing of time and of George McGovern)

Hi. My name is Dave. I’ve been thinking a lot about 1972 lately, and of what a long time 40 years is, even if it feels just like yesterday.

It was a big year for me. I started first grade, and not at just any school, but at “The Alternative School.” You can get a pretty good idea of what the school was about from the name and the fact that it started in 1972.

I was in class when I heard about Nixon beating McGovern. Our teacher’s name was Steve. It was the afternoon and we were in our makeshift classroom. The Cuisenaire rods were put away in the closet; math time was over. We were transitioning to the afternoon, sitting on little squares of carpet with the lights dimmed, attempting to have some sort of quiet time, but it was no use. “I think they had the election for the President yesterday!” a kid said.

“No way. Just for one day? That seems like a rip-off. Let’s ask Steve.”

Steve confirmed that it was true, that the elections had been the day before and the results were already decided. “Nixon beat McGovern in a landslide,” were his exact words. A landslide.

You take stuff literally when you’re six. I had just learned about the horrors of quicksand, and I was pretty sure people were killed in landslides. My take on the whole thing was that the popular vote was neither here nor there, but that Nixon became President by default because McGovern got taken out by falling rocks.

Aah, memories…Hard to believe 1972 was 40 years ago. In 1972, 40 years ago was 1932. Hoover was President. The New Deal was still in the future. The world changed unfathomably in those four decades. Sociologically at least, 1972 would have been unrecognizable to a citizen of 1932.

From our current vantage point, 1972 was a different world as well, but not nearly as different as 1932 was to 1972. The Alternative School opened for business in the fall of that year, meaning the school would have begun to be conceptualized and realized in 1970-71 or so. In other words, the Alternative School emerged during America’s most turbulent decade since the Civil War, founded by a small group of committed parents and educators.

It turns out that the tumult and upheaval of that period had largely run its course by 1972, but there was no way of knowing this at the time. The Weathermen and Yippies were still very much active as the 1970s began. The 1968 Democratic National Convention would have been the most recent presidential political marker. Kent State and Jackson State represented the contemporary state of relations between government and higher education.

To us they were Nixon, to them we were Manson. Having long hair in public could still land you in a fistfight.

This was the zeitgeist into which the Alternative School was born. Not all the goals of the school’s ideologues and their generational cohorts were attained.  Few of us first graders stuck with the program all the way through high school. Most of my former classmates who now have kids of their own have chosen to raise them in a far more structured environment. The Alternative School itself ceased to exist by the early 1980s.

But looking back now, 40 years later, in an era when the Rolling Stones play Super Bowl halftime shows, a multiracial former Occidental College student sits in the While House, and the term “alternative” itself has acquired mainstream cachet, it’s easier to appreciate how far we’ve actually come since “The Landslide” of 1972.

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Categories: 1970s, counterculture, Politics | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Before and After of Molly Webber: A Very Brady Makeover

Remember the Brady Bunch episode “My Fair Opponent,” in which Marcia takes pity on a plain girl in her class named Molly Webber, and ends up making Molly so popular that she winds up beating out Marcia herself for the honor of hosting Banquet Night and being escorted by an astronaut?

Well, forget about it now. The plot isn’t important here. What’s important is what passes for a plain Jane in 1972 and what passes for a “knockout,” in the words of Peter Brady.

Look at the before shots of Molly Webber on the left. She’s shy, sulky, shoe-gazing and librarian-haired. She wears foreign exchange student glasses and a Little House on the Prairie dress.

(image courtesy of verybradyblog.blogspot.com)

In short, she’s absolutely gorgeous.

Now look at her on the right. Those are the after shots. That’s what happens when you leave a 14-year old in charge of your makeover in 1972, even if that 14-year old is Marcia Brady.

You get bad makeup; you get clothing that is both dowdy and tacky,  and accentuates the barely budding curves of femininity in all the wrong ways (the girl equivalent of the ninth-grade starter moustache.)

Hairwise, they gave her “The Jan,” with those prominent curling-iron batwings that fall at eye level and serve to draw your attention in toward the powder-blue eye shadow and heavily applied rouge.

That episode was made 40 years ago!

Today we know better. Today we appreciate the old Molly Webber.

Nerds rule!

Categories: 1970s, counterculture, television | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Vietnam Steps Into the Regal Beagle

Confession:  Three’s Company has never been must see TV for me. Unless I’m gawking at one of Mr. Furley’s denim ensembles, I rarely pay the show the attention that it deserves. But that all changed one recent Saturday while chasing my morning coffee with an episode called “Jack the Giant Killer,” enthralled by every minute of it.

From the get-go this is a compelling tale whose central scenes remain as clear to me today as they were when it first aired on Apr. 14, 1977. What I mostly remember is the sudden and unrelenting brutalism of the episode’s guest villain, a large, imposing yachtsman named Jeff, towards gentle Jack Tripper.

Before Jack even enters the scene, the surly seaman establishes his character by boastfully implicating himself as a date-rapist and attempted murderer (he threw a woman overboard because she wouldn’t put out). Even my housemate, who overheard the dialogue while working on her computer across the room, said “ewww” and turned around to see who exactly was uttering these crass lines.

When Jack steps in to protect Chrissy from surly Jeff and his groping paws, things go from bad to worse. If there’s one thing Jeff likes better than molesting women, it’s antagonizing less imposing men.

Considering the New Zoo Revue-like feel of a typical Three’s Company script, Jeff’s unbridled aggressiveness at the Regal Beagle is all the more disturbing. Even 35 years later I wince with sympathetic fear for Jack Tripper each time the bully enters the scene.

 ♠ ♥ ♣ ♦

The episode’s middle-eight takes place in Jack, Chrissy, and Janet’s apartment, where Jack chews the scenery, agonizing through various poses of self-loathing and self-pity, acting out his newfound emasculation in full-throated anguish for his two Playboy Bunny-esque housemates, who futilely try to mop up what’s left of his bludgeoned ego.

“Jack the Giant Killer” resolves in straightforward sitcom fashion. Jack returns with the girls to the Regal Beagle and loads up on liquid courage to confront Jeff, who enters the Beagle and heads straight for the bar. Janet sees him first and goes over to whisper something in his ear before Jack can do anything.

Before we have a chance to know what Janet says, Jack steps up and gives the bullying buccaneer a verbal keelhauling followed by eight long seconds of limp-wristed judo moves and high-pealed screeching. Jeff, who has been so confrontational throughout the show, now backs away apologetically after Jack berates him for being such an awful human being.

Surprised he didn’t get slugged, Jack asks Janet, “What did you say to him?”

I told him you had a plate in your head from rescuing your entire platoon in Vietnam,” she chirped.

♠ ♥ ♣ ♦

Wha-wha-whaa??? I almost spit up my sanka when Janet said that. It’s the way she blurted the words so casually, flippantly even, that made me do a double take.

Vietnam was a taboo subject in mainstream Hollywood in the Seventies. You just didn’t hear it mentioned on the big or little screen until 1978, when a sudden spate of studio films about that war and its vets emerged (Coming Home, The Deer Hunter, and Apocalypse Now), and the “Vietnam in Hollywood” era was launched. Nam acquired instant TV gravitas during this time. Mentioning a wounded vet’s combat experience was a subject reserved for Emmy-winning dramas, not farce.

In later years, you might expect the “watch out, he’s a psycho-Vietnam vet” gag to be played in an edgy Fox sitcom, but it seems way too dark (not to mention complicated) for the pratfall-based plotlines of Three’s Company.

So what’s going on here?

Either Three’s Company has addressed the condition of the Vietnam vet a full year before Coming Home and the Deer Hunter famously broke down that barrier, or the writers for the show where the kisses are hers and hers and his needed a way to wrap the scene fast and came up with the plate-in-the-head-from-Nam line as if it were just an innocuous  ‘you wouldn’t hit a guy with glasses, would you?’ gag.

I vote for the latter. The allusion to Jack taking shrapnel to the cranium to save his platoon was made in that simpler time, before the abovementioned films sensitized us towards the condition of the Vietnam vet. It’s still unclear whether Jeff the bully was supposed to have feared Jack as a lethal combat fighter or pitied him as a disabled war hero, but we’ll chalk that ambiguity up to mediocre writing.

This isn’t the only scene that is jarring to the modern psyche. There is also the episode’s very first shot, where Jeff establishes himself as a would-be date-rapist who throws women overboard when they spurn his advances.

“Jack the Giant Killer” is just the fourth Three’s Company episode ever produced, but it didn’t air until the fifth week of a six-week initial season. It was as if they knew this one had problems and were willfully holding it back as long as possible.

Either way, it’s an interesting pop culture footnote and a humble reminder that even something as empty-caloried and nougat-filled as Three’s Company can be mined for valuable nuggets of historical information.

♠ ♥ ♣ ♦

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You Know You Grew Up in the Seventies If….

You think the Golden Rule is:

 

If it’s yellow let it mellow.

 

 

 

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Movie review: The Van (1977)

 * * *

Year of Release: 1977

Length: 92 min.

Rating: R

Genre: Teensploitation, custom vans/vansploitation

Starring: Stuart Getz

You know Stuart Getz from his Brady Bunch appearance as Charley, the affable red-haired loser Marcia breaks a date with (“something suddenly came up”) when the captain of the football team asks her out the same night.  In the end, Charley gets the date with Marcia because, after she is nailed in the face by a football in the most graphically violent Brady Bunch footage of all time, the football captain gets one look at Marcia’s swollen nose and cancels their date on the spot, explaining that “something suddenly came up.” Unlike the jock, Charley is into all of Marcia, not just her nose. With her lesson learned and WASPy nose suddenly back to normal, Marcia lets Charley take her to the dance instead of the jock.

Brady Bunch episode #90 ends on a high note for Charley–he gets the sympathy date with Marcia and somehow breaks the jock’s nose. But you know how the real life episode ends:  For the rest of high school, Charley begs Marcia for dates and she always rejects him, while eventually getting violated regularly for a semester by the very same jock who dumped her when she was temporarily ugly.

Well, “The Van” picks up after Stuart Getz’ character graduates high school. He’s no longer Charley. In this one he’s Bobby, but he’s still the same red-haired loser who can’t get laid. He’s hoping that buying a custom van with his college savings will change all that.

Getz has next to no leading-man presence, for which he compensates by smiling way too much throughout his close-ups. You could almost hear the Swifty Lazar pep talk his agent gave him: “Kid, your smile is the best thing you got; no one can take that away from you. Just flash those Chiclets and make ’em forget you’re not Johnnie Whittaker. Let the van be the star of this show, baby. This picture’s going straight to drive-in!”

The acting is extremely minimalist in this low-budget comedy, and so is the script. Most of the money went into paying the actresses to do nude scenes–as required by the teensploitation genre. Another requirement is the frank portrayal of post-high school virginity, a role Stuart Getz excels in.

A lot of the actors and actresses look familiar from 70s TV bit parts, but with one notable exception they seem to quickly disappear from show business altogether after The Van. That exception is Danny DeVito, who plays a sleazy, confrontational bookie/car-wash boss in what amounts to the filmic debut of Louie DePalma a full year before Taxi.

DeVito aside, Swifty Lazar was right on. The van is the real star of this picture. The van is a Dodge Tradesman christened the “Straight Arrow.” The van has a waterbed and a mirror on the ceiling. The van eludes cops. The van has a toaster for the morning after.

Charley admiring the Straight Arrow

  ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

There should be a special school of criticism for films based on novelty songs. Take a listen to Sammy Johns’ 1975 breakout AM-radio single, “The Van,” and you get a pretty good idea of how the eponymous movie plays out. Other than using a Dodge instead of a Chevy, the director-producer team of Sam Grossman and Paul Lewis do a praiseworthy job of staying true to Johns’ original vision.

The Van’s dialogue, acting, and cinematography are porno quality and there is a lot of on-site shooting in Agoura Hills and Malibu, including a real van show in a beach parking lot, all of which enhance the film’s value as a late 70s period piece.

The Straight Arrow arrives at the van show.

Charley and his girl enjoy 35¢ beers at the van show.

         

********SPOILER ALERT********

I’m gonna go straight to highlights here, including spoilers:

Bobby gets his custom van, the “Straight Arrow,” drives it home and shows off the waterbed to his mom, who becomes aroused. Dad says it’s obscene, and we’re not sure if he’s referring to the van, his wife’s arousal or both. Bobby sets out to conquer women, but mostly finds himself and the van chauffeuring his friends’ sexcapades and being challenged to street races by alpha-male van drivers who prowl the highways.

Bobby’s string of sexual failure includes the film’s best pick-up line, “You want to go outside and share a joint in the van?” This leads to attempted van rape, whereupon the girl flees and Bobby laughs it off as just another strike-out.

Sammy Johns songs are featured throughout the soundtrack, but it is near the hour mark before the title single, “The Van,” reprises, signaling that Bobby’s custom Dodge is about to work its magic and his luck is about to change. The prude girl Bobby’s been courting throughout the movie finally loosens up after taking some swigs off a wine bottle and meeting the beautiful people at a parking lot van show.

By the time this denouement is reached, Bobby has had other women and plenty of adventure, all thanks to the Straight Arrow. The only thing left at this point is for the van to be sacrificed and Bobby to walk away, which does happen in the movie’s exciting drag race finale. Ideally, the Straight Arrow would have gone up in flames instead of just being rolled into a ditch, but the dealership wanted the van back by Monday.

♠ ♠ ♠ ♠

The Straight Arrow about to get rolled.

♠ ♠ ♠ ♠

Watch this film if you enjoy:

  • teensploitation, van-tasy
  • custom cars
  • 1970s location shooting in greater Los Angeles
  • movies named after novelty songs

POSTSCRIPT:

The cruel and limited horizons defining the world of Bobby and his cohort make it seem like they’re stuck in the town from Children of the Corn, when in fact they’re in suburban L.A. Viewing movies from this era helps you realize just how empty even privileged teenage life was back then. There was no internet, no smart phones, no cable TV, and about twelve people on the planet had VCRs.

Interestingly, the years 1976-82, the golden era of teensploitation, also mark the low point of high school SAT scores. What period pieces like The Van unintentionally show us is just how bleak the prospects were for pre-1982 geeks and nerds, as compared to now. Until Jobs and Wozniak made geeks chic, they were outcasts with no redeeming role in the adult world besides nutty professors. Teenage nerds of the teensploitation era had little choice but to take their punches and try to emulate their dead-end, slightly cooler peers until the inner-geek was finally snuffed out.

Categories: 1970s, counterculture | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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