When Star Wars exploded on movie screens in 1977, it elevated sci-fi out of the low-budget B-movie ghetto in a way that 2001: A Space Odyssey and Planet of the Apes had tried to do and didn’t quite achieve. While those two films had the spectacular visuals, humanist allegories, and deep thoughts about the meaning of man, they lacked the slam-bang action of a great 1940s Flash Gordon movie. Star Wars showed that people would go for big dumb fun, and the race was on for the next one. In the years that followed, many studios attempted to join the “Me Too” Chorus, with Star Trek grabbing the high-end market and the original Battlestar Galactica locking up the TV audience. The low end was filled with cheesy movies featuring clumsy alien make-up and iffy blue-screen effects. 30-odd years later, one movie stands above them all as the greatest film in the crowded “cheap Star Wars knockoff” genre: ‘Battle Beyond the Stars.’
This year has seen a lot of long-overdue discussion of (and action against) sexual harassment, and with it a focus on the “toxic masculinity” that underlies it and other societal ills. In some ways, the world has almost always skewed toward the patriarchy, but there are some elements of the culture that are actually fairly recent developments, which a look back through recent history will serve to illustrate. We’ll start with my central thesis: the modern American model of masculine and feminine roles is a post-World War II invention.
It turns out that everybody has a list of truly bad movies and wants to share. Again, we’re not talking “so bad it’s good” movies; we mean movies more in the category of “drunkenly calling an ex is a better idea than watching this.” The numbingly bad movies that you can’t even laugh at. Let’s see what we’ve got this time…
Among movies that are bad, there are some that are fun-bad, the unintentional comedies that keep Rifftrax and MST3K in business. And then there are the ones that are just plain bad. Some are so bad that sitting through them becomes an endurance contest, the cinematic equivalent of a dare. I’ve seen plenty of each.
It was September of 1974, my first day at a new school. I was 15, but I looked 11. My last class of the day was Drama. I was late. I got to walk in after everyone else was in their seats, so I was completely the center of attention. I made my way awkwardly into the room, trying to look less nervous than I was. One of the girls loudly said “Oh, he’s so little! We can use him as an elf at Christmas!” A loud voice erupted from the back of the room. “I got dibs on Santa!” A big guy was sprawled on a sofa against the back wall. He had absurdly large muttonchop sideburns, and was, improbably enough, wearing a dark green choir robe over his shoulders like a cape. That was my introduction to Wally Oden.
The Tick, a reboot of the live-action TV series that was a reboot of the animated series that was adapted from the comic book that started out as a comic store mascot, has finally arrived on Amazon’s original programming channel, so I thought I’d take a moment to look at some of the other superhero comedy-parody-satire offerings that may have influenced, or been influenced by, what is obviously the most successful entry into the genre.
As a kid, my favorite superheroes were the Flash and Green Lantern. The Flash, because his real power wasn’t super-speed; his speed was a tool he used, but his real power was that he was smart – he outsmarted his opponents. Green Lantern worked on two levels. First, he had a ring that was functionally magic; if he could think of it, the ring could do it. Second, and more importantly, the ring ran on willpower. He had to bring resolve to the fight, to dig in and hold on and never give up, because if he didn’t, the ring would fail. He kept that willpower up through something completely unique to comics: his daily oath.