Friday, September 17, 2010

"Everybody's Free To Wear Sunscreen" by Baz Luhrmann

When Australian director Baz Luhrmann adapted a two year-old newspaper column entitled Wear Sunscreen by Chicago Tribune journalist Mary Schmich in 1999 surely even he couldn't have known the global reach those words - alongside Bill Barminski's video - would soon have.

In the days leading up to Y2K, when seemingly half the world had the other half convinced it was all going to come an end because of a single line of programming somewhere on a computer, those of us in the latter group clung to whatever soothing words we could get our ears around, and not just to drown out the blathering of apocalyptards* either.

It's posted here today on the occasion of Luhrmann's birthday, as well as in honour of the delightful second summer that September often brings to Vancouver - a time in which it's important to remember that even though it's cooler, it's still important to wear sunscreen...

*Apocalyptard - any damn fool who thinks the world's gonna end while I still have outstanding student loans.
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Cassandra Peterson: Mistress of Elvira

Two paragraphs into Cassandra Peterson's bio I was blown away by the abundance of information contained therein; there's too much of it, in fact, to include here. For a dozen years before her Elvira persona was born and made her famous she'd already lived an awesome life. Although she is best known as a witchy, bitchy horror host the fame it afforded her was more a reward for an interesting and varied career than a premeditated act.

PhotobucketBorn on this day in 1951, by 1969, at the age of 17, she'd become the youngest showgirl in Las Vegas - as confirmed by the Guinness Book of World Records - when she worked at The Dunes. She briefly dated Elvis Presley, appeared in the 1971 film Diamonds Are Forever playing - what else? - a showgirl, and even moved to Italy to front a rock band called I Latins Ochanats. That's where she met director Federico Fellini who cast her in his 1972 film Roma; she also appeared in the 1974 film The Working Girls, and posed for the cover of Tom Waits' 1976 album Small Change.

Returning Stateside she toured gay clubs with a novelty act called Mamma's Boys before joining famed LA-based comedy troupe The Groundlings in 1979; it was there the personality of Elvira was more or less born. At the same time she was an on-air personality at LA radio station KROQ.

PhotobucketThe story of the creation of the Elvira character resides at the eye of a veritable pop culture hurricane; while Elvira was ostensibly based on Maila Nurmi's Vampira (brilliantly lampooned paid tribute to by Lisa Marie in Tim Burton's 1994 film Ed Wood) Vampira was herself based on Charles Addams' Morticia Addams, although the television version of Morticia (played by Carolyn Jones from 1964-6) and the movie version (popularized by Anjelica Huston) both imbued her with Nurmi's sexiness which was not present in the original Addams Family cartoons as they appeared in The New Yorker*.

Elvira was clearly an idea whose time had come; not only had punk given way to goth as the principal costume of disaffected teenagers, but the exploitation movies of the previous three decades were then being embraced ironically by jaded Baby Boomers and the up-and-coming cynics of Generation X alike. Elvira presided over all of it with a campy quip and a killer cleavage, having shot to almost instant fame simply by being at the right place at the right time. Her persona, though, had at least one unintended benefit; owing to the heavy makeup and wig she wore, at the height of the ensuing craziness Peterson was able to go out in public as herself without being bothered in the least!

*No one's quite sure what Daryl Hannah was getting at when she played Morticia in the 1998 film Addams Family Reunion, although Ellie Harvie did better with the character on TV in The New Addams Family. But I digress...

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Rita Rudner on "The Late, Late Show" with Craig Ferguson

Birthday wishes go out today to Rita Rudner, who started out in show business as a dancer, appearing in the original productions of such shows as Follies and Mack & Mabel; at the age of 25 she switched to comedy, and the rest is the stuff of legend. As one of the few clean comics working, Rudner's wide-eyed ditzy persona is belied by the laser-sharpness of her logic.

Since 2001, Rudner has performed almost exclusively in Las Vegas, where her shows have sold nearly a million tickets; seeing as I cannot get to Vegas to see her, I thought I'd post this clip of her in conversation with TV's Craig Ferguson instead.
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In Memoriam: Anne Bancroft

In Mike Nichols' 1967 film The Graduate, Dustin Hoffman as Ben Braddock uttered the famous line 'Mrs. Robinson, are you trying to seduce me?' to Anne Bancroft, who famously played Mrs. Robinson. Even without her intentionally provocative answer, it should have been patently obvious to everyone in the audience that Anne Bancroft had spent her entire career trying to seduce us - and succeeded at every attempt.

PhotobucketFrom her 1952 debut in the film Don't Bother to Knock (opposite such big guns as Marilyn Monroe, Richard Widmark, Jim Backus, and Lurene Tuttle) through The Miracle Worker, The Pumpkin Eater, The Turning Point, Agnes of God, and Torch Song Trilogy (with many stops along the way and since besides) it's clear that Anne Bancroft not only managed to seduce us onscreen but off it as well.

Born on this day in 1931, Anne Bancroft's death in June 2005 was met with all the usual lamentations that generally accompany a star's death, only with actual sincerity; it's at this time the Pop Culture Institute would like to once again extend its condolences to her widower, Mel Brooks.
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"She's A Beauty" by The Tubes

Birthday wishes go out today to Fee Waybill - not only a founding member of The Tubes but possessed of one of the more fascinating names in American music; to my mind a Fee Waybill either belongs in the exotic bird house of your local zoo or ought to be signed in the presence of the UPS driver.

A n y w a y... She's a Beauty was the band's biggest hit, appearing first on their 1983 album Outside Inside; oddly enough for a song this cool, it was produced by noted Canadian schlockmeister David Foster. Naturally the original video is unavailable - thanks this time to the visionaries at Virgin-EMI - but I guess this live performance sums up the experience of the song pretty well. Appropriately enough, it can easily be dedicated to the women whose birthdays we also celebrate today: Anne Bancroft, Rita Rudner, Cassandra Peterson, and even Hildegard von Bingen!
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Remembering... Hildegard von Bingen

Hildegard von Bingen is frequently cited as the world's first composer, and she certainly is history's first if not the world's; as the first composer whose biographical details are well-known (or indeed, known at all) she was also the first one who had the bright idea to stop signing her works Anon., for which act of extreme hubris she is still remembered today.

PhotobucketBorn sometime in 1098, I'd like to say she rose above the constraints of her noble birth to pursue a life in the Church. Alas, the truth is considerably sadder... A sickly child - her parents' tenth, in fact - from a young age she began to experience visions; on All Saint's Day 1112 she was abandoned at the convent of Disibodenberg and thereafter raised by the abbess, Jutta.

After Jutta's death in 1136 Hildegard was unanimously elected abbess in her stead; as Mother Superior she founded the convents of Saint Rupertsberg in 1150 and Eibingen in 1165. She also corresponded with popes Eugene III and Anastasius IV, Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa, and her male colleagues in the clergy such as Bernard of Clairvaux. She was also widely traveled - another unusual pastime for a woman of the Middle Ages - and spread her teachings across Europe as a kind of early evangelist.

Owing to the superstitious tenor of the times, Hildegard was reticent when it came to discussing her visions; after her confidante Jutta died she only shared her experiences with Volmar, who served at one time or another as her tutor, confessor, secretary, and scribe. One such vision she received exhorted her to 'See and speak! Hear and write!' and so she did; makes a nice change from those people who hear voices telling them to chop up the dog into small bits or else become lawyers. Of her works, about 80 survive; one of the best known of these is a morality play called Ordo Virtutum, or Play of the Virtues, which is unique in that it is written entirely for the female voice and has just one male part - the Devil, who cannot sing because he is corrupt. Sounds like just the thing for the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival...

Interest in her was revived in the 1990s, when it was decided that all the women written out of history should be written back in again. That's when celebrity neurologist Oliver Sacks diagnosed Hildegard as suffering from migraines - which can cause hallucinations if severe enough - in his book Migraine. Ah, but who or what gave her the migraines? And why did she channel her pain into works of uncommon beauty? Science, for all its answers, still cannot fathom the least part of the human soul...
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POPnews: September 17th

[September 17th has been Constitution Day in the United States since 2004; which is ironic, seeing that since George W. Bush took office in 2001 (and I do mean took) the Constitution hasn't been observed - along with the Bill of Rights, the Geneva Convention, and most of the Ten Commandments... I could go on but thankfully he didn't!]

1577 - Following the sixth phase of the French Wars of Religion the Peace of Bergerac was signed between France's King Henri III and the Huguenots; it replaced the Edict of Beaulieu, which was thought to be too favourable to Protestants.

1630 - The city of Boston, Massachusetts was founded, ten days after having its name changed from Shawmut.

1778 - The Treaty of Fort Pitt was signed, making it the first formal treaty between the United States and an American First Nation - in this case the Lenape or Delaware tribe.

1787 - The US Constitution was signed at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia.

1859 - Joshua A. Norton proclaimed himself Emperor Norton I of the United States in - where else? - San Francisco.

1862 - The Allegheny Arsenal explosion resulted in the single largest civilian disaster during the American Civil War.

1900 - Filipinos under Juan Cailles defeated Colonel Benjamin F. Cheatham's Americans at Mabitac during the Philippine-American War.

1908 - Lt. Thomas Selfridge became the first airplane fatality when the Wright Flyer piloted by Orville Wright crashed at Fort Myer, Virginia.

1914 - Andrew Fisher became Prime Minister of Australia for a third term.

1916 - Baron Manfred von Richthofen - the famous Red Baron - won the first of more than 80 aerial victories over the French town of Cambrai.

1920 - The National Football League was organized in Canton, Ohio.

1939 - German U-boat U 29 sank the British aircraft carrier HMS Courageous.

1948 - The Lehi - radical Zionists who were also known as the Stern Gang after their founder, Avraham Stern - assassinated the Swedish diplomat Count Folke Bernadotte, who was appointed by the United Nations to mediate between Arab nations and Israel during that phase of the Arab-Israeli conflict marked by the establishment of the Jewish state. The killing was directed by Yehoshua Zettler and carried out by a team led by Meshulam Makover, although the fatal shots were fired by Yehoshua Cohen; also thought to be involved were Shmuel Rosenblum, David Ephrati, and Yitzhak Markovitz.

1949 - The Canadian steamship and passenger liner SS Noronic caught fire while docked at Pier 9 in Toronto Harbour shortly after 2:30 AM, with an eventual loss of between 118 and 139 lives; most of the 524 passengers and 171 crew on board were American.

1956 - Television was first shown in Australia, apparently.

1972 - The first episode of the television series M*A*S*H - appropriately enough, entitled M*A*S*H the Pilot - aired on CBS; based on the Robert Altman film of the same name (which was itself based on a book by Richard Hooker), the series eventually aired 251 half-hour episodes over 11 years. Many of the episodes, including the pilot, were written by the late Larry Gelbart.

1978 - The Camp David Accords were signed by Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egypt's President Anwar El Sadat, as facilitated and witnessed by US President Jimmy Carter.

1983 - Vanessa Williams became the first black Miss America.

1993 - The blatantly racist British National Party's Derek Beackon won a council seat in the East London district of Millwall.
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