Sunday, May 10, 2009
The Triathlon, Part III -or- Sci-Fi Spectacular at the Music Box
At 9:45 a.m. for the past three Saturday mornings, I’ve gone to a swim class at the Y. I keep thinking that I’ll wake up early enough to bike to the Green City Market to buy bacon and eggs from TJ’s Free Range Poultry and back home again, then get back on the bike and head over to the Y for my swim class, and come home to a delicious breakfast of authentic bacon and eggs. Since patronizing the market, it’s the only bacon we eat, but so far I haven’t been able to wake up in time to do both.
It’s a small class, four or five students show up each week, and we share the pool with an infants' swim class that takes place at the same time. While I do laps and drills on the right side of the pool, parents sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and the Hokey Pokey to their babies on the left.
This morning a young woman staffing the front desk greeted me with:
“This is going to sound strange, but you wouldn’t happen to be a mother, would you?”
“No,” I replied.
“Okay, it’s just we’re giving something away for Mother’s Day.”
“My upstairs neighbor is a mother, does that count?” I asked.
“I’m afraid not,” she said.
“I have cats, I’m a mother to cats.”
“I wish that counted,” she said, swiping my YMCA identification card through an electronic reader.
I went downstairs to the women's locker room and suited up. Since beginning this venture, I’ve accumulated a lot of gear: goggles, earplugs, special shampoo and conditioner to keep the chlorine out of my hair and skin, and a lock and swim cap that I bought at the front desk of the Y. The cap is thin, red, and uncomfortably tight. You can see my dark hair under it, and it leaves a mark on my forehead for about an hour after I’ve removed it. It looks more like a dental dam than a swim cap, but I’m to cheap and lazy to buy a new one, at least for now.
I used ear plugs for the first time, and it was strange to hear nothing but my own heartbeat and exhalations under water. With my goggles, ear plugs, and swim cap I felt like an astronaut exploring another planet. After my class I came home and stretched for almost an hour. Between running and biking, I've gotten very tight in the legs and hips, and at my last chiropractic appointment the physical therapy staff assigned me a whole new stretching routine. Then I got ready for the Sci-Fi Spectacular at the Music Box, where seven films were being screened starting at noon with The Incredible Shrinking Man, and ending with a 1:45 a.m. screening of the 1986 remake of The Fly, starring Jeff Goldblum.
I got there in time for the end of the 1953 version of War of the Worlds. Tom Cruise has nothing on Gene Barry. At the end of the film, the earth is saved by microscopic germs that humans are immune to, but kill the alien invaders. After a ten minute break during which an enthusiastic moviegoer dressed in a monkey suit initiated something called “the ape dance”, I watched the 1968 version of Planet of the Apes in its entirety for the first time.
Visions of the future that were created in the past are almost always unintentionally hilarious, and this was no exception. In the opening scene Charlton Heston delivers a monologue while sitting at the helm of a spaceship, smoking a cigarette that he stubs out on the console, and tucks into a pocket of his coveralls before going into a deep sleep for the next couple thousand years. He goes to sleep in 1972, and when he wakes he pulls the 2,006-year-old cigarette butt from his pocket, and lights up.
“Take your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape!”, got applause and hoots from the audience, and there were other moments that got loud laughs. While crossing the forbidden zone with his crew, a landscape that looked suspiciously like Arizona, one of Heston’s crew mates declares his willingness to die for the mission.
“He’s prepared to die,” Heston says in a mocking tone, “doesn’t that make you misty?” and then breaks in to an evil, head-tossing laugh. As he walked away from the camera, visible panty line was clearly discernible on Heston’s rear end through his space coveralls.
Later, while trapped in a steel cage across from a female human that he named Nova (played by Linda Harrison, who has no speaking lines), he soliloquized about the only female on board his ship, Lieutenant Stewart - portrayed by Dainne Stanley who went unaccredited in the film, probably because she also had no speaking lines, and her character died in the opening sequences of the film.
“Did I tell you about Stewart?” Heston asks, “Now there was a lovely girl. The most precious cargo we’d brought along. She was… to be the new Eve. With our hot and eager help, of course.” Hoots and whistles soared up from the audience at this. I couldn’t help but think about the folly of this plan: going into space with one woman and three men, not a midwife or doctor among them, with the hopes of repopulating an entire planet.
Hints of Heston’s NRA spokesmanship peeked through when he escaped to the forbidden zone with the help of Cornelius and Zira:
“Do you have any weapons? Any guns?” he asked,
“The best. But we won’t need them.”
“I’m glad to hear it. I want one anyway.”
After the credits rolled, a presenter announced that the next film would be 2001: A Space Odyssey, and the audience responded with shouts and applause.
"That’s right, we’ll be watching 'eight years ago'," he said, and then asked if anyone in the audience would be seeing the film for the first time. A few hands went up. “If anybody has acid," he said, “now is the time.”
Nobody can touch 2001. Captivated by its slow, saturated, visual drama, I took note of the things Stanley Kubrick got right when he pictured the future in 1968, this being one of the few films that projected into a future that has already passed.
Here’s what held up:
• Most receptionists in 2001 were women, as were most airline hosts;
• Bell is still in existence, in the form of AT&T;
• Both the Hilton and Howard Johnson’s existed in 2001 on earth, if not in space;
• Visible panty line, which afflicted most of the airline hostesses in the film, was still a problem in 2001 (this is the only thing Planet of the Apes got right);
• People drank coffee and ate ham sandwiches in 2001;
• There were flat screen TVs in 2001; and
• Somewhat unrelated to predictions of the future, HAL’s “face” looked remarkably like the front of an iPod.
I didn’t catch much in the way of unintentional humor, but the visual jokes that were inserted on purpose were great. Aboard the Aries spacecraft, Dr. Heywood Floyd paused to read the instructions on a zero gravity toilet, the only film reference to taking a shit in space that I can think of. A plaque on the wall read: PASSENGERS ARE ADVISED TO READ INSTRUCTIONS BEFORE USE, followed by at least ten paragraphs of information.
I’m not sure if the space pods with the warning “CAUTION: EXPLOSIVE BOLTS” was meant to be funny, or what Kubrick intended the letters ATM to stand for, but they both kept showing up, and there were lines that got a laugh from the audience, like:
“Look Dave, I can see you’re really upset about this. I honestly think you ought to sit down calmly, take a stress pill, and think things over.”
Dr. Floyd’s breathing when he goes out of the ship to do repairs reminded me of my own underwater breathing earlier in the day; and my friend Christina joined me in the last moments of the film, as Dr. Bowman watched himself age, and finally turn into a fetus. Gary Lockwood, who portrayed Dr. Floyd in the movie (he's the one who gets jettisoned into outer space by HAL), clambered up after the screening and rambled on about a number of topics ranging from eating cold cuts in London to LBJ’s reaction to the film. None of the audience questions were directly answered, and they all involved namedropping and the use of foul language.
“Do you remember the time HAL reads lips?” Gary asked the audience, “that was my idea.”
“Do we remember?” Christina whispered to me, "we just saw the movie.”
“What would you do if I asked him what year the movie was released?” I whispered back.
“Oh do it, do it!” she said, both of us practically in tears restraining ourselves from laughter. After a particularly circuitous tale that ended with the phrase “a snake’s ass in a wagon rut”, Christina threatened to stand up and ask Gary if that last story was really worth repeating.
Finally, Gary left the theater to sign autographs in the lobby. I got in line, but left before my turn because The Brother From Another Planet had already started. In the opening scene Joe Morton, as the alien, lands his spacecraft at Ellis Island in 1984, before it was restored to its current museum condition. It was amazing to see shots of New York from 25 years ago, and the film was just as captivating for its time capsule quality as it was for the story it conveyed.
The Midwest made cameo appearances throughout the evening: George Taylor in Planet of the Apes was from Ft. Wayne, IN; HAL was made in Urbana, IL on January 12th, 1992; and in Brother From Another Planet, two lost Midwesterners stop into Odell’s bar looking for Columbia University, and end up drinking and talking to Joe Morton until they convince themselves that they’ve made a friend.
After the credits for Brother had rolled, Christina headed home. It was 11:45 p.m., and Aliens was just starting. The audience had thinned considerably, but what they lacked in representation they made up for with enthusiastic applause as the actors names came across the screen. I watched for about ten minutes, and then decided that eight and a half hours in a movie theater was probably enough for one day. As I biked home on near-empty streets, I felt as if I were in my own sci-fi movie; one in which permanent midnight had settled across the city, and apart from a few cars on Western Avenue, I was the only human being alive. I listened to the soft whir of my bike tires on asphalt, and the clicking of chain moving across sprocket. When I walked into my kitchen, the three small creatures that know me as their mother but are unable to speak gathered around me as much for sustenance as for company, and after feeding them I retreated into my capsule of a bedroom, where I slept for an extended period.