Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Incredible Headwear of "Kings of the Sun" (1963)

"I just saw the stupidest movie," my Mom reported while giggling during one of our frequent phone calls. I sat up at attention. My Mom picks good stupid movies. "Kings of the Sun, starring Yul Brynner and George Chakiris,"  she continued.

"Sons of the King?" I asked.

"Kings of the SUN," She continued.

I'm bad with names. And I had never heard of this movie.

"It's about this Mayan tribe and they sail to America and Yul Brynner is a Native American and they get attacked by another tribe and the warriors hold their swords above their heads during the entire fight scene. I couldn't stop laughing," she said.

"The Sun Kings?" I was so perplexed. Not only from her description, which made it sound like she was hallucinating on prescription drugs (note: my Mom has been clean and sober from birth), but I've been watching (on purpose) bad films for decades. I'm a real bad-film junkie, and I was completely going blank on this one.

And it was about Mayans? Where have I been? I've been to Mayan country. I have some kind of indigenous background in my genetic brew. And there's an awful Hollywood epic about Mayans and Native Americans that takes place before the European conquest that I've never heard of? How did this get green-lighted?

I had to see this film. Tippy-type went my fingers onto the computer keyboard, and sure enough, Netflix carries it. Oh, thank the Gods of DVD distribution!

I'd love to review the super-bad Kings of the Sun, but it's dull. So dull, that you don't need to know. What is not dull are the hats. Someone over at United Artists costuming had herself a ball, designing this Mayan (and indeterminate Native American) headwear, and it shows. So I'm going to celebrate this dubious but entertaining concept. If you've looked at as many Mayan glyphs as I have, seeing a 1963 Hollywood rendition of that is darn entertaining. Bad, but in a good way.

Pretty much all you need to know is in the trailer. George Chakiris is stiff-as-a-stone-glyph Mayan Emperor, Balam (Balam?). Half-nude Yul Brynner poses up a storm as Chief Black Eagle, from an indeterminate Native American tribe—some kind of blend of Iroquois and I don't know...Plains Indian perhaps? There's talk of hunting buffalo, they live in tepees, yet they're nomadic and are camping out somewhere near the coast of what will become Texas or perhaps Mississippi.

It's pre-Spanish conquest, so it's pre-horse days. You try hunting buffalo in the southern gulf without a horse. Plus everyone speaks English and understands one another perfectly. In fact, aquamarine-eyed Shirley Anne Field, as fish-mongering Princess Ixchel, speaks with a mellifluous British accent.  It's all very confusing! 

There's some Mexican extras in the crowd, but most of the leads are played by guys who look like they were taken off the line of a Midwestern meat-packing plant, their skin coated with enough bronzer to fill to Gulf of Mexico. The love triangle is conceived as a would-be soft-porn prisoner/nurse-mate scenario between gleaming Brynner and somnolent Field, with the wooden Chakiris wandering about, like he could really give a shit.

Perhaps journeyman director J. Lee Thompson might have directed the battle scenes differently if the metal swords of the opposing tribe didn't flap around like cardboard covered in tinfoil. But having the soldiers hold them high overhead was not the best creative choice. There are some flashes of an attempt to parlay fictional history into something riveting. But if the hats are the best thing going in your movie, you need to step it up a bit.

Mostly you get actors standing around, wearing ridiculous costumes and hairstyles, robotically intoning dialogue as if they had wooden swords up their butts. And what dialogue! Prepare yourself for conflict consisting of: "But why do your soldiers take our fish?"

The crux of the matter is this: will the Mayans ever learn to stop building pyramids in order to sacrifice their own for the Gods? Will the tribe living near the Mississippi Delta teach them a better way? I don't know because I'm too busy enjoying the psychedelic hats. And now, the headwear of:

We're off to a good start with these high priests atop the pyramid at Chichen Itza, looking just like it does today. This was before CGI, of course. And apparently before United Artists would OK the matte-painting budget. Look at these guys—they're trippy all right! The big teamster on the right has a tongue sticking out of his chapeau—he must be the king.

Here, you got your priests...

You got your main priest, waving his stone phallus around a human-sacrifice-to-be.

El guapo George Chakiris looking (and most likely feeling) very silly.

It's time for some human sacrifice, or the crops won't grow. Very serious now. Ha ha ha! Look at that priest on the right—he's got a manga frog-thing on his head.

OK—serious now. Stop laughing. Human sacrifice happening...

Close-up. Whoa—dude on the right has two faces on his head. The left—some kind of Mr. Toad situation. This is some crazy shit on a pyramid.

Bunch of worshipers down below. They could use some help with their crops, it appears. That low visual-effects budget makes it look like the great Mayan Civilization settled in the middle of Burning Man, like a bunch of dummies.

Poor Richard Basehart as Priest Ah Min! (In the man-bun.) Give everyone an award for staying cool during this scene with its inane ponytails and bouffants! Multiple takes of laugh-filled bloopers must have taken up the entire shooting day.

Ah ha ha ha ha ha! Take 46. "And now you are King!" (*snort!* Bah hah hah hah hah!). Take 47...

Warriors with flower-pots on your heads, attack!

Flower-pot warriors search in vain for secret passageways. You will never find your quarry, and your botanical warrior-garb makes you the laughing-stock of the Yucatan Peninsula!

Uh-oh, here comes Leo Gordon as the bloodthirsty Hunac Ceel, commanding the smurf on the left to water his flower-pot warriors.

That's enough fighting. Time to stand around and intone solemnities while wearing pre-Hispanic textiles. 

Did I say pre-Hispanic? The blank eyes of Shirley Anne Field beg to differ.

Oh, shit—Hunac Ceel is back to settle the score. He commanded his vast army of flower-pot soldiers to sail across unknown seas to kill Balam and let everyone else go. That makes a lot of sense. But the guy is wearing a LEGO lizard on his head and some kind of plasticine tile-work for armor, so logic is not of the essence.

There are many priests with hats again!

Phallic scepter coming for Yul Brynner now. Note the gentleman behind Bryner is in a band called El Devo.

Yul Brynner finds the manga-frog priest laughable.

And keeps triple-face priest at bay with a "look at this fucking hipster" stare-down.

More awards for straight faces and Xychel's Betty Page look atop a make-shift new-world pyramid. And hey, let's hear it for foregoing human sacrifice, ladies and gentlemen. Was all that voluntary bloodshed really necessary for your crops after all? Balam doesn't think so and convinces everyone to agree with him. That's why he's king! A very silly looking king!

Swords of metal! In the air! For the entire battle!

We end on a fashionable note. King Balam is dressed for success in his chic jaguar cape. What do you think his armor is made of? Non-slip bathtub-mat was my first guess. Recycled inner tube? Shrinky dinks? Pure pleather from the Mines of Moria? Let the speculation begin!

I hope Chakiris got to keep that cape

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Mystic, Connecticut photo post, featuring a jellyfish and Liza-palooza

Technically these photos were mostly taken in Stonington, which is down the street from Mystic. But it's one of those places where if you say, "I'm in Stonington, Connecticut," people go, "What are you going on about?" But if you say, "I'm in Mystic!" they invariably reply, "You mean where Mystic Pizza was shot?!" And then they want to be your best friend and buy you mixed drinks and tell you about the time they first recognized Julia Roberts as the up-and-coming star she was destined to be.

So, I'm fudging it, and we were in Mystic today anyway, to get vegan sandwiches and watch the drawbridge go up, and then to get ice cream at the base of the bridge, because that's what real people do while in Mystic. Although, truthfully, today we did end up at the actual Mystic Pizza joint because Jackson was starving. And it's good pizza with an autographed poster of The Craft hanging at the take-out counter for no apparent reason. But once again, if you want to be a true citizen of Mystic, try Pizzetta, just down the street. It's really good thin-crust style, and the salads—deliciosa!

Today we saw a jellyfish, just after Keith got out of the Atlantic for his first refreshing swim of the season. It surfaced and dove, surfaced and dove, until we were hypnotized by its poetic existence.

Close-up on seaweed, habitat for many tasty creatures. The scent is overwhelming. My mother-in-law uses seaweed as mulch for her garden and her garden thrives every year.

The newly upgraded Mystic Drawbridge still uses ancient technology and rises every hour on the hour to allow anything floating and taller than a kayak through. It's poetic.

White flowers at night are also poetic.

Crabbing at dusk because that's what we do.

We found this in my mother-in-law's attic while organizing for her tag sale. It was some kind of joke gift but I forget the context. After gazing upon it for a moment, she sighed, "Poor Liza—she had such hopes and dreams."  It was the perfect thing to say, half jest, half sincere—mostly sincere. I love my mom-in-law so much.

Hang in there, Liza

Friday, August 09, 2013

Stephen Colbert (and friends) dance to Daft Punk because life is worth living

The Colbert Report got stood up by Daft Punk (or maybe not) due to legal reasons, cable feuding rights, competing MTV broadcasts, blah blah blah. I just came here for the dance, which is divine. You play a conservative buffoon, Mr. Colbert, but you are always a straight-up mensch. Now dance, you holy fool, dance!

The Colbert Report
Get More: Colbert Report Full Episodes,Video Archive

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

From the Department of Bad to Worse - Tonto Smurf

As I predicted (and hoped—sorry, movie-industry executives) would-be summer blockbuster, The Lone Ranger, tanked at the box office. Johnny Depp, impersonating a Native American in grease-paint, with a stuffed crow on his head, couldn't bring 'em in. Naturally lantern-jawed star, Armie Hammer couldn't bring 'em in. Monument Valley—not even Monument Valley could draw in the crowds. And everyone loves a Western set in Monument Valley!—if it's directed by John Ford, in 1956.

Yes, the cards were stacked against this one. And then The Smurfs 2 came along, and turned the cute little patriarchal caricatures into box-office poobah. This, after the first Smurfs movie brought in hundreds of millions. Hundreds of millions, I tell ya! I just thought...well, I can't make things any worse, can I?

What if...hear me out...Johnny Depp in The Smurfs 3 - Redemption. I think he's ready to stretch his costume and makeup choices in the ultimate role, as Tonto Smurf. He doesn't need the Lone Ranger and no one cares about the Lone Ranger anyway (industry executives, make a note of it). He just needs a bunch of CGI pals to have adventures with. The sidekick gets some sidekicks. It'll bring in the patient Depp fans that are still out there, plus the kids, plus the kids' reluctant parents. The Smurfs can teach Tonto Smurf how to use pronouns and he can help them blow up trains.

Yes, it's deeply offensive. But so was that bird on his head. That was so unnecessary. Unnecessary, like a $250 million remake of The Lone Ranger.

Friday, August 02, 2013

All-American Girls Professional Baseball League AAGBL Trading Cards

The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League was the first (and so far only) women's professional baseball league in America. It could only have happened during World War II, when baseball's reserves were depleted due to the draft and fighting overseas. From 1943 to 1954, the AAGPBL gave women a limited chance for a viable career in baseball, and gave fans something novel to cheer about. You may have seen the documentary, or the film it inspired, A League of Their Own—a snappy, fictionalized account, directed by Penny Marshall and featuring gum-chawing Madonna.

Today I found my little stack of AAGPBL trading cards. They're dated 1984 and I can't figure out who issued them because I tossed out the original packaging. I remember a brochure with an attached order form, back in the pre-Internet days. Where I found this brochure or whether these are an official AAGPBL product, I can't say. Some sleuthing has revealed these factoids:
  • A.A.G.B.L. Cards were issued from an address near Kalamazoo, MI (Marcellus, MI, to be exact). 
  • Four sets of commemorative cards were published: 1984 (red set), 1986 (blue set), 1988 (green set), and 1990 (yellow set). I have the 1984 red set, as you see below.
  • Approximately 85 cards in all were published—now out of print. (I wonder if these are worth anything—no matter, they are precious to me and you'll have to pry them from my cold, dead hands.)
The AAGPBL has an active organization to this day and they endorse cards issued by Fritsch. So if you're interested, check that trading-card action out.

Meanwhile, as an excitable announcer once intoned, "Look at these swinging, catching, base-stealing lassies!"

Fun AAGBL facts: league owner Philip K. Wrigley insisted the teams play in dresses, despite the fact that only a masochist would slide into base with bare legs. The ladies slid anyway, because they were tough—tough like IRON. A salute to the many who suffered scrapes and contusions while playing ball.

The ladies were also required to attend charm school to ensure maximum All-American-Girl behavior on and off the field. This training included exercises for the eyes that would enhance their sparkle and allure (important traits when fielding a grounder). 

For more than a decade, 600 women played for the AAGPBL—pioneers in short skirts in American athletic history. Hail!

Cool flip-side stats:

Known for her cartwheeling ways in the outfield,  Dancer was also a power hitter and an entertainer.

Billed as Chattanooga's only girl boxer ("It was just a promotional stunt," said Hickson), Choo Choo was a leading hitter and would have played ball for nothing.

The player Shirley Jameson admired the most in the big leagues was Jackie Robinson.

Some more:

I don't know what you have to do to earn the nickname, "Slats," but whatever it is, it's worth it.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Make some stuff with Made by Joel

Joel Henriques makes stuff, combining art and play. I love his simple design aesthetic and the sense of fun he brings to all his projects. Fun is important. Don't forget the fun. His site, Made by Joel, includes lots of activities, print-outs, coloring pages, arts & crafts, and good ol' fashioned work-with-your-hands philosophy for all ages. Kids love making their own toys and so will you.

Even if it's just to print out a fold-&-play paper city—it's worth your time. Why? Because you made a table-top city! Congratulations! Color it in. Make it psychedelic. It's YOUR city.

Joe's Paper City Paris is ready for action