And Then, There’s A Giant Turtle Hurtling Through Space

June 12, 2011

Searching for late-night movie fare, I still find myself harboring hope that I might stumble upon some sci-fi, B-movie from the ’60s.

It’s something deeply ingrained from childhood. Living within spitting distance of the border of three states, we were within broadcast range of the television stations of two large cities and, as a result, we had a cornucopia of seven or eight channels at a time when most pre-cable viewers had half the choice.

(of course, reception was often determined by the time of day and meteorological conditions)

Late at night, there was often the opportunity to bask in the soft glow of fare that would someday provide reason for Mystery Science Theater 3000 to exist.

Sadly, sleepy-eyed kids of the 21st century escaping the bonds of bedtime for the first time won’t be dazzled by the spectacle of men dressed as prehistoric and futuristic creatures engaged in combat as buildings and cities crumble under the carnage of the combatitants.

(arigatou gozaimasu, Japan)

Instead, pint-sized people huddled under a blanket late in the evening are more likely to find little but hucksters pitching programs to help them lose weight, grow hair, or accumulate riches in real estate.

(arigatou gozaimasu, capitalism)

Pulling up the menu of free movies offered by our cable provider one night, my pulse quickened as I reached those filed under the letter G and a dozen or so flicks with Godzilla in the title appeared.

Unbridled joy turned into disappointment as I pulled up the synopsis of the first one and noted the date – 2000. Scrolling through the rest, each one was a product of the past decade and each had running times in excess of 100 minutes.

It’s Godzilla not The Shawshank Redemption. It’s understandable that two and a half hours would be required to tell the tale of Andy DuFresne and have him tunnel out of Shawshank, but if you can’t destroy Tokyo and have the good monster defeat the bad monster in under 75 minutes…

Of course, coming across a classic Godzilla flick as a kid was like hitting three cherries. More often than not, I’d have to settle for Gamera, the giant, rocket-propelled turtle.

With a nudge from nostalgia, I did a search for Gamera on YouTube and the first result was too intriguing to not click.

I recognized the footage immediately even if I didn’t recall the name of the flick (which happened to be Attack Of The Monsters). I should have remembered the name as I swear it seemed to air once a month or so on Science Fiction Theater, one of our independent station’s Saturday night offerings, in the late ’70s.

The plot, such as it was, revolved around two small boys getting whisked away to another planet by the lone survivors of an alien race – two Japanese women clad in futuristic garb – who intended two eat their brains like pudding.

The lure, of course, was Gamera as he battled some giant, bipedal pteradactyl and another rubbery beast with a ginsi knife for a head to save the day and the cranial contents of the young whippersnappers.

And, in the clip, the heroic battles were set to the music of Men Without Hats’ The Safety Dance.

While Godzilla has been, quite deservedly, celebrated in song, if there is a musical tribute to Gamera aside from those conjured by the obviously twisted mind of a YouTube poster, this office has not been notified.

Instead, here are four songs from the Billboard charts for this week in 1978 when I was ten and about a year or two away from music holding my attention as much as a turtle jetting through the cosmos…

Patti Smith Group – Because The Night
from Easter

I don’t know when I first heard the great Patti Smith’s lone radio hit. It certainly wasn’t in ’78 and I can’t really recall hearing it on the radio at all, ever.

I suspect that I heard Because The Night in college when, having heard a number of acts I loved mention Patti and/or cover her songs, I delved into her (then) relatively scant catelog and was smitten.

Gerry Rafferty – Baker Street
from Right Down The Line – The Best Of Gerry Rafferty

From the opening notes, Baker Street makes me think of the pool as I was often there that summer and the song was always blaring from the radio or a car stereo.

Frankie Valli – Grease
from The Very Best Of Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons

Grease was the movie of the summer in ’78 and the music was everywhere. I doubt that I knew who Frankie Valli was or that Barry Gibb wrote the title song, but I liked it and, like Baker Street, it immediately conjures up summer for me.

Genesis – Follow You Follow Me
from …And Then There Were Three…

The first Top 40 hit for Genesis in the States, Follow You Follow Me came after the reduction of the band to a trio and its incarnation that would have considerable commercial success in the ensuing decade. I imagine it caused considerable angst for the long-time fans of the progressive act.

I had a college roommate who tried to indoctrinate me into Peter Gabriel-era Genesis as have several friends over the years. As much as I love Gabriel’s solo work, I’ve yet to really take to early Genesis, though.

Follow You Follow Me is a song that I’ve always adored. It’s mysterious, distinctive, and hypnotic.

Godzilla, I Can’t Stay Mad At You

March 14, 2009

The first movie that I can recall seeing in a theater was Godzilla Vs. The Smog Monster.

(simply typing the title makes me as giddy as when I was four)

Yes, perhaps you’ve seen a Godzilla flick or two, but there’s none of them like his match with the Smog Monster.

It has an early ‘70s environmental bent to it, blending psychedelic rock music, cartoons, Japanese hippies, and a Godzilla that could fly.

It truly was everything that a child’s first big-screen experience should be.

Some of it did, admittedly, frighten me (I was four).

Through the years, it was always like Christmas to stumble upon a Godzilla movie on late, late night TV. I must doff my chapeau to the Japanese for enriching my life through a man in a giant lizard suit.

Godzilla, sushi, and providing inspiration for Styx’ Mr. Roboto – the Japanese have greatly contributed to who I am today.

I thank you all (seriously).

So, I bought into the hype for the Godzilla remake in ’98. I remember checking out some trailer for the movie which arrived on the internet a year ahead of the flick.

The movie eventually did come out and did so while I was traveling in the UK with a couple friends. So, it had been in theaters for a week or so before I managed to see it. If I recall correctly, I went with some friends the evening of my first day back in the States.

Undone by jet-lag and crushed by the weight of expectations, Godzilla left me angry, disappointed, and hurt. You can’t CGI the inestimatable charm of a man in a fake suit (and the Puff Daddy song that came out the week before I left for the UK should have been taken as a very bad omen).

I’ve caught it on cable a few times in the last year, though, and I’ve learned to love it for what it is and not lament what it isn’t. I do think that the opening credits work well.

And the first twenty minutes or so do a good job of building suspense. His arrival in Manhattan, though, is where Godzilla and I part company, but it’s with much more mutual respect now than there was a decade ago (we both are older and more mature I suppose).

But it sure would be cool to stumble upon his predecessor – hanging with the hippies and saving the world from pollution – while channel-surfing.

There simply aren’t enough songs about Godzilla and I’ve already posted the Blue Oyster Cult classic, so here are a handful of songs that were popular in the spring of 1971 (when Godzilla Vs. The Smog Monster was released)…

Keiko Mari – Save The Earth
OK, this wasn’t a hit, but, by God, it should have been. Save The Earth plays over a montage which opens Godzilla Vs. The Smog Monster and truly sets the tone. It was actually kind of creepy – lava lamp graphics, images of pollution-choked harbors filled with manikins and such.

Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On
To state the obvious, What’s Going On needs no comment from me.

The Doors – Love Her Madly
In high school, The Doors were arguably the most popular band amongst the general population (despite the fact that Jim Morrison had been dead for more than a decade). So popular were they that two sisters were adamant that they were the illegitimate daughters of The Lizard King (Morrison, not Godzilla – although going with the Godzilla angle would have been equally as believable).

Lobo – Me And You And A Dog Named Boo
This is the one song in the bunch which I actually remember hearing on the radio at the time. I imagine the fact that the singer had a dog appealed to me (my brother and I had to make do with a hamster and hamsters, if no one has ever told you, don’t fetch).