Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Heavy Metal


Madame Rose, my publicist, called this morning; she's still trying to finalize the details of my appearance as the co-host of the Tip-Top awards at the Apollo Theater later this summer. She's having some difficulty getting the right coverage as the producers insist that I, MNM, am a young man with a blond crew cut and a foul mouth. She needed to inform them repeatedly that I am a perennially youthful, 39 year old living legend, screen icon and holder of the world record for most taps in a minute, despite Ann Miller’s dubious claims. While my luxuriant locks are usually brunette, rather than blonde, I must admit that my hair is depressingly short these days following the little accident at the Utah concert; I am, however, covering the bald spots up nicely with the Dark Victory model of Maine's Manes from House O'Hair wigs.

Filming continues apace on Flying Down to Reno, the musical remake of Airport '75. We were working on the crash scene today. The pilot of the small plane that crashes into the jet (Van Heflin in the original), is being played in this version by Luciano Pavarotti who sings a lovely tenor aria based on Celeste Aida as he has his heart attack and the plane spins out of control. We had great fun posing for publicity photos and I gave him a new pair of tap shoes that he promises to wear when he essays Cavadarossi in his next Tosca at La Scala. We then did shots of wreckage and carnage in the fuselage. Margo Channing had forgotten to tape her wig down properly and it kept flying off in take after take when they turned on the wind machine. The poor dear’s natural hair is in worse shape than mine and she hasn’t been through any pyrotechnic difficulties of which I’m aware; the grips were starting to call her cue ball behind her back. She wouldn't have this problem if she used a Maine's Mane rather than that shoddy extruded plastic thing she insists upon .

Screeching metal and percussive banging were somewhat on my mind after today's shoot and Norman remains in San Diego; I called old friend nurse Lynn who came over for dinner and the film Heavy Metal from 1981, which I chose due to its soundtrack. I thought it might keep me up for the next day's shoot which promises to be more of the same cacaphony. I had always heard of this film, and even did a cameo in a head banging music video for the band Spinal Tap back in the late seventies, but I had never actually seen it so was uncertain as to what to expect.

Heavy Metal is an adult cartoon anthology from producer Ivan Reitman and Columbia Studios, which utilizes forms from early Japanese Anime and Manga and fantasy elements from American artists such as Boris Vallejo and Roger Zelazny accompanied by stadium rock/heavy metal classics from the late 70s and early 80s. There are a half dozen or so stories with inspirations and plots ranging from future noir a la Blade Runner to Tales From the Crypt gore to Saturday Night Live or SCTV shenanigans. Tying them all together is a glowing green orb of evil that is featured in a different way in each segment. The film starts with an astronaut bringing the sphere home from space as a present to his daughter with unintended consequences, including linking devices. As the sphere's power grows, it tells the girl more and more stories of its evil doings which lets us move to different places, times, and styles of animation. After half an hour, Nurse Lynn and I broke out a couple of old flashlights and some theatrical gels and shone them around the room in an attempt to create our very own laser light show to enhance the mood. The effect was not successful and simply succeeded in scaring the cat.

In many ways, the film is a forerunner of MTV and the music video. MTV went on the air at about the same time as this film's release and, for better or worse, pop music and specific visual images became intertwined in the culture. Sometimes music and visual supplement each other, sometimes it's just background noise irrelevant to the film. It is, however, somewhat nostalgic to hear the top 40 of 1980, songs like Journey's Open Arms or Cheap Trick's I Must Be Dreaming, woven through the film - especially to those in their late 30s, like me, who were young and lovely twenty years ago.

Much of the score is not pop music, but a major symphonic score by Elmer Bernstein. A good deal of this is bombastic and sounds a little too much like his music for The Magnificent Seven for its own good, but there are occasional passages of great beauty that help the animation into another plane of existence. The voice talent's pretty good, although it’s a bit disconcerting to hear voices that later became famous (John Candy, Eugene Levy etc.) coming out of wildly inappropriate characters.

The artwork is the stuff of adolescent male fantasy. Pneumatic breasted babes in dominatrix outfits, wimpy nerds that turn into ferocious he-men and score with the chicks, loner cabbies who take no guff from anyone (and also get the chicks), no consequence substance use. It will appeal greatly to adolescent males of the fantasy RPG/Dungeons & Dragons/Rebellious angst/Sexually frustrated variety. It may also appeal to those adults who wish to revisit those emotions or who are trapped in arrested adolescence. There's a plethora of gory cartoon violence and plenty of cartoon nudity and sex so keep the kiddies away.

I enjoyed it and think it's worth a look for those interested in the roots of anime, music of a generation past, or just interested in the adolescent male mindset. It's never going to be a treasured classic but there are some nice images, fun songs, and occasional surprise twist in the storytelling.

Disintegration rays. Ravenous zombie pilots. Robotic sexual encounters. Vacuumed scientist. Green blooded barbarians at the gates. Attempted ritual sacrifice. Trysting queen. Malingering police force.

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