Vintage Cable Box: “Twice Upon A Time, 1983”

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“Do I get the job, or should we move right onto the shark infested waters test?”

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Twice Upon A Time, 1983 (Lorenzo Music), Warner Bros.

There are strange creatures that appear at night when you sleep. The strange creature bring you sweet dreams. Sometimes those strange creatures, the Figmen of Imagination, are thwarted or subverted by evil creatures from the Murkworks (usually dark-winged birds) that bring you nightmares. Of course because this is a “war” story, the Murkworks are locked in a never-ending battle with the Figmen for domination of the night-time world. The leader of Murkworks, Synonamess Botch (a bizarre hedonistic variation on Salvador Dali), abducts Greensleeves of the Figmen. He sends a message back to Din, the sub-dimensional city that exists between the worlds of reality and fiction.

While on garbage detail after being punished by the Rushers of Din, All-Purpose-Animal Ralph (the voice of Lorenzo Music) and his Harpo-esque sidekick, Mumford, come across Greensleeves’ message. His niece, aspiring actress Flora Fauna plays the part of damsel-in-distress for Bosch’s nightmares. Bosch convinces Ralph and Mum to steal the mainspring from something called a Cosmic Clock. Ralph and Mum do not know that the Cosmic Clock controls all of time … everywhere, thus any alterations will affect the Universe. After liberating the spring from the Cosmic Clock, time freezes. A free-land Fairy Godmother commissions superhero Rod Rescueman, an egotistical muscle-head who spends more time washing his cape than rescuing people, but he is interested in the pretty Flora.

Watching this movie as a kid, I was mesmerized by the animation, which was a mixture of Yellow Submarine (the poster art of Klaus Voorman) and Terry Gilliam’s work for Monty Python’s Flying Circus, as well as black & white live-action sequences. I couldn’t follow the convoluted plot, but I enjoyed the (largely) improvised performances of the actors, and remember this was before the advent of “retro-scripting” in later animated works like Dr. Katz, Home Movies, Archer, and Bob’s Burgers. David Fincher and Henry Sellick were among the crew of talented animators who made this movie.

TWICE UPON A TIME, 1983, (c)Warner Bros.
TWICE UPON A TIME, 1983, (c)Warner Bros.

Two versions of this film exist: one with unaltered “adult” language, and the other a “sanitized” version – safe for kids personally approved by the director, John Korty. Korty preferred the “kid” version because it would, presumably, have a wider release at the time. He would be wrong on both counts, as Alan Ladd’s company (which released Twice Upon A Time) was nearing bankruptcy. The Ladd Company was (right up there with Cannon) a defining force in early eighties cinema, producing the titles Outland, Night Shift, Chariots of Fire, Blade Runner, and Once Upon a Time in America.

John Korty animated short films for Sesame Street, and worked for Lucasfilm. George Lucas co-produced Twice Upon A Time and used his influence to get a release for the movie. I saw the original cut of the film and snickered at the off-color dialogue. While younger children would not understand most of the adult humor, the movie was most definitely made for kids, but adults could enjoy it too. When Korty learned HBO had aired the “adult” version of the movie, he threatened lawsuits. Later, the cleaned-up version of the movie was substituted, but fans of the movie noticed the changes, and complained. This was an unusual case of mandated censorship, very much in the way George Lucas tends to alter his work (incidentally some of Lucas’ work appears in the movie via Ibor, the robot-gorilla with a television screen for a head – he shows scenes from Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark).

Some thirty years later, the film holds up. In fact, in my advanced years I can actually follow the plot. The film tends to only be available in truncated form, clocking in at a slender one hour and fifteen minute running time. I have a VHS version of the film that runs five minutes longer. I don’t understand the discrepancy, because this release appears to be Korty’s approved version of the film. In addition my version of the movie contains a song by Michael McDonald, which I have been unable to verify with other releases of the film, which contain only his sister, Maureen’s songs. Perhaps there is a third version of the film.

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties. 

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Vintage Cable Box: “American Pop”, 1981

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“A stripper gettin’ dressed ain’t beautiful unless she’s ugly to begin with.”

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American Pop, 1981 (Ron Thompson), Columbia Pictures

American Pop is a song with a simple rhyme; the condensed history of recorded music from big-band to punk, where the journey begins over a hundred years with Russian émigrés traveling to the United States to escape Cossack persecution. The descendants of an extended family fight in wars and face episodes of tragedy while trying to realize their musical aspirations. The story settles with young Tony, a Long Island punk who writes songs by night, washes dishes by day, all the while fighting an increasing dependency on heroin.

Tony reunites with his long-lost son, Pete, who also shares an interest in music. Together they deal drugs to high-profile musicians. Tony’s addictions grow worse and he sells his musical instruments in order to pay for more drugs. He abandons Pete after taking all their money. Pete, obviously learning from his family’s missteps in life in pursuit of their own musical dreams, is hired on-the-spot by a musical group whom are stunned by his talent.

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This was the nadir of adult animated features, and because of rights issues with the music used in the soundtrack, a forthcoming video release was blocked until 1995. The same problems arose with a pending video release for Heavy Metal, another cult favorite. Animated adult movies are not produced anymore. The market is now consistently geared for children.

American Pop is an incredible movie to behold; predating A Scanner Darkly by 25 years, this mixed media marvel uses rotoscoping to create realistic movements in astonishing dance and music sequences (which recall classic Disney), and the result is tremendously rewarding. Ralph Bakshi, most notably, directed the first X-rated cartoon, Fritz The Cat, as well as a popular adaptation of Lord Of The Rings, and later, Cool World. American Pop serves to remind the audience that talent and dreams are not enough to succeed in this increasingly cold world. Sometimes all we need is a little luck.

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.

Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.