01 December 2007

The Dark Side of Gene Kelly

Last week the post office delivered a special supplement to The New Yorker called Movies Rock. It was so special that it also arrived with Vogue, as if that magazine weren't already heavy enough to herniate eight or nine postal carriers a year.

As content, this Condé Nast publication seems about half a step below Entertainment Weekly's Oscar issues, gossipy articles prepared long in advance to hold the ads apart. But I much appreciated one feature: a useful addition to the study of the supposed synchronicity between Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon album and the MGM Wizard of Oz.

A few years ago, you may recall, the rumor went around the internet that the Dark Side of the Moon CD was correlated to the VHS videotape of the Wizard of Oz. Even though, of course, CDs and videotapes hadn't existed when Dark Side of the Moon was recorded in 1973, and the technology of the time would have thrown off the coincidences' delicate timing over the course of an hour.

People saw meaning in such correlations as the Tin Man inviting Dorothy and the Scarecrow to listen to his chest just when the album fades out to the sound of a beating heart. Of course, the whole point of that moment in the movie is that Dorothy and the Scarecrow can't hear anything beating.

What all those breathless postings about the album and movie lacked was a control--a comparison of other albums and movies to determine whether we humans, having evolved as pattern-spotting animals, would perceive similar synchronicities anywhere. That's where Movies Rock comes in. Hard-hitting journalist Jim Windolf sat down to look for meaningful moments in these pairings:

  • Gone With the Wind and James Brown's Revolution of the Mind: Live at the Apollo, Volume 3. (Why not the original Live at the Apollo?)
  • Idiocracy and Britney Spears's Oops!...I Did It Again. (Why not her Live at the Apollo? Oh, yeah. Live singing not her strength.)
  • Last Tango in Paris and Barry White's All-Time Greatest Hits.
In two cases, Windolf reports seemingly meaningful coincidences of picture and sound. Which shows that we can find anything if we look hard enough.

In other movie news, I'm responding to the death of Evel Knievel with a hearty recommendation of the 1977 movie Viva Knievel! The movie has the drama and production values of your great-aunt's snapshots of a vacation in Mexico. As a lead actor, Knievel exhibits all the charisma you'd expect from someone who made a name for himself almost jumping a motorcycle over stuff.

But it's the supporting cast that raises this movie from mere exploitation into monumentally hootable entertainment:
  • Leslie Nielsen wearing the most ridiculous collection of leisure suits ever collected on one man!
  • Oscar winner Red Buttons!
  • Former child evangelist Marjoe Gortner!
  • Model and rising starlet Lauren Hutton!
  • Dabney Coleman as a nasty doctor!
  • And, playing Knievel's mentor, mechanic, and comic relief, Hollywood legend Gene Kelly!
Knievel's other contribution to American entertainment that year was being the first man to "jump the shark," piloting his motorcycle over a tank of sharks during the post-Jaws hysteria. That inspired a similar stunt on waterskis on the following season of Happy Days, which in turn has made "jumped the shark" a label for once fine entertainment that was undeniably headed downhill. Like Gene Kelly.

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