Thursday, July 31, 2014

The giant turtle and the mystical mermaid

In this age of streaming video and countless outlets for movies, I have been enjoying more access to the Golden Age of TV-movies, back when the range was wider than just romance or true crime or Sharknado. Best were the genre entries (horror, fantasy, sci-fi), some of which were as good as any B-movie of the time--see my review of 1971's Black Noon. Warner Archive Instant has a nice selection of these films, and I recently watched one called The Bermuda Depths (1978). It's no masterpiece, as it has the usual limits of the TV-movie--low production budget, indifferent acting and directing--but it also has an unusual plot and atmosphere which one viewer aptly described as a "weird cross between Gamera and Portrait of Jennie," to which I would add the Dennis Hopper cult film Night Tide, with touches of Jaws.

Leigh McCloskey (below) returns to his family home on an island near the Bermuda Triangle years after his marine biologist father died in a mysterious accident. He reconnects with his childhood buddy Carl Weathers who is working on an advanced degree under the tutelage of crusty but nice scientist Burl Ives. McCloskey, who seems a bit like a lost soul, is trying to find out what happened to his father, and also trying to piece together memories he has of a girl with whom he shared walks on the beach; in flashbacks, we see them together as he writes their initials on the back of a sea turtle.

All the pieces of the plot are present, but how they fit is a little strange: the grown-up girl (Connie Sellecca) returns and says her name is Jenny Haniver--which is also the name given to odd, monstrous figures carved out of the carcasses of rays. He only ever sees her coming in or out of the ocean, and no one else sees her at all. There's also a legendary gigantic sea turtle that Ives and Weathers are trying to find. And, of course, they are near the Bermuda Triangle, where people and things are always mysteriously disappearing.

On the plus side: the tone (creepy fantasy), the pace (slow and, at times, a little dreamlike), and the relatively complex story. Selleca is mostly called upon to just look lovely and mysterious, and she's very good at that. Weathers (Apollo Creed from Rocky) is also quite good. On the minus side: the special effects which are only occasionally effective (it's a Rankin-Bass production, BTW) and McCloskey, who seems to be almost literally sleepwalking his way through the movie; sometimes this approach works, giving his character a damaged, distant feel, but more often, he just seems a little slow, physically and mentally.

Ultimately, it's Gamera, ...err, the giant sea turtle that's the biggest problem. Is it good? Bad? The spirit of Nature? Sellecca's brother/father? A Moby Dick comparison is half-heartedly set up between Weathers and the turtle, but it doesn't resonate emotionally. A little more fleshing out of the plot points and a more consistent leading performance would have helped, but as it is, it's still worth a look. People who saw this in their youth seem to remember it as the movie about the girl with the glowing green eyes (Sellecca, pictured at top) but that's a very brief shot, and they looked more bluish to me than green.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Missed opportunity

I've read several books about the music industry, mostly books about artists or genres but occasionally about a specific label--two memorable ones are The Label: The Story of Columbia Records by Gary Marmorstein and Where Did Our Love Go?: The Rise and Fall of the Motown Sound by Nelson George. A new book, Cowboys and Indies by Gareth Murphy, claims in its subtitle to be "the epic history of the record industry" but it falls far short being that--and I wonder if the author realizes the punnish reference in his subtitle, as Epic is a major label, a subsidiary of Columbia and home of Michael Jackson's legacy.

According to his acknowledgments page, Murphy did do some original interviews, but the bulk of the book seems to consist of material from other books, so if, like me, you already have some background, there isn't much new here. He focuses on people and companies about which there is lots of published material (Columbia, Island, Warner/Atlantic, Elektra, Asylum) and virtually ignores other major labels like RCA, Decca/MCA, Stax, and even Reprise which was started by Frank Sinatra and included Joni Mitchell, Frank Zappa and Neil Young on its roster. For the most part, the only new material in here that I found interesting was about Herb Alpert's label A&M, and a couple of gossipy tidbits about cocaine use at Casablanca Records--someone should write an entire book about how the record industry went coke-crazy in the 70s.

Murphy at least begins at the beginning, with Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison, and he spends a lot of time on the punk years, presenting interesting information on the influential labels Sire and Stiff. But the omissions are numerous, and perhaps the most egregious one is the small amount of space he spends on the Beatles and their twisted record label history in the U.S. before they hit it big on Capitol. I guess this was not a total waste of time--I loved his description of Walter Yetnikoff, head of the CBS Records conglomerate, speaking in "fuck-littered Yiddish,"--but the subtitle makes you expect more than you will get. Disappointing.