Is This Your Bar of Soap?

Firesign Theater

This is side five. Follow in your book and repeat after me as we learn three new words in Turkish:
Towel.
Bath.
Border.

So begins Waiting for the Electrician or Someone Like Him, from the first album released by the Firesign Theater, in 1968 (on later albums spelled as Theatre). Everything in it is a misdirection, a sidestep, a pun, an unexpected segue, a joke-within-a-joke, an opening to another place you hadn’t expected to be led to.

May I see your passport please?

Yes, I have it right here. (sounds of busy airport terminal in background)

Uhum. Uhum. Uhum. Look at this. This photograph doesn’t look a bit like you, now, does it sir?

Well, it’s an old picture.

Mmh, mmh. Precisely.

Is there, uh, anything wrong?

Oh no, no, no, no. Would you mind waiting over there, please? Just… leave your bags.

But my passport…

Next please.

Who can forget that journey into the surreal that starts with these words? It’s dark, it’s zany, it’s deep. Very Firesign. Within a few moments they have created a world, and an Orwellian world at that, a world that draws you in.

If you’ve never heard it, then listen to this little snippet:

I had one of those moments, recently, when writing an email to someone, an acquaintance, when a line from the FST just popped into my head. That happens with song lyrics, at times, but less frequency for FST lines than it used to. But it still does; lines that just float to the surface unbidden. Dr. Benway. Nick Danger. Ralph Spoilsport. Antelope Freeway, one half mile…

I just tossed it in, a throwaway in my letter. And to my surprise, in his response, he noted he recognized the source. So there are still some of us left out there who remember.

That sent me scampering through my library to look for The Big Book of Plays, the scripts of the first few FST albums, a book which I once owned. Apparently not any longer. Lent to someone, I suppose, years ago, and it was never returned.

I spent some time looking to buy another online only to discover it has been reprinted with another FST book under the title Marching to Shibboleth.

Of course, I had to order a copy.

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Makes you feel happy, like an old time movie

Classic movies coverThere’s something touching about a classic film, something magical about a B&W movie, about a film shot between the wars in that period of recovery and optimism; a film that was new when my parents were young, full of life and hope. A movie from the days before CGI, before green screens and 3D. Before slasher films, before graphic sex and graphic violence.

It’s a combination of art and innocence, of technology just starting to blossom, of storytelling finding new avenues for expression and sometimes not quite sure about it. Others are bold statements about style and expression; avant-garde art.*

There were, of course, B films and bad movies then: not every film was a work of art;nor  a masterpiece of acting and direction. Yet I find I can sit through a 1930s’ B-flick, even a bad one, and still enjoy it, when I can barely keep still for today’s B-roll (movies like Transformers are like dentistry without anesthetic…).

Even a lot of the A list today has me fidgeting and looking at my iPhone (of course, we watch them at home, on DVD… that way I can get up and get a glass of wine to numb my aesthetic senses…).

I could watch some classic films endlessly – Casablanca, Maltese Falcon, the Hunchback of Notre Dame (almost anything with Charles Laughton is repeatable for me), King Kong, most of the early monster movies (Dracula, Frankenstein, Wolfman, the Invisible Man and the Mummy, although the sequels generally pale in comparison to the originals); the Thin Man films, The Big Sleep, The African Queen, Singing in the Rain, the Bob Hope/Bing Crosby “Road” series, the Marx Brothers, WC Fields…

Acting is sometimes histrionic, especially in the earlier films, as if the actors are not quite sure they’re in a talkie and have to overact rather than just speak their lines.

Gunfights without blood, car crashes without fiery explosions… without the sound and special effects we’re so used to today, actors had to get your attention by themselves, not depend on external effects. Directors had to use light and shadow in different ways, and some – like Alfred Hitchcock and Frtiz Lang – exploited the chiaroscuro very effectively.

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