It's Monday, so it must be time for "Ask The A.V. Club," where burning questions get answered and really confounding questions get passed on to readers.
Earn Your Degree Without Leaving Home
It distresses me that my best-movies-ever list is dominated by English-language '90s/'00s films, so I've resolved to broaden my cinematic tastes. Any recommended starting points? Something like IMDb's Top 250 seems way too Hollywood-centric. Best I've been able to figure out thus far is the Criterion collection, which my local university library helpfully stocks.
Donna Bowman has some sage advice:
We don't think you can go far wrong by working your way through the Criterion Collection, a cinephile's wet dream of a DVD library. The Criterion people have a solid grasp of what critic-types call "the canon," the standard list of film classics from around the world. Criterion has always taken detours into cult movies and lost masterpieces (see its beautiful edition of Carnival Of Souls and its recent release The Spirit Of The Beehive, respectively). And there are certain directors (including our beloved Michael Powell and Akira Kurosawa) who appear to be special favorites of the Criterion gatekeepers, meaning that even their lesser-known works get the deluxe treatment. But a look at the Criterion roster of non-English-language titles provides a pretty fair sampling of canonical work: Fellini, Eisenstein, Truffaut, Fassbinder, Godard, Tarkovsky, Bresson, Bergman, Rohmer, Cocteau, Suzuki… and that's just browsing the list of titles through the start of the C's.
Here's another idea to supplement your Criterion DVD festival. Do a web search for "foreign-film syllabus" or "world-cinema syllabus." What you're talking about, in part, is a kind of self-taught introduction to world cinema—so why not piggyback on a film class taught by people who actually know something about world cinema? Even though each syllabus will only have 10 or 20 films on it, and a lot of them will have an Eisenstein, a Godard, a Bergman, and so on to represent big movements, instructors will fill their syllabi with their own interpretations of the canon. One will include an example of Iranian neo-realism paired with its Italian progenitor. Another will have a special interest in the descendents of the French New Wave. Another will specialize in Latin American or African diaspora directors, sub-canons that haven't yet taken root in the collective cinematic consciousness. Sure, some of those films will be hard to find, or might not be available on home-video formats. But you'll be able to assemble a foreign-film-viewing list that will last you for years, and a wish list that will last a lifetime.
In the realm of classic English-language films, reaching back beyond your film-going lifetime is easier than ever these days, with vintage films rolling out on DVD faster than anyone can watch them. What you need is a guide to the crowded market, and there are plenty of contenders. Our favorite is Roger Ebert's The Great Movies, a 100-films-and-counting list that sticks closely to the canon, with a few quirky choices like Alex Proyas' Dark City. Another guide, now unfortunately out of print, is James Monaco's intensely personal The Connoisseur's Guide To The Greatest Movies Ever Made (Facts On File, 1985). And if you want to get into the whole idea of the canon—how it's made, framed, and critiqued—you can't go wrong with Danny Peary's Alternate Oscars, a century-spanning rant about what should have won and why. That should keep you busy for the next couple of decades, Roy. Embark on your exploration secure in the knowledge that The A.V. Club envies you. We wish we could start our own scavenger hunt through film history all over again, re-experiencing our cherished movies for the first time.
My Memory The Car
There was a cartoon I used to watch on Saturday mornings where the people turned into cars. I think the cars looked like KIT from Knight Rider, but beyond that, I've got nothing. Wait, one of the cars was blue. Also, there were two people, I think. A dude and a chick. Maybe they solved crimes? Can you help a brother out?
Tasha Robinson responds:
Okay, brother, first of all, the Knight Rider car was KITT, with two Ts. It stood for Knight Industries Two Thousand. (Not to be confused with KITT's evil twin KARR, or Knight Automated Roving Robot.) Just a little random trivia for you.
Secondly, your description's kinda vague, but it's fairly likely you're thinking of Turbo Teen, an animated series that ran to a whopping 12 episodes back in 1984. It was about a teenager who… well, in his own words from the intro: "I'm Bret Matthews. It was a stormy night when a bolt of lightning forced me off the road! My car skidded into a government laboratory where a top-secret experiment was under way! I swerved into the path of Dr. Chase's molecular-transfer ray, causing me and my car to become one! The incredible Turbo Teen!"
Bret was sort of a were-car, and he couldn't entirely control his transformations, which happened whenever he got too hot. (In the thermal sense, not the sexual sense, though the whole thing was pretty clearly one of those transparent puberty metaphors that plays off the anxiety teenagers have over the uncontrollable changes occurring in their bodies. See also Teen Wolf.) Bret did in fact have a couple of buddies, a black dude named Alex and a blonde chick named Pattie, and they did in fact solve crimes. And he spent a lot of time badgering Dr. Chase about turning him "back into a normal teenager."
According to Wikipedia, at least, the car Bret turned into was a Chevy Camaro, "the sister car of the Pontiac Trans Am that KITT is modeled after." Which might explain the resemblance. Or maybe you just think they looked alike because they were both sleek, self-operating mid-'80s sports cars with computer consoles built into the dashboard to show oscillating lights when they were talking. Given that Knight Rider had been a hit for a couple of years when Turbo Teen first aired, it's unlikely that the resemblances were coincidental.
As to the mysterious blue car, Turbo Teen had a nemesis named Dark Rider (with a name like that, he wasn't destined for anything good) who tooled around in a blue monster truck. Dark Rider was voiced by Frank Welker, the voice of about half the cartoon characters of the '70s and '80s, from Hefty Smurf to Jabberjaw to Fred on Scooby-Doo; he's still Hollywood's go-to guy for animal noises of all sorts.
Take a look at this and see whether it seems familiar. And note the background music, a jazzed-up, blanded-out version of Michael Jackson's "Thriller." Way cutting-edge back in the '80s, huh?
The Clone Saga
How do you guys know someone isn't yanking your chain when they ask that you ID an obscure TV show? For instance, if I told you about a show where a clone of Wilt Chamberlain and a scrappy telepathic dog drove around the country on a talking moped resolving domestic disturbances, would you actually spend a while looking on IMDB or Wikipedia for that? Because I did see that show, and you should really see if you can find it.
Jordan, we're fairly convinced that show exists only in your mind. Everyone knows that mopeds can't talk. Only cars.
Obviously, we can't prove that every question sent to us is legit. But neither can any other advice column. For instance, Savage Love's Dan Savage says he regularly gets letters that are clearly about made-up relationship issues (and sex acts) rather than real ones, and he copes. And like him, we get many, many more questions than we actually have time to answer. (At this point, it's about a 15-to-1 ratio.) So we address the ones that actually sound instantly familiar to us, rather than spending hours on the IMDB or Google, looking for shows that might have featured Wilt Chamberlain clones.
And if we really, really can't place a particularly odd-sounding show… well, maybe someone made it up. But just to be sure, we throw it back at our readers. Case in point…
Here are a few more of the many questions we've gotten about hazily remembered shows and films. Ring a bell for any alert readers out there?
I remember one night during the early '90s, I was watching Family Matters, and right afterward came a pilot for this show I had never seen before. The basic plot involved three or four black children who were being raised by their grandmother. Then one day the grandmother keels over, and the children realize that unless they act fast, they'll all be split up and sent to foster homes. The children hatch a plot where the oldest son will dress up like the grandmother whenever the social worker comes over, and also take all the makeup off and become the oldest son again every now and again. The only problem is that the social worker starts falling for the oldest son who he thinks is the grandmother, and at the end of the pilot declares that he won't stop trying to seduce her/him until s/he gives in. What is the name of this show, and more importantly, is there any way I can obtain a copy?
While I was exercising on the running machine in the gym the other day, a scene from a movie (or possibly TV show) popped into my head. In this, some rich executive type is being tortured on such a contraption. He is taped to the bar and is forced to run at intolerable speeds till he confesses something to some thugs. Any idea what this is from? It's been mildly bothering me all week.
There's a movie out there somewhere that still haunts me. I saw it when I was in the 3rd grade, which would put the year at about 1972. That may be moot, however, since it had the look and feel of an earlier era. In fact, it could have been a TV show, which would make tracking it down all the more difficult, but here's what I remember about it:
I'm pretty certain it was in black and white, although in '72, our TV may have been a B/W set. The gist of the plot centered around these very fat bird-like creatures that roosted in the tops of trees. When onlookers craned their necks upward with their incredulous, mouth-open stares, the creatures would drop like feathered medicine balls right on top of the victims. This sort of scene happened repeatedly. Although absurd now, this really bothered me at age 9, hence the lasting impression the movie has made. A later scene had a posse of townsfolk battling strange snakes deep in the woods. Oddly, these snakes were able to locomote with most of their bodies upright.
This is all I remember, and I may have easily gotten some of the details entirely wrong, but I'd dearly love to know the title so I can exorcise this low-budget demon from my adult mind.
Next week, more answers and more questions. Send them to email@example.com.