Part One–Cinematic Complaints, Gripes, Observations, etc.
I have been an avid movie fan for as long I can remember, a penchant that I reckon I got from my mother. She started taking my brother and me to “the show” when we were still pretty small, and we continued to go on a regular basis when we were old enough to go by ourselves or with our friends. We had seven movie houses in town from which to choose, all showing different features at any given time. This was long before the multiplexes of today turned up.
Sunday afternoon especially, during the ’60s, was movie-going day. A bunch of us high school chums would turn up there together and make a party of it every week. But I actually watched the movies, rather than going there to make out with the girls. We’d always get at least a double feature, along with cartoons, shorts and newsreels, not like these days. Drive-in theaters also thrived during this period, and Mother used to take us kids to them often as well. Most of the films from that era that are shown on TV now, I saw them when they were first released.
Edgar Allan Poe and Stephen King were very frightened children, afraid of everything, especially of things macabre and supernatural, but grew up to be two of the most famous writers of horror fiction. I, too, had a dreaded fear of horror and “scary” monster films as a child but later grew to relish them. To show you how impressionable I was when I was 8 or 9, the first time I saw Claude Rains as The Invisible Man (1933), the scene when he is in his hotel room and unwraps the bandages on his head, leaving nothing there, I freaked! I had bad dreams about that for days! When I see that scene now, it’s so non-scary, it’s almost comical.
While I was stationed in Okinawa during my stint in the Army, movies were my main source of entertainment. I went sometimes as often as 5 times a week. Admission was only a quarter! I continued my frequent movie-going when I moved to NYC, sometimes attending 8-hour marathons and several-day festivals. For a while now I no longer have the inclination to spend that much time sitting in a movie theater. I have better use of my time. I still watch a lot of movies, more than ever in fact, but at home on my TV set. Being a lover of films, I am also able to point out negative aspects of the movie-watching experience.
We always get a news report of which new movies made the most money on their opening weekend. But just because a certain movie took in several million dollars its first time out, is no indication how good the film is. It just means that a lot of people went to see it right away. See if folks are still flocking to see it in the following days, after the word has gotten around about the picture. Plus, since ticket prices have skyrocketed as of late, it doesn’t take them as long to earn a million dollars as it did years ago. There is no film that I am willing to wait in a long line to see, something that is going to be around indefinitely. I’ll see it when I see it.
Almost every film made eventually comes to TV, and to DVD format even before then. I’d rather watch them in the comfort of my own home anyway, where I can pause it or run it back at my leisure, if I miss something or want to see it again, and make use of subtitles, so as not to miss any of the dialogue. Part of the enjoyment for me is being able to make comments during the viewing of a film, something that isn’t condoned in the theater.
Oftentimes in movies when the characters themselves make dates to go to the cinema, they seem to go just for the sake of going. They are seldom concerned with what is playing or even the schedule. “Would you go see a movie with me tonight?” “Sure.” “Swell! I’ll pick you up at 7.” Well, what are you seeing, and what time does it start? Don’t they care? Who is that nonchalant in real life? With the number of films playing at the same time and for what they’re charging for them, who goes to the show just to be going and not even care if they arrive after the picture has started?
I was surprised one night, though, while watching an episode of “Medium” on TV, when the lead character Allison DuBois (played by Patricia Arquette) and her husband went to see Memoirs of a Geisha (2005) that evening. I thought it interesting that they would cite a specific movie in the script, until the next commercial break came on and there was a preview advertisement for that very film, which had opened just that week! Hmm, a little sponsor manipulation there, you think?
More recently, on “America’s Got Talent,” Howie Mandel, one of the show’s regular judges, said of a contestant’s performance one night that it was “epic.” I thought that was an unusual word to use in that context. What does that even mean? So as I was consulting my dictionary to check the meaning–“heroic, grand, majestic,” by the way (but still a strange choice of words, in my opinion)–a commercial break came on just then for a car ad. What I heard then was, “Our prices are epic…Come in for one of our epic deals.” They must have used “epic” at least three times during the sales pitch. Now was that mere coincidence or deliberate intent on Mandel’s part? Of all the words he could have used, why did he choose “epic” at that particular time? Don’t you think, as I do, that it was all pre-arranged?
I don’t like to go in after the picture has started, unless, like in the old days when I would be able to stay and see the part I missed. The first time I went to see The Ten Commandments, in 1956, I sat through the entire film twice! But that is not the case anymore, as they clear the theater and won‘t start the film again until sometimes as much as an hour later. Who wants to wait around that long for the next showing?
Every year on the Academy Awards show, they mention five nominees each in the categories of Best Short Film—Live Action and Animated, and Best Documentary—Feature and Short Subject. Excuse me, but where are these films shown, please?! These are 20 separate films that nobody ever sees! Why don’t they show them along with the regular feature, like they used to in the old days? We at least used to get a cartoon or serial chapter. We don’t get shit anymore, except tedious previews and commercials.
And that’s another thing! There are now more car commercials on TV than anything else, so the last thing I want to see at a movie theater is another goddamned car commercial! Who in Manhattan is constantly in the market to buy a new car?! Give us a break! So it appears as if all these filmmakers crank out these wonderful (presumably) short films and documentaries year after year and nobody except the Academy voters (if they, even) get to see any of them.
My next complaint is about the televised Emmy Awards shows for the last few years. The honors used to be for the shows airing on network TV, which most of Americans, except those who don’t have basic cable, have regular access to. But now with the advent of all these streaming companies like Amazon, Disney +, Hulu and Netflix, the nominations and winners seem to focus more on the shows produced by them than on the network programs. I can appreciate that these partially-inaccessible shows are acknowledged, but why aren’t they given their own awards show in which they can compete with each other and not usurp the network shows? When one is as avid a TV fan as I am, and all the nominees in a certain category are names and shows that can be found only on one of the streaming sites, I began to wonder if anything on regular TV is all worthless crap, and that anything of artistic value we have to pay extra for.
As prominent as they are now, there are those who still don’t own a home computer or in some cases, no cable TV. I figured out that it’s the industry people themselves who are running the show, as it were. They can afford all those extra services that air their productions. The voters must have some connection to the shows that they are promoting. Undoubtedly, there is payola involved. The nominees are not the common people’s choices. They never ask me who to nominate or vote for at any time, for example. Our opinions don’t matter.
I am a big fan of mysteries and suspense thrillers, particularly, and having seen so many of them, I know all the standard plots and twists, and I have an uncanny knack for figuring out whodunit. I have on occasion merely perused a cast list of a TV or movie drama and was able to pick out the murderer even before I saw the thing. Whenever you see the names William Atherton, Jere Burns or Titus Welliver, for example, in anything, it’s a good bet that they will be up to no good.
I do the same with the mystery novels that I read. I was often ahead of the story while I was reading Dan Brown’s books, for instance. His recurring character, Robert Langdon, is supposed to be so smart–I mean, he is a Harvard professor of symbology–and he doesn’t recognize backward writing when he sees it or something written upside down? I noticed it right away. I was often figuring out what was going on in the story long before he does. I realize that writers tend to withhold certain information from their readers and viewers and expect and even hope to keep us all in the dark until they themselves reveal something important. But he shouldn’t compromise the character’s savvy in order to keep certain facts from us readers. There are ways to get around it without compromising their intention. It sometimes feels as if they are insulting our intelligence as well. I couldn’t be the only one that has figured out what’s going to happen; it seems so obvious to me.
On “Murder, She Wrote,” for another instance, at times the killer would let something slip which proves their guilt, and “Jessica Fletcher” would not catch it right away. Then at the end of the episode when she is exposing the culprit, only then would she remember what the guy said earlier. Well, duh! We viewers all heard what they said. How did she miss it? How does that character know that the victim was shot twice? Nobody ever said so. Again, the writers are insulting our intelligence. “These people are so stupid, they always miss the obvious clues we give them.“ Well, I don’t!
My idea of a good, carefully-crafted murder mystery is one in which I don’t guess the outcome of the story. And although it doesn’t happen often, I am pleased to report that I still do get surprised from time to time. The climactic twist in Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol, for instance, I sure didn’t see that coming. He really got me that time. No, I will not spoil it for you, in case you haven’t read it. Another way that I amaze myself is when I anticipate a character’s dialogue exactly. Situations become so predictable, I just know what they’re going to say, before they say it.
I still love television and movies, but I’ve gotten rather jaded, I suppose. No horror film has given me a thrill or a rise in a very long time. I’ve seen all the tricks, all the gimmicks, all the special effects used in films. But I keep on watching just the same, vainly hoping for a fresh innovation, a real fright or a never-before-seen screen image.
The movie sequel is certainly nothing new. When movie characters are first introduced and become popular with the public, they are undoubtedly used again and again in follow-up films. But I wonder if people actually write these movie producers begging for more of the same of a certain movie, or do the studios just take it upon themselves to produce them unrequested? For instance, the first Police Academy movie (1984) wasn’t all that great to begin with. So who asked them to make six more sequels of the thing?! I sure didn’t! And, come on, did we really need a remake of that 1958 debacle Attack of the 50 Foot Woman? The second one was just as horrendous as the first one!
And what’s with this remaking of movie classics? Some great films are virtually perfect and don’t need to be improved upon. I say, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Although I do like both the Redgrave sisters, Lynn and Vanessa, their remake of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1991) didn’t even come close to being as good as the original with Bette and Joan. It was totally unnecessary—as was George Romero’s own color remake of his Night of the Living Dead (1990). The only real change was the ending. And why the frame-by-frame remake of Hitchcock’s Psycho? Does that make any kind of sense?
In the last few years the Syfy Channel on cable has produced a series of preposterous hybrid creature action features. You can figure out what they are supposed to be from their titles alone. They first came out with Sharktopus (it has tentacles, no less), followed by Dinoshark, both in 2010 and Piranhaconda (2012). Sharktopus was then pitted against Pteracuda in 2014 and Whalewolf (2015). Next we were given Croczilla and Lavalantula, which features volcano-produced giant spiders (both 2015). There is also a sequel. “They’re bigger! They’re hotter!” They’re more ridiculous!
Sharknado (2013) was such a big hit for the network that they produced five more sequels! The title of Sharknado 6 is The Last Sharknado: It’s About Time! (2018). We’ll see about that. They said that with the Nightmare on Elm Street series, when after Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991), They made Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994), then Freddy Vs. Jason (2003) and then a remake of the first Nightmare, ostensibly starting the whole series over again! Similarly, after what was supposed to be the fourth and final Final Destination in 2009, they made yet another one, Final Destination 5 two years later. It would seem that it’s not really over until it’s really over.
Apparently, some producer seems to have a fanatic obsession with sharks. In addition to the aforementioned entries, there is also Swamp Shark (2011), Zombie Shark (2015) and Roboshark (2016), which actually was not too bad. In 2017 we had Atomic Shark, Toxic Shark, Trailer Park Shark, Dam Sharks: “Sharks use human bodies to build dams” (!), Empire of the Sharks, and the derivative Planet of the Sharks, in which, instead of the former apes, sharks now dominate the earth, led by a mutant alpha. Add to those, 2-Headed Shark Attack (2012), 3-Headed Shark Attack (2015), 5-Headed Shark Attack (2017) and 6-Headed Shark Attack (2018). What, no four-headed Shark, you are probably asking? Well, I wondered about that, too. It turns out that the five-headed one started out as four and grew another head during the course of the film!
Wait, they are not done yet! They also have produced Nightmare Shark, Santa Jaws, Megalodon, Frenzy and Deep Sea 2, all shark features. I expected there would be more to come, and sure enough, there are a whole slew of more shark features in the works, including Alien Sharks and Cocaine Sharks. They tried it with a bear, let’s see how a shark deals with it. Can they stop?! That’s makes 31 shark movies, not counting the several Jaws features from the ’70s and ’80s and others made in between that decade and the present one. I am not making any of this up, by the way. These are actual movies with plots and everything. I have watched only a few of them myself. I wonder who thinks up these things? How they got some major stars to appear in these schlock films must be the large salaries offered them.
If the killer tomatoes and the killer doll Chucky of the Child’s Play series weren’t ridiculous enough, I recently saw Attack of the Killer Donuts (2016), I kid you not, starring C. Thomas Howell, and somebody came up with a murderous Cookie Monster in the guise of a possessed gingerbread man! The film is called The Gingerdead Man (2005) and stars Gary Busey in the title role and directed by Charles Band. This silly film has so far spawned two sequels!
One cable channel seems hell-bent on exploiting real life murders, each with their own series, no less. There is “Killer Women,” hosted by Piers Morgan, “Killer Couples,” “Killer Kids” and even “Killer Clergy”! They also regularly exploit the famous killers who have made the news over the years, like David Berkowitz, Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, Charles Manson, the Menendez Brothers, and Jack the Ripper is a constant dramatic staple. I can only assume that enough people are watching these shows to keep them on the air. It seems that nothing is taboo anymore as far as TV fare goes. One of the History Channels on cable has been dubbed “The Hitler Channel,” because virtually every program that they air has something to do with Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime.
I have become annoyed by this recurring trend of feature films that don’t give us any opening credits. Some don’t even give us the title of the film at the start. In the case of a multiplex, we can only hope that we wandered into the right theater. At times we will get just the title, but nothing else until the end. I like to know who’s involved with the picture and who’s appearing in it before I see it, so I’ll know who to watch for. I want to know who did the music and who is directing, especially. If it is a period piece, I’d like to know who did the sets and the costumes. Those theatergoers who are in the habit of leaving as soon as they see “The End” on the screen, don’t seem to care about any of that.
I am one of those who does stay after a feature film to view all the credits. I view movies as an artistic experience, not only for the entertainment aspect. I am most interested in knowing who everybody is. By staying, I have actually seen the names of people that I know personally. Imagine how thrilled I was to see my own name listed among the end credits of Philadelphia. I want to know where it was filmed, which they will tell you at the end. What is that song and who is that singing right now during the credits?
As a fan of soundtrack and movie scores, I also find that some of the best music is reserved for the very end. John Williams, for instance, one of my favorites, usually has great End Credit music to listen to. Without the visual distractions and limitations, they can really let it all out then. Some nominated songs (and Oscar winners) are sung during the end credits of a film. When I finally got to see An Officer and a Gentleman (1982), I kept waiting to hear “Up Where We Belong,” which had become a hit before I saw the movie the first time. It was sung during the closing credits!
I consider a movie is not over until the screen goes blank. That goes for TV shows, too. That’s how I learn who the industry people are, by remembering certain names when they keep turning up again and again. This proves to be more difficult on TV, however, because in the attempt to start the next scheduled program, they tend to cut the end credits or scroll them by so fast or too far away to read anything. That cuts off the ensuing music as well.
There are some films that give us more footage during and even after the end credits. During the end credits of Wild Things (1998), for example, film snippets were inserted here and there that filled in some gaps that we didn’t get to see during the movie. They helped to clear up certain questions that we had about the film. Oh, well that explains a lot!
Here is another interesting case in point. (Spoiler Alert!) At the end of Young Sherlock Holmes (1985), teenage schoolboy Sherlock is in mortal combat with his professor and trusted mentor, who turns out to be the murderer and head conspirator of the story. When this guy disappears under an ice floe, it was made to look as if that was the end of him. So after all the end credits finish rolling, we get another scene of a man checking into a hotel. We don’t know who it is at first, until he signs the register as Professor Moriarty, Holmes‘ subsequent lifetime arch nemesis. Then his face is revealed, and what do you know? It’s the same guy that we had just presumed was dead!
I think that is a fabulous unexpected twist, which the people who left the theater early never got to see. And that was perfect the way it was done. Putting that scene before the end credits wouldn’t have had the same effect as it did at the very end. It was like the postscript of a letter. “Oh, by the way, before you go, wait a minute and check this out.” Sometimes they will tack on a brief scene at the very end that sets up the sequel. They will drop a name or mention some unknown entity. Who is that? or, What does that mean? Well, I guess we will have to come back for the next one to find out.
I am not pleased about some other cinematic innovations either. There must be corporate employees who sit around and think up more ways to bilk moviegoers into getting more money out of us. The constantly-escalating ticket prices certainly are not enticing me into the movie theaters as often as I used to go in the past. Whenever a new, eagerly-anticipated film is released, whether it be Titanic, Star Wars or a new James Bond, they think that gives them an excuse to raise the ticket price from what it was currently. So now that becomes the new price. If people are willing to pay that much for a movie, they surmise, then there is no reason to revert back to the old price. But even that is not enough for them. Let’s give the people some gimmicks to enhance the movie-going experience. 1985 saw the return of 3-D after a 30-year hiatus, and Imax appeared as a regular entity at about the same time, both which justify a higher ticket price than a normal showing.
The latest thing is (or was?) 4X, which is sort of a virtual reality experiment. I saw the Ben-Hur (2016) remake in this format, and I am not all that impressed with it. It’s too much, in my opinion–overkill. In addition to the film being shown in 3-D, the seats rocked and shook throughout, which, to me, felt dizzying after a while. We got spritzed and rained on, and gusts of wind blew at us from all directions. It seemed a waste, as there were only four other people in attendance, but I expect that the price of the thing may have something to do with the lack of audience. The theater was charging $28.50 for the movie and $25.50 for children and seniors! That is utterly outrageous.
I did not pay that amount, however, because I was at a multiplex and had gone there to see something else, and Ben-Hur just happened to be playing in an adjacent theater, so I decided to check it out. I’m glad that I did. Now I know to avoid it in the future. There is no single movie, I don’t care how good it’s supposed to be, that I would spend almost $30 to see. This is most likely other people’s feeling as well, and is why there wasn’t a bigger attendance. I expect this new gimmick will be a flash-in-the-pan and suffer the same fate as 8-track cartridges and laser-disks. (Remember them?) Who is going to pay that much for a movie that may turn out to be a piece of shit?
How do these theater owners think that charging those exorbitant prices is going to lure more and more people into their movie houses, when it is most likely causing the opposite effect? If we wait a couple of months every film made eventually comes to TV and/or on video format. There are a great number of movie channels that come with our basic cable TV, and it’s already paid for. The basic plan for Netflix used to only $5.43 for two films a month, and Amazon Prime is only $7.41, plus one can watch them in the comfort of their home, which is more fun anyway, in my opinion, as I elaborated earlier.
Have you ever noticed that up until the last decade or so, except for occupational uniforms, all adult male actors in Hollywood films were required to wear suits and ties? It seems that the studio costume designers concentrated most of their efforts on the women, because the men all wore the same thing all the time. Check it out. The next time you see an old movie from the ’30s through the ’70s, notice what all the men are wearing in every scene. It doesn’t matter what the situation is or what they are doing. Even after work when they are sitting at home relaxing, they will have on a business suit or sport jacket and/or tie.
The height of absurdity was in a film I saw with Fred Astaire, George Burns and Gracie Allen, called Damsel in Distress (1937). There is a scene in an amusement park Funhouse where the trio are dancing, carousing, sliding and rolling around on the floor. The two men are dressed in suits and ties, and Gracie has on a dress and high heels! Go ‘head, y’all!
Other random examples: In the 1951 comedy Rhubarb, there are several scenes at a baseball stadium—and I’m talking hundreds of extras to fill the stands—all the men that appear on camera are dressed in suits and ties, and the women have on dresses and hats! Come on, who wears formal attire to a stadium baseball game, and why?!
In Romance on the High Seas (1948) they’re on a cruise ship in the Caribbean, and now that I have done cruises myself, I know what people wear. They dress up only for evening dinner—and not every night either—but during the day everyone goes very casual—shorts, T-shirts, tropical wear. I have never seen anybody walking around the ship and in Caribbean port stops during the day, as they are in the film, dressed in suits and ties and dresses!
In Picnic (1955) there is a town picnic held in a park with physical games and activities, and the men are all wearing suits and ties during the three-legged races and while they are crawling around on the ground. Didn’t those producers see how stupid and unrealistic that was? And have you ever noticed what they make actors wear for police uniforms, especially old sitcoms? They must all come from a common wardrobe source because they are all the same. We recognize the players to be police officers by their distinctive costume, but real police uniforms don’t look like that. You will find that kind only in old films.
And while we’re on the subject of cinematic dress, what sadist came up with the nonsense of dressing for dinner? I’ve seen films where a pretentious, aristocratic (white, of course) family has houseguests and instructs them, “In this house we always dress for dinner.” Then they all come down to the table dressed to the teeth—the men in tuxedos, tails even, with starched, white shirts and collars, bow ties, the works, and the women decked out in full regalia, tons of makeup and jewelry everywhere. How can they enjoy a meal with all that shit on? I like to be comfortable when I eat. I don’t want anything tight around my neck or be afraid to spill anything on my freshly-laundered, neatly-pressed clothes. It wasn’t until I went on the first cruise ship that I discovered that that really goes on. Every few days during any cruise, formal night is suggested, when all guest passengers are asked to dress up in tuxes and evening gowns for dinner and after. I did go along with it because everybody else does it. But I wouldn’t do that every day, and certainly not in my own home. I contend that it really is a white thing, being that is who the cruise circuit cater to primarily. Most blacks are not that pretentious about such matters. I’m certainly not.
Has it ever occurred to you while watching adventure movies or disaster films or when the characters are trapped somewhere or confined for long periods of time, that they never have to relieve themselves, or at least they don’t let us see them going to the “bathroom”? It’s not that I want to see people taking dumps on screen all the time, but they can at least make an allusion to it occasionally, to add to the realism. And if they did “go,” I’d be curious to know what they use to wipe their butts with.
In The Poseidon Adventure (1972), for example, it is many hours before the surviving passengers are finally rescued, but during all that time, nobody has to go to the toilet, and after that huge meal that they all had just before the ship capsized. Here’s one delightful exception. My favorite dialogue exchange from The Main Event (1979) was when Barbra Streisand has to share a barracks with all men at a boxers’ retreat in the woods. She asks trainer Whitman Mayo where the restroom is. He told her that it is outside. She asks, “Where, outside?” He replies, “Anywhere.”
Speaking of The Poseidon Adventure, which was the first movie I saw in the theater when I moved to New York City in 1972… It occurred to me when I watched it again recently on TV, that when the captain and crew noticed the giant wave coming at them, instead of turning the ship sideways, which allowed the wave to turn it over, if they had headed straight into the wave, it might have washed around them and avoided the capsizing. But then a friend of mine noted that if they had done that, there wouldn’t have been any movie! Oh, yeah, I just killed the whole plot, didn’t I? I have done that at other times. If the movie characters do the logical thing, in my opinion, there won’t be any movie. So many films often rely on illogical contrivances. I will cite some other examples later.
Anyone who has learned to speak on a two-way radio correctly, knows the basic terms of communication. I was taught radio protocol during Basic Training. “Over” means that you have finished talking for the time being and now expect a reply. “Out” means that your transmission is completed and you do not expect a reply. So what idiot first came up with the signoff “over and out”? It makes no sense. The two words cancel out each other. Yet the phrase has become so commonplace in the movies and on TV, I often wonder how so many writers, directors and the actors themselves, who constantly utter this incongruous phrase, can all be so misinformed.
Now, “roger, out” works fine. That means, “Message understood; goodbye.” I suppose that at some time along the way, the two phrases got confused, the wrong one won out, and it has never been corrected. Sometimes a character will even try to read somebody. “Goodbye! Over and out!” So there! Of all the movies I’ve seen, I probably can count on one hand the times someone has correctly used “Out” when he signed off on the radio or transmitter. It reveals the phoniness of the character, because a real person doing that particular job would know the correct terminology to use. What, you’re supposed to be a general and you don’t know how to talk on the radio?!
Another military term that is often wrong is the acronym “AWOL.“ Most think that it stands for “absent without leave.“ But as an Army veteran, I know that it actually stands for “absent without official leave.” The word for the “O” is important and is there for a reason. “Absent Without Leave” does not mean anything by itself. The fact that a soldier abandons his assigned post without permission from his unit superiors is what makes it an infraction.
“I will take care of the matter the first thing in the morning … Have that report on my desk first thing in the morning.” That is certainly an impractical, overused movie phrase. The very first thing I do when I wake up (and not always in the morning either) is look at my clock to see what time it is, then I get up and go to the bathroom. In order to submit a report to someone’s desk, one has to get up, do their ablutions, dress, maybe have breakfast, leave the house, travel to work, arrive at the office and then deliver the requested report. So that’s not exactly “the first thing in the morning,” is it? I know that it’s just an expression, but why not say what they really mean? If they don’t want to give a specific time, just say, “As soon as you come in to work” or “At my earliest convenience”?
Check this out. In the movie musical Singin’ in the Rain (1952) when Jean Hagen is preparing to lip-sync the title tune (with Debbie Reynolds behind the curtain doing the actual singing), she tells the house orchestra to do it in the key of A-flat. And then they play it in the key of E-flat instead! More recently and conversely, in The Ernest Green Story (1993), the star, Morris Chestnut, is leading a jazz combo at a school dance. He tells them to play the song in E-flat and they proceed to play it in A-flat! In Words and Music (1948), a biopic of Rodgers and Hart, Judy Garland, playing herself, announces that she will do “Johnny One Note” in E-flat, and then the band plays it in D instead. In Romance on the High Seas (1948) Oscar Levant is talking to Doris Day when the ship’s whistle blows and he says to her, “E-flat. That’s your key,” suggesting that he had perfect pitch. But it wasn’t E-flat. It was an F.
So in all these cases, why didn’t they just change the line in the script to coincide with the music and actual pitches? They all seem to have a thing for E-flat, for some reason. Did they think that nobody in the world would know the difference? I am one who always checks when a musical pitch is mentioned in a drama. I want to know if they’re naming the right key or pitch. I am pleased when they do. Like, in Victor/Victoria (1982) when Julie Andrews’ nightclub audition is rejected, before she leaves, she warbles a high note that breaks a glass in the room. The proprietor asks, “What was that?” Robert Preston, sitting nearby, replies, “B-flat,” which it was. Or, when Whoopi Goldberg is giving her nun’s chorus a music lesson in Sister Act (1992), she has them sing a D Major triad, which it actually is. So the non-musician viewers can learn something right along with the characters on-screen.
In the Hollywood biopic, Rhapsody in Blue (1945), starring Robert Alda as George Gershwin, I noticed a major flaw in the script. In case you don’t know, “Rhapsody in Blue”–that’s just a catchy title–is actually a piano concerto. So right after they had just premiered the piece and were congratulating Gershwin on its success, one of his advisors suggested that he should now write a concerto. George told them that he didn’t know anything about concertos; he would have to study up on them. I said to the screen, ‘Uh, what do you think that was that you just played?’ And nobody there said anything. I guess none of the actors (including Alda and George’s real-life friend, Oscar Levant, who was standing right there!), writer, director, production staff or anybody knew any better either. But what about us? The millions of people who have viewed the film in these many years could not all be as ignorant and uninformed. When Gershwin later did compose his “Concerto in F,” he (the character, that is) thought that was his first and only one.
It seems that Hollywood producers, in general, take us all to be music illiterates. When a non-musician is playing a piano, for instance, or rather sitting at it, as the camera is not on their hands or keyboard, their body movements are often incongruous with the music we hear. It’s so obvious that they are not really playing. When a movie or TV character is “playing” a wind instrument, I hardly ever see them actually breathing. They just hold the thing up to their mouth. If the actor is so clueless as to realize that a wind instrument requires air to play it, even if they are faking, the director or somebody on the set should enlighten them. I find myself yelling to the screen, ‘Breathe, bitch!’
I always catch things like that. I would make a good continuity consultant for films, making sure that everything matches up and check for anomalies and inaccuracies. I have spotted misspelled and incorrect signs on occasion. In the Ancient Rome section of Mel Brooks’ History of the World–Part I (1981), as the camera is perusing the town, the signs and lettering that have a “U” on them are spelled with the Roman “V”. It’s been a while since I’ve seen the film, and except for “VNEMPLOYMENT OFFICE” and SVPERMARKET, I don’t recall the other examples. I do remember, however, catching a sign for “USED CHARIOTS” instead of “VSED CHARIOTS”. Oh-oh, they missed one!
If a certain song or piece of music is performed in a film, I will check to see if that particular music existed at the time of the setting of the film. Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows (2012) takes place in 1972. Two of the songs played on the radio during the film are “Superfly” by Curtis Mayfield and Carpenters’ “Top of the World,” both which came out in 1972. I thought, Okay, somebody is doing their job. But then we hear Barry White doing “My First, My Last, My Everything,” which did not come out until 1974. Aha! I gotcha!
And how about when a regular actor is required to conduct a chorus or an orchestra? Pitiful! Couldn’t they at least learn a basic beat pattern? They give no preparations, no cutoffs. If it is a rehearsal, the director or conductor will stop the chorus or orchestra, give a musical direction, and then they will all start singing or playing together in the same place, when they haven’t even been told where they should resume. That’s what rehearsal letters and measure numbers are for. And during an actual concert, they will begin a big symphonic work somewhere in the middle of the piece and want us to believe that it’s the beginning, as if nobody is going to know the difference. I hate having my intelligence constantly insulted. I do realize that there usually is not enough time to perform the whole piece, but they can start at the beginning and then make the necessary cuts, which would at least denote the passage of time.
A recent exception is in Whiplash (2014) when jazz band director J.K. Simmons actually does give music instructions, preparations and count-offs to his musicians. It was so refreshing and rare to see that in a film. I have since learned that Simmons is a real musician, who studied music formally. Aha!
Of course, during the olden days of studio film production, everything was done so quickly, most actors did not have the time to learn a special craft. If they needed a conductor, they would just hire whomever was available. “Just do the best you can. Nobody’s going to know the difference.” In later years, however, if a character is required to play an instrument or learn an unfamiliar skill, they are allowed the proper training to do so, no matter how long it takes. Plus, your more serious stars have the professional integrity to make their performances more convincing than in the past. And having that attitude usually pays off in the end. For Music of the Heart (1999) Meryl Streep, for one example, learned at least the basics of how to play the violin, so that she could realistically portray a violin teacher.
Did you ever notice that when actors are performing a play-within-a-play or rehearsing a scene from a play, they always have to overact so that we will know that they are “acting”? Anne Baxter always overacted in everything she appeared in. (“Oh, Moses, Moses! You stubborn, splendid, adorable fool!“) I like her, though.
Now, this may be only a movie and TV thing. Everybody, blacks and whites, like to dance, but black people tend to want to dance to danceable music, whereas white people don’t seem to care and will dance to anything. They will be in a restaurant or somewhere and they’ll get up to dance and the music playing will be some slow, rambling, rhythmless ditty with no kind of beat to it, and the white folks will be dancing back! I always think, Do they want to dance just for the sake of dancing and to hell with the music? To me, music is dancing’s raison d’etre. If there is no music to guide you, why bother? I mean, one can sing acappella but it’s sort of pointless to dance acappella, especially with another person.
This is something that I have always wondered about in King Kong (1933) and its subsequent remakes. When they get the idea to bring Kong to New York from his island, they have to knock him out with something in order to transport him. Then the very next scene shows a big, flashing neon sign announcing Kong’s premiere unveiling at a theater in the middle of Times Square! Now, how in the world did they sneak that big-assed ape into midtown Manhattan and into the theater without anybody seeing them do it?! And Times Square is not near any waterways. They would have to maneuver the narrow side streets to get there. He would have to be unconscious still, too, to accomplish it. How did they move him, and on what kind of transport or conveyance would he even fit? So at the most populated section of Manhattan at any given time, there was nobody in the area when they were sneaking him in? Kong’s subsequent unveiling was a big surprise to everybody.
That editorial omission is a transitional scene that is never shown in any of the film versions, and nobody even explains how they did it. We viewers just have to accept it without question. I question everything. I can accept the unreality of the main aspects of the plot of a movie for the sake of the story, but I wish that the producers would make the minor details of the action plausible as well. I like to have the feeling of, ‘Okay, I’ll buy that. That could happen,’ instead of, ‘Aw, come on, that doesn’t make any kind of sense!’ In the first remake (1976), for example, Charles Grodin is making all these plans about taking Kong on coast-to-coast tours. They couldn’t even contain him in one place for too long, how were they going to transport him from city to city?
In some of the older werewolf movies, a man (or woman) turns into a real wolf, but what happened to the clothes they were wearing? Then when they turn back, their clothes miraculously reappear. When the vampire bat turns back into Count Dracula, there he is fully-dressed with cape and all. It’s a similar situation when someone is rendered invisible or when their size is extremely altered. It’s their physical body that is effected by the transformation or serum or radiation or whatever, not their clothing. In both The Amazing Colossal Man (1957) and Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958), as they were increasing in size, the loincloths that they are wearing also increased right along with them. If the story calls for a person to turn into a creature of some sort or shrink or increase in size, then the director should make them get naked first. You know? Logicality within the fantasy. I will acknowledge that in more recent film fare, some directors have taken such previously-ignored corporal transformations into practical consideration by unclothing them first.
I do practice what I preach. I have written a murder-mystery novella that deals with a serial killer. As my killer character is very methodical and pays close attention to detail, while going through the story to check for mistakes, discrepancies and such, I found myself asking certain questions, just as I do when I watch movies and TV shows. I have characters doing things for the sake of the story, but then I stopped and wondered why or how they did that. So, for my own satisfaction and for it to make sense in my own mind, as well as my readers who may share my tendency to scrutinize everything, I then set about to answer my own questions and explain how it was accomplished. Why is he doing this? Where did he get those bulls and scorpions? You can find my story, Return of the Zodiac Killer, as a separate post on this very blog site.
Although most moviemakers try to go for “realism” in their films, I think that they all fail miserably when it comes to the depiction of bodily blows. It works in two opposing ways, though. During fight scenes, there is no way that a normal person could withstand some of those licks. Repeated blows to the face with a bare fist would at least draw blood, fracture something or cause some damage, but some of these guys come out with nary a scratch. They get kicked and beaten with clubs and things all over their bodies and they keep right on punching. But then, when one guy does knock the other down, he’ll yell at him to “Get up!” I’m thinking, Why should he get up just to be knocked back down again? Or maybe it’s an etiquette thing. It’s not polite to hit a man while he’s down, so they make him stand up first? If someone is going to beat the shit out of me, I certainly don’t expect him to follow his Amy Vanderbilt manual!
Now the other way it works is that it’s far too easy to knock people out in the movies. A simple tap on the noggin will knock a guy out for hours. One does not need a bludgeon or mace to render someone unconscious, mind you. Light pottery and bottles work just as well, but be sure to use a bottle with the liquid still in it, to give it that added weight and dribble, you see. Furniture’s good, too, like chairs and lamps, but my favorite knocker-outer is the canvas painting over the head. You know, the cheap watercolor that breaks through on impact? Boy, I’ll bet that really smarts!
And speaking of unconsciousness, sort of, did you ever notice when in a hospital scene a patient has been in a coma for a long time, but then they finally wake up and their family and friends rush in to see them? Shortly, some hospital personnel will come into the room and tell the visitors that they have to leave because the patient needs their rest. What?! My goodness, the man has been in a coma for five years! How much more rest could he possibly need?! I would think that he would need to get up and get things moving. Tend to those bedsores, if anything! I often wonder if these scriptwriters and directors actually listen to some of the lines that they make their actors utter.
How about movies and TV shows that regularly feature burning buildings, like “Rescue Me” and the current “Chicago Fire”? When they show the firefighters going inside the buildings to rescue people, the flames are always in little patches here and there to give the actors and crew room to maneuver themselves through. I am pretty sure that fire does not confine itself to convenient patches like that. When a fire starts, it spreads and catches on to everything in its immediate vicinity. A fire that starts in one part of the room doesn’t just leap across unattached to burn up that place way on the other side of the room. If fire did not spread from a single source, how did that little fire that started in the wastebasket end up burning the entire house down? It’s so obvious in these dramas that those fires are created for the sole purpose of filming. It’s as if the fire has conscious intelligence. The boss flame instructs, “Hold on, guys! Leave a path right there so that the stars of the show can get through safely.” Then as soon as they get outside, the place immediately is engulfed in flames. “Okay, guys, they’re gone now. We can do our thing. Let‘s turn this mother out!”
Another unbelievable time is in Independence Day (1996) when Vivica A. Fox is trying to outrun a marauding fireball while carrying her young son. She is in a sort of tunnel or enclosed passageway but encounters a conveniently-placed niche in a side wall which they and their dog manage to retreat into, just as the fireball catches up with them. There is no door or anything with which to cover the hole, but instead of the fire filling up the open space, it miraculously passes over it, continuing on its merry way, as they watch it go by. I thought, Wasn’t it nice of that fireball to spare the lives of those good people? Just previously, poor Harvey Fierstein wasn’t so fortunate, however.
And where did they get the cinematic idea that common bullets have a deadly effect on everything? No matter what it is—monsters, robots, extraterrestrials (the Blob!?), spaceships, anything—they will shoot at it! It’s the shooting at dead things that I find particularly absurd. Someone will see a ghost or vampire or zombie or somebody that they know is definitely dead, but they’ll shoot at them anyway, just in case, I guess. Now if this person has figured out how to defy death, what do they think a mere bullet is going to do to them? I mean, how do you re-kill a ghost, and why even bother? White men are just so trigger-happy in the movies. You know, shoot first and ask questions later. (They seem to be that way in real life, too!)
But it seems that many of them have selective marksmanship. Oh, they do all right on the minor characters and stunt extras, shooting them off rooftops and off of horses and such, but when the hero is trying to run for cover, the bullets always manage to miss him. They will hit the ground at his feet or hit the building or objects next to his head instead. But in the event that he is actually hit, it’s never fatal. The same bullets that killed everybody else in the film, only slightly wound the hero. And while the crooks or psychopath can walk up to these insignificants and remorselessly blow them all away, no questions asked, for the star and heroes of the film, it is customary to hold them at gunpoint. Instead of shooting them dead on the spot, the villain has to talk to them and confess to all their misdeeds, which then allows enough time for somebody to arrive to rescue them.
I don’t see the point of holding a gun on somebody. If you’re not going to shoot, why are you pointing it at me? If there is something that you want from me, just ask. Threatening me with a gun is not going to make me comply more readily. Another thing that I wonder if it ever happens in real life, is when a character goes out on a ledge of a building, or bridge over a river, and just stands there, sometimes for hours, with the purported purpose to jump. If they really want to jump, why don’t they do it? What are they trying to prove by standing there indefinitely? I would think they would make their mind up before they go out there. Now if they really don’t want to kill themself and are only trying to attract attention or are doing it as a cry for help, I still don’t see how standing out on a ledge accomplishes anything. Shit or get off the pot! And then somebody will crawl out onto the ledge with the guy to try to get them to go back inside. Why do they have to go out there, too? They can talk to them from within.
Some person or persons are holding somebody captive—they are kidnappers, some other abductors or maybe a fugitive of some kind. So the police discover where the crooks are hiding out, and instead of sneaking up on them to take them by surprise, they make their approach with their sirens on full blast, which of course, alert the crooks of their arrival. Why are they in such a hurry and make so much noise? I mean, the fugitives, or whoever, are in hiding, so they’re not going anywhere at the moment. But they will if you let them know that you’re coming.
This always elicits editorial comments from the audience when they do it in the movies. It’s usually a male/female couple—husband and wife or just boy and girl or father and daughter or hero and heroine—and they are on some mysterious mission somewhere, in a haunted house or somebody’s hideout or it could be anywhere. The man, or the masterful one of the two, you understand, intends to go check out something on the premises. He will invariably tell his companion, “You wait here”—his thinking, I suppose, is that there could be something in there that will harm her. But maybe the danger is right there where they are and not in the place where he is going. So then he will go off and leave her for the monster or bad guy to abduct her or kill her while she is alone. Why don’t they stay together to help each other or at least to have one witness present when something ominous happens? But then, there I go again. That would thwart the action of the story, wouldn’t it?
A woman exclaims, “Ahhh! I just saw something at the window!” Then the others just arriving on the scene will question and doubt her vision. But if someone had stayed there with her, they might have seen it, too. Even with a group (that has an as-of-yet-undisclosed murderer among them), someone will suggest, “Let’s split up! You go there, you go that way, and I’ll stay here.” Don’t they know about safety in numbers? The serial killer is not likely to strike if everybody stays together. But that’s the reason they do that, I guess. Yeah, I know. But it’s so cliché and predictable. An oft-uttered line: “I can take care of myself.” Yeah, right. Famous last words.
“I know him. He’s not capable of murder.” “She couldn’t have done that awful thing. That’s my daughter you’re talking about!” “Stay away from that one. He looks like a criminal.” And my favorite: “Do I look like a murderer to you?” First of all, I believe that everyone is capable of committing murder. It may be unlikely and difficult for some people to take a human life, like me, for instance, and our actions are based on the choices we make in life. Fortunately, most people choose not to commit murder, but we all certainly have the ability to do so, if not the inclination. How much effort or brute strength does it take to poison somebody, push them down the stairs or off a cliff, or run them down with an automobile? What does a criminal look like? What a prejudicial comment to make. I don’t put anything past anybody. “He’s not a killer.” A person is what a person does. Anyone who commits murder is therefore a murderer. Maybe he is not a career killer, but there is a first time for everything. Their looks or station in society don’t have anything to do with it.
I am always bemused by TV and movie murder mysteries that rule out a certain suspect because of their particular occupation, affliction or because they are a friend or relative of the murdered victim. “I couldn’t have killed him. He was my brother and I loved him.” Well, who do they think it is that commits crimes in real life, people with no families or acquaintances? They are always somebody’s best friend or parent or child or sibling or somebody they know. Ted Bundy and David Berkowitz both had parents. People are seldom murdered by total strangers. It does happen occasionally, as in the case of some serial killers who pick their unknown victims at random, but not in most other cases. It’s usually somebody close to home. If people weren’t known to murder members of their own family, we wouldn’t have words for it—matricide (mother), patricide (father), fratricide (brother), sororicide (sister), filicide (son or daughter; infanticide, if it‘s a baby), mariticide (husband) and uxoricide (wife).
And then during a murder investigation, when the police or a detective questions the people involved with the case, they always get so indignant and defensive when asked for an alibi or when it’s implied that they may be a suspect. “Inspector, are you suggesting that I had something to do with Madame’s death?” I mean, when someone gets murdered and they don’t know who did it yet, then everybody is a suspect until they can prove that they are completely innocent; no need to take it personally. Somebody did it! What makes you exempt? So your business partner just got murdered, you want to know who did it, but I should automatically rule you out because you were friends? Why? Maybe you are “The Guy.”
I had a good friend who was brutally murdered in his Village apartment in 1982, and as far as I know, his killer was never discovered. My name and number were certainly in his address book, so why was I never contacted and questioned by the police? I mean, I could have done it, for all they know, or I might have some information or some idea who did. Nobody asked me anything. I wouldn’t have been insulted. It would have shown me that at least somebody was doing their job. But since Fintan was just another dead faggot, nobody gives a shit. These guys have such a lazy attitude. Many of them would rather speculate a mysterious death to be suicide or accidental than doing any actual work on the case. Too much paperwork. They can’t be bothered.
Sometimes a murder suspect is a politician, a judge, the head of something or a well-respected member of the community, perhaps, and when the detective(s) on the case want to question them, they will get from their boss, “I can’t let you accuse that person of anything unless you have absolute proof.” They are not so reluctant and cautious with us peons, however. They are always arresting innocent, regular folks when they have no evidence whatsoever on them. You know, lock them up now. We can build a case against them later. Why give those big shots a break, just because they think they are so important? Even in real life, it’s those with the money and power that are able to commit the major crimes and get away with it. Some use their social standing to avoid suspicion, but they are the ones who I would want to question.
And it’s usually someone that you least suspect, or it wouldn’t be a mystery. So don’t rule out that “innocent” little kid or their mother or the twin sibling or the kindly neighbor or the trusted babysitter or the well-respected town philanthropist or the world-renown scientist or the butler or the police commissioner or the sheriff or that director of the day care center or the judge or the chief of staff at the hospital or the coroner or the Senator or the parish priest or the Mother Superior or the camerlengo or the “best friend” or that blind woman or that guy in the wheelchair or that little old lady or even the star of the drama, as a murder suspect. All the aforementioned have been the guilty party at some instance, by the way.
In fact, if a physically-disabled character is included in a murder mystery story, they are the one who I will pay the most attention to. They are certainly not above my suspicion. Many have been proven to be quite capable of committing murder. I don’t really know that woman in the wheelchair. How do I know for sure that she can’t walk? It turned out that she really could, by the way. That “blind” guy was not really blind either. One story features a paraplegic man who managed to murder his wife in her second-story bedroom, although everyone assumed that he was unable to make it upstairs from the ground level, which he could, it turned out. I saw a character once pretend to have cerebral palsy so that when he killed a man, nobody suspected him. When he was called as a witness to testify, the prosecutor says, “Why are you harassing that poor, crippled towel boy?“ Because he is the murderer, that’s why! Pity does not work with me when I am trying to identify a killer. In trying to solve a murder, one has to keep an open mind and not make assumptions based solely on appearances.
And don’t think that children don’t commit murder on a regular basis. It has been discovered that adult serial killers and mass murderers started offing people when they were very young. Most did not wake up one day when they were 30-years-old and decide to start killing people. This aberration most likely started years ago. The reason that these kids make it into adulthood without exposure is because most don’t believe that children can be capable of sinister acts. All those deaths must have been “accidental.” They will say, “But he’s only a child!” But I say that evil has no age limit. There really is such a thing as a “bad seed,” born with no moral conscience or sense of right. The aforementioned reality-based “Killer Kids” profiles juvenile sociopaths who have committed murder, some as young as four-years-old!
The reason that certain people get away with murder and other heinous crimes is because they and everybody else think they are above suspicion. I suspect everybody. I am an equal opportunity accuser. I don’t care who or what profession they are or what their physical disability happens to be. That’s why I am so good at picking out the culprits, because I am not impressed or dissuaded by the characters’ particular situation or relationship to the victim(s).
An investigator will ask, “Do you know of anyone who would want [the victim] dead?” “Oh, no, Lieutenant, he was loved by everybody.” Well, everybody didn’t love him, because somebody just killed him! Another presumption: “So-and-So couldn’t have killed her, because he doesn’t have a motive.” How do you know? If you don’t know who did it yet, then you don’t know what the motive is either. There is always a reason, no matter how unlikely or absurd. Also, just because someone has a strong motive to murder somebody, it doesn’t mean that they actually did it. “Sure, I hated the bitch’s guts, but I didn’t kill her.”
And not having an alibi is no proof that they are guilty of anything. “She doesn’t have an alibi for the time of the murder, so she must have done it.“ An innocent person doesn’t need an alibi, do they? I would concentrate on the guy who does have an alibi. It’s the guilty party that makes a point to establish an alibi in order to divert suspicion from them. In practically every case, the real killer does have an alibi. We have found on many occasions that a person does not have to be present at the actual scene or even at the exact time to kill somebody. They can hire somebody to do the job for them. They can confuse and obscure the time of death by changing the clocks or by preserving the body in some way to delay rigor mortis. Adrian Monk had several cases where the murders were retroactive, occurring when the killer was otherwise engaged or indisposed at the time. They sometimes even move the body from where they are actually killed. Where there is a will, there is a way. So with careful diligence, a presumed iron-clad alibi can be broken.
If I may digress for a moment, I have an alibi story to relate, as ridiculous as it is. Some years ago I was the victim of identity theft, when my wallet was stolen, and the person who stole it was using my name as his own. When the cops tracked me down, instead of the thief, to question me about my criminal activities, I found out that they had a rap sheet on “me” for burglary, armed robbery, sexual assault, all sorts of shit. When I tried to tell this idiot that it wasn’t I who did all those things, he refused to believe me. You see, I wasn’t really Cliff Townsend. I am an imposter. The real Cliff Townsend was the guy on his rap sheet. “So, if I am not Cliff Townsend, why are you talking to me?” This other guy’s description did not even match mine. Different ages, different sizes, but we are the same guy.
So here is what I am getting around to. On his report “I” was supposed to have robbed a bank in Chicago in 1971, the entire year of which I was stationed in Okinawa! How can I be in two places at once? Well, I’ll tell you. This genius explained to me that I could have flown the 22 hours from Okinawa, committed the robbery and flown the 22 hours back again, before I was even missed! But even if that were possible, who would do such a thing? I hated those long-assed flights the two times I had to do them. Why would I do it again for no reason? They have banks on the island. I wouldn’t have to go anywhere to rob one. Then, too, if they know who this guy is who did all this stuff, why have they not caught him yet? Why are they picking on poor, innocent me? I haven’t done anything.
As I was about to say, before I rudely interrupted myself… I believe I would make a good detective because I am one who does not just accept everything on face value. Good detective work requires an imagination and thinking outside the box. If several murdered victims have been found with puncture marks on their jugular and drained of most of their blood, it couldn’t be the work of a vampire because the investigator does not believe in them. So how many people have to die before they consider the possibility? The cops’ denial and failure to believe something is how killers are able to operate. Some make it a game or art form and plan their capers very carefully. Never assume that a murderer wouldn’t go to all that trouble to commit the crime, because in order to pull it off, they really would go to all that trouble. It’s the ignoring of certain little details that help them to get away with it, but these same details are what ultimately trips them up. I incorporate a lot of these aspects in my own murder story. I wish that the cops were more thorough in their crime investigations in real life. If they were as diligent and dedicated as, say, Columbo or Ben Matlock or Quincy or Adrian Monk or the CSI team, then maybe there wouldn’t be so many unsolved murders.
I used to think that there was no such thing as a “perfect murder,” until I wrote my story, which illustrates how it can be done. In most cases, killers usually make a mistake by leaving some sort of incriminating evidence at the scene or somewhere, and all it takes is careful investigation to get at the truth. These TV sleuths have solved murders from cigarette butts and little pieces of scrap paper left at the scene, for example. The slightest little thing can be all important, but if they don’t look for it and explore every aspect of the case, however, they won’t find it.
Columbo once solved a case by finding a tiny down feather from a pillow on the deck floor of a cruise ship that the killer had left behind. How did it get there? Everybody else had ignored it, thinking that it didn’t have anything to do with anything. One killer on “Columbo” took a bite out of a little piece of cheese, but left it at the scene, which was enough to identify him from his tooth print.
But as I illustrate in my aforementioned murder novella, I did concoct a perfect murder scenario. Although my killer does get caught eventually, he did so only because he wanted to be. He leaves many clues for the police, which result in his capture. If he had not done so, he could have gotten away with it all. I illustrate how with careful planning, dedication and execution, it is possible to commit multiple murder and leave no trace of evidence whatsoever.
“I saw what you did. You’re insane. I’m going to report you to the authorities!” “Oh, really?” BAM! “Now tell somebody!” Why don’t these people keep their mouths shut? Don’t announce what you’re going to do, just do it. And don’t call a crazy person crazy to their face. They may not want to prove you wrong. Also, don’t they know better than to threaten a person’s life publicly, because when that person turns up dead, who always gets blamed? In front of a whole room of standers-by, someone will proclaim, “If you touch her again, I’ll kill you! … I’ll get you for that! I’m going to make you pay with your life!” First of all, you shouldn’t make idle threats to people, if you don’t really mean it. But even if you are serious, don’t do it in front of witnesses. That just gives them an opportunity to frame you for murder. “Yeah, talk to David, Lieutenant. He and Sal got into a heated argument and I heard him threaten the other’s life.”
Here is another scene which pops us in crime dramas frequently. I cannot believe that this is a real-life scenario, as it is so ridiculous. The police have practically captured a perpetrator and are about to arrest him when the guy will grab a nearby woman or child, usually, hold a gun or knife to their head and tell the cops to drop their weapons or they will kill the hostage. And then the cops actually obey and lay down their guns! What?! I don’t believe that any police training would instruct their officers to relinquish their weapon on the insistence of an armed criminal. That doesn’t make any kind of sense. “So if we lay down our weapons, you’re the only one who still has his. Why don‘t you lay down yours as well?” Nobody ever calls their bluff. “Look, we know who you are. You’re trapped, and we’ve got you covered. You can’t get away, because we’ll find you wherever you go. You’re not going to shoot anybody. What do you think will happen to you if you do?”
Then you have the guy who will start running to avoid arrest. Where do they think they are going? The cops know who you are now. You’ll be caught eventually. You might as well just give-a da up. A regular occurrence on the TV series “FBI” is when the two lead agents go after a suspect, they will call to him from a distance and after identifying themselves as FBI, the guy will take off running. Why do they always run? I don’t know why those agents don’t wait to get close to the guy before they collar him, when he wouldn’t be able to run.
I am not a regular imbiber of alcohol. I drink only at parties and other social gatherings. But I have had the occasion of opening wine bottles, including champagne. Every time I have done so, the cork always comes out with the liquid contents within remaining intact. So why in every movie I have seen where someone opens a bottle of champagne does most of it spew out all over the place, and the people present all laugh and cheer? It must be some dramatic, visual concession for them to do that every time. Champagne is almost always shared, and there is not that much in the bottle to begin with, so after they cause it to spill out, there isn’t much in which to partake. And being that champagne is not cheap, they should not waste so much of it.
I happen to know from personal experience that hiring a lawyer can be a very expensive endeavor. It has become a regular thing now on TV crime dramas, especially, as I hear it so often, even from normally law-abiding citizens. When someone is brought into the police station for questioning, the person-of-interest will say, “I refuse to answer any questions without my lawyer present.” Or, “I want to call my lawyer.“ They may not even be guilty of anything, but they all have a lawyer on retainer, just in case? Who does that? Or more importantly, who can afford that? Those people charge by the hour! That is something that large companies who have the money and have frequent occasions to require a lawyer for their business transactions. I don’t have a lawyer constantly on hand that I can call whenever I might need one. Do you?
People are individuals with their own personal ways of doing things. Why is it when anyone is packing to leave home in a scene, they all do the same thing? They take an old, generic suitcase (the kind hardly anybody uses anymore) out of the closet and starts throwing clothes into it, without any regard to selection. Then someone will enter the scene and ask the inevitable question, “What are you doing?” Duh! “I’m scratching my ass. What does it look like I’m doing?!”
Once I saw a guy packing to leave home, using a small suitcase for his clothing items. The case was already filled when he took a bunch of suits (still on their hangers) out of the closet and then walked over to his bag. But then the scene suddenly ended. I thought, ‘Wait! I want to see how he gets all those suits into that little suitcase.’ Which he didn’t, of course, is why they cut the scene right there.
I just saw the original Frankenstein (1931) recently. Dr. Frankenstein and his assistant steal a body from the graveyard. We see them digging him up, but then the very next shot is the two men transporting the corpse back to their laboratory. I immediately thought, Did they fill the hole back in or just leave it open and exposed? They never say. Either choice would determine whether their ghoulish deed would be discovered or not. I think about things like that.
Another scenario which requires the audience to fill in the gaps, is in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), when Joan Crawford, as crippled Blanche Hudson, is lying on the floor at the bottom of the stairs of their house, and Bette Davis, as her sister Jane, proceeds to drag her back upstairs to her room, purportedly. They are alone. Cut! The next time we see Blanche, she is upstairs in her bed, bound and gagged! Little Bette did all of that by herself?! And then later, they flee the house (with wheelchair) and Blanche ends up outside in Jane’s car! Finally, they are at the beach, lying on the sand, quite a ways from where Jane parked the car. I sure would have liked to see how she managed all that.
Whenever someone is searching for something in someone’s home or room, they can’t just check behind and under things and look into drawers and niches without upsetting things; they always have to trash the place, emptying drawers onto the floor and knocking everything off the shelves and tables. Actors don’t care about making a mess on the set because they don’t have to clean it up. That’s the film crew’s job, you see. They will leave the lights on when they leave rooms and won’t close doors and windows back when they pass through them. If you’re trying to be a sneak and don’t want the people to know that you have been there, then be more careful in your search. I wish, even in real life, that people would learn to put things back where they got them.
It seems that men don’t carry wallets either. Whenever they have to pay for something—drinks, a meal, or cab fare—they always have the exact amount of loose money in their pocket. At least I’m assuming it’s the exact amount. They never ask how much anything is. They just give the server, bartender, cabdriver whatever they have in their pockets, and it’s always enough. If it happens to be too much, however, they always let them “keep the change.” (They’re so generous.) Women, too, keep loose money in their purses.
Even that cab ride scenario in itself is unrealistic. I have ridden in taxis many times and in different cities, and anyone who has, knows that we are required to pay our fare when we reach our destination, while still inside the cab. It’s only in the movies that you see people exiting the cab first and then paying their fare through the window. I don’t know of any instance where a cabdriver would trust anybody that much to allow that in real life. Once in Hollywood, California, I had a cabdriver who insisted that I show him that I had money before he would even agree to take me where I wanted to go!
I have noticed that anytime actors are shown in bed having just had sex, they are always under the covers. Is that a real thing? Do people actually have sex under the covers? Why? It seems rather restricting. I think that’s only a cinematic convention, to prevent us viewers and the crew on the set from seeing the actors’ naked bodies, if they are, in fact, even naked.
I have noticed, too, that men seem to be able to obtain instant erections when they are having sex with a woman (or man). He will walk up to her, pull her dress up and immediately stick it in, no preparation or foreplay required. He doesn’t even take his pants down or off. Even if he’s horny, I would think that he needs some sort of stimulation or at least a howdy-do before he’s ready for instant penetration. I mean, is he walking around with a hard-on all the time–semper paratus?
Also, when a man, particularly, is completely nude for any reason, especially when it is a frontal shot, he will more often than not cover his genitals with his hands. This occurs even when he is “alone.” It is obvious that it is for the viewers’ sake, because otherwise, who is he hiding himself from? I was quite disappointed with Brad Pitt (whom I love) in Twelve Monkeys (1995), in the scene where he is in an asylum pretending to be crazy, and he takes off all his clothes and runs around the ward naked, but covering his genitals as he romps. That didn’t seem true to his characterization. If someone gets naked in a public setting, it’s usually to shock or impress the onlookers. Why conceal the very thing that everybody wants to see? And if he was as crazy as he wanted us to believe, modesty would not even enter into it. The director can always get around not showing us anything, but for me, Brad’s covering himself like that compromised his character and the actor’s integrity.
This is something else I have noticed on screen. When men are shown using the urinal in a public restroom–they even do it in their own homes in private–they always look straight ahead or up instead of down to see what they’re doing. I don’t understand that. I couldn’t be the only one who looks down to see if I am peeing into the bowl correctly. I do miss often, even when I am looking!
Part Two–More Movie Clichés
As an amusing (I hope) diversion, I hereby set about to illustrate the commonplaceness of modern moviemaking by providing a list of the other most worn-out, tired, overused movie clichés, contrivances and conventions.
1. Someone walks up behind someone and without speaking, places their hand on the person’s shoulder. (Who does that in real life?)
2. Someone backs up into something ominous. (I guess if they actually watched where they are going, they would see the thing before they are supposed to.)
3. Someone flees into a room and then stands with their back against the door (for the person or thing to reach through and grab them).
4. When they are supposed to be quiet, someone will make a giveaway sound.
5. When somebody is in a place where they shouldn’t be, someone outside will announce their approach by making noise or speaking loudly, which warns the interloper(s) within and gives them enough time to stop what they are doing, to hide or to flee before the other party enters the room.
6. A fleeing woman always stumbles and falls at least once. (Lummox!)
7. When someone, usually a woman, while carrying a tea or food tray or bags of groceries comes upon a shocking scene (especially a dead body), invariably they will scream and then drop the tray or bag onto the floor, rather than setting it down on a nearby surface.
8. When there is a mixed gathering and all the lights suddenly go off in the room, the women always have to scream. (Are all white women afraid of the dark?)
9. They always wait until impending dusk to go to destroy the vampire. (What did they do all day?)
10. Man-made monsters eventually always destroy their creators.
11. The Disappearing Corpse, aka Now-You-See-It-Now-You-Don’t. Someone encounters a dead body, a mysterious or menacing face at the window, a monster or some other strange creature, some important piece of evidence. But when they turn their head or go to get somebody to come see it for themselves, the person or object is not there anymore, which discredits the original witness. If they can’t see it right now, then it must not have been there in the first place, right? Things don’t just disappear. Instead of leaving, how about, “Hey, guys! Come in here. You have to see this.”
12. The innocent party is discovered standing over the just-killed dead body, with murder weapon in hand.
13. The Murder Frame-up, whereas the murder weapon or some other incriminating evidence conveniently turns up in the innocent party’s possession or found in some place belonging to them, and it never occurs to the arresting officers that it was put there in order to frame the wrong person. The real murderer would not leave the blood-stained knife (the actual murder weapon) lying on the front seat of his own unlocked car, for example, would he?
14. Similar is the anonymous phone call. “Principal Quimby, if you look in Billy Jones’ locker, you will find a stash of illegal drugs.” When he checks and finds that to be true, but the boy swears that the drugs are not his, it never occurs to the guy that they were planted there, probably by the anonymous caller! How would he know what is in someone’s private locker, unless he put them there himself? I at least would have reasonable doubt. Why do they make characters in prominent, official positions such idiots?
15. People or things hiding in the back seat of automobiles. And why don’t they ever check behind the door when they enter or search a room?
16. When someone needs to make a sudden getaway, the vehicle won’t start.
17. The telephone wires are always cut so that the victim(s) cannot call for help, although now with the prevalence of cordless and cellular phones, this has become less a problem in modern dramas. In fact, on most TV shows and films these days, it seems that all the characters are equipped with their own cell phones, which allows them to make and receive calls anywhere and at any time. Of course, in a dire emergency, these phones will have a dead battery or they will be out-of-range of service to make the call.
18. There is a modern trend that has cropped up as of late with characters throwing away their cell phones at will. They will be riding along in a car and the phone will ring, and out of annoyance or frustration, they will toss the phone out of the window (or into the river or wherever). One guy did it to show his wife that she was more important to him than a phone call. How stupid and impractical is that? As expensive and coveted as smart phones are, they just toss them away without a thought? Who would do such a thing? If they don’t want to answer a call, just don’t answer it or just turn the thing off!
19. While talking on a landline phone, one party will hang up or get cut off while the other party will continue to speak and call their name, even though there is an audible dial tone present, and repeatedly press the button as if that will bring them back on.
20. People don’t say “goodbye” or sign off when ending a phone conversation; they just hang up.
21. When a character (it even could be an animal or an infant) falls victim to illness, attack, injury, unconsciousness or even death, there is another character on hand who repeatedly calls the other’s name, even though the other person, or creature, is unable to hear them or answer. Like when somebody is underwater drowned or drowning—Man in boat: “Bonnie! Bonnie!”
Bonnie: “Even if I could hear you calling, I am not able to answer you, because I am at the bottom of the ocean…dead!”
22. Then there are the ones who will enter a house or other dwelling, call out somebody’s name, does not get a response, but will proceed to carry on a conversation when they don’t know who the hell they’re talking to. Sometimes they will reveal secrets and other personal stuff to the very person they mean to conceal it from. Why don’t they find out who is there, if anybody at all, before they start blurting out important and private information to the wrong party or nobody?
23. When someone shooting a gun runs out of bullets, they throw the gun away (it must be the disposable kind, that can’t be reloaded); or just because the villain or monster they just hit with something fell down, they think that they are dead and will drop their weapon. I always tell them, ‘Hold on to that. You may need it again.’
24. Someone tends to turn their back on the suspected nut instead of keeping an eye on them. It’s as if, for the sake of the story, I guess, the director instructs the actor, “Be sure to keep your back to the guy with the knife or other weapon, because if you’re looking at them, they won’t be able to sneak up on you to clobber you.” “Okay.”
25. Women are so often depicted as weak, defenseless, frightened wimps. When they are confronted with a monster or some foreboding entity, instead of fleeing or defending themselves in some way, they will often faint dead away, which puts them at the mercy of the person or thing that is after them. What is stopping him from having his way with her, if she is just lying there unconscious? Keep it together and use your wits, why don‘t you!
26. The fugitive climbs to a high place and then falls off or gets thrown off.
27. All psychiatrists and therapists are nuts themselves.
28. Classroom scenes begin just before the bell rings.
29. Immediately after hearing something pertinent to the story, a character turns the radio or TV off. Even when they turn it on, it’s right at the point of the announcement, and always on the correct station!
30. A cat comes screeching through an open window.
31. Somebody slips on a banana peel. (Come on, who ever does that in real life?)
32. Nobody likes anchovies.
33. Someone is always disrespecting street mimes.
34. Cinematic Slow Motion. (I really hate that one.)
35. The Double-Take.
36. The comedy Chase Scene.
37. In any chase scene someone always has to upset or collide with some sort of sidewalk concession: a newsstand, a fruit or flower stand, etc.
38. When someone is being chased on foot, they will hide behind a building or duck into some sort of niche and the chasers will keep running right on by. (So, who are they chasing?)
39. When someone is being chased on foot by a vehicle, instead of going off to the side to get out of its path, they will try to outrun it. That goes for big boulders and fireballs, too.
40. People run out into heavy traffic and don’t look either way while crossing.
41. Drivers turn and look at their passengers to talk to them while they are driving fast on a busy road. Can’t one talk and listen to people without looking directly at them? Then that causes them to run into something or somebody, which they wouldn’t have done if they had been watching the road the whole time.
42. Directors must love to blow up automobiles. Whenever there is a fatality: a crash, going over a ravine, flipping over, anything, the car often explodes or bursts into flames.
43. The Close Call: When they move out of the way before the thing falls on them or get out of the building or vehicle just before it explodes or grab on to the rescuer just as the rope bridge collapses or the frayed cable snaps.
44. Whenever a “sexy” woman (usually white) appears on the scene, she is accompanied by a blues saxophone or muted trumpet on the soundtrack.
45. More often than not, graveside funeral scenes are held while it is raining.
46. No matter where it is—an apartment, an upstairs bedroom in a house, a hotel, motel or other business establishment, public restroom, whatever—there is always a convenient exit for escaping—window (equipped with fire escape, trellis, ladder, tree or ledge) or back door. I have been in many indoor public restrooms in my day, and I hardly ever encounter one that has an accessible window to the outside. It’s only in the movies.
47. What kind of security is served with having the door(s) of your house or any locked building made of glass or containing glass partitions, when all the intruder needs to do is break the glass and unlock the door, which often is the case?!
48. The only card games that actors know how to play are Gin Rummy, when it’s two people, Bridge or Poker when it’s a group, and less frequently, when young children are involved, Go Fish.
49. Whenever film characters receive packaged gifts, the boxes are seldom wrapped completely, as they would be in real life, but rather have lids so that they can be opened with expediency.
50. When a direct question is addressed to two (or more) characters, they will both (or all) answer at the same time with different responses. It’s obvious to all that they are lying, but one will try to cover their tracks by explaining with more lies.
51. When we are allowed to view the paper or computer monitor when someone is typing something, the text is always letter perfect. They never make any mistakes, even the hunt-’n’-peckers.
52. It always annoys me when somebody rips up a check, document or contract and just tosses the pieces into the air wherever they happen to be, even on a public street, and then just walks off and leaves the litter strewn about.
53. If you’re watching a scene that is unusually strange or weird and it seems to be too fantastic to be true, don’t worry, it’s only some character’s dream.
54. In movie flashbacks, when someone is relating what has occurred previously, we viewers often witness scenes which don’t involve the character who is telling the story. I wonder, How does this person know what took place in this particular scene when they weren’t even there at the time? Of course, I do realize that the director (or screenwriter) is merely filling in the gaps of the story for our benefit, whether it involves that person or not.
55. Everybody in TV and Filmdom Land (and we’re talking millions here) all have the same telephone exchange of “555-.”
56. Other than the expressions “first thing in the morning” and “over and out,” which we discussed earlier, we more recently have “rocket science/scientist” and “brain surgery/surgeon,” which is used to epitomize high intelligence or, facetiously, a lack thereof.
57. Other than “Happy Birthday” being the most-rendered song in screendom, the most-used piece of classical music must be Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, with Boccherini’s Minuet running a close second. The most-utilized composer must be Tchaikovsky, and the most-often-sung lullaby is “Hush, Little Baby, Don’t Say a Word.” The most-popular church hymn is now “Amazing Grace” (replacing “Rock of Ages”), and the most-common rendition of that is on bagpipes! I suppose that all these ditties are in the public domain, therefore the users don’t have to pay royalties on the music.
58. The most-oft-uttered phrases are, “I’m sorry,” “I promise,” “That’s impossible!” “Call an ambulance (or 911)!” and “S/He’s dead.” And they always ask someone else to call 911, instead of doing it themselves.
You know, if these film characters, that is, the unwilling victims, would watch more movies, they might learn some important survival skills, at least how to handle those perilous situations, if they should occur. They might apply to real life as well. Like, always check the back seat of your car before getting into it, or checking behind the door when you enter a room or are looking for somebody. Don’t turn your back on that obvious nut. In fact, be more vigilant all around. Be aware of what is behind you as well as in front of you. While alone with the killer, don’t announce that you intend to turn them in to the police. Why would you do that?!
[Other articles dealing with movies: Lost in Translation–The Sequel; Racism via Show Biz; Walt Disney, a Racist? Who’d’ve Thunk It