One of the things that I love about the Internet is the way that it snatches dormant media from obscurity, allowing us to experience anew that which hitherto existed in the far recesses of our minds as the merest fragments of memory. Whether it's a long-forgotten commercial or pages from an old Christmas catalog, it seems like everything that was ever broadcast or printed is being digitized, tagged, and archived for our instant access. Can't get a fragment of an ancient advertising jingle out of your head? Google a few words, and you'll likely hear it in its entirety. Thinking about the colorful cover of a paperback you once owned? Someone, somewhere, has scanned it, along with the artwork for every other known edition of the title.
Thanks to that other resuscitator of bygone entertainment, Netflix, I recently followed a trail of mental breadcrumbs back to one of my earliest memories. I was watching Who's Minding the Store, a seldom-seen (and justifiably so) Jerry Lewis vehicle from 1963. Released just five months after Lewis's brilliant The Nutty Professor, the Frank Tashlin-directed Store is a cinematic abomination that is nevertheless worth watching for its immortal typewriter routine as well as the sheer, audacious chutzpah of its star's performance. What caught my attention, however, was the unique diction of supporting player John McGiver. I knew I had seen him in other productions, yet I could not name any.
IMDb to the rescue! Soon I was poring over McGiver's filmography, and while searching for movies and television shows in which I was likely to have seen him, I was absolutely gobsmacked by the presence of a film I had certainly never seen. In fact, I had wondered whether or not my mind had made up this curious title I recalled being promoted when I was quite young. But there it was: Arnold, released in November of 1973. For years I have carried around in my mind the latent trauma of being exposed to its advertising campaign, which scared the hell out of me as a sensitive and neurotic five-year-old.
Baby got back: A profile shows the massive 18" rear end of obsolescence.
The great, hulking beast that was our RCA 32" television is dead. Purchased specifically because it amply filled the cavernous interior of our corner armoire, the technological dinosaur gave no hint of its impending demise. Maybe we had been working it a little too hard by our constant streaming of The Office on Netflix. Whatever the cause, our old TV was unresponsive one afternoon, and we knew that the time had come for us to say goodbye to picture tubes and enter a new televisual frontier.
I was born at a time when accepting the demise of a television set was preceded by valiant attempts at resuscitation. To simply say, "Well, the TV isn't working; time for a new one," was unthinkable. If you were reasonably handy and had little fear of electrocution, you might have removed the back panel and pulled out a vacuum tube for a quick diagnosis at the corner drugstore's tube tester. At the very least, you would have called a repairman. Not until the grim-faced technician signed the death certificate would a family concede that a replacement was necessary. It was, after all, an expensive proposition.
Oh, the many pleasant hours I spent plucking junk from its spring-loaded jaw!
We are in full summer mode here in the Hunt household, and perhaps there is no greater indication of our seasonal relaxation than the fact that we have just sacrificed four consecutive evenings to view the entire Jaws tetralogy. This is what can happen when you have time on your hands and the ability to stream Netflix offerings on your TV. It all started innocently enough on Sunday evening, the first of several nights that our eldest daughter was away at camp, thus reducing the number of family members needed for unanimous entertainment option agreement to three. Somehow the availability of Jaws for streaming came up, and it struck each of us as a fun viewing choice for different reasons. My wife remembered seeing it many years ago. Our youngest daughter had heard about it and was intrigued. And me? I came within a shark's tooth of seeing Jaws at a drive-in in the summer of '77.
It is easy now to forget just how big a pop culture phenomenon Jaws became after its 1975 release. The movie allegedly deterred impressionable viewers from enjoying the beach. It was memorably lampooned in the famous "Landshark" sketches of Saturday Night Live, an effects-laden sendup called "Jowls" on The Carol Burnett Show, and a classic Mort Drucker/Larry Siegel movie parody in MAD magazine. Among the merchandising tie-ins was an Ideal Jaws game that featured a G-rated version of the Freudian movie poster on its box (minus the naked woman swimming above the advancing shark). I owned the game, which consisted of a hollow plastic shark with a hinged jaw, upon which an assorted of marine detritus was balanced. Players used a small hook to retrieve the items, until at last the weight of the remaining pieces no longer counterbalanced the tensile strength of attached rubber bands, whereupon the jaws suddenly snapped shut. I thought the game was great.
A couple summers later I was asked by a friend to accompany her family and some other kids to a drive-in showing of Jaws. I was incensed when my mother firmly declined the invitation on the grounds that the movie was too disturbing for anyone my age.