Friday, June 15, 2018

FAME 1980

"I am so excited because I'm gonna go to the High School of Performing Arts! I mean, I was dying to be a serious actress. Anyway, it's the first day of acting classand we're in the auditorium and the teacher, Mr. Karp... ."    
                                                       A Chorus Line - James Kirkwood & Nicholas Dante

I read recently that the estate of choreographer/director Michael Bennett is planning a 2025 Broadway revival of A Chorus Line to commemorate its 50th Anniversary (feel old yet?). A Chorus Line opened on Broadway in July of 1975, and I still have vivid memories of seeing the touring company when it played San Francisco in 1976. A theatrical experience that, to this day, has never been surpassed.
I didn’t see the iconic musical’s most recent incarnation, the official 2006 Broadway revival, but I recall with equal vividness a conversation I had at the time with a young dance student who’d just returned from seeing the NY production, his first-ever encounter with A Chorus Line. He raved about the show and thoroughly enjoyed the production, but in the end was at a loss to understand the show’s reputation as a groundbreaking classic: “I liked it…I just don’t get what all the fuss was about!”  
Said “fuss” being that A Chorus Line won nine Tony Awards including Best Musical, the Pulitzer Prize, ran for 15 years on Broadway, and was an important and influential pop culture phenomenon the world over.
While listening and resisting the impulse to explain the significance of A Chorus Line by means of sign language (i.e., my hands around his throat), it became apparent to me that this youngster’s reaction was perhaps born of his having grown up during the Disneyfication years of Broadway. Raised in the post-The Lion King/Wicked world of musical theater as amusement park attraction, seeing a show consisting of little more than a bare stage and a troupe of talented dancer/actor/singers must have come as something of a shock. Similarly, having been weaned on Step Up #643 and dance/stunt competition TV shows like So You Think You Can Dance, it's conceivable he grew up viewing dance as grandstanding spectacle. I can't imagine Michael Bennett’s classic musical theater choreography looks very impressive when one has been conditioned to see dance performance in terms of Herculean feats of gymnastic strength and flexibility antithetical to the “move as one” aesthetic of chorus work (“Don’t pop your head, Cassie!”).
However, there was one eye-opening takeaway from our conversation which gave me a better grasp of why new generations might find themselves at a loss to understand exactly what my generation found so powerful and innovative about A Chorus Line: personal self-disclosure as a metaphor for the significance of the individual. A Chorus Line came out smack in the middle of the "Me Generation" when the idea that the average person might have a story worth telling was still something of a novelty.
In today’s climate of famous-at-any-price celebrity, reality TV, and toxic social media over-sharing; nothing dates A Chorus Line more than its cast of dancers who shun having the spotlight shone on them; recoil from being asked to talk about themselves; and don’t mind being another anonymous, nameless, chorus dancer. As long as they get the chance to dance and keep doing what they did for love. As nakedly honest and heartachingly revelatory as those monologues seemed to me in 1976, I suspect that nothing disclosed by those characters would warrant more than a handful of “likes” on Twitter today.
This awareness of the degree to which the show business landscape has changed over the years became an ineradicable part of revisiting one of my favorite musicals of the ‘80s: Alan Parker’s Fame
Irene Cara as Coco Hernandez
"How bright our spirits go shooting out into space depends on how much we contribute to the earthly brilliance of this world. And I mean to be a major contributor. A sure-as-shit major contributor."
Gene Anthony Ray as Leroy Johnson
"I'm gonna be a good dancer. You will NOT keep me down!"
Maureen Teefy as Doris Finsecker
"If I don't have a personality of my own, so what? I'm an actress. I can put on as many personalities as I want!"
Barry Miller as Ralph Garci (Raul Garcia)
"That's the meanest high there is. It beats dope. It beats sex. I LOVE fucking acting!"
Paul McCrane as Montgomery McNeil
"I mean, never being happy isn't the same as being unhappy."
Laura Dean as Lisa Monroe
"I only ever wanted to be a dancer."
Lee Curreri as Bruno Martelli
"You're not my age. Nobody's my age. Maybe I'm ahead of my time!"
Antoniza Francheschi as Hilary van Doren
"You see, I've always had this crazy dream of dancing all the classical roles before I'm 21."

Fame, the American feature film debut of British director Alan Parker (Bugsy Malone, Midnight Express) wasaccording to Parker, but denied by producer David De Silva—inspired by A Chorus Line. Specifically, the dramatic potential suggested by the song “Nothing,” which references a young dancer’s early experiences attending New York’s High School of Performing Arts.

That makes Christopher Gore’s original screenplay a A Chorus Line prequel of sorts, in which the formative experiences in the lives of eight principal hopefuls are highlighted—from auditions to graduation—at The High School of Performing Arts. Taking the kids from roughly the ages of 14 to 18, the movie combines elements of the coming-of-age film, the slice of life drama, and the backstage musical. Most effectively (and entertainingly), Fame also recalls and revitalizes those fondly-remembered high school movies of my youth—Up The Down Staircase, The Trouble With Angels, To Sir With Love, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Blending elements of comedy and drama, the four-year journey of the students of PA (High School of Performing Arts) is, contrary to its title and the sanitized, rah-rah movies and TV shows it inspired, a fairly dark, hard-shelled look at the blood, sweat, and tears that go into pursuing a life in the arts. Ironically, the achievement of fame doesn’t even factor into the fates of the characters.
Ann Meara as Mrs. Sherwood
Jim Moody as acting teacher Mr. Farrell
The main characters represent a cross-section of ethnic, emotional, and creative types, and as such, their experiences and relationships tend to follow a fairly predictable arc. There’s driven Coco (triple threat dancer/singer/actor); brash Leroy (dancer); shy Doris (actor/singer), troubled Ralph (actor/stand-up comic); closeted Montgomery (actor/singer); solitary Bruno (musician/composer), directionless Lisa (dancer or actor…whatever), and self-assured Hilary (ballerina). These terse descriptions are in no way a diminution of the characters or performances; merely an indicator of the built-in limitations of the film’s multi-character structure.
Ilse Sass and Albert Hague as Mrs. Tossoff & Mr. Sharofsky
Debbie Allen and Joanna Merlin as honor student Lydia Grant and ballet instructor Miss Berg

In order to make room for songs and dance numbers while tackling everything from illiteracy, teen pregnancy, drug abuse, and sexual exploitation; it’s necessary for the script to resort to a bit of narrative shorthand. But the sublime triumph of Fame—which stands as a resounding testament to Parker and the film’s remarkably engaging cast—is that the film, by virtue of its emotional vitality and cinematic ingenuity (the contribution of longtime Alan Parker editor Gerry Hambling is invaluable) achieves moments of real poignancy and is never less than an exhilarating, kinetic delight. Instead of avoiding the “aspiring teens put on a show” tropes standardized by Judy Garland Mickey Rooney in those old MGM musicals, Fame cozies up to and reinvigorates these showbiz movie conventions, resulting in my responding to clich├ęs I thought I’d grown immune to ages ago.
As teen musical’s go, Fame is distinguished by its supporting cast (the kids - many of them students from the real High School of Performing Arts - look like kids, dress like kids, are refreshingly imperfect and have faces with diversity and character) and R-rated grittiness. Mercifully spared the need coyness in terms of language or subject matter, Fame presents a vision of New York simultaneously seedy and scintillating. Bracingly at odds with the all-white pop-culture visions of Manhattan foisted upon us by Woody Allen and TV shows like Sex & the City, Seinfeld, and Friends; Fame’s New York actually looks like New York. It’s level of inclusion (it’s nice to see so many PoC studying ballet, classical music, and Shakespearean acting) is something 2018 filmmakers could still take a lesson from.
Carol Massenburg as Shirley Mulholland ("That's two L's")
One feels the camera could be trained on any of the kids in the cast and still produce a fascinating story. One of my favorite small roles, played with authenticity, humor, and sass, yet never fails to break my heart, is that of Shirley, Leroy's less-then-gifted dance partner.

If I have any criticisms at all, they’re of the subjective, nit-picking sort. For all the scenes that soar (the audition sequence is so good it could stand alone as a short film), there are head-scratchers like the recurring gag that asks us to share the ogling gaze of the adolescent boys peeking into the girls’ locker room. My problem isn’t so much with the fact that this sort of mainstreamed harassment has been normalized with “boys with be boys” rhetoric for too long; it’s that--given how Coco’s story plays out (a scene in which, once again, the director’s gaze renders us complicit in a woman’s sexual exploitation) it baffles how a director can display so much sensitivity in some areas while revealing such a blind spot in others.
When I was young, I thought the sequence in which Coco is taken in by a pervy con man (one calling himself Francois Lafete, no less) lacked credibility. I thought it portrayed Coco as dumb, which she never was. Now I see the scene as being considerably smarter and more perceptive of Coco's fatal character flaw than I'd first realized. She prides herself on being a savvy professional who knows all the angles. This con is able to work only because Coco is led to believe she has the upper hand.

Another of my gripes is the character of Montgomery. He simply hasn’t aged very well. Putting aside his cringe-worthy monologue (“Gay used to mean such a happy kind of word once.”), I give Fame credit for a positive portrayal of a gay character in a mainstream film at a time when William Friedkin’s Cruising (1980) gave us yet another homicidal homosexual, and The Village People were still tapdancing around their own queer identity (the deeply closeted Can’t Stop The Music was released just a month later). But for me, Montgomery is a throwback to the days when movies thought the best way to make a controversial character sympathetic was to render them as a figure of pity. As a teen grappling with his homosexuality, Montgomery feels isolated (in a Performing Arts School!), yet we in the audience can see he’s surrounded by all manner of gay kids. I don't expect anything as progressive as giving him a high-school sweetheart, but it would have been nice for his character to see that he wasn't the only one, and that "gay" could be happy. But, as written, Montgomery is content to stay on the sidelines, looking all alabaster and moony while playing Queer Eye for the Straight Guy & Gal to Doris and Ralph. At least he gets his own song (penned by McCrane).
My functioning gaydar knew in 1980 that the late Gene Anthony Ray was gay long before it was confirmed by Fame TV show cast members several years later when I had become a dancer myself. Making his film debut in Fame, the dynamic Ray passed away from an HIV-related stroke in 2003.

Fame was released three years before Star Search popularized caterwauling as singing and made way for today’s barrage of I-deserve-fame-because-I-want-it, celebrity-in-an-instant horseraces like American Idol, The Voice, and America’s Got Talent. Thus, one of the things I find most gratifying about Fame is its realistic perspective and persistent repudiation of the fame myths our culture keeps feeding young people.
I've always perceived A Chorus Line's glittering finale to be a much more heartbreaking and stark close to the show than its rousing melody would have us believe (after spending an entire evening getting to see these dancers as unique individuals, it is their fate to once again fade into chorus anonymity). Similarly, I've never felt Fame's exuberant theme song or its emphatic title to be really  what the film is all about. The cocksure lyrics (in the context of the film, written by Coco, but actually written by Dean Pitchford to Michael Gore's music) may reflect Coco's determined quest for for fame and immortality, but the movie is more about the pain and sacrifices of chasing success. For me the Oscar-winning song "Fame" is less a paean to the power of dreams than a pep-talk anthem to  optimistic wishful thinking.
Leslie Quickley as Sheila
Fame's casting is so spot-on and the kids so idiosyncratic and charming that no matter how brief their on-camera time, you come to look for them in scene after scene. They become the ones you cheer for in the big graduation number 

Fame is technically an '80s film, but it's roots are clearly in the '70s. By this I mean it's a product of the '70s film sensibility where creative choices are made appropriate to the material (swearing, nudity, drug use, sex) and not simply grinding out a feel-good musical to pander to the lucrative PG-rating demographic. I've always thought Fame was a very good movie, but in these post-High-School Musical years it's never looked better.  One look at the 2009 remake (I film I recommend you avoid at all costs) confirms that what Alan Parker and company have pulled off here is something very special. So good that even the watered-down TV show and fairly awful theatrical version can't defile.
What Are You Doing Now?
Anyone who knows an actor learns quickly never to ask that question, for it invariably leads to the awkward conversation centered around the jobs that one didn't get. I love that Fame includes such painful, reality-check moments. Here the current graduating class encounters the most promising senior of their Freshman year (Boyd Gaines)...waiting tables

An example of ensemble casting at its finest, I can't say there's a single performance I find any fault with. The veterans and novices deliver with equal assurance, a credit to Parker casting cannily close both to type and the relative demands of each role. To cite a particular favorite is less a comparative assessment of one player being "better" than another, than it is a recounting of my own emotional journey watching the film. Based on who I am and how I'm wired, some things just spoke to me more persuasively than others.
Irene Cara's delicacy (those cheekbones!) contrasts with her character's hardness, 
making for a compelling and strong screen presence. Cara went on to win an Oscar, Golden Globe, and a Grammy for co-writing the theme song to Flashdance (1983)
I have to say that the Doris/Garci relationship is my favorite in the film. I didn't expect to like their characters, but the actors bring some remarkable nuances to their performances. Just watch how Miller listens in scenes.
The contentious relationship between English teacher Mrs. Sherwood and Leroy is very nicely played.
Ann Meara really gives the inexperienced Ray a lot to work off of. He's at his best opposite her
As stated, it's not a matter of assigning the label "best" to anyone, but I really liked the performances of Barry Miller and Paul McCrane. McCrane's earnest naturalism redeems what I find lacking in the role as written. Miller went on to win a Tony Award for Biloxi Blues (1985) while McCrane won an Emmy for the TV series Harry's Law (2011) in whose finale he sang the song he wrote and performed in Fame.

The music and dancing in Fame is glorious.
Hot Lunch Jam
For sheer percussive energy, you can't beat this number. Cara's vocals slay
I Sing the Body Electric
Each and every time I make a bet with myself that I'm not going to get
waterworks from the graduation finale number. A bet I lose each and every time. 
Fame choreographers Louis Falco (r.) & William Gornel

As you can see from the photo above, Fame opened at Hollywood's Cinerama Dome on May 16th, 1980, which is the date I saw it and fell in love. Although I was a big fan of Alan Parker, the only names in the cast familiar to me were Barry Miller (who I thought was as terrific in Saturday Night Fever); Anne Meara (from the comedy duo [Jerry]Stiller & Meara); and most famously, Irene Cara. Fame is credited with launching Cara's career, I remembered her from TV's The Electric Company and Roots, and on the big screen in Sparkle and Aaron Loves Angela.

Pre-release publicity was minimal, so I didn't know what to expect. Try to imagine, on that big Cinerama screen, what it was like to discover all these talented unknowns and hear for the first time those songs that are now almost too-familiar. A thrilling, inspiring film experience from start to finish. And I returned to see Fame many, many times over the summer. I was enthralled and surprisingly moved by it.
I was still attending film school at the time and working full-time at a book store, but within the short window of eight months, the releases of All That Jazz (December -1979), Fame (May -1980) and Xanadu (August-1980) became the dance film trifecta that inspired me to seek a career as a dancer.
The Roland Dupree Dance Academy on 3rd Street in LA is where I took my very first dance class (and eventually taught). Strange to think there was a time I didn't even know what legwarmers were and had to ask someone what a dance belt was (a thong/jock for male dancers); but it's here I studied ballet, tap, jazz, and modern. I wish I could remember when I took this photo, but I attended from 1980 to at least 1984.

As for Fame, one of the main reasons I always get teary-eyed during the film's finale is because in that spectacular display of goosebump-inducing talent (in which the "stars" sung about have nothing to do with celebrity), I'm witness to the dedication and hard work that goes into making something beautiful, not making someone famous.
Copyright © Ken Anderson

Friday, June 1, 2018


When I was a youngster, it seemed as though I became interested in movies about grown-ups at precisely the time Hollywood became fixated on making movies about youngsters. In 1967 when I was about 10-years old, Hollywood, having opened its eyes to the newfound boxoffice clout of teens and the college crowd, set about aggressively courting the youth market. Then still an industry run by old men who were, at best, only superficially aware of what the youth market even wanted; Hollywood nevertheless flooded movie theaters with all manner of youth-themed product. A significant number of these films being devoted to hippies and social rebellion.

My apathy towards movies about young people wasn't born of any specific dislike for older kids on my part (although at school they DID tend to be a pain in the neck) so much as it was reflective of how badly at the time I wanted to be an adult. I was still at an age where I went to movies for escapism, and, what with having three older sisters lording over me at home 24/7, the last thing I wanted to do in my away time was to spend hours in a dark theater looking at teenagers. Or worse, adults pretending to be teenagers. It didn't help, either, that I grew up in the vicinity of San Francisco’s Haight/Ashbury district during the peak of its Summer of Love popularity; the proximity and ubiquity of so many real-life hippies sufficiently killing any mystery or allure they might have otherwise held for me on the big screen.
The dry rivers of Los Angeles popularized the postwar craze of hot rod drag racing.
The LA River was used for drag racing scenes in numerous films, among them: Girls Town (1959) and Grease (1978)

No, I wasn't interested in the "happening," younger generation movies of the day like Woodstock, Alice’s Restaurant, or Zabriskie Point. The movies I longed to see were those I thought would offer a glimpse into what my overactive and melodramatic imagination fancied the world of grown-ups to be like: Two for the RoadHotelValley of the DollsReflections in a Golden Eye.  But, alas, I was at that awkward age. A cinephile "tween" too old for Walt Disney but too young for Ken Russell. 

Paradoxically, while young people in contemporary films held little interest for me on the big screen, on the black and white console TV in our family’s living room, I was positively gaga over movies about teenagers from the ‘50s and early ‘60s. On Saturday afternoons local TV stations could be relied upon to supply a steady stream of ‘50s juvenile delinquent melodrama (The Violent Years - 1956); hot rod exploitation (Dragstrip Riot - 1956), rock & roll romance (Rock, Rock, Rock - 1956); jukebox musicals (Don’t Knock the Rock - 1956); low-budget monster movies (I Was a Teenage Frankenstein -1957), screwy sci-fi flicks (Teenagers from Outer Space - 1959); and Drive-in oddities (Teenage Caveman - 1958).
Kids Just Wanna Have Fun

These poor-relation follow-ups to Brando’s The Wild One (1953), Dean’s Rebel Without a Cause (1955), and Poitier’s Blackboard Jungle may have been marketed to teens, but by favoring harmless generation gap clashes over social rebellion commentary, they hewed close to the middle-class status quo. Juvenile delinquents were never depicted as antiheroes with cause for rebellion, rather, they were seen as atypical bad apples and stand-alone troublemakers; the pitiable product of broken homes or failing to be raised with all the proper advantages (aka: suburbia with white picket fence).
Moderne Family
Bask in the Streamline furniture, starburst clocks, wall sconces, and enormous coffee tables
(Jeanne Tatum, Jody Fair, and Kirby Smith)

Known in our house as "juvies" (juvenile delinquent movies) or "black & white shoe pictures" (in reference to the saddle-shoes worn by teens in many of these films), the ones I enjoyed most were distinguished by their non-existent budgets, prodigious use of bop-talk slang, and the then-vanguard preponderance of rock & roll music on the soundtrack. (Predictably, the vision of America presented in these movies was unrelentingly white, save for the occasional, controversial appearance of an African-American rock & roll music act).
What used to really fascinate me—especially given that, at the time, these movies were only about 10 or 13 years old—was their almost jarring “otherness.” In everything from hair, speech patterns, modes of dress, music, dances, and choice of leisure pastimes; these movies depicted a teenage world so alien, it was like our TV was receiving transmissions from another planet. Compared to the preoccupations of the day (the Vietnam War, civil rights, the right to vote, free love, drugs, Women’s Lib, religious exploration) the bomb/Cold War-related restlessness of these teens seemed positively quaint.
Attack of the Well-Behaved, Appropriately-Dressed Party Crashers

While some of these films were sincere in their efforts to call attention to the delinquency crisis hitting the suburbs at the time, most were conceived as exploitation programmers geared for quick turnover in the Drive-In market. Those I most enjoyed felt like dry-runs for the yet-to-come Beach Party movies of the sixties. They had nonsensical plots, an almost vaudeville approach to humor, stock teen characters (the bland hero, his loyal “girl,” the jokester, the bad kids/rivals), and the elders were always well-meaning allies, effectual authority figures, or comic buffoons. 
A particular favorite I made a point never to miss was Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow; a goofy titled, likeably awful goulash of teen-movie tropes that cropped up regularly on Saturday afternoon TV due to its brisk running time (a mere 65 minutes) which afforded the insertion of countless commercials and jokey TV host commentary.

Top on my list of reasons why Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow rocks is that the only rebellious drag racing done in the entire film is by the women 
Jody Fair as Lois Cavendish 
Nancy Anderson as Annita (Nita)
The almost surreally silly Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow was promoted as a sequel (of sorts) to 1959’s more straightforward Hot Rod Gang, yet first timers needn’t worry about not being able to pick up the thread. There isn’t one.
Indeed, connecting the frayed edges of this patchwork quilt of dead-end subplots and abandoned storylines representing Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow’s script would present a challenge to even that Woodcock fellow from The Phantom Thread. Remember that list of ‘50s teen flick genres I referenced earlier? Well, Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow somehow manages to be ALL of them at once. Yes, in a mere 65 minutes you get juvenile delinquent melodrama, hot rod exploitation, rock & roll romantic comedy, a rockabilly and girl-group pop jukebox musical of (all the better to promote American International Pictures’ newly-formed record label), a ghost/monster flick, and a Scooby Doo mystery, to boot.
Members of The Zenith Motor Club
Amelia (Sanita Pelkey), Dave (Henry McCann), Bonzo (Leon Tyler), and Rhoda (Elaine DuPont)

The Zenith Club is a group of suburban hot rod enthusiasts devoted to disaffirming the public perception of hotrodders as street-racing, authority-flouting, juvenile delinquents. Pledged to a strict code forbidding street racing of any kind, this clean-cut clique spends its time tinkering with engines and bop dancing in the adjacent soda shop. Journalist Tom Hendry (Russ Bender), writing an article titled “This Restless Breed,” has been invited to tag along as the Zeniths do whatever it is they do, opening the door for a lot of plot exposition and the relaying of more hot rod minutiae than any of us deserve.
Alleged hot-rodder and likely junior ROTC recruit Stan (Martin Braddock) helps superannuated cub reporter Tom (Russ Bender) understand that not all teenagers are as trouble making (or talented) as James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause 

Leader of The Zeniths is Stan (Martin Braddock), a wholesome, cardigan-wearing type distinguished by his level-headedness and never being seen doing anything car-related. Other members include pint-sized brainiac Dave (Henry McCann) and his bookish, Amazonian gal-pal Amelia (Sanita Pelkey); annoying, comedy-relief cut-up Bonzo (Leon Tyler) and kewpie-eyed girlfriend Rhoda (Elaine DuPont); and real-life drag racing Hall of Famer Tommy Ivo (as himself...and perhaps wondering, like me, why he isn’t the leader of the club) and his mostly silent, ponytailed partner Sandra (Judy Howard). A welcome break from all this gender stasis (the women don’t really do anything in the club except stand around watching their boyfriends work on engines) is Lois Cavendish (Jody Fair).
Madonna prototype Sandra (Judy Howard) stands by as drag racing legend Tommy Ivo contributes some long-winded verisimilitude to the film by delivering a 60-second, documentary-level monologue about his narrow rear end and unblown gas engine.

Lois is the only female hotrodder and mechanic in the club, and, as she’s so easily goaded into “chicken run” drag races by Nita (Nancy Anderson), a snarly rival gang member, she’s also the film’s only rule-breaker (albeit, reluctant). Refreshingly independent-minded for a film of this sort, Lois has her interest in cars trivialized (“I can dig the male of the species, but the female hotrodder baffles me!”) and boyfriend Stan laments her not placing him first in her passions (“She prefers hot rods instead of hot romances”), yet she persists. Even when it comes to her parents.
"You're approaching womanhood...."
"I've got news for you. I've arrived!"
When The Zenith’s lose their clubhouse lease, elderly eccentric Anastasia Abernathy (Dorothy Neumann) kindly grants the kids use of her late grandfather’s deserted house in Dragstrip Hollow…provided the youngsters can rid the place of a skulking monster and spooky ghost. And it’s at this pointroughly, some three-quarters into the movie, mind you—that Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow finally decides it might be a time to actually be about a ghost of Dragstrip Hollow. Good idea. Especially since up to now the movie’s mostly been a series of vaguely-connected false leads and narrative fake-outs designed to quash dramatic conflict (or story momentum, for that matter) every time it rears its head.
Dorothy Neumann as Anastasia Abernathy - with Alphonso, her loquacious parrot.
Fans of The Andy Griffith Show might recognize Neumann as the wife of Otis, the town drunk 

Among the many introduced-only-to-be-abandoned plot points: the whole gang rivalry angle; Lois’ generation-gap clash with her parents; Tom’s forgotten magazine article; the chance that Lois’ involvement in hot-rodding could adversely affect her father’s real estate business; and boyfriend Stan’s concern that he comes second to Lois’ love of fast cars.
But that’s no reason to despair. Not when the there’s so much time devoted to slumber parties, bop dances, lengthy musical interludes, a wisecracking parrot, the invention of a smart car, and a wrap-up so hasty you’ll think you nodded off and missed it.
That's B-Movie monster costume designer/creator Paul Blaisdell inside this outfit he originally made for The She-Creature (1956).  A Blaisdell-designed costume for Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957) also makes an appearance in Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow.

If ever there was a movie that exemplified the principle of making a virtue of one’s flaws, that movie is Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow. Proof that a deficit of production values and a meandering screenplay is no match for an appealing cast and a rockabilly soundtrack. Revisiting this film after so many years, I was certain that personal nostalgia would play the most significant role in determining how I would respond to it; but imagine my surprise to discover that Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow—in all its nonsensical, unpretentious glory—still rocks! 
And I don’t mean just in a campy, Mystery Science Theater 3000 way, either (although it has that to spare). I don’t know what it is, but there’s something so inoffensively featherweight and ridiculous about the whole premise and execution of this film that getting caught up in its jaunty good nature proves rather effortless. I actually found myself laughing with the film as often as I was laughing at it.  
The best way to rid a haunted house of a ghost is to throw a rock & roll masquerade party

What once felt like an “otherness” in the film’s setting and characters, now feels recognizably old-fashioned. Like a mash-up of Scooby Doo, The Munsters, Father Knows Best, American Bandstand, and those “Abbott and Costello Meet…” movies.

Although it sounds like faint praise, the cast of Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow wins me over with their likeability more than talent, the latter ofttimes proving to be a downright obstacle in movies like this. The older players fare best, what with the younger ones at constant risk of being upstaged by a wisecracking parrot. Jody Fair makes for a pleasantly spunky leading lady, but whenever bespectacled, statuesque Sanita Pelkey appears in the scene, I can’t imagine anyone’s eyes being on anyone else.
A former Miss New York and onetime showgirl, Sanita Pelkey appeared on a
1958 episode of the Groucho Marx game show You Bet Your Life  (audio only)

American International Pictures, an independent movie studio that would make a name for itself in the '60s and '70s (not a particularly good one) with their Beach Party movies and biker flicks, was one of the first to mine the lucrative boxoffice potential of teenagers. In 1959 they launched their own record label, and the songs from Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow (most written by Beach Boys producer Nick Venet) were among the first to be pressed. I'm happy to say I have them all in my collection.
Rockabilly band "The Renegades" perform Geronimo and Charge! and Ghost Train
The girls of the Zenith Motor Club badly lip-sync to a song titled My Guy. The song was released
as a 45 single by a group calling themselves "Linda Leigh and the Treasure Tones"
Jimmie Maddin sings "Tongue Tied." Maddin was a singer/saxophonist and nightclub owner in LA.
He was still performing at one of his clubs (The Capri Club in Glendale) a year before he died in 2006

GINCHY* GLOSSARY:                                                  
Narratively speaking, Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow is a bit of a hodgepodge. But I'm crazy about its silly/funny dialogue and overemphatic slang.   (*ginchy means cool)

“Put the cork, York.”    Please be quiet

“He’s got static in his attic. Completely zonk!”    He knows not whereof he speaks

“My dragon wagon’s laggin”      My automobile is in need of a tune-up

“It’s PM-ing, I’d better peel out”   It's getting dark, I'd best take my leave

“Put that thing down, Dad. Before you clobber your clavicle.”    Don't overexcite yourself

“Two weeks on the slab? That’s a real buffalo.”  Grounded? That's distressing news

“This gal’s got what it takes. If she’d only give it.”  She's pretty. I wish she'd notice me 

“Somebody get this bag of bacteria lost.”   I'm afraid we haven't been introduced 

“It’s not a chop, kitten. I purr you. Why, I’m not just makin’ sound waves. Like, if you weren’t jacketed, I’d move in.’Cause you’re a dap…I mean a real dap!”  
    —I'm being sincere, I like you. If you weren't already spoken for I'd ask you out, because I find you quite dapper

(A parent confronting two kids necking)
 “We thought we’d come out for a breath of fresh air”
“Where’d you think you’d find it? Down her throat?”
“I dreamed I was an 18-cylinder motor. It was should have seen my drive shaft!”

“That was grandmother Aphrodite!”
“How’d she die, trying to spell that name?”


Available in its entirety on YouTube
Copyright © Ken Anderson