Monday, May 23, 2005

the buck flick phenom

Saturday, doing some research for my new TV series, The 99 Cent Chef © , I decided I'd drop by the Van Nuys installation of the outlet/cutout chain, the 99 Cent Store (in Japan their opposite numbers are known as Hundred Yen Stores). After I'd finished my homework there, I thought I'd amble about the rest of giant emporium to see what was new since the last time I'd popped in. Here's what I ended up buying:

An outdated Boston Terrier calendar, a 99 cent clipon scanner radio, a balm/ointment/salve for a certain ailing part of my anatomy (not what you think) AND...

. . .eleven one dollar (er, 99 cents) DVDs. According to Videoscan, the national point of sale tracking service, in the third week of December 2004, 19 of the top selling DVDs were buck items from Genius Entertainment, including a compilation of Popeye cartoons and Lucy Show episodes, which came in at 17 and 18 right below the Star Wars Trilogy and Dawn of the Dead. The Genius outfit, located in Solana Beach, CA, is just one of a number of companies now trafficking in buck DVDs.

Apparently these cheapies are now all the rage, with cineastes making frequent pitstops at various Wal-Marts, Targets, and 99 Centers etc to pore over the hundreds upon hundreds of copies crammed into display bins. For example, I'm reasonably certain that I heard one Latino talking to another, standing next to me, using the phrase mise en scene as the duo rifled though one of the plentiously stocked bins. All of which gives me an idea for a new ad campaign: "The 99 Cent Stores---they're not just for bottom feeders anymore!"

Here's what I picked up last Saturday:

Jack Benny x 3 with guests Liberace; Humphrey Bogart; Jayne Mansfield, respectively. The first episode wherein Benny and Liberace try to outcamp each other is worth the price of admission alone. Watch this one and see what George Burns meant when he said of his old pal Benny, "Put a dress on him and you can take him anywhere."

Felix the Cat x 8, including the classic "Felix in Hollywood"

Borderline, a terrific little FBI meller with Fred MacMurray and Claire Trevor. In a an early scene in the film, Trevor, playing a relatively dignified and classy FBI agent, tries to convince her boss that, "I can masquerade as tawdry and cheap." Yes, Claire, we know. . .we know." As if she ever played anything BUT! Cut to the next shot, where Claire gets off a Greyhound bus in Tijuana, suitcase in two, popping gum to beat the band. Cut to next shot where without even a connective scene she's seen as a dancing girl in a lowbeat cantina.

Topper x 3. I haven't checked yet to see if these are any of the episodes were written by the young Stephen Sondheim. But if you think I'm making that up, then you lose points on Gay Jeopardy.

Gumby X 8, including the Klaymation Klassic. Gumby is oh so zennnn.

Road to Hollywood - Bing Crosby. Haven't looked at it yet, but it appears to be a compilation of the Hal Roach shorts.

One Step Beyond x 3. The poor man's Twilight Zone

Number 17. Early Hitchcock talkie.

College - Buster Keaton. Probably a boot, but they even have the nerve to leave the Kino logo on.

Down Among the Z Men. An, alas, not very good---in fact quite awful---Goon Show movie that bears almost no stylistic resemblance to the classic British radio starring Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan et al. Not a hundredth as good as their Running Jumping Standing Still Film.

Red Skelton x 3. Reed's Law posits the notion that if you thought something was good when you were a kid, then it probably was. I loved Skelton so much that I even named my goldfish after his Gertrude and Heathcliff. But Skelton just might be the exception that proves the rule. Like chalk on a blackboard to me today. But I couldn't resist, because of the guests: Franklin Pangborn (did you know he was the first announcer on the Jack Paar Tonight Show?; there's more Gay Jeopardy bonus points fer ya), Carol Channing, Peter Lorre, George Raft, Reginald Denny and Mary Beth Hughes (j'accuse!).

After I got home with my lot, I phoned a friend of mine who works for one of the largest DVD companies in the country.

ME: Bob, even considering the fact that they use stiff paper sleeves, how can they afford to sell these for a dollar?

BOB: I can't imagine. WE couldn't even manufacture them for less than a dollar and twenty-four cents. They must press them in China.

ME: I bet I know how they do it.

BOB: How!

ME: volume Volume VOLUME

Presumably, most of these titles are supposed to be in public domain, thus allowing their manufacturers to dispense with a tarsome little thing known as copyrights. I would guess that most of these buck companies have a near armada of intellectual property lawyers on their staffs to fend off claims of copyright infringement.

Maybe the next step will be the founding of societies for folks to gather together---a la New York's historic Theodore Huff Society---to have showings of their more obscure finds.

Here is a link to a web site that tracks all the latest news and releases re: this new phenomenon.
My web site

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