My Take by Jim Carl - November 9, 2011
MY TAKE is a blog about my funny life experiences that happened to involve movies, and how I found myself in charge of programming films for a living. I’ll discuss how certain movies came to be responsible for my bad attitude, memories, associations, personal beliefs, and plain stupidity. Yes, I fully intend to trash films considered sacred in certain circles, and will probably offer a poor explanation for doing so. I also intend to squander praise on movies considered awful by most everyone, even if it makes me sound ridiculous, because I have a funny memory to share about them. Again, I’m not writing reviews. All I mean to do here is tell some good stories, and perhaps a clever lie or two. No one has ever accused me of suffering a shortage of ways to make a fool of myself, and because blogging is one I haven’t tried, at least this is one most of my friends haven’t yet seen.
WHEN TIME RAN OUT (1980)
I know, I know. I lose all credibility with this single entry, right? Everyone has a cinematic Achilles Heel. Mine involves all-star casts meeting gory, explosive deaths, one by one, for my ghoulish amusement. I don't care if they're traveling on passenger airlines, commercial cruise lines, trapped in burning buildings, or fleeing killer bees and volcanoes. Just line 'em up and hand me the bloody darts. I love this stuff, okay? I turn myself in. Every Christmas I hold an Irwin “Master of Disaster” Allen marathon at my home. It’s an obsession I’ve been upholding for years; something to pass the time as I wrap presents, torment visiting relatives, and avoid making purchases on eBay. Forget A Charlie Brown Christmas, It’s a Wonderful Life and Frosty the Snowman. Nothing quite defrosts my heart like Shelley Winters’ sacrificial swan dive into Poseidon’s submerged deck, granny-panties and all. Now, that’s a tear-jerker.
For me, the Holidays usually begin with something in a minor key like Airport 1975. Then I narcissistically work my way through The Towering Inferno, Earthquake, Rollercoaster, The Hindenburg, Meteor, The Swarm, Beyond the Poseidon Adventure and end with the brazen awfulness that is 1980’s When Time Ran Out, my all-time favorite disaster movie. Never heard of this film, you say? Let me tell you, it stars Paul Newman, Jacqueline Bissett, Burgess Meredith, Richard Chamberlain, and William Holden. It’s about a killer volcano that throws fireballs straight at the cast.
Okay, so what kerosene-soaked cloth tied round my head caused me to choose When Time Ran Out as my favorite all-time disaster film? Have I no sense of propriety? Why not 1972’s The Poseidon Adventure, for goodness sake? I dunno. On some dumb, fundamental level, perhaps, I’m terrified of being chased by slow-moving lava and sedan-wide tidal waves. Here's the rub: When Time Ran Out was the first disaster movie I ever saw in a theatre. I was an impressionable eleven year-old. (Sue me.) All the rest from this genre, I first watched on TV; even, alas, the wonderfully-goofy The Concorde: Airport’79. (If I owned a Tardis, I would travel back in time and correct this, my own cinematic short-sightedness. I did, however, read the novelization on a swinging bench in Stamford, Texas, so that scores me some points.)
Let me tell you something about When Time Ran Out: it's one thing to see Paul Newman battle a towering inferno on your 27-inch Visio. (Or your 3.5-inch iPhone, if you’re under 25.) It's quite another to see 73 year-old Burgess Meredith doing a high-wire balancing act with a bamboo stick atop a collapsing bridge trestle over a river of flowing lava on a 40-ft screen…all the while carrying a kid on his back! Baby, there ain't no comparison. I still remember that long walk home from the theatre in 1980. I balanced myself like a trapeze artist on the train tracks toward home and recreated my favorite scene with delight: Mr. Meredith, carrying that Hawaiian brat on his back across the lava bridge. Think Stand By Me with volcanic ash and more bodies.
Forget Star Wars. I have never pretended to be Han Solo as many times as I have Burgess Meredith, that savvy, old joker. Nowadays, I am in my 40s and sometimes, when I know no one's looking, I still gingerly place one foot in front of the other, and pretend to cross that savage fire pit. Most times, however, I purposely dump the whiny Hawaiian kid off my back. It's just another ghoulish amusement of mine.
Who is this Jim Carl anyway?
JIM CARL is Senior Director of the Carolina Theatre. He has been in charge of its film program since 1995. Some of his favorite contemporary movies include The Empire Strikes Back, Jaws, Dangerous Liaisons, The Punisher (2004), Postcards from the Edge, Aliens, The Fog (1980), Private Benjamin, Deep Blue Sea and almost anything involving Great White Sharks, Jamie Lee Curtis, Thomas Jane, Kurt Russell, or is set underwater. His favorite movie of all time is Ordinary People. Some of his least-favorite contemporary movies include Alien 3, Crank 2: High Voltage, Brazil, The Usual Suspects, Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, O Brother Where Art Thou?, Scarface (1983) and almost anything involving Will Ferrell (except Elf), Jason Statham, mobsters, British gangsters and drug dealers, or a toy that transforms into a loudmouthed robot. His least-favorite movie of all time is Pulp Fiction. He is a film believer in the presentation and preservation of 35mm film and will book any movie he suspects will make money, even if he hates it.