18 March 2009

It Happened At the World's Fair



United States - 1962
Director – Norman Taurog
Warner Home Video, 2004, DVD

Of all the many Elvis films out there for consideration, this one caught my eye because it's set at the Seattle World's Fair of 1962. This holds the promise of many unintended contextual amusements when viewed across the yawning expanse of 47 years. The first of these is the Seattle Center setting. Although the majority of the film does not actually take place at the fair itself, it features many shots of the same crumbling architecture we still enjoy today and which intermittently catches fire and shoots sparks into the streets below. Keep in mind, 5 years previous Sputnik had rocketed into space and the interstellar nuclear slapstick was fully underway. Because it was the early 60's, America was hitting the peak of space-race hysteria and if we didn’t get there first and fiercest, the Commies would be delivering a payload of beets and vodka straight into the foyer of every suburban split-level ranch-style bungalow by Friday.
Space car equals 100% awesome.

Our buddy Elvis, or Mike Edwards if you will, is a low-rent crop-duster pilot, out one plane because of his partner Danny's gambling problem. Headed to Seattle to find work, Mike and Danny hit up the World's Fair where they meet a little girl, Sue Lin, and a big girl, a nurse named Diane. Mike falls for both, trying to smooth talk Diane (with the help of 11-year-old Kurt Russel who one year later would star in Guns of Diablo with Charles Bronson) while he feeds Sue Lin cotton candy.

Mike strikes out on the grown one, but when Sue Lin's uncle disappears, he takes it upon himself to care for her until he is found. Already seemingly aware of the clueless idiocy of horny males at the age of 6, Sue Lin fakes an illness so that Diane will see how "tender" Mike really is. We of course already know the truth of this because of the cloyingly saccharine kiddie-Rock-and-Roll songs he keeps warbling.

Danny meanwhile has cooked up a shady deal for the guys to get their plane back for flying some "cargo" to Canada, and calls Child Protective Services to free up Mike for the job. (In my mind, this move really seals the deal on Danny who’s been threatening to go full frat-boy the whole movie, and right now, all I want is for him to break his back and be paralyzed for life from the neck down.) That kooky Sue Lin, she's cooked up a deal too, a sexy deal to get Diane and Mike together after all. In the end they go off and apply for jobs as "space nurse and space pilot". I'm guessing that that works out about as much as the plot: paper-thin and laughably naive. Oh how the past reeks of desperate and heady optimism.

Visit Seattle Center and you too can smell the burning electrical wires in the same luxurious monorail car that once carried the late King.

There is little more point to this than to legitimize the batter-dipped pan-fried hearty-ness of Mike's personality and his inevitable high-fructose, sing-song crystallization of the girl's and audiences sensibility. (Not to mention the socially distractive qualities of such flashy garbage). So thick, so incredibly thick that it cloys at the throat. All I needed to watch was one Elvis film to understand the decay and degradation of a public persona and the fickle, scummy, and fleeting surface fascination of the public.

Want my honest opinion? I can screech a love song or two myself, and if singing them to girls worked as fundamentally as it does for Elvis...well, that would be bad news for lots of people, least of all me.

1 comment:

régis said...

Terrific, that description of Mike gave me adult-onset diabetes. Thanks a bunch.