Print Story Daddy's Cup
Diary
By Christopher Robin was Murdered (Fri Oct 19, 2007 at 03:47:16 AM EST) (all tags)
A trench war of wits. The cure for thinking. The South's brief second coming (and going). Rad. The Anti-Coors Act of 1875. A-acting. Where's my 20 – why, boy, it's all around you.


    So, lately, I've been involved in a long exchange about the definition of the term "book." I kid you not. This exchange has, at various times, involved discussions about the essence of literary works, the localization of functions within the brain, the career of Thomas Carlyle, the Saxon roots of the English language, why you shouldn't keep lions as pets, the micro-organizational sequence of sense glosses in the OED, John Henry, and chariots. Chariots one drives to Boston, specifically.

    Battered and dazed, I staggered away from the computer yesterday worn thin by cerebral combat. The sheer ferocity of debate at such an elevated level can damage a man's soul as surely as the battle fatigue from a merely physical conflict will. I stumbled to the DVD player for solace. And there, like some tender and mothering get-well card written from the gentle hand of some mustachioed, cowboy-hat wearing guardian angle, was the sure balm that would bring surcease from the strains of thought.

    I'm referring, of course, to the "Special Edition" digitally remastered 5.1 Surround Sound (TM and R and YBBI,B) DVD presentation of Smokey and the Bandit. (This is, I think, some new and as yet not generally excepted use of the term "special" – Mr. Snaily, call the boys at Oxford – we've got a new sense number!)

    Because some of the denizens of this site are products of the educational systems of far flung countries like England, and Canada, and Ohio, I'm going to have to assume a lack of familiarity with this exquisite cinematic flowering of that late '70s Renaissance of Southern American culture that also produced such lasting artistic statements as the oeuvre of the band Molly Hatchet, the Dukes of Hazzard's battle-cross emblazoned General Lee and the actual Confederate battle-flag flying years the General Stuart haunted Stuart tank of DC Comic's Haunted Tank, a series of Walking Tall films, and the song The Devil Went Down to Georgia.

    Smokey and the Bandit was helmed by former stunt man turned writer/director/auteur Hal Needham. (What else could a director who worked with Burt Reynolds in six of his eight feature films be called?) Needham would be responsible for other classics including jingoistic sci-fi actioner Megaforce, the '80s BMX bike "drama" Rad, and the septet of Burt-Reynolds-in-a-car movies that starts with Bandit and goes on to Smokey and the Bandit II, Cannonball Run, Cannonball Run II, and Stoker Ace. It is this last set of films – collectively the In Search of Lost Time of Burt-Reynolds-in-a-car movies – that he's best remembered.

    The plot of Smokey and the Bandit involves a bet that a trucker and his "blocker" – a fast driver whose job is to speed in front of the trucker and draw off the attention of the local constabulary – cannot deliver a trailer full of Coors beer from Texas to Georgia in 28 hours. The distance, some 900 miles or something like that, would make this task dramatic enough – but wait! There is an added element of danger: the deliver of Coors beer east of the Mississippi constitutes bootlegging! Confused? You are, perhaps, worried because you live east of the Mississippi – in, say, Jacksonville or Atlanta or New York or Paris or Marrakech – and you've got the sad remains of the Coors Light sixer slowly rusting away in the back of your energy-saver Avanti. Fear not, the revenuers aren't about to battering-ram down your front door. This crucial plot point hinges on the now mercifully defunct Anti-Coors Act of 1875, the obscure result of Tammany Hall inspired jurisprudential finagling that was, to the joy of truckers everywhere, struck down in the famed Supreme Court case of Brown v. That Unerring Sense of Where the Body is Positioned Relative to the Ground That the World's Greatest Fighter Pilots, Trapeze Artists, and Stunt Men Have. But, at the time Smokey and the Bandit was made, this bloodthirsty bitch-goddess of an article of law was a heartbreaker for the several million Coors-thirsty Americans unfortunate enough to be born on the wrong side of what was then commonly referred as the Polluted Aqueous Curtain.

    Who would be mad enough to make such a "run" (which the film claims is trucker speak for what us civilians would call a run)? The Bandit, played with typical detachment by Burt Freakin' Reynolds, that's who. Though he briefly slid into something like elder statesmanhood in the late '90s – a short-lived transformation fueled mainly by his appearance in Boogie Nights - it is Smokey and the Bandit that The Burt most prominently displays the monstrous egotism that, in Hollywood cinema in the '70s, passed for charm. This was the era that saw the birth of that unique brand of actor that, no matter what character he was performing, he would always just be himself. Think of DeNiro, Pacino, Gere, Beatty. The revolutionary development Reynolds brought to that style of acting was to ditch the unnecessary baggage of even attempting to play a character. The Burt strips characterization down to a minimum – you can tell this character from The Burt's fast-driving egotist in Cannonball Run because Bandit wears a cowboy hat. He doesn't ever make a serious attempt at an Southern accent (a feat given that he's from Georgia), he doesn't try to give the character any particular motivation, he doesn't even try to pretend he isn't in a movie: at one point, after dodging his first cop and completely the first of many chase scenes, he stops the car and smiles to the audience, the car chase equivalent of the post-blow smile a porn actress shoots to fans watching the video. This is a "character" who, when asked what he does for a living, answers, "I go travel around and do what I do best."
    "What's that?"
    "Show off."
    In some other movie we could discuss the sort of pomo-inflected pathos-lite of The Burt breaking character to discuss acting in such deadpan terms. Only here, The Burt never had a character to break and one gets the feeling that his short answer is not dramatic understatement so much as it is a complete and full expression of what The Burt believes is the secret to art of acting.
    Bandit will be the runs blocker and The Burt will spend the vast majority of the flick tear-assing about in a black and gold Trans Am.

    The cast is filled out with Jerry Reed, as Cledus "Snowman" Snow the trucker sidekick; Sally Fields, who despite a mere actress ended up in several Reynolds flicks; and Jackie Gleason, playing a clownish hick sheriff with the wonderful moniker of Bufrd T. Justice.

    All these characters are incidental. The film is really more a bizarre experiment in cinema hubris. Instead of acting to fill a role, Reynolds let's the entire world of the film construct itself around his enormously outsized self-regard. The original songs, by Reed, all sing his praises. Every character we run across knows him. Ever chase ends as predictably as the last. This is a world were God is personally invested in the success of the Bandit. When you're The Burt, everything is always easy.

    There's a scene in Being John Malkovich where, upon entering his own head, the titular actor finds himself in a world consisting solely of John Malkovich. It is resented as a nightmare. Smokey and the Bandit is something similar, a star remaking a world so it can do naught but reflect his own sense of himself. Only here, it is a love letter.

    Should you ever be suffering from the pains of thought, I can't recommend it highly enough.

Title song: Daddy's Cup by the Drive-By Truckers

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Daddy's Cup | 14 comments (14 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback
Jesus by spacejack (4.00 / 3) #1 Fri Oct 19, 2007 at 04:01:03 AM EST
I don't know if I want to live in a world that's no longer familiar with Smokey and the Bandit.

"I need a car. A fast car. Faster than that."

I will have you know . . . by slozo (4.00 / 2) #2 Fri Oct 19, 2007 at 04:07:45 AM EST
. . . that as a Canadian, we have indeed been exposed to such Suh-thuhn Americana staples as the Hazard county boys, molly hatch-it, and that satanic sojourn to Georgia ditty.

But a haunted tank? That's just . . . odd. How the hell do you make a premise like that work?

I thought Burt in Boogie Nights was his best and only piece of real acting. Great sad flick.

Besides being the greatest comic ever . . . by Christopher Robin was Murdered (4.00 / 1) #9 Fri Oct 19, 2007 at 06:54:59 AM EST
Haunted Tank was the second most successful war comic of all time. It ran as a featured monthly for more than 20 years, a record only Sgt. Rock can beat. Go figure.

[ Parent ]
RE: The Haunted Tank by gelateria (2.00 / 0) #13 Sat Oct 20, 2007 at 02:32:33 AM EST
Nice. by Christopher Robin was Murdered (2.00 / 0) #14 Sat Oct 20, 2007 at 05:32:03 AM EST
Only he mixes up some details in the backstory. In ghost hero heaven, Alexander the Great was Stuart's CO. Stuart was not assigned his descendent's case, but chose to be his combat guardian angel. Finally, Attila the Hun shows up, but he's the roving spirit guide of the Nazi forces. At different times his haunts a Nazi tank and a Nazi fighter plane. He ends up becoming the chief rival of ghost Stuart.

None of that makes any more sense if you actually read the comics.


[ Parent ]
You underestimate the dastardly psychology by yicky yacky (2.00 / 0) #3 Fri Oct 19, 2007 at 04:39:37 AM EST

of the British educational system.

Far from being protected from the likes of Mr. Reynolds and those Hazzard chaps ("Dukes? Don't make one chortle"), we were extensively exposed to their full ... existence from an early age. Indeed, by this point the exploits of Mr. "Bandit" take a respectable third place (behind 'The Great Escape' and the travails of one J. Bond esquire) in terms of "Film most likely to have been shown on a given Bank Holiday afternoon".

What should not be misunderstood is the level of evil Pavlovian genius which lies behind this programme of psychological conditioning. From joyful appreciation and enjoyment at the age of eight, to disatisfaction and weary cynicism post-puberty, few indeed are they who escape this brutally scientific regimen without being convinced that: a.) the Britons' pluck, courage and subversive resistance to authoritarianism (particularly German-flavoured) is unsurpassed; b.) British intelligence is the greatest on Earth (we'll have no uppity and bolshy talk of dodgy dossiers here) whereas American economic / military might is at its best when directed according to the whim of idiosyncatic British mavericks; and c.) Americans, particularly of southern extraction, are typically charmless, self-aggrandising arseholes.

It's a powerful system.


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Vacuity abhors a vacuum.
A veritable mousetrap of the mind. by Christopher Robin was Murdered (4.00 / 1) #10 Fri Oct 19, 2007 at 07:14:48 AM EST
How such a brutally efficient system ever produced such brilliant minds Oscar Wilde, George Orwell, Cyril Connelly, Benny Hill, Robbie Williams, and the women of Girls Aloud is a mystery.

[ Parent ]
apropos the Burt and books by BlueOregon (4.00 / 1) #4 Fri Oct 19, 2007 at 04:52:23 AM EST

For books I recommend Book by Robert Grudin (it's well-enough-known and I've mentioned it before).

Regarding The Burt, I was just thinking of him the other day, for he was featured, as you're perhaps aware, in the The Onion AV Club's list of When Comebacks Collapse: 10 Blown Second Chances: "But he failed to capitalize on his Boogie Nights buzz, opting instead for quick, easy paydays in projects like with telltale titles like Universal Soldier III: Unfinished Business and Hard Time: The Premonition. It isn't exactly a promising sign that Reynolds' most high-profile upcoming role is in In The Name Of The King: A Dungeon Siege Tale, a Uwe Boll-directed video-game adaptation. Those are always good, right?"

And back to books and their definitions, that's an issue I'm wrasslin' with these days, at least in the realm of modeling books for our journal. I would probably go for three main entities: texts (which have titles and zero or more authors), books (own title, one or more texts, etc.), and publications (where the ISBN resides, if it's a 'modern' book, but also cloth or paper, pages, etc.). I can probably drop 'texts' from the journal system, but I probably still need 'books' and 'publications/editions', since we often deal with both hardcover and paperbacks, revised editions from different publishers, etc. Books are complicated that way.

The best things by blixco (4.00 / 1) #5 Fri Oct 19, 2007 at 04:59:55 AM EST
about Smokey and the Bandit:
  1. The dialog between Buford T. Justice and everyone he speaks to, but especially the abuse he heaps on his son.
  2. Big Enos and Little Enos, especially any muttering done, Mutley the Dog-stylee, by Little Enos.  Little Enos, the man who sings "We've Only Just Begun" for the love of god.
  3. Cledus!  "I am the son of a truck drivin' mother...boogity boogity boogity boogity."  Everything the man says is off script and funny as heck.
  4. Sally Field in a role where she isn't doing any sort of Olive Oyl end-of-the-world impersonation, or any "Not without my daughter!" Lifetime Network crap.
  5. A 236hp 8 cylinder car doing stuff that only a 600hp 8 cylinder can do without the movies.
I'd argue that the supporting characters make the film.  There's only so much of Burt that the world can stand at any given moment.  Burt works best with a sidekick or four.  Burt on his own is still quite good (see "Striptease," where he is the only thing true to the book, and he nails that character in a really creepy way) but creepy.  He needs a foil, something other than the landscape of southern culture via Hollywood.

Also, on the Coors thing, wikipedia has this really in-depth bit:

"At the time, Coors wasn't available in the eastern U.S.; due to the arcane nature of state liquor taxes, it was illegal to ship it east of Texas. (In fact, Texarkana, Texas lies in Bowie County, Texas, which is a dry county. Texarkana, Arkansas is "wet", but Coors could not be shipped east of Texas. There was no Coors in Texarkana; the closest Coors would have been found in the small Cass County, Texas community of Domino.)"
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"You bring the weasel, I'll bring the whiskey." - kellnerin

And disappoitingly, in the end by georgeha (4.00 / 2) #6 Fri Oct 19, 2007 at 05:09:48 AM EST
Coors is not all that. I had my first ones in the 80's, it was typical mass market American beer.


[ Parent ]
My first year at Kansas State, by greyrat (2.00 / 0) #7 Fri Oct 19, 2007 at 05:41:53 AM EST
the bars were all Coors only. The next year they were almost all Anheuser-Busch. Not that this was a big deal in anyway. It's just an observation.

[ Parent ]
Don't worry by nebbish (2.00 / 0) #8 Fri Oct 19, 2007 at 06:01:14 AM EST
We got all that southern US crap over here as well. I remember my dad, who was a Dukes of Hazzard fan, being very embarressed when some paper or other did a survey and found out the show's average viewer was seven years old - I'm not sure if it had quite the same cultural impact over here.

Loved your story BTW. It got me thinking of the days when I was addicted to Sims and couldn't differentiate between my life and theirs.

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It's political correctness gone mad!

Thanks. by Christopher Robin was Murdered (4.00 / 1) #11 Fri Oct 19, 2007 at 07:16:55 AM EST
I'm glad you dug it.

[ Parent ]
Now I want to see the remake by notafurry (2.00 / 0) #12 Fri Oct 19, 2007 at 08:26:47 AM EST
No, seriously. I think I would be forced to giggle like a little girl if someone made a really, really good remake of Smokey and the Bandit.

Pick a really good cast. Actors who can act. Rework the plot slightly - same basic premise, obviously some different cargo - but a script that makes it a much better story, perhaps with the run as a metaphor for rebuilding the Bandit's life or some such. Character development, the works.

And then keep the title and some of the cheesy music (you know it could be made to work) and some modern country singer, like the group that did Cars for Pixar to rework the rest.

Daddy's Cup | 14 comments (14 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback