Every week, Ask The A.V. Club tackles readers' questions about pop culture. Sometimes by answering questions that reference past questions:
Tearing Up The Entr'acte
This kind of goes along the same line as the question about skits on hip-hop albums. Hip-hop artists aren't the only musicians guilty of putting in album filler. My CD collection is littered with rock CDs with minute-long, usually abstract instrumental tracks. Minus The Bear's Highly Refined Pirates being the example that pops into my head first, as they really ruin the flow of that album. Modest Mouse, And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, Super Furry Animals, and The Flaming Lips are a few others. Are these to pad track count, boost artist ego, or to punish the listener?
Noel Murray responds:
Pad track count? Unlikely. Few indie-rock acts get paid by the song, though some major-label acts do. Punish the listener? Not so much, though I'll grant that there's an element of endurance-test to some of these little interludes. Boost artist ego? Hmm. I'm not entirely sure what you mean by that, though if you're arguing that short abstract instrumentals are self-indulgent attempts to turn an album into a work of art, you're probably right. In the iPod era, it's easy to lose patience with some 45-second filigree that wastes our time when it comes up on "shuffle," but to the musicians who made it, those bits are meant to enhance the experience of the album as a unified whole. They set a mood, or allow for a pause in the action that will make the songs to come stand out more.
Or maybe the band was just jamming one day with the tape rolling, came up with something cool, and didn't want to lose it. I used to love the way R.E.M.'s early albums included fragments of unfinished experiments between some songs. Rather than seeming pretentious, it helped humanize the band, showing both a more relaxed side and a sample of directions not taken. The only problem with those fragments is that they were designed for the old vinyl LPs, and didn't have their own track designation. When you put those albums on your iPod now, you can't just delete the extra stuff—you have to go into the file and manually trim them off. (Or just relax and enjoy.)
Personally, the album-padding conceit that I'd like to see take a hike is the "hidden track." Initially, that was a neat use of CD technology, since we couldn't automatically see what might be hiding. Now, with iTunes and iTunes-like interfaces, I put a CD in my computer and I can see a dozen or so six-second placeholder tracks, leading up to the hidden song at Track 26 or whatever, and all I can think about is how I'm going to have to delete all those when I rip the album to my hard drive.
Time Man And Watch Boy
This one has been bothering me for years. Back in the '80s, there was this show with a young kid and an older guy. I seem to recall that they would travel through time solving problems, mysteries, etc. All I really remember is that the older guy had a pocketwatch-type thing that was always breaking. He would touch the face of it and they would fly off to their new adventure. Any ideas?
Steven Hyden responds:
The name of the show is Voyagers!, and it aired on NBC during the '82-'83 season. Voyagers! (make sure to shout the title in your mind when reading) starred Jon-Erik Hexum as Phineas Bogg, a time traveler who kept history on track with the help of child companion Jeffery Jones (played by Meeno Peluce) and "a pocketwatch-type thing" called an Omni. "We travel through time to help history along, to give a push where it's needed," Bogg explains during the show's opening credits.
Too bad there wasn't a group of real-life time travelers to help Hexum, who died in 1984 after shooting himself in the head with a prop gun on the set of Cover Up, a CBS series about models who are really undercover agents. Talk about history needing a push: Why would CBS pick up a show about models who are really undercover agents?
This Is The World We Live In
I promised myself I'd never send you guys an "I can't remember what I watched as a child" question, but I got one, and I don't know where it's from. My dad used to have a tape he'd recorded off TV, where the theme song referred to it as The Ronny And Nancy Show. The show, which might have been British, involved puppet versions of Ronald Reagan, Nancy Reagan, and a slew of other '80s topical parodies (Christopher Reeves was in a Superman costume, Michael Jackson was black, etc.). I'm sure I didn't get the political humor, being 4 years old, but I liked puppets, and what 4-year-old doesn't? I distinctly remember the opening scene involved Puppet President Reagan sitting in his bed, struggling to put together a two-piece puzzle of the American flag. To which he assumes the little "nobby" thing is the problem, bites it off, and gets saddened as there's now a hole in it (the "nobby" part connecting the two pieces). Eventually, a new red phone gets installed, and the President almost starts World War III. It may seem like I remember a whole lot, but really, I'm just wondering what my dad subjected me to as a kid.
Christopher Bahn likes puppets too:
The Ronnie And Nancy Show was one of several short-lived attempts by the British political satire show Spitting Image to break into the American market. The show featured latex puppet caricatures of political figures and pop stars like Margaret Thatcher and was hugely popular in the UK, but while more than a dozen spin-offs were made in countries like Russia, France, and India, the U.S. versions didn't stick, possibly because the humor was more acidulous and mocking toward the Reagan administration than was popular at the time. The Spitting Image puppets are best-remembered here thanks to MTV and the video for Genesis' "Land Of Confusion," in which a puppet Ronald Reagan has a nightmare about nuclear war featuring cameos from Rambo, Michael Jackson, and a host of other '80s pop icons. And also, for some reason, a styracosaurus.
The Ronnie And Nancy Show was the second of three American Spitting Image programs, and it begins exactly as you've described it. The show featured a pretty sweet collection of British and American comedy talent, including writers Rob Grant and Doug Naylor (Red Dwarf), and voice work from actors Chris Barrie (Red Dwarf), Lenny Henry (Chef), and Harry Shearer (The Simpsons and This Is Spinal Tap). Clips of the show can be found on YouTube, as can the "Land Of Confusion" video.
The Other Other Others
When the Nicole Kidman movie The Others came out, the description and previews reminded me of another movie I had seen years before on television. At least, I think it was a movie. It had a setup similar to The Others, with someone (I think a young woman) moving into a big and strange old house. The house had servants, or at least other folks lived there. At some point, you discover that the people who live there are ghosts. I can't remember if our protagonist was also a ghost or not. I seem to remember strange statuary and black-and-white tile floors in at least one room. I saw this when I was fairly young, so my memory of it is poor. But it made a fairly big impression on me at the time.
Scott Tobias swoops in to reply:
I believe the movie you remember is 1961's The Innocents, a gorgeous adaptation of Henry James' Turn Of The Screw that's such a clear inspiration for The Others that I referenced it in my review. [Now I'm patting myself on the back.] In broad outlines, the plots are virtually identical: Deborah Kerr, still lithe and elegant even at a more advanced age than Nicole Kidman, stars as a governess who's brought in to take care of two children in an estate that's haunted by ghosts of its past. Like The Haunting, another classic of the same period, the film looks wonderful in widescreen black-and-white, and Fox made a stripped-down DVD edition available last year. If you have a Netflix account or a good video store near you, it shouldn't be too difficult to track down, and it's definitely worth your time.
Every few weeks, we open the floor to our readers, inviting them to tackle some of the questions we weren't immediately able to answer. You all have a good record so far, so let's see what you make of these. If you have answers, just e-mail them to the address below.
Okay, there was a movie I loved as a kid. Unfortunately, I remember almost nothing about it now. Here's what I do remember: It was on TV, but I don't think it was a made-for-TV movie. The main characters were, I think, three criminals. At the very end of the movie, they'd just evaded the cops, and were elated that they'd gotten away (I think with money). The last line is when one character says, while driving a fast car, "Nothing can stop us now!" Then they accidentally hit a train and explode. The end. Any idea what that movie was? I'm pretty sure it was made in the '70s.
I'm trying to remember the name of a band that I saw a few years ago. I remember one of their videos, set in perhaps the late 19th century, about a servant girl who is treated poorly by her employers. She is eventually contacted by a man (the frontman of the band) who lives in a world inside her mirror. I think eventually he pulls or entices her through to the mirror world, which is a lot cooler than the real one. I remember the lead singer had long dark hair and an ever-so-slightly gothic look. Help?
Am trying to remember the name of a horror movie I saw on HBO back in the day when HBO and cable were new-fangled things to the world, bringing in uncensored entertainment into our living rooms for the first time before there were DVD players and even VCRs. From what I remember, it was about an arrogant plastic surgeon who kills (?) others for personal gain, only to ultimately get his comeuppance in a horrifying scene where all his victims and/or friends (?) collectively rip open his face. Also, the piano song "Chopsticks" was a constant, near-surreal motif/theme throughout the movie. Seriously. This shit freaked me out, as a kid whose previous exposure to TV consisted mainly of Donny & Marie. Thanks for helping to get rid of the memory-stuck demons,
Next week: The secret origins of Capital I, Star Wars fan parental angst, and more. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.