Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Ask The A.V. Club: March 30, 2007

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On A Camel With No Name

I was hoping that you could help me with a question that has eluded me for years. I once read an article in a National Geographic about a woman who traveled across the Australian outback on a camel. I think it was in the late '70s or early '80s from the quality of the photography. Every time I am in a used-books store, I look for that issue, and I have searched online, but to no avail. Please tell me I am not crazy!

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Elizabeth

Donna Bowman doesn't think you're crazy:

You don't need to find the issue, Elizabeth—and given the sheer volume of Geographics clogging our nation's recycling system, that's lucky for you. Robyn Davidson not only traveled 1,700 miles across Australia with four camels in 1980, accompanied by a photographer from the magazine (which financed her trip), she also turned the resulting photo-essay into a popular non-fiction book. Just pick up a copy of Tracks (or the abridged version, From Alice to Ocean, a book/CD-ROM combo bursting with Rick Smolan's glossy photos). It's an engrossing adventure in the solo-wanderer genre, written in an appealingly wide-eyed style. Davidson became a prominent travel writer after her outback adventure at age 30, and reportedly had a romantic relationship with Salman Rushdie at the height of her fame. She still contributes to Australian journals, but her first work will always be the one we remember. Those camels really stick in the brain.

I Don't Care 'Cause The Song's Not There

I was just listening to Black Market Clash, and the song "1977" struck me as being really, really good. Is there a reason they kept it off of the album they recorded it for?

Joshua Lee

Jason Heller hopes he goes to heaven for this response:

Not to pick nits, but you must have been listening to Super Black Market Clash, the expanded reissue from 1994—the original Black Market Clash released in 1980 didn't include "1977." (The song's first legit CD appearance was on the 1991 box set Clash On Broadway). Originally, "1977" was the B-side of the band's first single, "White Riot," from March of '77. No doubt, it's a killer song—especially since its cry of "No Elvis, Beatles, or The Rolling Stones in 1977" can be read as both an indictment of and a paean to rock stardom in the punk era, a paradox The Clash embodied.

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As for why "1977" wasn't deemed worthy of inclusion on the band's self-titled debut in April of that year, that's anyone's guess. Some fans might argue that it just wasn't as good as the rest of the songs on the album, but since The Clash was overhauled heavily (four songs dropped, five newer ones added) when it was reissued for the American market in 1979, the integrity of the record's track list has always been a matter of debate. To add some loose conjecture to the pot, Marcus Grey's Clash biography Last Gang In Town details the mini-backlash the band suffered due to the lyrics of "1977"—particularly Joe Strummer's references to "Sten guns in Knightsbridge," which was interpreted by journalists as a call to violence. Strummer said at the time that he intended the opposite, that the song was about being a victim of violence, not a perpetrator of it.

Still, the most likely answer is that "1977" had always been intended as a B-side. Considering the ephemeral nature of singles compared to the more durable album, maybe The Clash didn't want its first full-length to become anachronistic within eight months of its release. Not that it seemed to bother The Stooges—see "1969," off their self-titled debut.

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Growing Old In Public

How come Woody Allen looks exactly like he did 30 years ago?

John Faarup

Celeb-spotter Noel Murray responds:

I don't think he really does look the same, John, but it seems like he does because he hasn't been out of the public eye for any extended period of time since he became famous. It's like my kids: I see them every day, so I don't really notice how much they've grown, while my parents, who see them only a few times a year, are always stunned by how big they're getting.

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Most movie stars kind of have three ages: Their young, vital selves, seen in all the films that made them rich and famous; their distinguished older selves, seen in the bit parts and cameos they take when they're no longer viable for leading roles; and their decrepit, dying selves, wheeled out for awards-show tributes and DVD featurettes. I remember seeing Gene Kelly interviewed shortly before he died, and being shocked how ancient he looked, since to me, the image of "old Gene Kelly" was fixed in my mind from the That's Entertainment films of the mid-'70s. And of course, he'd aged 20 years since then.

Apocalypse Soonish

Okay, so I have this scant memory of a movie that I saw, probably… late '80s or early '90s, about this guy who is running around town the day before some sort of apocalypse hits. I don't know how he has the information, because nobody else he meets really panics, but somehow he knows a guy who can get him on a helicopter that will take him to the sanctuary where they are keeping the world's best and brightest etc. somewhere in Antarctica. That's the premise as it exists in my head. The reason he doesn't just go get on the helicopter is because he's running around town trying to track down some girl. They make it to the helicopter. Then just before whatever is going to happen happens, they're in the air, but I think something goes wrong, and the only actual image in my head attached to this story is the ending with the helicopter being submerged in water and an image of what looks like a skinned (?) woolly mammoth. This movie has been bugging me on and off for over a decade, and I'd like to see it again just so I can find out what was going on with the woolly mammoth, but I have no idea what it was called. Can you help me?

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Chris Bond

Christopher Bahn to the rescue of his near-namesake:

You're thinking of the 1988 movie Miracle Mile, starring Anthony Edwards, who later went on to play Dr. Mark Greene on ER. Since your question is about the ending, anyone who hasn't seen the movie should be warned that I'm about to spoil it. Edwards plays an ordinary guy who picks up a ringing pay phone and gets an unpleasant message from a panicky missile-silo operator who's misdialed when trying to call his father—nuclear war has been declared, the guy says, and the world will end in one hour. The rest of the movie is told in real time, as Edwards tries desperately to find his girlfriend and then locate some way to get the hell out of Los Angeles before it's too late, while never knowing for sure if the phone call was some kind of random prank. As for the mammoth: The movie takes its title from the L.A. neighborhood where it takes place. The Miracle Mile is mostly a shopping district, I think (I've never been there), but it's also the location of the La Brea Tar Pits, a famous paleontological site where the bones of hundreds of Ice Age animals like saber-tooth cats and mammoths have been discovered. Well, Edwards does eventually commandeer a helicopter, but he's too late: The missiles hit, and the copter crashes into the museum and slowly sinks into the tar pits, leaving Edwards, his girlfriend, and the rest of humanity to join the mammoth in extinction. (I don't actually remember whether the mammoth was skinned, but now you can see the movie again and find out.)

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Next week: Why people care about box-office scores, all the iterations of Ghostbusters, and more. Send your questions to asktheavclub@theonion.com.