Tuesday, 14 April 2015

The trailer that wagged the Dog

I don't mind The Black Hole, Uncle Walt's answer to Star Wars, it's just that the unique Disney episode created to publicise the $20 million movie was so much more fun.

Someone lost the coin toss for first pick of the costumes.

Major Effects - synopsis:

Joseph Bottoms stars in a semi-documentary about special effects. The plot is minimal, but it's delightful, if largely a plug for Disney's feature The Black Hole.
(Disney wikia.com)

We've been here before, but instead of talking about the actual film which this surreal hour from the House of Mouse so ably promoted, I'm returning to The Wonderful World of Disney, Season 26, episode 5: Major Effects.

The Wizard of Speed and Time segment was covered in some depth here: http://fasmatodea.blogspot.co.nz/2014/03/the-joy-of-fx.html but what about the rest of this TV Special?  Who was Major Effects? What was his history with the Flesh-Eating Fly, and where had we seen the lovely Barnstable twins before?

Even IMBD and Wikipedia don't tell us much beyond a cast list and running time, so I have to rely on my increasingly unreliable memory to describe an hour of TV from a Sunday evening 35 years ago.  But it really was that memorable for me.

The role of Major Effects was essayed by Joseph Bottoms, who this sync-ed Hole-y trinity:
Vincent: http://jamasenright.blogspot.co.nz/2015/04/le-trou-noir.html
Bob: http://jetsimian.blogspot.co.nz/2015/04/right-next-door-to-hell.html
Maximillian: http://guanolad.blogspot.co.nz/2015/04/mind-over-dark-matter.html
might tell you also played the lacquer-headed Lt Pizer in The Black Hole.

"It's like a super trailer for Black Hole. I unravel all the mysteries of special effects, wardrobe, sound and even how to hang on a wire belt. Today I'm playing an old man of 99, but I also have this red and gold superhero outfit. I wear gold boots, gold hotpants, like Charo's, and red tights!"
(Actor Joseph Bottoms, interviewed in 1979, is breathless with enthusiasm for his role in Major Effects)

Bottoms is aged to 99 to demonstrate makeup effects
 (needs more than hair lacquer now)

The Major takes us on a sweeping, light-hearted look at visual effects, punctuated by many clips from The Black Hole and cheerfully deranged sequences like the aforementioned Wizard, and a battle between our caped super-host and some of his greatest adversaries. The villain he seems most rattled by looks like the title character from The Fly after spending years at the gym and taking a job as a bouncer.

Quark - another Star Wars-engendered production
more fun than The Black Hole.

Cyb and Tricia Barnstable were twin actress/models who already had a science fiction pedigree with regular roles in Quark, a briefly-lived 1978 NBC comedy sci-fi series about a galactic refuse collector.
One was Betty and the other was her clone, (collectively known as the Bettys), but we never knew which was which. This time the Barnstables assisted the Major in ways we can only guess at from this publicity still.

Cynically, it has to be mentioned that the direction (and indeed, title) of Major Effects strongly implies that state-of-the-art visuals were the whole raison d'etre for The Black Hole, a mistake which many Star Wars 'inspired' space sagas were to make.
In our current times of studio-vetted 'puff piece' extras on DVD and Blu-Ray editions and bland appearances on chat shows to pimp cinema releases, the idea of a movie promotion as elaborate, creative and intentionally obscure as Major Effects seems quite insane. And it certainly was, in the best possible way.

"...eight day shooting schedule cut to an effective two. Show cannot be obvious Black Hole promotional because promos will not be publicised by media.  Previewing the movie's workings might give away the magic.  Original plans to spotlight the true behind-the-camera stars fizzle when they don't want to appear in front of the camera.  Network temporarily pulls show for alleged PG-rated movie being previewed in G-rated timeslot - and much more."
(Writer, Director, Actor and Wizard Mike Jittlov explains the Major Effects production difficulties which led to genius)

The original reels have probably melted, been lost, or even turned into motorway landfill but I'd dearly love to see Major Effects released on disc - maybe with The Black Hole as an extra.

Mike Jittlov explains in his own words, in Starlog 33.