Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Lord & Taylor Christmas Catalog, Circa 1941

A lot of retro blogs--and Go Retro is no exception to this--occasionally like to poke fun at the more kitschy fashions and home items of decades past. But very often, I come across something that's so downright elegant that it deserves to be shared as well, for the right reasons. These are selected pages from the 1941 Lord & Taylor Christmas catalog that I found on and it just oozes with class from a time gone by. It made me think of Cary Grant and Clark Gable. Although I prefer models to illustrations when it comes to catalogs, I'd have had no problem buying any of the items in this catalog without seeing an actual photograph first, as they're so nicely done. Compared to other retail chains like Sears and JCPenney, it seems that Lord & Taylor was already establishing itself as a more luxurious, niche brand back then.

By 1941, the U.S. was at war overseas. I like that the catalog recognized gifts for the soldier in someone's life. 

Thinking of today's teens, it's hard to imagine a 14 year-old boy dressing this way, isn't it?

I love that L&T was selling accessories for cats and dogs way before anyone heard of such pet luxuries!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Movie Review: Seven Beauties (1975)

It isn't that often that I review films on Go Retro and rarer, still, foreign films. However, Seven Beauties remains one of the best movies I've seen so far in my life--I rank it higher than a lot of the classic epics such as Doctor Zhivago and Gone With the Wind--and its recognition on this blog is long overdue.

I was first introduced to this movie via PBS, of all places. Don't ask me how they got away with airing it--in unedited form, yet--but it was shown more than once on the same station that gave us Sesame Street and Mister Roger's Neighborhood. It was one of my father's favorite movies and I first viewed it as a teenager. Many scenes from the film have stayed with--or should I say, haunted me--ever since.

Seven Beauties, simply put, is a movie about survival. One might also say that it is a dark comedy--a very dark comedy, considering the subject matter. It stars Italian actor Giancarlo Giannini as Pasqualino Frafuso, a ladies' man and small time hood from Naples who, by a series of events, ends up in a German concentration camp during WWII. Pasqualino's nickname about town is Settebellezze, or "Seven Beauties", so called because of his seven sisters. The name is a bit ironic, however, since none of the sisters are exactly beautiful; in a scene that's nothing short of comic genius, one of them (sporting a large facial mole and rotund figure) performs a dance at a burlesque club, only to get jeered and laughed at by the audience (see clip below--although her obscene gestures that I remember her giving to the crowd have been edited out.) This embarrasses Pasqualino greatly, since family reputation and honor are very important to him. 

In flashbacks throughout the film, we learn more about the path that sent Pasqualino to hell on earth. When one of his sisters turns to prostitution and takes up with a pimp, Pasqualino decides that the best solution to this is to kill him. This creates the problem of having to dispose of the body, so he chops him up with an ax--but not before the large man emits post-mortem intestinal gas, lending to a comedic moment. (Thankfully, we do not actually see Pasqualino doing the ghastly deed.) The body pieces are stuffed into suitcases and shipped to various locations, but Pasqualino is a careless criminal, and he is soon caught, put on trial, declared insane, and sent to a mental asylum. 

At the asylum, he rapes a female patient and joins the war effort to escape the hospital, deserts the army with a fellow soldier, and is eventually captured by the Nazis after raiding food from a German home in the Black Forest (while telling the lady of the house how much he admires her daughter's beautiful ass after he observed her playing Wagner on the piano moments before.)

At the German prison camp, Pasqualino faces the biggest challenge of his life. The Nazi camp commandment is basically a female human version of Jabba the Hut; a large, grotesque, whip-brandishing woman played by an American actress named Shirley Stoler. Her character was supposedly based on a real-life camp commandant named Ilse Koch, also known as "The Bitch of Buchenwald." A remarkable tidbit about Stoler that I uncovered is that she later appeared on Pee-wee's Playhouse

Pasqualino remembers something that his mother told him when he was a young boy--that any woman, no matter how heartless, can be a cup of coffee, they must be stirred with a little sugar sometimes to be sweetened up. With that advice in mind, Pasqualino decides to seduce the commandant; in a dangerous move he whistles while in her presence, sings, winks, and weakly smiles until he is invited to meet with her privately. What happens next is a scene that is nothing short of disturbing. Pasqualino practically crawls up She-Jabba's lumpy body with all of his physical strength left; his erection weakened by malnutrition. The dialogue says it all: "First you eat, then you fuck," she tells Pasqualino. "If you don't fuck, then kaput." 

And it gets worse for Pasqualino. As grim as all this sounds, this movie is actually laugh out loud funny in many parts; thus, that's what makes it so darned brilliant. It was written and directed by Lina Wertmuller, who teamed up with Giannini for several of her movies including The Seduction of Mimi and Swept Away (which later got remade into a Madonna box office bomb.) Never again have I ever seen a film that was able to mix comedy with such a horrific subject while remaining respectful to those who had to suffer through WWII, if that makes sense. In other words, Wertmuller knows when to be appropriately funny and when to stop. With Seven Beauties, she became the first female director to be nominated for an Academy Award in 1976.

If you don't want to know the ending of the film, skip this paragraph. Pasqualino eventually makes it back to Naples, but there's a sense of sadness and defeat despite his survival. Wertmueller herself has said in interviews that Pasqualino in many ways would have been better off dead than alive and that his life by the end of the film isn't the definition of a life anymore. He's been reduced to a shell of a man and any hint of his previous swagger has been erased. But nonetheless, he is alive. 

The soundtrack from this film is haunting and beautiful. Tira A Campà is the name of the theme (Google translates it to mean "bell pulls" but I suspect that's not quite right.) This scene contains the theme and also gives you a good idea of Pasqualino's la dolce vida before the war:

Seven Beauties is a stunner and a must-see for any lover of Italian cinema.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A Plea to Save Thanksgiving

Enough of this insanity already
Yep, here it comes: another cranky ol' lady post. However, the controversy in the news lately over whether Walmart and other retail employees should have to work on Thanksgiving is weighing heavily on my mind.

Several years ago I worked in retail briefly during the Christmas season when I was laid off from my regular job. There's no way to put this nicely--it sucked. It's a thankless job where you're dealing with bitchy customers, bitchy managers and if you're lucky, getting paid $10 an hour to do so while being on your feet all day. I worked at a Crate&Barrel which had to be replenished every night after closing or the manager wouldn't allow us to leave. In fact, she locked us in until she was satisfied--something that I'm pretty sure is illegal.

But I digress--I think it's extremely offensive that anyone should have to work on Thanksgiving--or even Black Friday for that matter. What is up with this stupid obsession over Black Friday, anyway? Are we so greedy and materialistic that our idea of a good way to spend the day after turkey day is to wait in line for hours at night and scramble through the opening doors in a mad rush for the chance to get 40% off a flat screen TV? Would it kill retailers to remain closed for at least 24 hours to give their employees some well-deserved rest and a day to spend with family and loved ones? Can they really not take their minds off the almighty dollar for one day?

Thanksgiving is a day for this:

And this:

And this:

It is NOT, however, a day for this:

Or this:

Black Friday, by its definition, has been around since the 1960s. The name was coined in Philadelphia, and was used to define the pedestrian and automotive traffic that occurred in the city the day after Thanksgiving. At first, many stores would open earlier than usual to accommodate eager holiday shoppers--6 A.M. was the average start time. But in the past dozen years, that time has crept up to 5 AM...4 AM...even 3 AM. Now the standard opening for most retail chains is midnight, but some Walmart and Target stores are planning on opening 8 PM which is technically still Thanksgiving Day. When will it end?

I think our grandparents and great-grandparents would be appalled by the spending spree spectacle that Black Friday has become. 

Somehow, like a pimple, it's grown into this humongous, overhyped holiday event of its own. I sure don't remember the day attracting this much hoopla when I was growing up. How nice it would be to force people to stay home until 8 AM on the day after Thanksgiving, actually R-E-S-P-E-C-T (as Aretha Franklin would say) the holiday, and give the retail worker a well deserved break and a full night's sleep. I wrote a while ago about the death of the Blue Laws and why we should bring them back. I absolutely hope this consumerism and greediness burns itself out and fast.

Plus, did everyone suddenly forget this year that shoppers have DIED during Black Friday mayhem? People have been trampled; a pregnant woman miscarried. So you could get your dirty mitts on a television set? Really???

Sadly, with so many Americans out of work, we know that if Walmart and Target employees went on strike in protest, the stores would have no problem finding replacements waiting in the wings.

I really hope the retailers come to their senses, or some laws are eventually put in place to keep them closed on a national holiday. In the meantime, while the shopping fools are freezing their asses waiting in the dark for a deal on an Wii Thursday night, I'll be warm in my bed sleeping off a turkey coma.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Say It Ain't So, Twinkie the Kid

Via felixtcat on flickr
In case you haven't heard the sad news already, Twinkie the Kid is officially retiring. Hostess, the maker of Twinkies, Sno-Balls and other blood sugar-spiking goodies as well as Wonder Bread, is officially going out of business after more than 80 years as an American-made brand. Their union workers have been on strike since September, and the company was unable to reach a deal with them. Additionally, profits were down--probably a sign that some Americans are taking healthier eating habits to heart. 

Now I was more of a Drake's Devil Dog kid myself, partly because I remember a recurring story that my mother had heard from her Weight Watchers group in the 70s. It was about a lady who tossed a package of Twinkies on a shelf to hide her snacking habits from her husband. A year later, while cleaning the shelf, she found the Twinkies and they looked exactly the same as the day she bought them, which meant they were chockfull of preservatives. This tale has been dismissed as an urban legend, but in 2005, NPR interviewed a chemistry teacher who unwrapped a Twinkie which then took 30 years to develop green fuzzy mold.

At any rate, I never touched Twinkies (but liked those coconut covered Sno-Balls) and the last time I ate Wonder Bread was when I was 12 years old (remember squishing one slice up into a little ball the size of a marble and popping it in your mouth?) There are tons of copycat recipes out there for Hostess products that you can make yourself at home and are probably better for you since they won't contain food additives. But today, I'm holding a moment of silence for Hostess and offering up a splattering of vintage commercials. Hostess is dead...long live Hostess...

Monday, November 12, 2012

The End of Telephone Fun

Image from Tumblr
It isn't fun to get telephone calls anymore. Do you agree? 

I remember when the telephone used to be SO much fun--as a pre-teen and teenager, I welcomed calls from my friends, especially on snow days. Or how about that cheerful ring on the holidays that signaled a call from a long-lost relative; say, your Uncle Joe in Chicago? The telephone in its early days was used for communication among family and friends. What was that Ma Bell slogan? "Reach out, reach out and touch someone."

Now, then the phone rings, 9 times out of 10 the caller on the other end isn't a friend or a relative. It's almost always someone I don't want to speak to; a business trying to sell me something, someone trying to get me to participate in a survey, or a charity asking for collections, or it's a scumbag scam caller asking for the routing number to my checking account. Things got so bad during this recent election with automated calls being received daily, and sometimes multiple times a day, that everyone I know on Facebook was complaining about it. 

I am soooo sick of it.

We have a National Do Not Call Registry, but in my opinion it does little good considering charities, political surveyors and telephone survey takers are exempt, plus your number has to be registered for 31 days before you can file a complaint against a business. 

Some callers are relentless. Letting the answering machine pick it up does no good--they simply won't give up. So I've started to research a lot of the numbers that I don't recognize that call multiple times, and most of them are survey companies and scam operations. But some charities are no better--I looked up a number today that had called me several times and it was a cancer charity with numerous complaints logged on it. It even made a Forbes magazine list of the worst charities to donate to, since most of the money collected doesn't go to help cancer patients. 

When I'm home and trying to get things done or relax, the last thing I want is a telemarketer interrupting my day. Can I have my time and solace, please?

And I know it might be easy to point fingers at the rise of cell phones and the Internet, but I think they have little to do with the proliferation of unwanted phone calls--I could be wrong, but I believe that for whatever reason (the economy, etc.) too many companies and charities have become so desperate for money that they've resorted to cold calling. I guess it could be worse--they could be soliciting door-to-door and ringing our doorbell all day long. 

Anyways, nothing would make me happier than to see the Directory make some amendments that would at least limit the amount of times in a month that any kind of charity, survey taker or political organization can call your registered number. 

Let's leave the phone line open for Uncle Joe in Chicago. 

Monday, November 05, 2012

Retro Product Fail #10: The World of Sid and Marty Krofft

Found on FlickRiver, credited to King Power Cinema
It just doesn't seem right to see the word "fail" in the same sentence as Sid and Marty Krofft--the sibling duo known for their string of highly successful children's fantasy TV programs and specials throughout the 70s and 80s. Yet in May 1976, the Krofft brothers ventured into unfamiliar territory when they opened up their own themed amusement park, called The World of Sid and Marty Kroftt, at the Omni Center in Atlanta, Georgia. Looking like a psychedelic, Willy Wonkaesque playground, it was the world's first known indoor amusement park with multiple levels, attractions to explore, and characters straight out of the Kroftts' imagination. It sounds like a 70s child's dream. But only six months later, in November 1976, it was closed. How could something like this happen?

Via CNNRotatingSquare on YouTube
An article printed in Old Chicago after the park went defunct which was posted on the site Theme Park Review reveals that the family attraction was plagued with problems from the get-go. The Kroffts borrowed virtually all of the money required to build the park--$10 million--on the condition that all profits would go towards paying off the loan. The park was due to open in February 1976, but a city-wide workmen's strike delayed it to May. Right up until opening weekend, construction was still going on and after the park was already in business, extra walls had to be added around two out of the three rides offered because the sunlight streaming into the Omni Center was ruining the effect.

Did I mention that there were only three rides? Having an indoor location limited what the park could offer, so obviously sprawling rollers coasters were out, but the World did feature a Crystal Carousel with mythical creatures, a Living Island Dark ride (featuring a Krofft character, Witchie-Poo, as well as giant mushrooms and talking trees) and a Pin-Ball ride, where visitors were propelled through a giant pin ball machine. 

The Pin Ball Machine ride, via toml1959 on flickr
The World also employed entertainers including singers, mimes, jugglers, 18-foot tall clowns on stilts, sword swallowers and acrobats, and artisans selling their wares ("hippie stores", as one commenter on YouTube said his mother called them.) There was an Elton John show featuring a puppet that played his music. Animated characters could be found among the World, and there were theaters, food and games, as well as a gigantic ice skating rink. 

The World of Sid and Marty Krofft opened to much fanfare in May 1976. Jimmy Carter, Tony Orlando and Geraldo Rivera were among the A-listers who got invited along with the local media. The park was a cool concept, and a forerunner to Chuck E. Cheese, but it was competing with the nearby Six Flags Over Georgia, which offered a much larger, traditional outdoor amusement park experience for only a bit more money (and which featured a Sid and Marty Krofft puppet attraction.) The Kroffts' park was promoted as an all-day experience, but most patrons found that it only took a couple of hours to see and do everything within the floors and that the only direction one could go once in the park was down to the next level. The Omni Center was also constructed in what was at that time a rough part of Atlanta, surrounded by crime and housing projects. Parents felt it was simply too dangerous to take their kids there. Ultimately, the park just couldn't deliver enough bang for the buck and closed its doors in November 1976. 

Today, the location of The World of Sid and Marty Krofft is now the CNN center, and all that remains of the amusement park is the massive escalator that used to carry visitors to the top floor. Don't you wish you could have visited it? 

Here's the Krofft brothers speaking in an interview about why they felt the concept didn't work -- mainly because the city of Atlanta promised to clean up the surrounding neighborhoods and make it safer for visitors but failed to deliver on its promise. 

Here's some color postcards showing more images of the park in its heyday (click here.) 

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