Sunday, September 16, 2018

Eastbound and Down

So Burt's dead and the least I could do was pay my respects.

When I saw that the Byrd was showing "Smokey and the Bandit," I figured it was just the usual brilliance of the Byrd Theatre in tying films to current events, like when I'd gone to see "Purple Rain" there after Prince died. But no, "Smokey and the Bandit" was also playing at two other Richmond theaters today.

Heck, it was playing at 683 theaters across the country this weekend according to Byrd manager Todd. All hail Burt Reynolds.

And I was far from the only person wanting to pay my respects, either. Arriving ten minutes before the film was to start, I found the theater already surprisingly full and people kept on coming. Now mind you, almost all of these people were alive when the movie had came out originally in 1977, although the couple in front of me claimed that their teens were planning to attend.

Maybe they'd read that "Smokey" was the second highest grossing movie of the year, second only to "Star Wars" and were curious? Doubtful.

During a discussion of the new seats, a woman told me that when she came to the Byrd 30 years ago, there were already springs popping from the chair seats. A man behind me recalled seeing "Singin' in the Rain" at the Byrd decades ago. You get the idea, the audience had all seen this film when it first came out.

But just in case it was anybody's first time with the film, Todd explained how back in the '70s, Coors couldn't be shipped east of the Mississippi legally and taking it there yourself was considered bootlegging. He also said that didn't stop three Presidents from having it shipped to the White House.

Damn executive privilege.

Then Todd roared to the projectionist, "Then Mr. D, take us eastbound and down!" and the Burt tribute began.

If you know me, you know how much I love films from the '70s for the documentation of a world I not only remember well, but get a kick out of seeing again, unlike films made about the '70s, which always get the details wrong.

Details such as Burt's ring and watchband, both made of silver and studded with turquoise, because all the cool kids were wearing it back then. Like Cledus' wife, who when caught at home, is wearing a headful of electric curlers and a halter top. Or even something as simple but long-gone as the spray deodorant Burt sprays under Cledus' arms, despite the fact that he's still wearing his t-shirt.

It seems downright quaint to be reminded of life before we realized we were depleting the ozone with CFCs when we're now experiencing life-threatening climate change as a matter of course.

And everyone, young and old, is wearing bellbottoms, although not everyone's fit them quite the way Burt's did. I'll tell you what, that was one in-shape 41 year old man. Sally Field's jeans, just as molded, caused Cledus to observe, "Nice ass, Bandit" to Burt as he admires her backside.

As befits the decade of the women's movement, it's Sally who responds to Cledus, "Thanks a lot." After all, it's her ass.

Not all the '70s references are warm and fuzzy, though. When Jackie Gleason's character Sheriff Buford T. Justice finally meets a sheriff he'd only spoken to on the CB radio, he's surprised to see he's black and mutters, "What the hell is the world coming to?" The audience responded with dead silence to such a racist statement.

And don't get me started on the confederate plate on the Bandit's Trans Am. Wow, just wow.

When Bandit orders two cheeseburgers and an iced tea at a choke-and-puke (CB code for diner) and the waitress says it'll be $1.50, there was an audible gasp from the audience. I guess no one remembers that McDonald's was charging 40 cents for a cheeseburger in 1977.

Describing how the two of them are the perfect team, Burt names other dynamic duos - Fred and Ginger, Lester and Earl - either of which require a bit of age to recognize. Fortunately, today's audience had that in spades.

It was particularly interesting to me the cultural references in the script because Todd had told us most of it had been improvised.  "You know who's revolutionizing the theater?" Sally asks Burt. "Sondheim!" Later she asks if he's seen "A Chorus Line," which of course he hasn't.

I don't recall, but I'm guessing it was unusual in 1977 for dialog to reference groundbreaking theater in a blockbuster action comedy with a mustachioed star who beaks the fourth wall with a shit-eating grin.

But as we children of the '70s know, the kind of man willing to be Cosmo's first male centerfold could do whatever he wanted. Seeing him in his prime was a fine reminder of how much fun he had doing it, clothed or unclothed.

Because at the end of a life, what better way to measure it than in enjoyment? Burt, I'm in full agreement with you there.

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