12/29/06

609 The Skydivers

(1963, Drama-Crime, b&w), with:

Why Study Industrial Arts?
(1956, Educational, b&w)

Filmed in Despair-Vision™.

Rating: 1/2*

In a nutshell:

Short: An obsessive young man proselytes his friend into taking an industrial arts class.
Film: Marital deception and murderous sabotage take place at dreary airfield.

Short Summary:

Shop class stimulates young minds and other organs.In Why Study Industrial Arts, a young man crafts a table in shop class. While he works he thinks about how much pleasure the task gives him, and while he contemplates his pleasures, he flashes back to earlier that day, when his teacher haltingly explained all the lucrative employment that could be gained with industrial arts skills. His buddy comes in and questions the usefulness of such skills to non-mechanical professions, provoking a “handyman-around-the-house” lecture from a nearby basketball coach. With his buddy’s doubts resolved, the young man proceeds to give him advice on how to alter his car into “a real [hot] rod.”

Film Summary:

Take a deep breath and put on your thinking caps. Ready? Here we go.

In The Skydivers, the terminally depressed Harry owns a skydiving school, which he runs with helmet-haired wife, Beth. Harry cheats on Beth with a smirking villainess named Suzy, who also dallies with Harry’s plane mechanic, Frankie. The doormat-ish Beth knows Harry’s cheating, and with whom, and handles the situation by hanging around the airfield with a permanent worried frown. Weasel-faced Frankie gets jealous of Harry’s relationship with Suzy, and starts to drink and sabotage planes. This gets him fired.

Still with me? Good, because that’s just the backstory.

The movie starts with a bunch of dirty looks between Harry, Suzy, and Beth on the airfield. Later, Beth almost dies in a sabotaged plane that may or may not have been moving. Harry sends for an old war buddy of his to come and be their new mechanic, and then fools around with Suzy. Later that night, he catches Frankie trying to sabotage another plane. They beat the crap out of each other, whereupon Frankie tells Harry, “Suzy’s my girl.” Harry agrees to leave her alone and runs him off the airfield.

Interspersed are scenes of Harry’s clientele. Rather than catering to thrill-seeking jocks, the airfield seems to attract a set of desperate geeks who look like they would be more comfortable spouting Klingon at science fiction conventions. There are interminable sequences of them jumping out of planes, with their cheeks and jumpsuits flapping in the wind while they roll and grab each other’s ankles in mid-air. The FAA shuts the airfield down after one of the less stable patrons doesn’t pull his chute and goes splat.

Harry’s old buddy Joe comes to take the mechanic job. Harry’s not there when he arrives, so he and Beth get really enthusiastic about coffee. Later, this somehow leads to an illicit kiss on a ladder. Harry doesn’t notice anything going on for a while. He’s too busy brushing off Suzy and getting the airfield back in operation. He gets things patched up with the FAA about the same time he sees Joe paying a little too much attention to Beth, and they have words about it. Not very many words, but enough that we are supposed to assume that the whole thing has been resolved. Later, Beth and Joe amicably break up over coffee.

Meanwhile, the scorned Suzy plots revenge with Frankie. She leaves him waiting in the car while she gives implied sexual favors to an elderly chemist, who in turn gives her a vial of potent acid. They sneak into the airfield and dump it into Harry’s chute during his grand reopening celebration—a hallucinatory shindig complete with a sexy giantess, a wiggly black woman in a polka dot bikini, an incomprehensible Scotsman in full regalia, and an indeterminate number of thin, spastic youths. Predictably, during the next jump the chute doesn’t open properly and Harry goes splat. One of the younger party-goers saw people who looked like they might have been Suzy and Frankie around the hangar earlier that evening, so the enraged townsfolk gather to gun down the fugitive pair. Beth rejects Joe’s offer to assist her with the airfield, and everyone (including us) goes away depressed.

Introduction:

Crow wants to probe Uranus.The lights dim to allow planetarium projector Tom to give Crow and Mike a tour of the solar system. Crow interrupts continually with such jibes as, “Let’s probe Uranus!” Tom flees the room in tears.

Host Segment One:

Dr. Forrester challenges the SOL crew to a swing choir competition. Everyone dresses up in fruity sequined costumes and prances around, singing medleys stitched together from songs ripped out of Grease, Pippin, and various other musicals, mixed with popular songs of yesteryear (“Tall and tan and young and handsome the guys from Deep 13 go walking”) until Dr. Forrester puts a stop to it and declares himself the winner. Frank introduces the film by calling it, “Kind of like Manos without the lucid plot.”

Host Segment Two:

As the Industrial Arts Teacher, Mike asks Tom and Crow how their shop projects are going. Tom hasn’t made much progress, and blames this on the fact that his arms don’t work. Meanwhile, Crow disregards several basic safety rules and bandsaws himself in half.

Host Segment Three:

Crow puts himself into a double jock lock, a complicated high school prank that seems to involve the use of a jock strap as a restraining device. Crow explains by saying, “I wanted to see if I could get out of it.” He concludes that he can’t.

Host Segment Four:

Determined not to fall behind in the “hot rod race” with Tom (see episodes 604 and 607 for short host segments that feature Tom running over Crow) Crow builds a car of his own. By this time, Tom has moved on to planes. He flies by, strafing Crow’s new car into smoldering wreckage.

Host Segment Five:

Tom and Crow have attempted to go skydiving inside the Satellite of Love, but their parachutes have caught in the rafters, leaving them trapped in their tangled lines. Mike offers to help, but they decline, citing a need to “persevere.” Mike reads a letter and then launches into another swing choir medley. Down in Deep 13, Dr. Forrester has switched from swing choir to dodge ball, and pelts Frank mercilessly.

Stinger:

The suicidal jumper says, “I feel real free up there in the high blue sky.”

Thoughts:

Two women at odds over their love for the same coffee, er, man.Why study industrial arts? The short goes on at length about lucrative professions and the ability to do things around the house without having to hire practitioners of the aforementioned lucrative professions, but its main argument seems to boil down to the obsessive sensory tendencies of its spectacled protagonist. Basically, if tablesaws and leatherworking tools turn you on, then shop class is for you!

Ed Wood has a reputation as being the worst director ever, but his title really ought to be amended to worst interesting director ever. Yes, his movies are brutally inept, but they are brutally inept with passion. If you want to see something slow, gray, incomprehensible, and utterly joyless, then look no further than the oeuvre of Coleman Francis.

Coleman Francis only directed three films. The Skydivers is one of them. We will witness the other two later in the sixth season. I say “witness” because words like “see,” “view,” and “watch” are associated with “movies.” Coleman Francis’ films qualify more as “horrific events” like train wrecks and car accidents. We’re not really “watching” per se; we’re rubbernecking. We’re slowing down our metaphorical vehicles to peek at the cinematic carnage out of the corners of our eyes. So, one Coleman Francis film down, two Coleman Francis films to go. Heaven help us.

Though I never really liked the “Tom runs over Crow” series of host segments, I liked the version in host segment four is a little better because it takes the scenario to the next appropriate level. The rest of the host segments evince a preoccupation with the more embarrassing aspects of high school, i.e. scatological jokes in the planetarium, swing choir, shop class (though this one is related to the short), jock strap mishaps, and the dodge ball torments. It’s always fun when they pick a theme and run with it, and though it’s not as funny as the waffle theme of Episode 317, it still works quite well—probably a lot better than it would have if they had attempted four host segments about the film.

Despite the movie’s bleakness, the satellite crew gets off some funny comments during the film segments. When the short’s title pops up to ask, “Why Study Industrial Arts?” Crow replies, “Because you’re bad at math?” Later, while the protagonist gets more and more excited by his tools, Crow says, “I keep Popular Mechanics under my mattress.” The Skydivers is riddled with continuity errors, so that it’s difficult to tell who is where, and when, and how, and sometimes minor things like costumes, cars, boats, buildings, etc. change inexplicably between shots in supposedly continuous scenes. This leads Crow to observe, “Someone with Attention Deficit Disorder edited this film.” When Frankie runs away on his motorcycle after Harry beats him, Mike says, “I was born to be wild. My mom said I was.” When a skydiver looks down while hanging from his parachute, Mike says, “I can see my feet from here.” This episode has decent host segments and competent mocking, but the bleak, incomprehensible film remains all but unwatchable.