When I was about nine years old, I tuned in to The Wonderful World of Disney one night to watch what I thought would be your typical Disney fare--cartoons, or a live-action adventure with li'l prairie dogs, or even a faboo tour of Disneyworld (an episode kids always wanted to see).
Instead, what I got was something that blew my mind, and I hope it blows yours. But first...
I was never a big fan of cars. Anyone who knows me also knows that automobiles and I have never found common ground. Other kids were drawing Torinos and Corvettes during geography lectures--me, I was drawing spaceships and movie logos. I have always found sedans to be burdensome, dangerous objects--certainly something I didn't want to control myself. A 3000-lb burnin' hunk of metal powered by fermented dinosaur juices? No way. Not for me, you can have my share. Believe me, the roads are safer without me on 'em. Besides, I think cars make people mean as hell and start them down the road thinking of other cars as mere obstacles to be vanquished rather than potentially deadly objects being controlled by other stressed-out people. It's all a big video game to most drivers. And certainly everyone's getting crabbier behind the wheel now that gas is four bucks a gallon some places. Geez, what're guys gonna be like when it hits $20 a gallon?! It'll be Mad Max all over again.
When I got to be a teen and then a young adult, living in Atlanta (the East Coast car capital of the USA) was very difficult for a guy who was not only unwilling to drive, but actually would get physically ill behind the wheel of a car. Lemme tell ya, it made dating nearly impossible, unless the girl was willing to do the carting-around, which is still seen (unfairly, I think) as a sign of male weakness (and what girl wants that?)
It became a big issue for me. Why's everybody so car-crazy? Why is life like this? And I started to think and think about it, and I came to the only conclusion, really: that it's all about sex. This love affair we have with cars is because they make sex and access to it much easier, even inevitable. Yes, ya got those people who'll tell you it's about freedom. And it is. Freedom to get sex. Freedom to make money to get sex. Freedom to pick up girls who want to have sex. That's what cars are all about. Chicks love cars. They love feeling safe and pampered, going fast and having the world at their feet. It turns 'em on. And most guys like turned-on girls (including me!)
"But it's not just that! I love to drive! It's fuuuuun!" Look, Clarence, driving ain't supposed to be fun. You want fun, go get on a rollercoaster, laughing boy. That's fun. Driving's supposed to get you somewhere you wanna go and when you get there, then you have your fun. It's this "fun" idea that causes horrible, bone-crushing, gore-gushing accidents. And stop talking on your cell phone, for Christ's sake, you ignoramus!!! Goddammit, fuckstick, turn your goddamn radio down so you can hear me honkin' my goddamn horn at ya! Hey, Mac! See this?! See this?! Yeah! You know what you can do with that finger! Yep! You got it! Right up there, too--sun ain't shinin' down there!!! WHAT?! WHAT?! I'LL KIIIILLLL YOU!!! Ahh, same to ya, jerk-off! Jesus, God, just get me home...what time is it?!
I mean, I...I...sigh...I could go on about my dislike of cars, touching on their negative environmental, political, and cultural aspects, blah blah blah. But I won't...Orson will do it for me. The movie quote below is my favorite exchange from Mr. Welles' 1942 masterpiece The Magnificent Ambersons. Joseph Cotton plays an early inventor of cars and devoted suitor to Isabel Minafer, George Minafer's mother (played by Dolores Costello). George (the young Tim Holt) hates Eugene not only because he's stealing his mother away from him, but because he sees Eugene as an agent of change from the old ways to the new. With Uncle Jack Minifer (Ray Collins) at the table, patriarch Maj. Anderson (Richard Bennett) starts things off:
Maj. Amberson: So your devilish machines are going to ruin all your old friends, eh Gene? Do you really think they're going to change the face of the land?
Eugene: They're already doing it major and it can't be stopped. Automobiles...
[cut off by George] George: Automobiles are a useless nuisance.
Jack: What did you say, George?
George: I said automobiles are a useless nuisance. Never amount to anything but a nuisance and they had no business to be invented.
Jack: Of course, you forget that Mr. Morgan makes them, also did his share in inventing them. If you weren't so thoughtless, he might think you were rather offensive.
Eugene: I'm not sure George is wrong about automobiles. With all their speed forward they may be a step backward in civilization. May be that they won't add to the beauty of the world or the life of the men's souls, I'm not sure. But automobiles have come and almost all outwards things will be different because of what they bring. They're going to alter war and they're going to alter peace. And I think men's minds are going to be changed in subtle ways because of automobiles. And it may be that George is right. May be that in ten to twenty years from now that if we can see the inward change in men by that time, I shouldn't be able to defend the gasoline engine but agree with George - that automobiles had no business to be invented.
Brilliant talk there.
Anyway, this is all leading up to something much lighter. Back to Disney-time. So I'm sitting there, 1974 or so, Sunday night, and this INSANE thing pops up on screen as tonight's feature. I'll talk about it more later, after we watch it. So here it is, in three parts (it's 22 minutes long), via the wonderful You Tube (God, I love that site). From 1970 and narrated by a young Kurt Russell, get ready for: Dad, Can I Borrow The Car?
Gee, is there anything better than Dad, Can I Borrow the Car? Noooo. By far, the Disney company's coolest moment, it was directed by Ward Kimball, one of the original "Nine Old Men" who advised the Disney machine back in the day. He was an animator in the Diz biz since 1934, was the one who designed Jiminy Cricket from Pinnochio and redesigned Mickey Mouse from the '20s black-and-white little guy to basically the version of the character we know today. He'd won an Oscar the year before for another Disney short It's Tough to Be a Bird. So he was 56 years old when he produced Dad, Can I Borrow the Car? And you thought this was directed by some refugee from The Monkees or something. Nope. Kimball, pictured above, really let loose a bunch of old-guy hipness when he made this thing. That pic makes him look like a pretty funny character--I think that monster claw was even used in the movie!
The screams of laughter Dad provokes from my guttiwuts are endless--the wild-ass beginning with the "racing stripes" (if I were a rich man, I'd have exactly the car in this credits sequence, painted just like that buggy ends up); that bitchin' opening montage with that melange of oddball hotrods like a guy driving a burning cigar, a lemon on wheels,
and a car hauling Mt. Rushmore away; that incredible, long B&W auto dealership commercial with all that gobbeldygook about "wrap-around hoods" and "pre-greased upholstry" (who IS that astounding actor with the fake bald wig anyway--that's the best commercial of all time!); those talking vehicles begging to be purchased (I love the old one that coughs and says "Get me soon, cause I'm goin' fast"...if only Cars could have been this cool); and, hey, was that a young, long-haired Jamie Lee Curtis as the girl who thinks he's trying to cheat off her test at the DMV? (The IMDB says Timothy Hutton's in this, too, but I couldn't spot him, could you? And, yeah, that was the Maytag repairman, Jessie White, a veteran of many a movie and TV show, doing some of the voices).
And, of course, there's all the references to sex and getting laid which, as I said, is what cars are all about. That scene with he and his friends taking the convertible under the car wash has to be one of the most suggestive things in a Disney film up to that period. I swear, some of the shots looked like soft porn! And with young Johnny watching over to the side, too! Gracious! Weird ending to this thing, too, with that kissing montage!
The killer graphic design was by John Emerson and Ed Garbert, with the stunning editing--the thing I think that first caught my young "WHAT IS THIS" eyes--is by Lloyd Richardson. And, naturally, there's Kurt Russell's funny, natural vocal performance, though I don't understand why they just didn't go on and use him as the lead actor; woulda made the movie that much better. I want to note that, though I saw this on TV, Dad, Can I Borrow the Car? did get a movie theater release, probably as a short in front of Superdad or The Cat From Outer Space or something. How do I know this? Because I have a movie poster for it!! Yayyyy! Coolest thing ever. I almost cried when I found it in this old warehouse I was helping clean up one time!! Score!!!
Finally, just to bring everything 'round full circle, here's my favorite scene from Robert Zemeckis' 1980 comedy Used Cars, starring--you know--Kurt Russell. It's one of the greatest scenes in comedy cinema history, and it has the utmost relevance to our discussion today, students. No plot recounting---just enjoy!