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Posts Tagged ‘commercials’

Staff Picks: Thirteen Days, One Hundred Brothers, Five Cars

October 3, 2014 | by

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“We build excitement”: a still from an oddly captivating old Pontiac ad.

The latest issue of Guernica includes Richard Price’s tragic history of New York public housing; he begins in a state of noble objectivity and then goes brilliantly, subjectively off the rails, telling of his own childhood in the north Bronx’s Parkside Houses: “The women played gin rummy, mahjong, coming to each other’s apartments in quilted housecoats and curlers, clutching vinyl-covered packs of Newports and Winstons. Many a kid, myself included, fell asleep to the clack of ivory tiles or the riffle of cards, nodded off to a non-stop soundtrack of laughter, blue language, and hacking coughs coming from the game in the dinette, our bedrooms comfortingly wreathed in cigarette smoke.” From here, he tells what should be a familiar story uniquely well—how the projects, one of the early triumphs of city governance, went from having a waiting list of 160,000 families to serving as a symbol of “the truly hopeless and disenfranchised.” —Dan Piepenbring

Editors are often asked to describe, in a word or two, what kind of fiction they like. I’ve never known what to say—but “low concept” would be a start. The less describable a novel is, the less it depends on a premise, the more apt I am to like it. This makes it hard for me to recommend Donald Antrim’s 1997 novel The Hundred Brothers. It really is about one hundred brothers (Phil, Angus, Walter, Virgil, Barry, Seamus, Arthur, and ninety-three more) who gather in the vast library of a crumbling estate to work out their sibling rivalries and put their father’s memory to rest. The strange thing about the book, or really, one of the many strange things about it, is how cinematic it is. It’s incredible that dozens of middle-aged white guys making small talk and waiting for cocktails could leap so vividly to life, in just two hundred pages, or descend so concretely into mayhem.  —Lorin Stein

Once this unseasonably warm weather comes to an end, I look forward to using my oven again. Treacle tart in particular holds a special place in my heart, as it was the first dessert I ever baked—which is fitting, because “Treacle,” by the Liverpudlian Paul Farley, is the first poem in recent memory to stick solidly in my mind. Farley has gained a steady following in the UK, but remains virtually unknown in America, where only one volume of his work has been published. This will come as a surprise when you hear him read this haunting poem. His appropriately chewy diction leaves me awed and disturbed; he describes that chilling moment when you “lever the lid” of a tin of treacle and “it opens with a sigh / and you’re face-to-face with history.” —Charles Shafaieh
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Ice-T Reads a Fantasy Novel, and Other News

February 7, 2014 | by

dungeons and dragons

Photo: Ian Lamont, via Flickr

 

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Death of a Salesman

October 9, 2013 | by

Cal Worthington

Once called the “friend of every insomniac in Southern California,” Cal Worthington haunted the nether regions of broadcast programming for more than sixty years. Judging by the frequency of his appearances, their consistency, and their longevity, Worthington might have been the biggest television star in the history of the West. That makes him as much a deity as anything California culture has seen in its short history. But he wasn’t an actor or a journalist or a politician. His church was a chain of car dealerships and his prophesies a series of madcap advertisements. For better or worse, everyone who lived in Southern California had to reckon with him.

Worthington’s long-running series of self-produced spots never deviated from a formula. The slender cowboy—six foot four in beaver-skin Stetsons and a custom Nudie suit—always preceded his hyperactive sales pitch with a gambol through the lot of his Dodge dealership, accompanied by an escalating succession of exotic animals. Originally it was an ape, then a tiger, an elephant, a black bear, and, finally, Shamu, the killer whale from SeaWorld—each of which was invariably introduced as Cal’s dog, Spot. Not once did he appear with a canine. The banjo-propelled jingle (set to the tune of “If You’re Happy and You Know It”) exhorted listeners to “Go see Cal, go see Cal, go see Cal,” a catchphrase that became the basis for the most infamous mondegreen in Golden State history. To this day, Pussycow remains a nostalgic code word exchanged among Californians who came of age in the era before emissions standards. Read More »

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Commercial Fan Fiction

August 1, 2013 | by

And we mean that literally: this is a Tumblr of fan fic based on TV advertisements. And is there more fallow ground than this strange world of smart-aleck kids, idiot husbands, knowing wives, yogurt-eating singles, and maniacally friendly fast-food workers? We think not. (The Barilla pasta-stalker alone could be the basis for a series of thrillers.) Also, we offer the following as a prompt.

 

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When Cable Got Me

January 11, 2011 | by

Part two of a five-part story. Click here to read part 1.

Some of the author’s earlier head shots, marking the beginning of his television career.

So now I’m a thirteen-year-old boy with a year of cable stuffed into all my brain pockets. I’m not sure it’s helping. I’m too sensitive. After surviving the first fifteen minutes of The Exorcist on a channel I’m not supposed to watch, I couldn’t sleep for days. I saw an episode of Gunsmoke that made me lock myself in my room and cry.

I like the simple and hopeful story lines the best. Like Hillbilly’s. He was just a good ol' boy sitting in the front row at a few WWF events until, spotted in the crowd, he was given the chance to get in the ring. Rowdy Roddy Piper (a bad guy) tried to lure him into his own training camp, but it was ultimately Hulk Hogan (a good guy) who befriended the bearded giant from Mud Lick and trained him to wrestle real human beings (as opposed to pigs and dogs). The Hulk gave Hillbilly his first pair of real wrestling boots. They are friends. I believe.

I’m in a tractor beam of television. The MTV videos quickly get more racy, the WWF plotlines more outrageous. I soak it all up, let it sink down deep.

So when friends of my parents suggest that we kids get involved in modeling and acting, maybe even television commercials, I feel, despite my shyness, a funny little tug. My brother, sister, and I have “that look,” the friends say, that “all-American look” sought by catalogues and commercials, and we could make one hundred dollars for an hour-long photo shoot.

One hundred dollars for an hour of standing in front of a camera is absurd. Having painted houses with our dad, we know exactly what an hour of work feels like and what it pays. We’ve spent enough of them with rollers and brushes and blocks of sandpaper to do the math, and realize that this new equation is remarkable.

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