Tuesday, October 23, 2012

GEORGE + BRENDA: More from "Cotton Candy" (1978)

I'm having a little trouble with this entry's film, "Cotton Candy" (1978). With Charles Martin Smith featured in almost every scene playing the main character, high school rock band leader George Smalley, there ends up being too much captivating cuteness and heartbreaking hotness to be contained in just one post. Despite the reputation the film has for being squeaky-clean and innocently naïve, there are surprising undercurrents of sexuality that occasionally come bursting out at unexpected moments (see last entry's strip poker scene). This leaves me with much to say and many screen caps to share. 

I've already admitted several times how much I love the sight of CMS holding a guitar, and you might have noticed the plentiful images of him and his instrument to be found here. But there's more to my enjoyment of this movie than just CMS and anything appealing he brings to his part. It's true, the film is somewhat dated and the dialogue is occasionally cheesy (amusingly so). But at it's core is a compelling and entertaining piece of storytelling that vividly and engrossingly details a high school misfit's efforts to find his place in the world and have his meaningful moment of musical merriment. I don't understand why director/co-writer Ron Howard would not be proud to have "Cotton Candy" seen today, but it's rumored he's intentionally keeping it locked away and off the market. Gosh, if Howard can stand behind an unwatchable misfire like "How The Grinch Stole Christmas" (2000), then he can certainly embrace this charming cult classic.

It's fun seeing CMS in a romantic role again, something I've only seen him do so far in "American Graffiti" (1973). Like Candy Clark in that film, Leslie King is lovely and likable. And like that hit film's pairing, it just feels good to watch the two of them share a scene together. Let's rejoin George Smalley (CMS) and Brenda Matthews (King), shall we? Brenda approaches George at school as he sits on some steps working on new Cotton Candy songs. After chatting a bit about their classes, she asks if he's free before the next band practice to help her work out some of the harmonies she's struggling with. How about 8:30 tonight, after he's through at work? Awww... it's so cute watching them take these tentative little steps towards dating.

That night, after a pleasant evening together talking and harmonizing, George (with some gentle nudging from Brenda) gets up the nerve to ask her out for dinner and a movie. Of course she's interested. How could she not be falling for this adorable guy? After they agree on next week Friday for their date,  George leans in and gives Brenda a little kiss. Awww! Such cuteness goin' on! As he rolls off into the night on his bicycle, a sweet instrumental melody starts to play on the soundtrack. We'll later hear it's a tune that George has been writing to play for Brenda.

We next see the budding lovebirds on Date Night, leaving a movie theatre together. What did they go to see? I'm not sure, because an unseen staff member is in the process of removing the title from the marquee as the scene begins. All that remains of the date movie's name is the letters KY. Hmmm... Should I read anything into that? Maybe it is an intentional lubricant reference, since there seems to be more subliminal messages planted in the scene by director Ron Howard. As George and Brenda walk down an alleyway running along the side of the theatre discussing the film they just watched, we see a series of movie posters on the wall next to them. The first poster we see is for "The Goodbye Girl" (1977), which would seem to reference Brenda's eventual departure to attend MIT in the fall. The last poster they pass (and George even bumps into it, before he stops and leans against the wall) is for "High Anxiety" (1977), mirroring George's nervousness about the date in progress (or perhaps his concern about how the band is doing). 

Brenda is criticizing the movie they watched for being unconvincing, pointing out how it's unrealistic for the main character to be such a loser then turn around and be a big success at the end. This seems to strike a nerve with George, who not only seems to have identified with the character in question, but also possibly feels like they could just as easily be talking about him. "It's kind of nice to be able to think that even if it's a long shot that a guy who isn't doing so hot can turn it around," he say to her (at the moment he bumps into the "High Anxiety" poster). "I mean... I don't know," he continues awkwardly. "What... Like our band," he adds, starting to sound a little more confident. "We're long shots. But what if we actually won that 'Battle of the Bands'? I'd like to think that stuff like that can happen. And I do. I do think that." They both smile hopefully and put their arms around each other as they continue down the alley to Brenda's car.

They pull up to George's house, and there's some more awkwardness as George wants to kiss her, but instead he's nervously chattering in a joking manner. Brenda puts a stop to it, taking the initiative and planting a wet one on his lips. Oh, romance.... They begin to tenderly make out, and the scene fades to the exterior of the parked car, the steamed windows obscuring any activity that may be happening inside. How long are the two of them at it, and how far do they take it? The movie never reveals (there's no Brenda-gets-pregnant plot line or anything like that later), but it is easy to assume that they went all the way together. Maybe I'm just projecting myself into the situation, because I would definitely give it up to George Smalley on the first date.

I would have thought the film would save the Battle of the Bands for the finale, but halfway through the movie we are already at the event. It's being held at the Town East Mall in Mesquite (on the edge of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex), in a large open area in the center of the building (complete with a revolving stage). Cotton Candy are moments away from performing, and George does what he can to calm the tense band before they go on, as he struggles with his own mix of nervousness and excitement.

I complained last entry that a lot of the YouTube clips for "Cotton Candy" have been recently removed. The entire "Battle of the Bands" sequence used to be on there for all the world to enjoy, but is no longer. However, there is a piece of the scene: Cotton Candy performing the song "She Rolls" (which seems to be a fan favorite among the lucky few who have seen this rare cult classic). It is one of their better songs, with George apparently singing about that date night with Brenda. Possibly even about hooking up with her... or at least the pleasures of being horny (that lyric "When she holds me I start to quiver" tells me something orgasmic may have been involved). Check out the clip and see for yourself before it too is inevitably removed for copyright violation.

After the applause dies down, Cotton Candy launch into a second song (a repeat of one heard earlier during the band practice montage, "Not Gonna Hold Me Down"). The scene fades to the next group of performers going on as George and his group celebrate their success backstage. When the announcement is made naming the 4 bands selected to compete in the final round later that night, of course Cotton Candy is one of them. The bandmates cheer in delight as they hoist George up on their shoulders and pump their fists in the air! Woo hoo! 

Since rival band Rapid Fire won the Battle last year, they automatically skipped the preliminary round and were also included in the final four. Their arrival that night is a big circus of screaming girls as leader Torbin Bequette (Mark Wheeler), dressed like some 1970s version of a 1930s gangster, stands on a moving electric cart chased by his adoring fans. As he heads backstage with his entourage, Torbin steps up to Cotton Candy (who have just finished setting up for their next performance) and looks George right in the eye. "You turkeys made the finals?" he smirks. "I can't believe it, competition's really slim!" And off he strides with his gaggle of groupies. But George doesn't let that smarmy little douchebag rattle him. You show 'em who's best, Smalley!

I mentioned last entry how I didn't know the official names of the Cotton Candy songs performed in the film, since the end credits are missing from the bootleg copy I ended up getting my hands on (and there's no soundtrack album). Cotton Candy starts their set with a new song, which I am going to guess is called "Making My Music" (which is a sweet and sincere little ditty about the pleasures of musical creation). As with the other Cotton Candy tunes, I think it's fun and catchy, and CMS gives a charmingly energetic joyfulness to the presentation.

Some sample lyrics from "Making My Music": "I get high just making my music / I get fine behind a rock-and-roll band / And when I'm old and grey / I just want to sing and play-ay-ay yeah / Making my own music just as loud as I can." Sing it, Charlie!

The film fades to an instrumental jam session starting with an impressive bit of drum playing from Brenda followed by an intense little guitar solo from George. The audience eats it up and responds eagerly and loudly, much to the irritation of Torbin Bequette. I'm responding to the performance too, but a lot of that probably has to do with how hot I think CMS looks with guitar-in-hand. 

We get to hear one more fragment of a Cotton Candy song, admittedly the silliest one of the bunch (but not without it's charms). This one is called "Starship" (which, this being the post-"Star Wars" world of 1978, is probably a nod to the sci-fi trend taking over pop culture at the time). It's another entertaining feel-good hit with the audience... and I must admit I like it too, despite the absurd goofiness of the lyrics. Gosh, I sure wish there was an official soundtrack album out there. I wonder what the hot pic of Charlie adorning the cover would have been like if such a record existed? 

Unfortunately, Rapid Fire has already got an established fan base in attendance whose screaming adoration nearly drowns out their wretched cover version of "I Shot the Sheriff" (which seems to be the only song the band knows). George and his bandmates laugh at Rapid Fire's awfulness, but most of the people in attendance go crazy for it. So who wins the title? Is it popular choice Rapid Fire? Or is it the clearly more-talented Cotton Candy that gets the grand prize? I'm not sayin'. I've been bad enough about the spoilers as it is. You can look somewhere else for the answer, buddy.

There is one more scene in the film I want to mention before I  bring this entry to an end. It's really one of the highlights of the movie for me. Brenda visits George at his evening job working at a taco stand, and discovers he has a little surprise for her. He asks her to meet him out back behind the kitchen in a few minutes, then he shouts to his manager that he is going on break for a little bit.

George walks out the backdoor to find Brenda waiting for him. He steps towards her, his guitar in one hand, a boxed gift in the other. See, George worked it out and figured that today marked their two month anniversary (I'm not sure what he's using as the starting point, though). Brenda opens the present (a diamond pendant) and of course she loves it, but the best part is yet to come.

"I've got this song," he says to her. "It's just this little tune that I'm working on, and I've never really written anything like it before. Let me play it for you, OK?" And he sits her down by a stack of milk crates and begins to play a sweet little love song, one that I assume would be named "I'm the Kind of Guy Who Loves You" (or maybe just "I'm the Kind of Guy"). Of course, I am a huge sucker for this particular bit of music, which is one of two favorites I have in this film.

This video here is admittedly not a good-quality presentation of the song in question (I'm generally not a fan of those "point your cam at the TV" clips), but it's one of the last remaining "Cotton Candy"   scenes left on YouTube, and at least it will give you some idea of what it sounds like. I really think Charles sounds fantastic here, his vocal delivery seeming to display a touch of Buddy Holly influence that must have rubbed off from that previous stint playing in "The Buddy Holly Story" (1978). And you know what? Every time I hear CMS sing this, I  start to cry. Every single time.

When he's finished, George looks pretty happy with his heartfelt display of the true feelings he has for Brenda. And if I were in her shoes, I'd just throw my arms around him and be grateful to have found the greatest guy on earth at such a tender young age. Being such a huge fan of CMS, and having my own feelings of admiration and attraction to the guy, the chance to see him play such a wonderfully romantic scene really appeals to me. And I gotta say: this sequence here ranks among my all-time favorite CMS moments I have had the pleasure of watching since I started this whole immersion in Mr. Smith's filmography.

So... what is Brenda's response to George's sincere showing of songmanship? Like a few other things in this movie, the plot doesn't go the predictable route and unfold the way you'd expect it to. There's still way more sexy CMS moments ahead, many more compelling moments of humor and drama, and there's even another great Cotton Candy tune ("Born Rich", which would be my other favorite song in the movie besides "I'm the Kind of Guy"). In any case, I've opted to refrain from spoiling the last chunk of the storyline. If you go through all the effort to obtain a copy, you deserve an unspoiled ending. Right now, options for seeing the movie are sadly limited. It's possible you'll track down a bootleg copy like I ended up doing, or perhaps you'll find a used copy of the novelization to read and savor ("8 pages of photos!" Woo hoo!). Who knows? This particularly rare piece of '70s TV may finally find it's way into general release on disc or download (ideally, with a behind the scenes documentary and audio commentary with the Howard brothers, CMS and Leslie King). Maybe one day... and then the whole world can enjoy the wonderfulness that is "Cotton Candy" in all it's splendor. In the hopeful words of George Smalley himself: "I'd like to think that stuff like that can happen. And I do. I do think that."

I'll leave you with one final clip: an absolutely incredible tribute to "Cotton Candy" created by an extremely creative super-fan of the film. It's a song composed ENTIRELY of dialogue taken directly from the movie, strung together in an amazing arrangement of awesomeness! Bravo, buddy! Very nice work! Take a look and prepare to be entertained.

No comments:

Post a Comment