Despite the fact that he hadn't been able to convincingly pass for Mexican, Charlton Heston had become something of a top-tier American screen icon by the early 1970s. Yeah sure, there were his wonderfully overwrought deliveries in those revelatory moments of Planet of the Apes and Soylent Green; but personally, I was always more fond his performance in The Omega Man. As the second of three attempted screen adaptations of Richard Matheson's novel I Am Legend, it is one of the decade's most deliciously WTF films.*
Perhaps my favorite moment in the film is the part where -- between taking time out from grilling steaks in his townhouse fortress to casually mow down encroaching vampire-zombies with a machine gun, never shedding his smoking jacket the entire time -- Heston's character decides to take in a matinee. With the vampires dormant during the daytime, he breaks into a movie theater, spools a film in the projection booth, and then sits back in the best seat in the house to take in a viewing of the documentary Woodstock. And as the film slogs on, he sits there gnashing his teeth and weeping. O, what might've been, is the anguished sentiment we're meant to take from this. We were on the brink of paradise. If only things hadn't gone so horribly, unexpectedly wrong.
Knowing what we do about Heston's own politics, it makes for -- among Omega Man's many surreal and nonsensical moments -- the film's most ironically enjoyable and deeply bizarre scene.**
The Kinks didn't have the most stellar commercial run in the 1970s. Among their many efforts that floundered in the marketplace was the band's Preservation Acts 1 & 2; a pair of albums released in 1973 and the following year in which Ray Davies attempted to revisit and expand the group's 1968 masterpiece The Village Green Preservation Society.
Village Green may arguably be among the top five most perfect pop albums ever recorded, the result of Davies hitting his stride and fully finding his voice as a songwriter. All of that aside, the album didn't meet with the hugest success in its day, at least not when stacked aside the mind-blown accolades that were heaped on, say, Sgt Peppers or Beggars Banquet. It especially didn't fare greatly in the U.S.. One reason being that The Kinks couldn't tour stateside to support the album, on account of being banned over alleged business disputes. The other reason being that the album's lyrical content was just way "too English" to register with many American listeners.
But there also were issues of form that probably counted as strikes against the album. Part of Davies' maturation as a songwriter meant branching out into a number of different styles, a good many of which harkened back to the popular music of years gone by. As Davies would later admit, he never saw anything wrong with writing a song his parents might like -- in fact, it's something he ften aimed to do. In the context of the youth culture of the 1960s, this was probably one of the most egregious act an artist could commit. How "counter-revolutionary" could you get? Pure anathema to the temper of the era, and to many of its criterial imperatives (or whatever).
The Who played Woodstock, and they reportedly loathed every minute of it. Apparently there was one moment they did enjoyed -- that being when Pete Townshend planted a boot in Abbie Hoffman's ass and sent him sailing headlong into the photographers' pit.
By some accounts, Woodstock was hardly all it was cracked up to be; a far cry from the "Paradise Now" that its later enshrinement would have many believe. Among other things, there were a fair number of crap acts shoved onto the bill, padding out the roster and marking time between the scattered greatest-hits highlights. One such aspiring act was a group that would actually go on to have a modest career in the 1970s was the doo-wop revivalist group Sha Na Na -- a novelty act and admittedly odd choice as last-minute bill-filler, especially seeing how they'd yet to record an album and wound up playing directly before Jimi Hendrix. To hear some tell it, the group's act didn't go over so well with a number of people in the audience, who booed throughout the band's set.
Nostalgia was, to a certain degree, an uncommon sentiment at the time. The 1950s and 1960s had little use for it. If you were born before WWII, what did you have to look back to -- the Great Depression? If you were that generation's offspring, why look back to the previous decade, to a time of bomb shelters and not being allowed to view Elvis from the waist down? Modern life, as typified by the 1950s and 1960s, meant just that -- it was all about the present, and about the future that was being made in the present, a future that could only be better, brighter, faster. All the promises and potential of today coming to full realization...so why bother looking back?
Sha Na Na would a fairly popular act, having --- for a time -- a "wholesome" and moderately successful syndicated TV show, a handful of albums to their credit, and the group's frontman Bowzer making the rounds as a guest celebrity on Hollywood Squares and a number of other afternoon game shows. All of which makes sense perfect sense in a certain context. As the country's postwar industrial boom waned and the economy went to shit, nostalgia became a central figure on the cultural landscape -- American Graffiti, Happy Days, Grease, etc.
An ironic fantasy scenario: If only the members of Sha Na Na had returned a little of the atavism they'd received from those disapproving members of the Woodstock audience, perhaps slipping into the attitude of the New York blue-collar street tough costumes they'd later adopt, and heckled back: "Oh yeah? Well how 'bout you all go fuck yourselves? You people think you know where it's at? You don't. The future ain't now, the future was yesterday...you buncha fuckin' morons."
If only. But hey, I guess we'll always have Altamont, right?
* Admittedly, competition is a bit heavy in this category.
** But Heston got to carry an ace gun around through most of the movie; so I reckon as far as he was concerned, it all balanced out in the end.