Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Shangri-La Plaza (Nick Castle 1990)

About three years ago on the a_film_by list, Mike Grost mentioned a TV pilot musical called Shangri-La Pizza. It was apparently shown only once one godforsaken night in 1990 on CBS. Mike was lucky enough to catch it. And his site was long the only site on the internet that mentioned the thing.

Well, that's because Mike, bless him, got the name wrong (and you really can't blame him - he was taking down credit info as the show was being broadcast!). It's Shangri-La PLAZA and in our era of immediate gratification, you can now relive that fateful night in 1990 on youtube as the entire episode is there in three parts. Here's part one:


After watching it twice now, it's clear that we didn't need Nirvana to sweep away Shangri-La Plaza (and Cop Rock in the same year no less!). Apparently, TV execs took the enormous success of MTV-style danceicals of the 1980s as an excuse to greenlight these spontaneous outbursts of song. But by 1980, such outbursts were long since verboten (despite very occasional successes here and there) and Shangri-La Plaza goes Cop Rock one better by featuring very little spoken dialogue. That is, it's almost sung through which ups the ante for a nation already turned off by such musical expression.

So it's no shock that it never got past the pilot stage. Still, loving the musical as I do, I just gotta give Shangri-La Plaza the hug it so desperately needs. I love the main theme, the "Donut Hole" song, and I mourn the fact that we'll never get to hear the blond skater/surfer dude sing.

It was directed by Nick Castle whose odd career seems indicative of the type of floundering (profitable or not) that he would not have had to do in the classical Hollywood era. He played Michael Myers in Halloween and dipped his toes in quasi-musicals such as Tap and August Rush. Also, watch for a young Savion Glover.

If I had to be mean about any of it, I'd say that the apparently requisite dual focus heterosexual narrative of the musical is not resuscitated here by tweaking the formal into a triple focus heterosexual narrative (two brothers after the same woman). In fact, it's forced and awkward to watch. And trust me - you don't have to be gay to come to that conclusion. In the end, then, it's a measure of the dead end of the musical in the 1980s and 1990s, the impoverished bank of stories to tell via music. But that in itself is a perverse kind of pleasure anyway. Enjoy!


I'm surprised a trip to Roswell didn't happen earlier seeing as how Stuart's a conspiracy nut. But I was recently invited to fill out a panel at a conference in Albuquerque. And given that Roswell is only three hours away, we made a vacation of it.

We spent very little time in Albuquerque so I don't have much to report beyond that we ran into a lot of tough guys. And the mountains outside the city were absolutely gorgeous.

I told a conferencer I was heading to Roswell and he responded that he'd be reluctant to visit because he imagined his stay would be an imposition. Having felt like a pestilence-bringing imperialist during my two loooong days at Niagara Falls, I know how he feels. Somehow, I escaped this feeling in Roswell probably because we spent a lot of time just sleeping. That is, this was one of those real vacations where you simply veg rather than rush to cram in as many memories as possible.

Not that there was much to cram. The sight of the UFO crash (and if you're wondering what that phrase is doing here, brush up on the event here) is off-limits. And besides, the crashed happened near Roswell (wonder what town is pissed losing all the tourist dough). So you go to Roswell for The International UFO Museum and Research Center which, like the museum at Dealey Plaza in Dallas, strives to present an even-keeled assessment of the situation (with an obvious lean towards "the truth is out there and the U.S. govt. is hoarding it"). However, if you're not inclined to wade through the word-heavy exhibits with the diligence they require, you can breeze through the entire thing in an hour tops. Which means that either you or the person you accompany must be a UFO/conspiracy freak to get something out of it.

And actually, as a mere tagalong, I did get something out of it. Below is a placard listing some reasons why the U.S. govt. would want to keep UFO information under wraps. Nos. 3-5 seem particularly sound to me.

Here are some of the showier attractions.

And some cool art work.

And some props used for a TV movie about the crash.

After the museum, there's really not much else to do. There was a haunted house thang that I am too adult (i.e. even more scared than a child) to patronize. And countless memorabilia shops that, as with Graceland, start to blend into one another very quickly.

One shop, though, had a nifty little Spacewalk, a short glow-in-the-dark exhibit that cost two bucks and provided a mildly trippy divergence for about three minutes, maybe four. I told Stuart to get the hell out of the way in the last pic but it turned out to be kinda spooky. Ooooh.

Around town, there is no poverty of attempts to exploit the UFO connection. Aliens are welcome at Arby's, says a sign advertising Beef & Cheddar prices. Keep your junk at Alien Storage. An accountant sprinkled his office windows with those beach ball green aliens you can buy at the state fair.

The streetlights are alien.

The sidewalks are alien.

The soda machines are alien.

Even the failed restaurants are alien.

In sum, an peculiar, slightly lame vacation. Megatons better than Niagara Falls, though.

Stuart got hideously ill the morning we left (tons of alien infestation jokes so far from friends; but no govt. infestation jokes yet). So I sped him back to Austin during which time I noticed this sign: Melodrama at Granny's Opera House. I know Christine Gledhill, Linda WIlliams, et al. consider melodrama to be the central mode of western media. But this sign advertised melodrama as a genre. Which suggests that Granny's Opera House might not exist anymore. Sadly, the puking gentleman in the back seat prevented further exploration.