Now That Old Feeling reaches the threatening threes: the third year for The Feelies. Each January I pause, in my shamble toward senility, to honor some of the people, things and events I’ve written about in the previous 12 months. With The Feelies, I take a trip back into the garage of classic pop culture and say another thank you to the refuse or relics left there among the cobwebs of memory. Perhaps I should also thank the cobwebs; for if they obstruct the clarity of the rear-view mirror, they also ornament it they dress my favorite old songs, movies, books, magazines in a musty lace filigree. Or, wait, do all those cobwebs mean that my cultural past is a Saddam-like spider hole, where I hide from current (to me debased) pop culture, and from the encroaching, inevitable future?
Melancholy metaphors aside, I’m pleased to pay tribute to the epiphanies of my kind of entertainment from 2003. There are no fancy dinners, no poignant acceptance speeches; none of the winners show up. Except for me. I got to rethink and relive all this great stuff!
1. Best DVD Set: Looney Tunes Golden Collection
“Long-Haired Hare,” “Yankee Doodle Daffy,” “Duck Amuck,” “Wabbit Twouble,” “Fast and Furry-ous,” “Feed the Kitty.” These titles of Warner Bros. cartoon shorts from the 40s and 50s don’t sound like the names of enduring works of cinematic art. But they are, as surely as Chuck Jones, Bob Clampett and Friz Freleng were among the great comedy directors; as surely as Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck are two of the deftest farceurs to grace the movie medium. Now, on a four-disc DVD set, “Looney Tunes Golden Collection,” the magnificent menagerie lives again, pristinely restored. Any fan can argue with the choices why not more Clampett stuff? where is Tex Avery!? but not with the hours of cogent analysis and interviews. They show that what the front office dismissed as kid stuff was, in reality, the greatest sustained burst of wit in American movie history.
Honorable Mention: The Singing Detective
In Dennis Potter’s miniseries masterpiece, a novelist, chained to his hospital bed with a grotesquely disfiguring skin disease, plots revenge on all those who have loved him not quite enough. I’d call it, with Krzysztof Kieslowski’s “Decalog,” the great film of the 80s. Now it’s available on DVD, with all the usual add-ons, and with Michael Gambon’s searing central performance intact. A must-buy: your intellectual life is incomplete without it.
2. Best Movie Website: Hong Kong Entertainment News in Review
The American print media, addicted to celebrity and sensation, are anchorites compared to their avid brethren in Hong Kong. Fourteen local newspapers breathe down the necks of the S.A.R.’s movie, TV and music performers, sleuthing Nicholas Tse’s traffic citations, Maggie Cheung’s potential suitors and the cavorting of various pop-star Twins and Boy’z. Transcribing and translating all this for English-language HK hankerers is Saskatoon, Saskatchewan’s own Sanney Leung. With his “staff of ten ... fingers,” Saint Sanney synopsizes the day’s gossip, provides links to HK news and reviews (including mine from TIME’s Asian edition) and runs readers’ polls like “I Wouldn’t Mind Being Married for 55 Hours to...” (the winners: actor Louis Koo for the women, Twins’ Gillian Chung for men). I use the site regularly, with awe and gratitude.
The preeminent sites for the study of, respectively, classic Hindi films and current ones. Upperstall, which offers essays on 63 movies and an equal number of stars, was my main textbook in researching Bombay’s Golden Age (the 50s to the mid-60s). At Planet Bollywood, in addition to reviews of new pictures, and the music from them, you’ll find gossip, box office charts, movie trailers and a link to Lollywood (Lahore movies). Both sites are handsomely presented and nicely maintained.
3. Best Music Website: A R Rahman Music Central
The best-selling recording artist in history, Rahman is the composer and producer (and sometimes the singer) of magnificent melodies for Bollywood musicals. Shadab Hasan Tariq’s amazing site contains virtually all of the music from 29 Rahman films, plus the “Vande Mataram” song cycle, instrumental themes and the score of Rahman’s West End musical “Bombay Dreams.” That’s coming to Broadway this spring, and Rahman is now creating the score for a “Lord of the Rings” musical due in London next year. But why wait to be mesmerized? Click onto Music Central right now and play, for starters, “Kal Nahi Tha Wo” (from “Vishwavidhata”), “Ishq Bina” (from “Taal”) and the propulsive chant “Chaiyya Chaiyya” from both “Dil Se” and “Bombay Dreams”). If these don’t land on your top-ten hummable list, consider music therapy.
Honorable Mention: Johnny Cash “Hurt” video
Mark Romanek’s powerful visualizing of this Trent Reznor ballad accrued more poignancy when the singer died at 71 last September. Less than four minutes long, it’s a condensed photo-autobiography of Cash’s half century in public life. A DVD of this haunting, heartbreaking video is included in Cash’s CD, “American IV: The Man Comes Around.”
While preparing a column on the 50th anniversary of Playboy magazine, I made a startling discovery: many Internet websites present sexy photographs of women. (Men too. Also children and animals.) These two sites, with fat files of stars, listed in alphabetical order by first name, offer a synoptic pictorial history of actresses in various states of dishabille. For cinephiles with an itch for, say, Kathy Bates in “About Schmidt,” or Dame Judi Dench in her unbuttoned youth not to mention early Kelly Preston and middle-period Linda Blair these are the places to scratch. Studying these photos may seem infra dig to my classier readers. But if doctoral students can prepare dissertations on 60s soft-core directors like Joe Sarno and Doris Wishman (and they do), then it makes sense to drop the persiflage and admit that beautiful women are worth looking at ... again, I insist, for research purposes only. Obsession, after all, is just scholarship without the school.
Honorable Mention: The Playboy Philosophy
You always read Playboy for the articles. And in his Playboy Philosophy, which began in 1962 and lasted for a decade or so, Editor-Publisher Hugh Hefner did his best to convince a skeptical public that he was a serious guy, closer to Plato and Socrates than to Guccione and Flynt. The Playboy Philosophy, available on the magazine’s website, is a reminder of a day when even skin publishers thought they had to show brains along with bodies.
5. Best Film Book: Encyclopaedia of Indian Cinema
This treasure comes in two parts: life stories and filmographies of several hundred workers in the many Indian film industries, and plot synopses of a thousand or so movies. I toted this tome to Indian video stores, and even my knowledgeable guides at Naghma House found the book worth consulting. So did the staff at Internet Movie Database: some of their plot descriptions are lifted verbatim from “EOIC.” All praise to the editors, Ashish Rajadhyaksha and Paul Willemen, and pleas for a third edition; the second one is five years old.
Honorable Mention: Divine Invasions: A Life of Philip K. Dick
Dick’s stories were not filmed in his lifetime, which ended all too soon, at 53, in 1982. Since then the cult science-fiction writer has became famous, widely-read and much imitated on the big screen. Lawrence Sutin’s terrific biography paints a full-figure portrait of the demonized genius. Even if you’re not a Philaddickt, the book is a swell read. (The Dick column provoked an aggrieved e-mail, which I’ll get to later.)
6. Best Laughs: The Goon Show Tapes
For the British Commonwealth, the 50s was a decade of great achievers: Sir Edmund Hillary, Roger Bannister, the Goons. The weekly radio show starring Spike Milligan, Harry Secombe and Peter Sellers defined silly comedy for postwar England, influenced the Beatles and Monty Python, and made me laugh when I listened to the shows on CD last year for a column on Sellers. Puns, outlandish narrative detours and other foolery are wildly evident in Milligan’s scripts. In the “Ill Met by Goonlight” episode, the Goons land on Crete. Sellers: “Ooh, this beach is hard.” Secombe: “Then we must be on con-Crete!” They had me at “ooh.”
Honorable Mention: “A Mighty Wind” Roundtable
Last spring, Josh Tyrangiel and I had lunch with Christopher Guest, Harry Shearer, Michael McKean and Eugene Levy, four creators of our favorite 60s-style folk-song improv documentary comedy “A Mighty Wind.” I can say the interview, which TIME.com published in its extended form, is laugh-out-loud funny because I just reread it and laughed out loud quite often. Treat yourself and read it. No, let us treat you. The interview is on our website, and it’s on us.
7. Best Las Vegas Show: Zumanity
Naked mimes! Nuff said. No? Then add that Cirque du Soleil’s sexy cabaret at the New York New York resort in Las Vegas has some seductive pas de deux and a lovely onanistic girl-on-a-rope act. As I reported in a November column, it’s erotic and transporting.
Honorable Mention: Celine Dion A New Day
This gargantuan show at Vegas’ Caesars Palace is a controversial subject chez Corliss. Husband was enthralled, wife repelled. But I’m writing the column, so here goes. With gigantic colonnades at the beginning and shooting stars and meteor showers at the climax, director Franco Dragone encases his stars, nearly smothers her (and that’s all right with me) in production values. You’ll never see anything so stupendous. Or stupefying. (Mary just called in: “Or stupid.”)