This is a reposting of a piece that originally appeared on http://streamline.filmstruck.com
The credits are Saul Bass lite. Different red shapes, blobby outlines, move forward on the screen while one of the great movie theme songs plays behind them. The song, “Beware the Blob,” performed by The Five Blobs (lead singer Bernie Knee) and written by Burt Bacharach and Mack David, is instantly singable upon one hearing. Finally, the title of the movie, in black surrounded by a glowing red outline, appears. And so begins the 1958 classic, The Blob, starring Steve McQueen in his first major film role (often credited as his debut when in fact he had done both movies and plenty of TV before). The Blob is often pigeonholed into the same category as any other low-budget sci-fi film from the 1950s that most people would now call “cult classics” but it’s actually a lot more than that and deserves better. Better treatment and better direction. It’s a frustrating mixture of all the right ingredients producing a less than optimal outcome but still showing enough promise that it’s a fascinating journey.
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At the start of Duke Ellington’s album, The Afro-Eurasian Eclipse: A Suite in Eight Parts, Ellington himself speaks for a couple of minutes about the whole world “going Oriental.” Apparently, Marshall McLuhan said something to that effect (read full incomprehensible statement here) and while McLuhan had some good points buried in his “going Oriental” statement (mainly because he threw every idea he had about Indochina at the wall and by happenstance, some of it stuck) none of it really matters to the music that follows. Still, Ellington delivers his monologue sincerely and intones that he and his band mates have, in their travels, “noticed this to be true” (that everyone is going Oriental, that is – were The Vapors inspired by this too? Do we have McLuhan to blame for Turning Japanese?). Ellington’s enunciation is so precise and eloquent I don’t even care what he’s says, I just like listening to how he says it. He speaks as if he’s teaching someone how to pronounce the words properly in English and the result is, in it’s own way, a kind of Ellington a capella lead-in.
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I started going to the movies in the seventies and Steve McQueen was one of the first stars I got to know in current releases. When I saw his last film in the theatre, The Hunter, on opening weekend no less, so excited was I to see it, I felt I knew him well. I didn’t. Even though I loved movies like The Blob, The Great Escape, Bullitt, Papillon and, yes, The Hunter, mediocre as it may be, I didn’t fully understand Steve McQueen as an actor. I liked him and his movies but never felt he was doing the job I thought others were doing when it came to big screen acting. I certainly didn’t think he was bad, I just never gave him much thought as an actor overall. But then, very recently in fact, I watched The Towering Inferno for the first time since childhood. It was a revelation.