Monday, October 6, 2008

Ghost Rider and Smokey the Bear: Fallen Fire Angels

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One of the most disturbing pieces of footage I have ever seen is this 1957 public service announcement featuring a country singer singing eerily about the Devil and his “ghost herd in the sky,” while one of his androgynous children has a frightening late-night encounter in the woods with a zombie-like Smokey the Bear, come to life from a billboard.

After the child recounts her/his “near-mystical experience” (as the YouTube user who posted it wisely puts it), the clip ends with the singer’s admonishment that “Smokey is everywhere, Chris,” confirming my suspicion Smokey is meant to be seen as some sort of Native American animal-spirit (perhaps a beast-man foe of the Fire Clan from Hopi legend — and the Final Crisis comic book).

There was a similar country music/Devil/ghost vibe in the one worthwhile scene in the otherwise lame Ghost Rider movie: when the classic song “Ghost Riders in the Sky” played while the modern Ghost Rider, on his flaming motorcycle, rode across the desert at night with an unexpected guest star, the horse-riding Ghost Rider of the nineteenth century — one of those geek-pleasing movie moments like Tony Stark having an unexpected houseguest at the end of the credits in Iron Man and almost cool enough to justify letting myself be dragged to the movie.

Even my fellow New Wave fan Michael Malice likes “Ghost Riders in the Sky” and has sung it in karaoke — but he hasn’t seen Iron Man, as he is adamantly a DC man. (I actually missed his “Ghost Riders in the Sky” performance, having left the bar in a huff for reasons involving absinthe and a woman that aren’t important now.) Normally, Malice listens to things more like his friends in the band My Favorite (since transformed into Secret History), and this song of theirs that I’ve linked before features a pretty tension between angelic and devilish imagery, if you listen closely, thus perhaps making its narrator a bit like Ghost Rider and Smokey the Bear, not to mention Malice.

In any case, the My Favorite song is a hell of a lot prettier than the punk song “Ghost Rider” as covered by Henry Rollins, which is indeed about the superhero (Rollins has also dabbled in comics writing) and is one of the most unintentionally hilarious and dopey pieces of music I have ever heard — yet they damn well should have used it in the movie.

As for how I came to see that Smokey the Bear footage in the first place: It was one of many weird wonders from the ABC News tape archives when I was working there. The cursory logs describing the tapes were often a haiku-like trip in themselves, often reading something like:

Women at picnic
Close-up of weeping child
Bike-riding Hitlers

I still regret not getting out of the library one tape with a log describing it as containing “Man flying around Washington Monument using handheld device.” I also missed Meredith Vieira’s own wardrobe malfunction on The View, which luckily didn’t cause a big FCC fuss. Here, at least, is footage of her kissing Lisa Ling.

P.S. And speaking of Marvel superhero movies: the reason I’m psyched to hear that Kenneth Branagh is likely to direct the 2010 Thor movie is that (I’m guessing) this means they intend to do the full-blown pseudo-Shakespearean dialogue from the comics.  Mayhap the son of Odin shalt prove the Avenger of mightiest box office mettle — nay, the mightiest in the Realm Eternal!

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