' ' Cinema Romantico: Forgotten (not so) Great Moments in Movie History

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Forgotten (not so) Great Moments in Movie History

Near the conclusion of the 1980 comic cultural touchstone “Airplane!”, as the eponymous aircraft attempts to make an emergency landing, the scene momentarily cuts to a cityscape highlighted by a broadcast tower with the illuminated red letters bearing the station’s call sign: WZAZ. “WZAZ!” an offscreen dee jay hiply hollers. “Where disco lives forever!” In the instantaneous aftermath of this declaration, however, the airplane clips the broadcasting tower, knocking out the signal. Disco, in other words, is dead. Indeed, in the most recent episode of his podcast Hit Parade, where he performs illuminating, entertaining deep dives into Billboard Chart history, and which got me thinking about everything that led to this post, Chris Molanphy cites this scene as a symbolic representation of when disco faded from the public’s consciousness.

Except, of course, as Molanphy noted later in the episode, eventually, because everything is cyclical, because everything comes back around, the 70s made something of a comeback in the 90s. Fashion trends of the 1970s were revived, just like fashion trends of the 1990s are being revived now, and inevitably “That 70s Show”, which debuted in 1998, epitomized this resurgence. Why my girlfriend my senior year of high school and I rented “Saturday Night Fever” to show the German foreign exchange student in our class because we thought it held the cultural key to America, or something. Quentin Tarantino, 90s auteur wonderboy, took many of his cues from the 70s, and so many other movies of the decade, even those long since forgotten, like “Naked Gun 33⅓: The Final Insult”, got in on the revival too.

“Airplane!”, of course, was written and directed by the triumvirate known as Team ZAZ (David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, Jerry Zucker), hence, ahem, WZAZ. The trio would go on to also write 1989’s stone cold comedy classic “The Naked Gun”, with David Zucker directing alone, and the latter Zucker also wrote and directed the 1991 “Naked Gun” sequel, “The Smell of Fear”, which this blog holds in just as high a regard as the original. Zucker gave up the directorial reigns for 1994’s “The Final Insult”, but he did co-write it, signaling at least one Team ZAZ holdover. That is important. And that is important because a flashback in “Naked Gun 33⅓” meant to fill in the backstory of femme fatale Tanya Peters (Anna Nicole Smith) is set in the 70s, triggered by the immortal Lt. Frank Drebin (Leslie Nielsen) referencing “The big disco shootout” which allows for both Nielsen and George Kennedy as Captain Ed Hocken to don era-appropriate costumes and the soundtrack to make space for The Bee Gees.

The scene itself is funnier in theory than in practice, sort of emblemizing the overall staleness of the proceedings, though it effectively brings home the inadvertent point anyway. Here was Zucker’s “The Naked Gun 33 1/3” referencing disco’s kitschy resurgence fourteen years after Zucker’s “Airplane!” put WZAZ out of business, suggesting their disco is dead punchline was premature.

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