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Space Force vs. Coronavirus

Nevermind Outbreak. Last night, my wife and I discovered a movie on Amazon Prime that proved surprisingly relevant to the the quarantined shut down of American life. Despite its execrably cheesy science fiction surface, The Green Slime comes across as a prescient vision of America’s Space Force in action–fighting the contemporary menace of Coronavirus infection.

By now you’ve probably watched the above trailer, so the highlights of this festering pile of camembert are self evident: goofy model sets, astronauts blasting stuff in space, the female cast clad in silver go-go outfits, and monsters manufactured by guys hired away from the Godzilla franchise. And then the theme song: a groovy blast of psychedelic rock highlighted by acidic guitar solos and spooky theremin sweeps, while a guy sounding like Tom Jones belts out the silly lyrics! I’ve never heard anyone get so emotional while delivering the words “the green slime,” and I doubt you have either.

Although probably not strictly necessary, here’s a brief plot summary. A giant asteroid looking like a magnified COVID-19 blob threatens to collide with earth. The USA quickly rounds up its Space Force, lead by romantic rivals, which races off to intercept the threat. The force lands on the asteroid to plant detonators, while a scientist collects samples of a green substance that spreads over their moonmobiles. Some of the slime hitches a ride back to the space station, where it grows into Sigmund and the Sea Monsters’ cousins. The space station must be quarantined to avoid spreading the creatures to earth. Of course, destroying the station is the only solution, and the place is evacuated. Cue explosions. Slime contained and destroyed. Over and out.

Aside from that amazing theme song, the 1969 production holds some interest of its own, being a combination of flamboyant Eurotrash science fiction sensibilities, Japanese style monsters and modelwork, and efficiently tight Hollywood editing. Indeed, it was a collaboration between Toei, who contributed a director and locations, and MGM. It’s not surprising that Mystery Science Theater 3000 used it for their pilot episode, as it’s ridiculously easy to throw mockery at the absurd delights appearing before your eyes.

Irony free drive-in fodder like The Green Slime is an easy watch that goes well with crunchy snacks and alcoholic bevvies of choice. (I can personally recommend an Aviation cocktail or four, but that’s the current house favorite.) But it’s not often that these films resonate with current events. In these grim times of pandemic quarantine amidst a backdrop of official buffoonery, one needs a little laugh. Around here, we’ll be singing the “Green Slime” song to get us through the long, nervous days. You might try it yourself.

You Gotta Have Faith

Nonagenarian. Perennial candidate for Mayor of DC. DC Statehood activist. Burlessque dancer. Actress. Comedienne. Cabaret performer. Faith has done many things. Once upon a time, she was a key component of the Broadway musical Gypsy, in its original run with Ethel Merman, as well as the film version with Rosalind Russell, Natalie Wood, and Karl Malden. Faith developed the role of Mazeppa, an aging burlesque dancer who blows a bugle while doing her bumps and grinds. She schools the young Gypsy Rose Lee on the necessities of stage life in the song “You Gotta Have a Gimmick.” Contemporary reviews of the stage version and YouTube views of the movie version show Faith stealing the show with sassy hip snaps and a voice that could peel paint off your wall.

I first met Faith circa 1998 when she was doing her Campaign Cabaret performances in various nightspots around DC, adopting show tunes and calypso numbers to serve as self promotion, accompanied by her husband Jude on guitar. Film auteur Jeff Krulik (of Heavy Metal Parking Lot fame) was acting as their manager and booking the gigs. It’s hard to forget such a magical entertainment. Some images are more indelible than others. Like seeing a 75-year-old Faith rollerskate onto the stage in a nude body stocking to blow her bugle.

Recently while at work in George Washington University’s Burns Law Library, I ran across a book called Choreographing Copyright: Race, Gender, and Intellectual Property Rights in American Dance by Anthea Kraut. The back cover blurb mentioned Faith’s lawsuit against the producers of Broadway’s Gypsy for infringing on her copyright to Mazeppa’s dance routine. She had developed the number during her time on the actual burlesque stage, and reprising it during audition got her the part in the play. The climax of her performance made it a unique signature and brought the house down: bending over to blow her bugle between her legs, derriere facing the house. This “derriere pose” was deemed too risque by the film’s director, so she did a deep back bend instead, which is what you see in all the pictures. The case turns out to have been an important one in the struggle to gain copyright protection for dance choreography. But Faith was unsuccessful in gaining damages. The judge ruled that her dance–and the story it purported to tell of an ex-military woman now earning her living on vaudeville–was not significant enough to warrant protection, being both too low-brow and created by a woman.

I interviewed Faith extensively back in the 90s, writing a short article on her for The Washington City Paper (you can read it here), and later publishing the full transcript in my fanzine Mole. Over 30 years after her lawsuit, she was still angry about the copyright rip off,  But it was hard to tell if the story was just a part of her self-myth. It was great to see it confirmed in a big way.

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Using the article in Kraut’s legal monograph as a hook, I put together an exhibit for the display case in the Burns Library about Faith, her copyright lawsuit, and her mayoral candidacy. Included are vinyl LP copies of the soundtracks for both stage and screen versions, photos from her 90s cabaret shows, campaign ephemera, and a dented and warped old bugle I got on eBay. In fact, Krulik told me to get a beat up horn “just like the one Montgomery Clift gave her.” You see how the legend of Faith just seems bottomless? There’s always another amazing story about her. If she makes a visit to the exhibit, I’ll let you know.