Taken for a Ride,
and a few more films

#212  [archive]
NOV. 11, 2023

Taken for a Ride (1996)
Streaming free 

I'm an enthusiast for public transit. As I've often said, everyone buying two tons of steel and glass is simply not a sustainable transportation plan. It's helped bring us to the looming collapse of what's quaintly called 'western civilization'.

The National City Lines scandal is an aspect of this that most people are only peripherally aware of.

If you saw the film Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, you might remember that old-time Los Angeles had a fabulous streetcar system that went virtually everywhere in the metroplex. The movie's bad guys bought the streetcar company in order to shut it down, so people would need to buy cars and oil and build freeways instead. What Roger Rabbit forgot to say was, it's based on a true story.

In 1936, acting through proxy companies to keep things cloaked, General Motors established a new business called National City Lines (NCL). Also backed by Standard Oil, Mack Trucks, Phillips Petroleum, and Firestone Tire, NCL took control of numerous privately-owned transit systems all across America, simply to shut them down.

Clean, cheap, reliable streetcars were replaced with soot-belching city buses that run far less frequently and more slowly. 

This documentary from PBS delves into the NCL scandal, and if any of the above is news to you, you should watch Taken for a Ride.

The filmmakers talk with old people (doubtless dead now) who were there as all this happened. Workers remember seeing their 'Rolls Royce' transit system obliterated, and an NCL exec admits that shutting the streetcars down was always the only plan.

NCL lost a lawsuit over it, so all this is factual, but there's also the argument that cars were becoming more and more popular anyway, so we would've lost America's streetcar infrastructure with or without GM's nefarious plot. I've been on the fence about that for long enough that the fenceposts are drawing blood out of my butt, but this line from fabulously bald former San Francisco Mayor Joe Alioto resonates:

"I cannot accept the argument that rapid-transit systems broke down because of their complete inefficiency to serve the public, because the experience of western Europe and Japan belies that argument. ...

"If it is true that the streetcar companies were breaking down of their own weight, why was it necessary for General Motors to join with Standard Oil and the [Firestone] tire company to go in and buy the systems and tear up the tracks?"

Other than that succinct quote and a new love for Alioto, I didn't get much from the film, but that's because of my head start — I've always gobbled up info on public transit. Heck, I've been aware of the NCL scandal since before Roger Rabbit.

Only half of the documentary is about NCL. After that, it's an overview of the disaster that followed — freeways and cars everywhere — which is also worth watching, and mourning over.

Verdict: BIG YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

The Decorator (1965)
Streaming free 

Bette Davis stars as The Decorator, in this unsold pilot for a 1960s TV show that never was. 

She plays a lady known simply as 'Liz', who's perhaps a drunk, certainly sleeps late a lot, insists she's never wrong, and works as an expensive interior decorator. For the 'wacky' element required of any TV sitcom, Liz insists on moving in with her clients, sharing their homes while redesigning them. 

In this one and only episode, the client is a loud-talking big-hatted Oklahoma oil king played by guest star Ed Begley. Dub Taylor plays a cab driver.

I laughed several times — TV-size laughs, yeah, but this is far superior to an average sixties sit-com. No sale, though. No show. Bette Davis was too big for television.

The Designer was co-written by Cy Howard (The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour) and Mart Crowley (The Boys in the Band).

Most importantly, though, it was uploaded to YouTube by Tom Yaz, who added his own 'Video posted by Tom Yaz' opening credits and emblazoned his name, Tom Yaz, in the corner all through the show.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

The Making of Reflections of Evil (2002)
Streaming free

This is a slight but enjoyable film, 21 minutes, that never names itself. The title was my idea.

Thad Vassmer, a more ordinary independent filmmaker, tagged along for a few days while gonzo movie artist Damon Packard was creating the awesome and excellent Reflections of Evil. Vassmer tries to comprehend what he sees, and the background footage is fun. 

Best of all, there's an unforgivably brief interview with Packard that provides a glimpse of the master:

Mr Vassmer: "What would you say to filmmakers watching this? What can they learn from you?"

Mr Packard: "Nothing. They can learn that it's a completely monumental waste of time, the making of film. I would say to all the filmmakers out there, who are getting into film, or have been into film for a long time, that you are wasting your time, beyond anything you could imagine. If you want to waste your time and money and go through hell and have it absolutely not result in anything, then make a film, because that's exactly what's going to happen. I can tell you that right now."

Verdict: YES.


• • • Coming attractions • • •

The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) 
Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)

... plus occasional schlock and surprises 

    • • • But wait, there's more  • • •

Alexander Nevsky (1938)
The Bat People (1974)
Berkeley in the Sixties (1990)
Brainwaves (1983)
Cellular (2004) 
The Dark Glow of the Mountains (1985)
Dark Star (1974)
The Day My Parents Became Cool (2009)
The Decline of Western Civilization (1980)
Downsizing (2017)
Frankenhooker (1990)
The General (1926)
Get Shorty (1995)
Hugo (2011)
The Importance of Being Earnest (1952)
The Internet's Own Boy (2014)
Line of Duty (debut episode; 2012)
Love Happy (1950)
The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)
The Man Who Thought Life (1969)
The Man with Nine Lives (1940)
Not Wanted (1949)
Nothing But a Man (1964)
Phone Booth (2002)
PickAxe (1999)
Poison (1990)
Revelations (1993)
Ride in the Whirlwind (1966)
Romper Stomper (1992)
Room Service (1938)
Same Kind of Different as Me (2017)
Saved! (2004)
Scared to Death (1947)
Secret Weapons (1985)
The Shooting (1966)
The Soloist (2009)
The Train (1964)
Welcome to New Orleans (2006)
Who Farted? (2019)
Wristcutters: A Love Story (2006)

There are so many good movies out there — old movies, odd or artsy, foreign or forgotten movies, or do-it-yourself movies made just for the joy of making them — that if you only watch whatever's on Netflix or playing at the twenty-plex, you're missing out.

To get beyond the ordinary, I recommend:

AlterCineverseCriterionCultCinema ClassicsDocsVilleDustFandorFilms for ActionHooplaIHaveNoTVIndieFlixInternet ArchiveKanopyKinoCultKino LorberKorean Classic FilmChristopher R MihmMosfilmMubiNational Film Board of CanadaNew Yorker Screening RoomDamon PackardMark PirroPizzaFlixPopcornFlixPublic Domain MoviesRareFilmmScarecrow VideoShudderThoughtMaybeTimeless Classic MoviesVoleFlixWatchDocumentaries • or your local library

Some people even access films through shady methods, though of course, that would be wrong.

— — —

Illustration by Jeff Meyer. Reviews are spoiler-free, or at least spoiler-warned. Click any image to enlarge. Arguments & recommendations are welcome, but no talking once the lights dim, and only real butter on the popcorn, not that fake yellow stuff. 
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  1. I had never heard of National City Lines. Thank you. I never read movie reviews, al,ost never see movies, but I'm glad to have read this.

    It helps I think to say it publicly:
    I will not drink today.

    1. Congrats, V. Lots to stay sober for. I'm sober since 1996, but I earn my sobriety every day. I know you do too. Stay with the program.


    2. Fuck all that - I just dropped a tab of acid, ate an entire tub of churro Häagen-Dazs, had a fish sandwich and fries from DQ drive-thru earlier, came home and downed half a tin of Danish butter cookies, and topped it all off with two Tylenol, an aspirin, some B-12, six cups of tea and one Rolaids.

      I'm COMPLETELY altered.

      Now I'm gonna watch the new David Fincher film on Netflix.


    3. I'm not a Häagen-Dazs fan -- I prefer Tillamook, which I'm about to serve myself a large bowl of at 4:30 in the morning. I am unaware of people with alcohol problems being particularly healthy eaters. I'm not. And I've gulped my share of acid. I just don't drink alcohol because I'm not very good at stopping.


    4. Fincher's Alien 3 is tragically underrated.

      Tillamook is cheese. The very finest ice cream is whatever generic brand is in the store's freezer.

    5. I don't live on an estate, but Tillamook goes BOGO quarterly at Safeway: That's just over three bucks for what was once a half gallon and is now a quart and a half, but still . . . I try the cheap brands, but since the stores all put their weekly ads on the Web, I can defer my ice cream desires until the next BOGO comes along.

      Now, of course, there are loyalty cards which are horseshit most of us have to eat. But occasionally there are good name brand ice cream deals on "digital coupons". The best I've seen on Tillamook is $2.49 with a limit of two. Hell, that's a whole day's supply for under three bucks.


    6. Very nearly kissed a girl in Tillamook, Oregon once. Other than that, it's cheese to me, though my flatmate buys Tillamook ice cream so I do know it exists.

      I gotta not buy ice cream, for as you allude, if it's in the freezer I'll eat it, all of it. When the temptation strikes, though, it's math, cuz a gallon of the generic costs less than a pint of the premium. Does it taste as good? Probably not, but it tastes like ice cream and that's good enough.

    7. There is no need to get altered if you like yourself already.

    8. Hey man, blame society, not me

    9. Tillamook doesn't come in pints or quarts, and speaking of p's and q's, giving a guy in recovery shit about recovery isn't going to result in Jack Bailey naming you Queen for a Day, even if the flowers ARE a little wilted.


    10. >very nearly kissed . . .

      Did you swing and miss or back out of the box?

      Not intentionally prying, but the "very nearly" sounds like a suicide squeeze play.


    11. I like you Claude with or without alterations, but I can't blame society any more. Time to accept responsibility for my own many failures and weaknesses and mistakes.

    12. She was That girl at summer camp, which I've suddenly decided merits a reprint. The camp was near Tillamook, Oregon.

      Usually my folks sent me to a closer camp, but the Tillamook camp had some super-evangelical youth pastor that summer, and Mom and Dad really wanted me to get the gospel.

  2. The Decorator: supporting actor, Mary Wickes...she's been in so many films and TV shows, always makes the scenes so much better! In fact, I watch such videos because SHE'S in them, has nothing to do with the star character.

    1. She was the lady who made me laugh on TV, all through my kidhood, and she made me laugh in The Designer.

      I wrote a rather long paragraph about Ms Wickes for this page, but she never had a famous movie role or a sit-com of her own, so I figured nobody'd know who she was and snipped it.

      I am delighted somebody knows who she was!


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