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40 Years of “Airport”: “Airport ’77” (1977)

40 Years of “Airport”: “Airport ’77” (1977) (photo)

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In 1970, one movie invented the modern disaster film. After grossing more than $100 million at the domestic box office (adjusted for inflation, it made more than any of the “Lord of the Rings”), it spawned three sequels that stretched through the entire decade. But this landmark series is now almost totally forgotten, long eclipsed by the film that so brilliantly spoofed the genre tropes it helped define. In honor of its 40th anniversary, we’re looking back at the “Airport” franchise this week, one film at a time. Today, “Airport ’77” which is basically “The Poseidon Adventure” on a plane.

Airport ’77 (1977)
Directed by Jerry Jameson

Nature of Air Emergency: The maiden voyage of an experimental aircraft from the Stevens Corporation in hijacked en route to an exclusive party. Because really, where better to put a priceless art collection than on the maiden voyage of an experimental airplane? The hijacking goes awry when the plane strikes an oil rig and sinks to the bottom of the ocean in the middle of the Bermuda Triangle. Captain Gallagher (Jack Lemmon) has to figure out how to get the plane back to the surface before they run out of air.

George Kennedy Plays: Joe Patroni, Naval Liason to the Stevens Corporation.

11112010_airport3.jpgMost Surprising Subplot: The hijackers in this movie baffle me. These men are smart enough to plan and execute an incredibly elaborate hijacking but dumb enough to let it go awry in a matter of seconds. Only an band of incredibly brilliant criminal minds could infiltrate the security surrounding a corporation’s multimillion dollar jet prototype, assume positions on its flight crew and security team without detection, and fill an entire plane with sleeping gas without succumbing to it themselves. But only a band of functional illiterates could do all that stuff, then fly the plane so low that they clip an oil rig and crash into the ocean. As if to emphasize the fact that these guys are really too dumb to live, two of the three men die almost instantly after the plane hits the rig.

The highs and lows of their criminal techniques are exemplified in an early scene, where one of the men, dressed as a pilot, walks into an airport (we have a title!) and exchanges briefcases with another man at the magazine stand. The handoff shows their skill with disguises and evading security. But it also makes no sense. Why do this at the airport where there’s even a slight risk of detection? Why not go somewhere private and hand off these cases, then show up to the airport with the briefcase you need?

“Airport” Makes No Sense: I’ll buy the plane crashing into the ocean and sinking, even though it probably should float, and I’ll buy that it makes a violent water landing without significantly breaching the hull. But how in the world can it be seen lying at the bottom of the sea from a helicopter several hundred feet above the surface of the water (see photo above)? Had the people who made this movie ever even looked at the ocean?

11112010_airport4.jpgCharacter You Kind of Want To Die: Karen Wallace, played by Lee Grant, is one repellent human being. She tells her husband stuff like “You’ve got a lot of brains Martin, but you’re not a smart man,” and brags about sleeping with his co-worker. When Martin volunteers for a dangerous mission to try to save the passengers, Karen tries to convince him to stay and comfort her instead of acting like a hero. After Martin fails, she starts screaming and crying hysterically; to calm her down a flight attendant has to smack her. Unfortunately, it only takes one punch to knock her out.

Line That Makes You Wonder Whether The Whole Film Wasn’t Just An Informercial Paid For By The Air Travel Industry: “Do you believe that your prototype executive aircraft will revolution both the private and commercial aircraft industries?” – Reporter to Philip Stevens (James Stewart)

Parodied in “Airplane!”: There’s all kinds of out-of-place stuff on the plane in “Airplane!” A topless woman even runs through the cabin at one point. Those are great sight gags but they’re also openly mocking the weird stuff in the “Airport”s. The interior of the Stevens’ plane in “’77” looks like it inspired the production design of “Boogie Nights”: shag carpets, wood paneling, laserdisc player, and even a grand piano. A grand piano! On an airplane! And naturally no one thought to secure it or bolt it down, so when the plane crashes, it starts rolling around and crushing people. Can you believe that putting a friggin’ grand piano on an airplane was a bad idea? I know, crazy.

How Does It Hold Up? By any sane measurement, not very well. Putting an airplane at the bottom of the ocean and letting the pressure rise as the air runs out is a pretty great setup for a thriller, but this is clearly a case of putting the cart before the horse. Getting at airplane to the bottom of the ocean in a plausible way was a complete afterthought.

11112010_airport2.jpgStill, there are some subterranean themes and ideas in “Airport ’77” that make it arguably the most interesting film in the series, even if none of them were put there on purpose. For one thing, the film represents a bit of a time capsule from an era when movies were made primarily for adults rather than kids and teens. Nobody aboard the Stevens prototype is in the “key” demographic of 18-34 years old; it’s all aging Hollywood stars like Joseph Cotton, Darren McGavin, and Olivia de Havilland. The “action hero” is a then 52-year-old Jack Lemmon with a paunch and drastically thinning hair. Nowadays the captain would have to be played by Channing Tatum, and the lead hijacker would be a Robert Pattinson look alike.

“Airport ’77” invites a certain amount of fantasizing about the luxury of this experimental plane as it pours over the details of its lavishly appointed lounge and bar. But the film ends with the ritual (and almost gleeful) destruction of the jet and its excesses. Director Jerry Jameson, a journeyman filmmaker with an enormous resume of forgettable credits, turns that finale into a powerful statement about the inefficacy of wealth. We may have enjoyed imagining ourselves in this paradise of opulence but by the finale we come to realize that such opulence is worthless in the face of death (the advanced age of some of the actors only compounds the film’s haunting sense of mortality). So while this is another goofy “Airport” sequel, it sticks with you in a way that the others do not. That plane at the bottom of the ocean is ridiculous, but it is a chilling image.

Strange But True: The Stevens jet even has its own lounge singer. The chorus of the song he sings: “Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder / And that’s what I want to do.”

Monday: “Airport”
Tuesday: “Airport 1975”
Today: “Airport ’77”
Thursday: “The Concorde… Airport ’79”
Friday: “Airplane!”

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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GIFs via Giphy

Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….

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IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.

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IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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