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40 Years of “Airport”: “The Concorde… Airport ’79” (1979)

40 Years of “Airport”: “The Concorde… Airport ’79” (1979) (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, “The Concorde… Airport ’79,” the rare movie with an ellipsis in the title.

The Concorde… Airport ’79
Directed by David Lowell Rich

Nature of Air Emergency: A journalist (Susan Blakely) boards Federation World Airlines’ new Concorde plane with documents implicating weapons manufacturer Kevin Harrison (Robert Wagner) in illegal arms deals with America’s enemies. He tries to shoot down the Concorde and fails. He tries to shoot it down again and fails. Then he tries to make it crash and fails. Let this be a lesson to all of us: just because you make weapons doesn’t mean you’re any good at using them.

George Kennedy Plays: Joe Patroni, captain of the Federation Concorde flight from Washington D.C. to Moscow.

11112010_concorde4.jpgMost Surprising Subplot: Sometime after “Airport 1975,” where she was one of the passengers in distress, Patroni’s wife died in a car accident. Now a widower, Patroni’s back on the dating scene. During a stopover in Paris — after the Concorde’s been attacked by missiles and jets, but before it suffers explosive decompression over the Swiss Alps — his new co-pilot Paul Metrand (Alain Delon) sets him up on a date. It goes incredibly well and Patroni gets laid. The next morning, he begins to regale Metrand with stories of his conquest. Amused, Metrand confesses that Patroni’s “date” was actually a hooker that he’d paid to sleep with his lonely co-worker.

Metrand’s known Patroni for about 36 hours at this point and he’s already buying him hookers? Think about the co-worker you’ve known longest at your job. Maybe you’ve worked with them for years. Would you surprise them with a prostitute if they were feeling lonely? I think Federation World Airlines needs to reevaluate its sexual harassment training seminars.

“Airport” Makes No Sense: George Kennedy stars in all four “Airport” movies as the same guy, Joe Patroni, but he’s got a different job in each movie. So far he’s been a mechanic, an airline’s vice president, and a private contractor working for a billionaire. Obviously the guy knows airplanes, but suddenly in “Airport ’79” he knows how to fly them too. Now it’s unlikely but not impossible that Patroni was studying to be a pilot on his days off. But when Metrand asks Patroni how long he’s been flying he replies, “I stopped counting after 30 years. I’ve flown just about every aircraft there is through three wars and 40 pounds.” So he’s been moonlighting from his three other jobs at a forth job? For 30 years? Then again, Patroni also talks regretting the fact that he and his wife only ever had one child, but in previous movies he’d talked about having five kids. So maybe Patroni’s not a workaholic. Maybe he’s just a pathological liar.

11112010_concorde2.jpgCharacter You Kind of Want To Die: Jimmie Walker (J.J. from “Good TImes”) plays Boisie, a jazz musician who walks up and down the aisles of the Concorde playing his saxophone. He’s a talented guy, but what gives him the right to blast a sax in the middle of a crowded airplane? I’m sorry Boisie: you interrupt my Robert Ludlum novel, you have to die.

Lines That Makes You Wonder Whether The Whole Film Wasn’t Just An Informercial Paid For By The Air Travel Industry: “There’s nothing like her in the skies. She can maneuver with a military jet. Go just as fast. And a lot farther.”
“I think I’m falling in love.” — Metrand and Patroni admire the Concorde.

Should Have Been Parodied in “Airplane!”: Amongst the passengers on the Concorde is a Russian gymnastics coach named Markov, played by Avery Schreiber, and his deaf daughter, played by Stacy Heather Tolkin. The whole movie these two wander around the Concorde while the daughter asks questions and the father, who looks like the love child of Béla Károlyi and Gene Shalit, signs the answers back to her. The only reason these two, particularly the gregarious, big haired coach evaded the Zuckers’ aim is the fact that they were already readying “Airplane!” by the time this movie came out.

How Does It Hold Up? By 1979, “Airport” had lasted four films and nearly a decade. It wasn’t a only a matter of months before “Airplane!” came along and killed the disaster genre dead by so brilliantly making fun of its cliches and stupidity. But the fact of the matter is “The Concorde… Airport ’79” was already a self-parody of a disaster movie. The first “Airport” had Helen Hayes. The last “Airport” has Charo.

11112010_concorde3.jpgAs self-parody, “Airport ’79” is pretty funny stuff. This movie is here to do two things: show off how awesome the Concorde is and relish every chance it gets to make D-list stars uncomfortable. It’s almost a low-level torture porn, inviting us to get off on the sight of Eddie Albert, Susan Blakely, John Davidson, Jimmie Walker and the rest get blasted by wind machines and flying debris and paper.

The degree to which the film violates basic rules of physics and logic is so daring it’s almost ballsy. It presents totally unbelievable scenarios and dares you to call bullshit. For instance, The Concorde makes an emergency landing in Paris after it comes under assault from a military drone plane gone rogue. The plane depressurizes and nearly crashes on the runway at de Gaulle. If this happened in real life it would be one of the biggest news stories of the year and the incident would spark an enormous law enforcement investigation. The plane would be grounded for days or even weeks to ensure the police were able to gather all the evidence they needed, and to ensure the safety of the aircraft. But not only does the Concorde take off for Moscow as planned a day after the incident, saboteurs are able to sneak onboard and place an explosive device on its cargo door. This plane was just involved in one of the craziest mid-air dogfights in history. Nobody is around to watch it get broken into?

You could argue the laughs are intentional, but the evidence suggests otherwise. Clearly the series had run its course and was totally out of ideas. The guys who made “Airport ’79” couldn’t end the movie quick enough. The credits roll immediately after the Concorde makes a desperate emergency landing on a ski slope, and the crew and passengers evacuate just before the jet explodes. There is no resolution for any of the subplots. You don’t find out whether the sick passengers will survive, or whether the weapons manufacturer will get busted, or whether Patroni will sleep with his hooker girlfriend again. All you get is a shot of the Concorde — and the “Airport” series — flying off into the sunset. Of course, since the plane just crashed, even that shot doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

Strange But True: The Concorde is supposedly flying to Moscow as a sign of goodwill in anticipation of the Olympic games there in 1980. But the United States and many of its allies boycotted the 1980 games because of the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. So way to go, “Airport ’79,” there’s another thing you screwed up.

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

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

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Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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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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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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