Saturday, May 27, 2017

Star Wars: The Lull Before the Storm

"... It's called Star Wars. One set alone cost twelve million dollars."

That is how I first heard of Star Wars. It was the spring of 1977. I had the Grundig stereo on in the living room and as I walked from the kitchen into the dining room I heard an on-air host from Toronto radio station CKFM say the magic words. My reaction to the announced set cost must have been one of awe -- I later learned that the movie cost about ten million dollars to make -- but it was the name of this mysterious new flick that really intrigued me.

Over the next few days I will tell, in serial form, the story from my perspective of how Star Wars hit not only the marketplace, but entered our culture....

That could have been the opening crawl to my series recounting my introduction to Star Wars. It all started for me when I heard that radio piece. But everyone has a different story. And already I've read a few online.

In the pre-Internet age, it was a different game.

After learning of a new and anticipated movie going into production, one had to sometimes dig to learn more than what was readily available from the mainstream media outlets. For most pictures the wait was, more often than not, off our radars.

However, do not think for a moment that pre-release or pre-production hype used by the major film studios is a recently developed tool. Films from the 1970s were following an old model but with new tricks. Promotional featurettes, shot on 16mm film, were taken to a refined state during those years. Major studio productions like The Poseidon Adventure, The Towering Inferno, and King Kong were promoted heavily while they were still in production. In the case of Kong the casting of the new beauty was covered in local and national newscasts. I remember watching Buffalo television station WKBW late one evening and seeing newsfilm of Jessica Lange on stage holding a bouquet of flowers (it was a press conference).

Who could forget watching the excellent and dynamic promotional film showing the production crew of The Towering Inferno doing their magic? Irwin Allen directing over John Guillerman's head by using a megaphone was exciting and memorable. ("Mister Newman!") Accompanied by an authoritative but not staid voice over, bulldozers dug down into a sound stage floor in order to give the already voluminous space even more fly. These promotional shorts were nothing less than recruitment films. "I want to do that!"

By the time big pictures such as PoseidonInferno, Kong, Earthquake, and The Hindenburg hit the screens, an educated, of sorts, audience was awaiting. And I was a member of that audience, in all five examples.

There was none of that for Star Wars. It just snuck up on us....

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