Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Johnny California: Mailbag

 by JB

Questions, comments, and great thoughts from my readers.

Q: “JB, you have often talked of the dichotomy established by Robert B. Ray in his groundbreaking book, A Certain Tendency of the Hollywood Cinema, 1930-1980. I recently purchased and read the book. Is Ray saying 1) that post WWII, there is an irreparable, demographic schism in the moviegoing audience that is never corrected or changed even into the Eighties? OR 2) that the majority of the movie-going audience at that time could be separated by dominant social ideology rather than economic class, education, or ethnicity?
--Donald Schmidt, El Paso, Texas

A: Neither
Q: “Quick— Adam Riske or Rob DiCristino?”
--Marilyn Ferrar, Youngstown, Ohio

A: Oh, Adam Riske.
Q: “How could the recent hyper-violent Finnish film Sisu be improved?”
--Howard Astor, Chicago, Illinois

A: By making it a documentary in which real Nazis are killed.
Q: “Citizen Kane or Cocaine Bear?”
--Betsy Hall, Palo Alto, California

A: Oh, Cocaine Bear.

Q: “Since moving to Southern California, have you heard a movie-related riddle or joke that has stuck with you?”
--Louie McKenna, Lombard, Illinois

A: It was so COLD at the location shoot last night... (HOW COLD WAS IT?)
It was so cold, only two of the grips wore shorts.
Q: “This year Grease is celebrating its 45th anniversary. How could that beloved musical be improved?”
--Grace, Age 6, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

A: Funny you should mention that. I attended a recent Fathom Events theatrical screening, and during Rizzo’s big number, “There Are Worse Things I Could Do,” I had a crazy idea. Stockard Channing is shown singing the song, gazing at Jeff Conaway as her intended and walking in the school parking lot. Behind her, some anonymous extras toss around a football. What if... halfway through Rizzo’s song, the camera tracks over to the football kids, and they are all singing too? They are singing about their own problems; perhaps they didn’t make the cut for the Rydell High School football team, which is why they have to hang out in the damn parking lot after school and pretend. They are NOT singing different lyrics to Rizzo’s tune; they are singing a completely different melody, but one that works in counterpoint to Rizzo’s and together forms an effective medley. Then the camera tracks back further. A chorus of the film’s cameo stars (Fannie Flagg, Sid Caesar, Alice Ghostly, Eve Arden, Dody Goodman, Joan Blondell, Franke Avalon, and Kookie Byrnes) breaks character and loudly sing an anthem in which they wonder aloud if their respective careers are over. Again, this song is sung in counterpoint to both Rizzo’s song and the footballers. It’s quite thrilling. The camera pulls back still further and we see director Randall Kleiser sitting on a camera crane. He sings of his great good luck in snagging this job, directing what would go on to become the second highest-grossing film of the year. He sings of his previous experience, directing episodes of the television series Starsky and Hutch and the John Travolta Made-For-TV Movie, The Boy in the Plastic Bubble. Suddenly, all four songs (“There Are Worse Things I Could Do,” “Why Ain’t I Good Enough?,” “Is My Career Over, Over?,” and “Look At Me, I’m Randall Kleiser”) become one song, a stirring celebration of all that is good AND bad about American culture in both the Sixties and the Seventies. This version of Grease goes on to win both the Nobel and Pulitzer Prize.
Q: “Citizen Kane or A Man Called Otto?”
--Roy Camden, Orlando, Florida

A: Oh, A Man Called Otto.
Q: “What is your favorite expression related to movie-making. What word or phrase from the land of old-school Hollywood really ‘trips your trigger?’”
--Bob Eisley, Minneapolis, Minnesota

A: Kookaloris: a metal sheet with irregular holes cut in it. A bright light shines through it, creating a pleasant or evocative background for a scene. It is alternatively spelled “cucoloris,” “cucaloris,” “kukaloris,” “cookaloris,” or “cucalorus.” Industry professionals often shorten it to “cookie,” “kook,” or” cuke.” These crazy flat metal Swiss cheeses are also known as gobos, ulcers, or dapple sheets. Nancy Fried, on her delightful website Fritinancy, discovered that “the word’s origins and etymology are frustratingly unclear.” Grant Barrett, on his radio show “A Way with Words,” told his listeners that he spent days researching [the “cookie.”] and concluded, “Hollywood is filled with people who like to invent myth. I counted seven different origin stories for this term, and they’re fun, but they’re all throwaway.” The best story he encountered is from a footnote in a 1954 issue of the Western Folklore journal, which called cucoloris, “a coined word of no special philological significance or implication.” Some sources suggest, however, that cucoloris “might be related to the famed director George Cukor.”
Q: “I’ve been reading your columns and listening to your podcasts at F This Movie for quite some time now, and I have a serious question. Why did God bestow you with physical and intellectual gifts that far exceed those of all other men? Your intellect is staggering. (I feel that in your life you have FORGOTTEN more about the art of film than most men have ever KNOWN.) Women instinctively feel your tremendous sexual charisma and are drawn to you as a moth is to a flame. Women want you... and men want to be like you. What is it like knowing that you are superior in every quantitative way to every other man who has ever lived? What is it like knowing that women would brave any consequence... pay any price... sacrifice any comfort...just to feel the simple touch of your embrace? Women sense your power, I know, and they seek out the life essence. You do not avoid women, JB, but you do deny them your essence. You also possess breathtaking blue eyes. You are the greatest. I myself am not sure if I could deal with that reality on a day-to-day basis, so I am asking. How do YOU handle this magnificent responsibility and handle it in such a fun, good-natured, and humble way?”
--Maria Smith, Lincoln, Nebraska

A: Practice.

Q: “Quick—Cocaine Bear or A Man Called Otto?”
--Amy Perth-Gilmore, Encino, California

A: Oh, that one’s easy. Citizen Kane.


  1. I almost choked on my bagel. I love this. I would also like the wonderful Jan B to possibly expand her answer to Maria's question.

  2. I had all the same questions. So glad they were asked and answered! Would like to hear more from Grace, SIX years old.

  3. What are we trying to say about the Kookaloris? Given my surname, I might be able to lay claim to the name! Dig

    1. This is interesting. In my research, I read of a “Mighty Kookulka” who reigned over the humble Kookalori. The Kookalori were similar to the Oompa-Loompas…