So Where Was I In 1995
It was a pretty big year for me. It was the end of my Junior year and the beginning of my senior year of high school. Music and Art were the dominant force in my life. I was preparing to seek out a college, taking as many arts credits as I could stack in now that I had all of my prerequisites lined up for graduation. The music gang in particular became my peer group. They were and are, to this day, some of the best people I’ve known. Many of them, while not seen on the regular, are still very much like family – even if the only way we can easily speak is on Facebook.
As for the larger world around me, OJ’s murder case ramped up and was concluded over the course of ten months. It was all anyone could talk about it seemed for not only 1995, but also 1996. The verdict of the case caused as much drama as anything else did in the whole mess and everyone had an opinion; some for, some against. Kevin Mitnick, hacker par excellence was finally caught after years of social engineering and system breaches. A two-and-a-half year phone cloning, computer, and wirefraud investigation led to his arrest and landed him a roughly five-year sentence. A doomsday cult released Sarin gas on the subways of Tokyo, amplifying a fear of terrorism that would only grow once Timothy McVeigh took out the federal building in Oklahoma City a month later using easily available chemicals and fertilizer. Vietnam and the US restored relations with one another after twenty years of chilly avoidance in the wake of the war between the two. The Million Man March was held in Washington D.C., and continued the legacy of still-needed civil rights activism in America.
On the tech front, a little company named AuctionWeb set up shop in Silicon Valley and eventually became eBay, changing the way millions of people across the globe would shop. Likewise, after a first struggling year, Amazon also emerges as an online bookseller under Jeff Bezos. This was also a big year for Microsoft. They released a highly popular graphic user interface, Windows 95. Apple had already introduced a GUI for their computer, the Macintosh in 1984, a year before Microsoft even got started with their first Windows releases. Microsoft won out in the narrative though, and Windows 95 was a big factor. They gobbled up the support of all but a small percent of home and business users over the following years. Apple wouldn’t really catch up until the early 2000’s, and even then would have trouble penetrating the business sector.
There is one big thing though that really plays into the whole topic of film that happens in this year. VHS tapes in 1995 were the almost universal format for home viewing of movies and television shows. They were relatively cheap, ubiquitous, and capable of letting viewers record anything they wanted from live television. There were a couple other options. LaserDiscs were still a thing, as were the relatively new MiniDiscs. Both were prohibitively expensive however for most people, and these efforts were never really mainstream. Both platforms didn’t have a recording capability that wasn’t wildly expensive (I remember pricing for MiniDisc recorders being somewhere around $6K, making it easier to finance a car than record digitally). To add to it, the quality of the images on both platforms didn’t really even provide any concrete benefit. America was still using the NTSC format which was a cobbled together solution to keep color and black-and-white broadcasts on the same signal, resulting in a less clear picture than other options like PAL. Televisions were mostly built to support the aging format at the time and wouldn’t have been able to display a better image. Several tech companies had been collaborating, however. Their aim was to create an affordable, new digital medium for both audio and video purposes. What emerged from this was a format still in use today, though it has had a few evolutions since it’s announcement in 1995.
The format was the Digital Versatile Disc.
Within a few years, everyone would come to know it as the DVD.
The Good, The Bad, and the Indifferent
Billy Madison (Bad) – Adam Sandler plays a rich idiot who has to get an education to keep his daddy’s business (and the family money). Happy Gilmore was better in every conceivable way.
The Quick and the Dead (Indifferent) – It’s an okay western about people coming to a town in the middle of nowhere for a gunfighting competition. People get shot, morals are generally absent, and, ultimately, they shoot Leonardo DiCaprio. Gene Hackman is in it as yet another insufferable bastard on the frontier (Unforgiven anyone?).
Tank Girl (Indifferent) – It’s a post-apocalyptic world where water is scarce and everyone fights to get it from one giant corporation. Lori Petty plays the eponymous Tank Girl, and carries the fight to the water hoarding Malcolm McDowell. I can’t really say it’s great for me, but it’s not bad either. It’s campy, and I get to see Malcolm McDowel drain a guy of all of his water with a high-tech, collapsable bottle. It’s also my wife’s favorite movie.
Die Hard With a Vengeance (Good) – A piece to redeem the franchise, DHWaV came out swinging after a lackluster second entry (Die Hard 2, 1990). This time, Hans Gruber’s brother is out to steal a lot of money while also killing his brother’s murderer: John McClane. Featuring Samuel L. Jackson as a hapless (and constantly swearing) bystander caught up in Bruce Willis’s crazy life, this film is one of the two films in the franchise that I truly love.
The City of Lost Children (Indifferent) – This was a curious little title from France starring Ron Perlman. That should rank it much higher than it is, but to be honest I just don’t remember anything from it apart from its great trailer music and general weirdness. Perhaps I shall revisit it to place it in its proper category.
Congo (Indifferent) – Gorillas. Or was it apes? Something about a diamond and a laser too. I don’t care. This was a largely forgettable film without nearly enough primate fighting to catch my attention.
Batman Forever (Bad) – Batman fights Two Face and the Riddler in this lackluster abomination. Boooo! Joel Schumacher should be ashamed of himself. Pretty decent soundtrack though.
Pocohontas (Indifferent) – The greatly modified story of Pocohontas and John Smith. Another Disney children’s feature that manages to get history, in general, wrong. I suppose it was well animated.
Species (Indifferent) – A sci-fi film about a genetic hybrid between man and an alien with a whole lot of tentacles. It had a lot of promise (H.R. Giger designed the creature), but ultimately fell flat. Well, except for the part where they get Forrest Whittaker drunk. That was pretty funny.
Kids (Good) – Kids in the age of AIDS awareness get up to heinous trouble and give each other HIV. This film left a bad taste in my mouth. I suppose it was designed to be that way on purpose. The ending will hit you in the gut. This makes it objectively good because it left an impression, but… you’ll only ever need to watch it once. In my opinion, the song ‘Natural One’ by Folk Implosion is the best thing about the film (you don’t need the soundtrack or any of Folk Implosion’s other work).
Dangerous Minds (Indifferent) – Another case of a good teacher bringing around a bunch of wayward, at-risk students. It’s formulaic and soundtracked by Coolio. You could do worse. But, in the face of Lean On Me, this film just isn’t as good.
Mortal Kombat (Bad) – Don’t. Just don’t. Play the video game. I don’t think there really was a plot here save for putting together fight scenes with mostly bad actors. The soundtrack is amazing (still in my regular rotation). But seriously? Christopher Lambert as the Japanese god of Thunder? Nope. Not. Buying it.
Get Shorty (Good) – I’ll be honest, I don’t remember much of this one, though I remember laughing and having a good time watching it. It’s almost impossible to not enjoy a Delroy Lindo film. Solid cast. I ought to refresh my memory on this one too.
Powder (Indifferent) – Sappy, but all right, I suppose. An outcast kid with weird powers changes people’s lives. Or something.
Goldeneye (Indifferent) – Gonna take some heat for this… I don’t care about James Bond. Old Bond. This bond. Daniel Craig Bond. I just don’t care. Something about a Russian satellite in this one I think? Two hot girls, one good, one bad? Meh.
Heat (Bad) – A crime drama featuring a cat and mouse came between Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro. Given those two names, this should have been great. Two American film legends playing against one another. How does this go wrong? His name is Val Kilmer. Which should have been a win. I’m not sure why, but he has all of the performance ability of a wooden plank in this and I cannot fathom why. I can’t hate him though. His Doc Holiday is the best and it earns him credit for more or less any other less-than-stellar job.
Casino (Good) – Joe Pesci murders people who get in his way as he runs a crime empire from a casino in this overly long film. I rented it while I was working at Blockbuster Video and it was good, but wasn’t a huge deal for me.
Jumanji (Indifferent) – A board game comes to life, destroying the home of its owners and taking them on a magical adventure through a jungle dreamscape. I was a little old for this by the time it was released. Never grabbed me like it did some of my younger friends.
Grumpier Old Men (Good) – Older, grumpier, but not better. The same plot from Grumpy Old Men is born again but with more hilarious Burgess Meredith outtakes.
A Trip To Television – The X-Files
This series is about films and how they followed me through formative years, but we’re going to take a brief detour again. We did soundtracks last time, but this time we’ll take the small screen over the silver one. I could talk about all of the cool TV shows from the nineties, but I’m going to single out one. Because, at the end of the day, none of the others matter all that much for me. The biggest and best was the X-Files.
As noted in the Outbreak review, trust in the government was pretty low in the nineties. We no longer put it beneath most of our elected officials to do shady business, or to even actively work against its own people. This came from a lot of sources – Watergate and Vietnam being two of the most prominent catalysts in the decline of trust- and it colored a lot of media in the eighties and nineties. There was this weird undercurrent in the 90’s that focused on whether or not we had been visited by aliens in the 1940’s. It was about as close as UFOlogy came to being mainstream, and the X-Files just happened to catch the lightning.
I didn’t know it at the time, but the show drew not only a lot of tropes from Twin Peaks, but a lot of cast as well. Duchovny’s breakout had been on Twin Peaks where he played Denise, a transgendered undercover cop. Watching the show now (and having watched the original two seasons of Twin Peaks as an adult), I can see the show’s roots in almost every episode of the first twenty. I don’t think that the show would have been half as ambitious without Twin Peaks to show what was now possible in the medium.
A Change In Format
To my memory, most television shows were not in the habit of practicing strict continuity, favoring a new, complete story in every episode. Mostly I write it off to lazy writing. When you’re filming escapist television, it was easy to ignore continuity beyond the staple cast unless you were in drama pieces like say Dallas, Dynasty, or Hill Street Blues. Also, there was no twenty-four hour outlet for fans to call lackluster writing out. The internet wasn’t all-pervasive yet. You were more likely to complain to your friends on AIM or post to a forum than to actually get the ear of studio types. Even if you could get through to studio types, the idea that they could get valuable viewer data and feedback from the internet hadn’t really germinated yet.
Bottom line was that my types of shows didn’t get much in way of continuity. Sci-fi was for geeks and Saturday morning cartoons. How much continuity did you really want to invest in for low-end returns? Geeks were usually poor and kids were only targeted as an audience to sell merchandise from the shows they watched (which were more often than not twenty minute commercials for toys). There were exceptions on TV (Battlestar Galactica and Star Trek were two good examples), but typically only for those with incredibly rabid fan bases (Trekkies having earned their mixed reputations well earlier).
The X-Files was different. I largely missed the first season, only having picked up on it after Jamie, an almost lifelong friend, told me about it on one of our game nights. “It’s aliens and ghosts and monsters,” he said. “Like Scooby Doo, only no dog, and the stuff the main characters chase are real. Oh, and they’re feds!” So, I set the VCR to tape the next episode that came on and was hooked after that. I want to say my first episode was either the Erlenmeyer Flask or Little Green Men – it’s been so long I can’t be sure. With either episode, it was clear that I had missed previous content. But, it was still enjoyable. There were non-story arc episodes that weren’t forwarding the mythos too. Monster of the Week episodes were plentiful. It was easy to sit back and enjoy, even with gaps in the narrative.
By the time I got to college, I could start filling in some of the blanks. They released six episode VHS packs that covered not only the essential mythos episodes, but also creator favorites. It let me cut my teeth on the basics from the Pilot and Deep Throat episodes, while also getting first season classics like Fire and Ice (Ice still being in my top ten episodes). More VHS packs followed for the second season with some episodes left out. Completionism wasn’t quite in the budget for Fox at the time I guess. The die hards were recording broadcasts at home anyway. I know I was. I still have two copy paper boxes of recorded episodes.
A Lasting Legacy – Sort Of
The X-Files was my first tried and true fandom. Everything about it was as if it had been directly marketed to me, specifically. I had my timer set on the VCR for 9:00 PM, EST, every Friday night. Then, every Thursday night when the schedule shifted. I could tell you who all of the important characters were. From the original informant, Deep Throat, the Alien Bounty Hunter (when he morphed back to his default appearance), Rat Boy (you gotta be a fan to get that one), or any of the other weird recurring characters (Tooms comes to mind), I had my mental rolodex set to identify them all. Leastwise up to season six.
By that season, life had become too fast paced for me to really keep up and I sensed that somewhere in my rear view of the series, a shark had been jumped. They brought in a lot of guest writers. The episodes got a bit lazy. The set location changed from brooding Vancouver, British Columbia to bright and sunny Los Angeles, California when Duchovny got hitched to Tea Leoni. It declined in my estimation. Eventually, the fandom loosened its grip, but my love of those first wonderful five seasons stayed with me.
The show would continue on for three more seasons in the original run, nine total. By the time the show had come to a close, it had suffered several setbacks, up to and including the absence of both main characters from the cast. Mulder and Scully were replaced by Dogget and Rayes. The dynamics between David Duchovny and Gillian Andersen’s main roles were what had kept many watching for years, and I thought for sure the show would come to an ignoble end once Robert Patrick and Annabeth Gish stepped in. Yet, the juggernaut could not be stopped.
For a good ten years, the series ran. Could it have stopped? Maybe. I would have thought that the movie should have been enough to end it. With ratings like that, though, it must have felt to Fox like leaving money on the table.
The Top Five Episodes
In the name of brevity (and because top ten lists suck, per High Fidelity), I’ve taken the time to comb through my favorites and give you the highlights. It’s funny that few of them were mythos episodes. Most of them are Monster of the week deals. I was in it for the overall plot, but good goddamn if the one-offs weren’t some of the best work. The items are listed in chronological order, not by favor.
- Shadows (1993) – Lauren begins experiencing hauntings after two assailants try to abduct her at an ATM and are killed by a protective spirit. Mulder and Scully show up when the bodies are identified as wanted terror suspects. As they investigate the murders, Mulder shares his belief that Lauren is being haunted by the ghost of her former boss who was killed after he discovered one of his partners was involved with a known terrorist group. I’ve always loved ghosts, and this one had some surprisingly good special effects for a season one episode.
- Ice (1993) – Mulder and Scully are sent to Nome, Alaska to investigate why an entire team of amicable scientists murdered each other before sending out a final, cryptic video message. The culprit is a kind of ancient worm that was preserved in an ice core sample, then brought to the surface. The worms infest human hosts and trigger their fight response to lethal levels. This is a great cabin fever style episode. With nowhere to run and no backup able to arrive until a blizzard passes, the episode dials the tension up scene by scene until Mulder and Scully figure out a way to determine who is infected and who is not.
- Sleepless (1994) – A Vietnam Veteran from a squad with the highest number of confirmed kills in action appears to be murdering all of his old squad mates. All the victims however seem to show all of the secondary, but none of the primary, means of violent death, drawing the attention of Mulder and Scully. It is eventually learned that the killer was a part of a military experiment which eradicated his squad’s need to sleep. Mulder (correctly) theorizes that this experiment seems to have opened a latent psychic ability within the killer to project fatal illusions in the minds of other people. The concept of this requires more than a little magical thinking to grok, but it has been one of my favorites between the idea itself, and the portrayal of the psychic soldier by none other than Tony Todd.
- Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose (1995) – An aging insurance salesman leads an unsatisfying life because of his psychic ability to foretell how any person is going to die. He comes under the scrutiny of the X-Filed division when self-proclaimed psychics start to be murdered in his otherwise humdrum town. Using his abilities, he assist Mulder and Scully in tracking down the killer. This episode actually won an award. It’s one of the more heartfelt, yet comedic, episodes in the series. Peter Boyle plays the role of Clyde Bruckman as well. It’s amazing, and I think that this episode is probably my favorite out of all the ones I’ve seen.
- Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man (1996) – The Cigarette Smoking Man is arguably the primary foil of the entire series (barring the faceless aliens looking to exploit us). But, even he has a past. This episode goes through bits of collected evidence by the Lone Gunmen (a conspiracy watch group) that paint a picture of who he is and why he is what he is. It very much takes a ‘sympathy for the devil’ approach and nails it. After the episode is done, there’s some sympathy for him – but not nearly enough to wash the blood off his soul.
It’s time to wrap this up with a list of movies that I regret having missed or seem like obvious holes in my viewing history. Given how many films from this year that I actually saw, I am sort of shocked I missed any. Here’s what I’ve got for 1995:
Higher Learning – Hell of a cast here between Omar Epps, Lawrence Fishburne, Ice Cube, and Jennifer Connelly. Not surprising I missed this film. I wouldn’t have particularly sought this out on my own even if my folks would have let me watch it in 1995. I was too into escapism for the most part, with some noted exceptions. I’ve seen bits and pieces since it’s played on TV, but I have yet to see it from start to finish.
Village of the Damned – This is probably a bad film, but I remember wanting to see it based off of its creepy trailer. I reckon this has to be on streaming somewhere for free by now.
Clueless – I initially filed this under the dumb comedy category, though I am told by many that this was a mistake. At least this is what my wife tells me. So, I reckon it’ll get watched eventually.
Lord of Illusions – I’m told this is worth the time, though with leading role being played by Scott Bakula… I have my reservations. It’s based off of a Clive Barker story though, so here’s to hoping.
Clockers – This would assist in filling up my Spike Lee film gap while also netting me a great cast. It’s another Delroy Lindo film too! Harvey Keitel and John Turturro star as well.
The Doom Generation – This film has been recommended to me over and over again by friends who know me well. I don’t know what this says about me or my friends given that it sounds like it’s about a trio of accidental spree killers, but… I’ll give it a watch for a dark and twisty entry.
The American President – I like The West Wing, and this even has Martin Sheen in it too (though Michael Douglas is actually the President). I’ll take another White House drama I guess.
Balto – An animated film about a sled dog voiced by Kevin Bacon. Sounds like there’s worse ways to spend an afternoon.