“Drama is life with the dull bits cut out.” — Alfred Hitchcock
The next time you see Star Wars, watch for the scene when a Death Star stormtrooper falls into a chasm before Luke and Leia swing across it. That stormtrooper’s scream is more than 50 years old — and a time-honored in-joke among Hollywood sound designers.
The “Wilhelm scream” was originally recorded for the feature Distant Drums in 1951. From there it went into the studio’s sound effects library, where it was rediscovered in 1977 by Star Wars sound editor Ben Burtt. Burtt adopted it as his personal signature, and he enlisted a group of like-minded Hollywood sound-effects people to keep it alive.
You can hear the scream in Raiders of the Lost Ark, Poltergeist, Beauty and the Beast, Reservoir Dogs, Titanic, Spider-Man … more than 100 features, including this summer’s Revenge of the Sith.
It’s called the “Wilhelm scream” because that’s the name of the original screamer, a man who’s dragged underwater by an alligator in Distant Drums. Remember that when Buzz Lightyear is knocked out of the bedroom window in Toy Story — it’s the same sound.
“I love Mickey Mouse more than any woman I’ve ever known.” — Walt Disney
The biggest trouble with diabolical schemes is the quality control.
Case in point: Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels once actually put together his own big band, plotting to use “degenerate” swing music to hypnotize decadent Americans.
About halfway through each song, when he had the audience’s attention, “Charlie” (Karl Schwendler) would leave off singing and launch into a Nazi tirade about war, privation, death, pain, and the master race. Unfortunately, Schwendler’s snarling is not on a par with his bandleading, so he comes off sounding like Colonel Klink in fourth grade:
Thanks for the memories/It gives us strength to fight/For freedom and for right/It might give you a headache, England/That the Germans know how to fight/And hurt you so much …
It’s said that the act picked up its own following in Germany after the war. The band is actually not bad, but whoever wrote the propaganda probably raised American morale.
“Everyone wants to be Cary Grant. Even I want to be Cary Grant.” — Cary Grant
From press reviews of the Cherry Sisters, “the world’s worst act,” a vaudeville quintet who toured the U.S. and Canada in the 1890s:
- “Four Freaks From Iowa”
- “It was awful.”
- “It is sincerely hoped that nothing like them will ever be seen again.”
- “Such unlimited gall as was exhibited last night at Greene’s Opera House is past the understanding of ordinary mortals.”
- “Their long skinny arms, equipped with talons at the extremities, swung mechanically, and anon waved frantically at the suffering audience. The mouths of their rancid features opened like caverns, and sounds like the wailing of damned souls issued therefrom.”
- “If some indefinable act of modesty could not have warned them that they were acting the parts of monkeys, it does seem like the overshoes thrown at them would have conveyed the idea in a more substantial manner.”
- “A locksmith with a strong, rasping file could earn ready wages taking the kinks out of Lizzie’s voice.”
- “Unutterably rank.”
- “Probably respected at home and ought to have stayed there.”
- “It was the most insipid, stale, weary, tiresome, contemptible two hours work we have ever seen on the stage. Every man who laughed or jeered or hooted or howled at them reviled himself.”
The sisters toured for seven years, though, and probably saved their impresario from bankruptcy, so perhaps they had the last laugh.
“Rock ‘n’ roll is phony and false, and sung, written, and played for the most part by cretinous goons.” — Frank Sinatra, 1957
Doctor Macro has high-quality images of classic films and their stars, mostly from the 1940s and earlier. This one is a publicity still of Hedy Lamarr, the Austrian-born star of Cecil B. DeMille’s Samson and Delilah.
Lamarr is an object lesson in the price of beauty. She had quite a good technical education, and actually patented a device that made radio-guided torpedoes harder to detect. But the world saw only her face: She had to drug her obsessive husband to escape to London, and then Hollywood saddled her with demeaning epithets like “the most beautiful girl in films” and “the Laurence Olivier of orgasm.” When she tried to join the National Inventors Council, she was told she could better help the war effort by selling war bonds.
In the end she went through five more husbands before she passed away in 2000; if she was bitter at her fame, it was certainly understandable. “Any girl can be glamorous,” she once said. “All you have to do is stand still and look stupid.”
Films with the most prolific use of the word fuck:
- Tigerland (527)
- Nil By Mouth (470)
- Casino (422)
- South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut (399)
- Martin Lawrence Live: Runteldat (347)
- Another Day in Paradise (327)
- Summer of Sam (326)
- Twin Town (320)
- Ken Loach’s Sweet Sixteen (313)
- Narc (298)
The winner, Joel Schumacher’s 2000 infantry-training drama Tigerland, packs 527 fucks into 100 minutes, for a fuck-per-minute ratio of 5.27, or one fuck every 12 seconds. (“Damn it, Cantwell! Shit, man. Shit! Fuck, I don’t even know you, man! You sittin’ there telling your fucking stories. You make me want to fuckin’ cry! What’s that about?”) Schumacher got a lump of coal that Christmas.