Saturday, April 14, 2007

Before Cormac McCarthy gave Oprah her guided tour of the Post-Apocalypse

Upon the news of the death of Kurt Vonnegut this week, Simon Sellars, editor and publisher of the increasingly amazing Ballardian, reminded me Thursday of a bit of trivia I had forgotten. That the late author made a brief appearance, as himself, in the most un-literary 1986 Rodney Dangerfield film Back to School.

Causing me to wonder whether there have been other similar cameos by icons of fantastic literature in lowbrow pop culture that I may have expunged from my memory.

William Gibson's lanky wandering through the frame of Bruce Wagner's Wild Palms, schmoozing with Jim Belushi and Kim Cattrall.

Philip K. Dick's 1971 guest shot in Bewitched as Darrin Stephens' paranoid new boss at ad agency McMann and Tate.

The appearance of J.G. Ballard in Airport 1973, as First Class passenger Dr. Maitland, the enigmatic psychoanalyst who diagnoses the condition of pilot Charlton Heston, a grounded astronaut who endeavors to pierce the stratosphere in a bulky 747 bearing the flag of an imaginary American airline.

Samuel R. Delany's appearance as Radagast the outré Ishtari in the special extended Nevèrÿon DVD edition of Lord of the Rings: Return of the King.

And my personal favorite, to be found only on the dozen or so remaining used VHS tapes circulating among strip mall used book exchanges:

The Love Boat: Lost Episodes (Volume 3). ... "Radioactive Isaac/Kleinschmidt/Beyond Patagonia."

The episode starts out as a typical variation of the formula. Following the eternally lounge Paul Williams theme, we meet the week's cast as they board. Barbara Billingsley plays a melancholy divorcee. Her kids have bought her a week on the boat; they didn't mention they bought one for Dad as well, played by Tom Bosley. Stella Stevens is Honey Spitz, a hard-partying Vegas girl searching for rescue from imminent spinsterhood. She will spend much of her time conferring with Tony Randall as Emmett Graham, a Capote-esque playwright who finds the muse in her story, and engineers a competition for her affections among Dick Shawn as a comical advertising executive, McLean Stevenson as a shy, sarcastic Midwestern arms dealer, and Marjoe Gortner as an aging rock star. And an enfeebled Jorge Luis Borges, as himself.

Four minutes in, Gopher leads the blind Borges up the plank in his incongruous vintage wool suit, hand-tailored by an Anglo-Italian master haberdasher in the Distrito Almirante Brown.

"So, Mr. Borges," says Gopher, "are you traveling alone?"

Borges' lazy, whitened eyes stare through the chipper Iowan, reimagining the universe in the nautical vignette cresting the Purser's cap.

"Can you not see the massing armies of the Heresiarchs?" queries the author.

"Uh, gee, fella, we have a lady who brought her Shih Tzu, but I don't think that's quite enough to make it an Ark. But you should talk about that with Dr. Bricker. Maybe he can give you something to help you take a nap."

As the episode proceeds, we learn that Borges and Mrs. Cleaver were married once, briefly, in the years between 1969 and 1970, adding complication to her efforts to explore a reconciliation with Mr. Cunningham. In the karaoke lounge, as Stella Stevens soothes the passengers with an otherworldly rendition of "Wichita Lineman," the episode takes a dark turn. The camera closes in on Borges' Magus eyes. The boom of nearby naval artillery rattles the ship, causing a panic. On the bridge, Captain Stubing radios out a Mayday when a squadron of Delta-wing fighters bearing strange insignia buzzes the Lido Deck. Romantic interludes are suspended as a dashing boarding party scours the ship, rounding up Robin Leach (as himself) and a handful of forgotten English character actors.

In the final scene, Isaac is in his cabin, drinking absinthe with Dr. Bricker and reading excerpts from a musty book Borges left in his cabin. The Anglo-American Cyclopaedia, Thirteenth Edition (Volume XLVI: Uqbar-United States).

"The Hrönir of the perpetually broadcast American television reruns are infinite in power and proliferation," reads Isaac, "enabling those who can discover them in plain sight to recast the subtext and reinvent the world."

"What the heck's a Hrönir?" asks Dr. Bricker.

-- From "Prisoners of Uqbaristan," Strange Horizons, October 2004.


Jonathan said...

Don't forget Pynchon on the Simpsons.

St. Anthony said...

I treasure William S. Burroughs' various celluloid appearances, usually playing variations of himself ... junkie priest in Drugstore Cowboy, old gun nut in Twister.
Borges in 'The Love Boat'? How marvellous would that have been?