Monday, January 25, 2010

Planet Of The Apes Tag

   The original version of the film The Planet of the Apes debuted in the summer of 1968 to rave reviews among my neighborhood pals. I was eight that year, and my playmates and I couldn't get enough of those funky, talking, anthropomorphic chimps. The ape village was cool, the story was exciting, and the apes were at once repellent and fascinating - perfect for little kids! And, of course, that film gave us the single coolest movie line of all time.
    For a while all things Planet were in vogue. I remember collecting Planet of the Apes trading cards and seeing other P.O.T.A. merchandise on the toy department shelves of our local Grant's department store. What I didn't remember until I was recently reminded by my childhood friend Elizabeth was that we had played neighborhood version of the venerable kid's game Tag based on that movie. She and I agree that this was most likely the creation of a kid name Richard Hicks who lived in the neighborhood for a few years. Obviously it would be a travesty to let such an important cultural phenomenon as this be lost to history, and since everyone who was witness to this is now well into middle age it seems appropriate that the details of this should be preserved somewhere - so here goes:

The Game

   Easily the most impressive aspect of P.O.T.A. for an eight year old was the dominance of the apes over the mute and docile humans. Early in the film we see a gorilla raiding party herding humans into an ambush, taken prisoner and delivered to large cages near the ape village to await whatever nefarious fate the apes had in store for them, and it was on this that Planet of the Apes tag was based.

I've included this highly technical schematic to help you better visualize the layout. Click to enlarge:

    We'd divide into two camps: the humans and the apes. The humans would remain behind in the sanctuary of Elizabeth's swing set while those damned, dirty apes would head around to the front yard to hide. The goal of the game was for the humans to circle the house and return safely to the swings while avoiding the apes who would spring from their hiding places and give chase. When caught the humans would be confined to some area of the yard designated as the cage. The humans would make continued circuits until all were caught and caged, at which point that round would be over. Then, if sufficiently enthusiastic, we'd trade roles with the erstwhile humans becoming apes and vice versa for the next round. Simple, yes, and incredibly fun no doubt.

Personal Observations about Planet Of The Apes:

- I didn't notice at the time, but the ape village is a near perfect recreation of The Flintstones town of Bedrock. Exteriors and interiors. Watch it again and tell me it's not!

- At one point the gorilla general is expounding upon the animalistic nature of the humans. Watch closely and you'll notice that the actor is basically doing the contemptible Mr Potter from It's A Wonderful Life. The gestures, the vocabulary, and the verbal cadence are all dead on Potter!

- Given his conservative street cred later in life, it was odd to see Charlton Heston starring in what is basically an anti-war, anti-religion film and his character spending a large amount of his screen time bemoaning mankind's suckiness.

- I read on Wikipedia that the movie deviated significantly from the novel, especially in that the movie featured a primitive ape culture and the novel an advanced society. This was to save money on sets. That explains away a lot of contradictions. For example, the apes lived in what was basically a stone age village yet had modern rifles, writing, and scientists. Those don't add up. And speaking of not adding up, why did Taylor never clue to the fact that this planet had the same species and atmosphere as earth and that that apes were speaking (and writing) English? Dude, it's Earth!

- The character of Nova was just smokin' hot and I'll fight the man what says it ain't so! Even as an eight year old I was keenly aware of this fact.

On Reconnecting With Old Friends

    With the advent of the internet came the ability to connect as never before with old friends. And long before social networking sites like Facebook came into existence I was busy pounding the keys searching for college buddies and long lost childhood friends alike. I've had a lot of failure but some happy successes as well. One such success was finding my friend Elizabeth on Facebook last spring. I moved to our old neighborhood, "The Circle", on Daybrook Drive/Woodacres Circle in Kannapolis, North Carolina in February of 1967, and our backyards abutted one another. Hop over the split rail fence surrounding my house and you'd land in Elizabeth's sandbox. Our streets formed a large oval (not a circle, actually) with only one inlet, so it was a very safe place for kids to play and ride bikes.

View Larger Map

Since Elizabeth's yard fell in the geographic center of the circle it was often the natural meeting point for all of us. Many idyllic afternoons were spent playing in her yard (and around the circle in general).*
     Since finding her on the net, I've thoroughly enjoyed catching up on our lives and remembering old times. Had this not happened I'd have never remembered Planet of the Apes tag!
    The point is this: the internet makes possible reconnections that in the past would in all probability have remained lost. I long ago moved away from North Carolina and the connections that exist there. So long ago, in fact, that the memories seem gauzy and dreamlike to me now. What a thrill to talk to someone who was there. And there's something about this phase of my life that's causing me to seek out these connections. To sort of try to put things in context. And, too, to simply enjoy the memories.
     I hope all readers might reconnect to their pasts as well.
*My first intact memory of Elizabeth came when she would have been about five years old and I seven. I rounded a corner to find she and my next door neighbor Sandra having a tea party. (the actual version. they weren't protesting Obama's high taxes) As soon as they became aware of my presence I was chased away with venom. Smelly, yucky boys weren't invited I discovered!

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