Tuesday, July 9, 2013

You Don't Pull the Mask Off the Old Lone Ranger

I remember the day I decided I was going to start a blog.

I booked a flight to Des Moines, IA to meet the Assistant Vice President of Blog Authorizations (North America). After rigorous testing, I was granted a provisional license to blog. I filled out the appropriate IBO-17W form (in triplicate!) and launched I'm So Glad My Suffering Amuses You. After 6 months, I can submit a BSP-52C application for permanent approval to maintain this blog assuming I continue to meet the high standards of the North American and European Union Blog Maintenance Paradigm.

Yeah, that's bull shit! I logged on to Blogger, created a blog and started posting stuff.

Dave-El here and thanks for dropping by. Ah, you gotta love the Internet. There is no authority that says I cannot create or have a blog. There are no standards. Any damn person can have one.

And as there are no standards on if I can have a blog, there are no standards on what I can say. I can speak of things of which have little to no experience with if I want to.

On that note, let's waste some internet space on The Lone Ranger. Which I did not see. But I will now talk about. Because I can do that.

Just watch me.

So The Lone Ranger, starring some guy as the Lone Ranger (Arm & Hammer? Like the baking soda?) and Johnny Depp as Tonto, arrived in theaters over the past week with a resounding thud. And what is surprising to me is that anyone was surprised by this.

There are certain icons of culture that withstand the wages of time. Sherlock Holmes is a very good example of a character more than a century old but can still reach for relevancy through reinvention. Consider how long the character was consigned to the caricature with the pipe and the deer stalker cap. Yet the recent movies from Guy Ritchie starring Robert Downey Jr have made classic Sherlock into an action here. From Steven Moffatt and Mark Gattis, we have received another masterstroke interpretation of the Holmes myth. The master detective who could process so much information and arrive at amazing deductions becomes even more astounding when planted in the 21st century in a culture that is just flooding with information but only he can see the truth in all the clatter.

But other characters don't lend themselves that readily to modern reinterpretation.  Some characters  that are part of a simpler time may be too connected to that time to make the transition. For example, the Lone Ranger.

In 1933, Westerns were big business for the movies as well as the radio industry. Lots of Westerns dotted the schedules of the movie studios and the radio networks so it really helped to have an angle that would set a project above all the other Westerns. In the case of the Lone Ranger radio program that debuted in 1933, the hook was the mask. 

The cowboy avenger with a secret identity, the Lone Ranger was a Western with shades of the Shadow or Zorro that were especially appealing to the children who were the target audience for the program. But adults loved it too and the Lone Ranger radio show became a major, long running success. 

Eventually the 1950's brought the Lone Ranger and Tonto to television with Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels who would become the indelible imprint in our minds of who the masked man and his trusty Indian companion were supposed to be. 
Here are some of the cultural touch points that have come from the Lone Ranger:
  • The William Tell Overture is now and forever will be the Lone Ranger theme.
  • Silver bullets
  • Kemosabe
  • Hi-Yo, Silver! Away!
  • Who was that masked man?
These elements and more continue to be interwoven with so much of America's pop culture memory. The Lone Ranger dropped seeds into our culture that continue to sprout and grow longer after the source of those seeds have faded into irrelevancy. And sadly, into irrelevancy the Lone Ranger has fallen. 

After the pinnacle of the Lone Ranger's popularity had been reached in radio and television as well as comic books, the reach of the Masked Man's cultural grasp began to recede.The turbulent years of the 1960's and the jaded mood of the 1970's were not conducive to the Lone Ranger's simple appeal.

Perhaps we had seen one too many gritty and sweaty Sergio Leone westerns to think the American West can be anything like it was in the heyday of the Lone Ranger with it's simple black and white distinctions of morality and fairness. Yet to move the Lone Ranger out of that simple interpretation into a grittier Western tableau is to unravel what the Lone Ranger stands for. The Lone Ranger of radio and TV had a strong moral code and was an excellent role model for children.  That's a good thing. But that guy can't be the center of a big, overstuffed, overproduced epic of death and destruction for the summer popcorn movie set. For when that happens, the Lone Ranger is not the Lone Ranger anymore; he's just some weirdo in a mask.

No, I did not go to see The Lone Ranger so I will endeavor to refrain from picking apart the details of a movie I have not seen. But I can speak to my instincts when I saw the first trailer for this. 

My first thought was, "They're trying this AGAIN?"

1981: The Legend of the Lone Ranger was beset with bad publicity over a law suit prohibiting Clayton Moore from wearing his Lone Ranger mask at public events. The performance by Klinton Spilsbury as the Ranger was so bad, Stacy Keach overdubbed his dialogue. The film was a major commercial failure. Universal Studios was on the hook for this one. 

2003: The WB decided to "Smallville" the legend of the Ranger by looking at the formative years before donning the mask. The Lone Ranger aired as TV movie pilot to tepid ratings and mixed reviews so no series was ordered. Warner Brothers takes it on the chin with this one.

2013: The Lone Ranger arrives in theaters and this time, it's Disney that's taking the big loss (and only a year after losing a ton of moolah on John Carter.) So what did I see in the trailers that led me to think this was one was heading down into disaster?

Too much. Too much exploding and jumping, like the worlds most generic action movie clip.

Too little. Too little to care about who the heck these people are with all the exploding and jumping.

Too bland. The movie is called The Lone Ranger but Armie Hammer as the titular hero of the picture is almost a bystander in his own movie. For all I know, Armie sparkles like the sun in the actual movie (although from all the reviews I've read, probably not).

Too weird. Four words: Dead. Bird. On. Head. Followed by three more: What. The. Hell. Johnny Depp may have taken a lot of heat for the audacity of being born Caucasian when cast as one of the most famous Native American icons in our culture but the thing he most needs to be taken to task for is just being too damn weird. I love Johnny Depp. I could watch Edward Scissorhands or Ed Wood over and over. But Depp has driven his Jack Sparrow money train over a cliff with this role. "How much crap can I get over the Disney people this time?" seems to be his mantra. Again, I haven't seen the movie itself. Maybe someone who did can tell me, "All that shit comes together and you realize that Johnny Depp is a fuckin' genius." Maybe so but my impressions going into this was "stay away!"

So once again, movie people...studio heads, producers, directors, actors...have decided that this is the one, the perfect chance to make The Lone Ranger a successful movie franchise.  Once again, people who should be wiser think they know what makes the Lone Ranger tick and how to make him hot again, relevant again, a hero again to children and children at heart. And once again, this misguided people have failed to heal the lesson that Jim Croce expressed so well: You don't pull the mask off the old Lone Ranger.

It took a long time for various creators to figure out that Sherlock Holmes can be more than just a hat and a pipe.  Maybe someone someday will figure out the secret code, the special amalgam of script, director, star and vision that will make the Lone Ranger ride high again. Maybe someone should look at the current comics, perhaps.

Whatever the secret code is, I'm pretty damned sure it will NOT involve a dead bird attached to Tonto's head.

 A couple more graphics relating to the Lone Ranger.

  1. You can't go wrong with cute cats!

     2.   And you can't miss with a classic Far Side by Gary Larson.


Dave-El can also be found on Twitter at https://twitter.com/DayWayLo where occasionally I WILL spit in the wind, I WILL tug on Superman's cape AND pull the Lone Ranger's mask but I will never NEVER mess with Jim! 

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