In the reader comments of last week’s puzzled musings about Grease 2, AT regular Jim Kosmicki brought up the “HBO movie” thing. Your terminology may differ, but you’re probably experienced the phenomenon — certain films whose ubiquity on cable TV have elevated them to sentimental favorite status. The individual movies were typically backbencher material, visual wallpaper used as filler between the stuff folks actually subscribed to the service to see.
While most saw a theatrical release, cable was where they had their moments of maximum public exposure. This was especially true during that transitional period before the monolithic hegemony of the cineplex and the VHS rental craze.
Jim suspected I’d written about the subject before, but I’m pretty certain that isn’t the case. If I had, I would have been forced to confess my shameful relationship with Tank…and that’s not something I’d surrender easily.
Released in 1984, Tank was a late (and lesser) entry in the “vehicular protest against redneck legal tyranny” subgenre and its plot was mulligan stew of elements poached from I Was a Fugitive from a Chain Gang, Smokey & The Bandit, and Battle of the Bulge.
An tough-but-honorable Army lifer (James “Rockford” Garner) protects a reluctant prostitute from some corrupt hick lawmen (James “Babe” Cromwell and G.D. “North Dallas Forty” Spradlin). Hick lawmen retaliate by getting lifer’s teen son (C. Thomas “Soul Man” Howell) busted on a trumped-up drug charge and sent to a brutal work farm. Lawmen ask for bribe. Lifer gets swindled. Lifer takes his Sherman tank to free his son, help the hooker, and deliver some armored payback on those who wronged him and his family. A mad, yet expectedly slow-moving pursuit unfolds as the lifer and his crew attempt to beat treads to the state line and a predictable yet still mindboggling conclusion.
In other words, it’s The Legend of Billie Jean as reimagined by the editors of Soldier of Fortune magazine, cinematically manifested as the type of forgettable drek used as the opener for a drive-in double feature.
I didn’t really care for Tank, but watch it I did. Forty-four times, to be exact.
In the beginning I watched it because there was there was nothing else on and it was nigh inescapable, but the act sooned gained a pathological momentum of its own. After all, when you’ve seen it twenty-two times, why not make the total twenty-three…or thirty-one…or, well, forty-four? Pal Dave once summed up that kind of contra-logical affection as “being a fan of being a fan of something,” and that perfectly sums up my bout of Tank-related derangement.
I wasn’t doing it for entertainment’s sake, I was doing it so I could truthfully claim to be a person who spend three days of his life watching a piece of aesthetically empty celluloid trash. This point was eventually driven home by my old man, who made an exception from his normally “hands off” (i.e. “mental scars only”) approach to child-rearing to point out the colossal waste of time and brain cells I’d subjected myself to with nothing to show for it in return.
Granted, it’s not like a fourteen year old — no matter how bright — is going to cure cancer in his or her spare time, but my father’s speech did lay the foundation for the epicurean-existentialist awareness of mortality which has steered my behavior ever since. We’re given a finite number of hours on this earth. You don’t have to be productive, but you should at least enjoy yourself while you can.
Consuming crap you don’t really care about out of some sense of obligation or ironic cred doesn’t constitute enjoyment.