From The Side of the Road… examining movie tag lines

Before a new movie rolls out, motion picture studios all have the challenging task of boiling down each release into a pithy, one sentence tagline for the movie poster and other advertising. The idea is to both summarize the concept of the movie and to pique the interest of potential ticket-buyers. Some of these taglines are more successful than others.

These are a few that could have used more work:

The Mike Nichols film, The Day of the Dolphin came with this somewhat cumbersome and plot-spoiling tagline: “Unwittingly, he trained a dolphin to kill the President of the United States.”

Then there was the horror film Halloween: H2O starring Jamie Lee Curtis: “This summer, terror won’t be taking a vacation” (Is that something terror usually does?).

Minimalism in this field is generally a good thing, but this tagline for the 1974 disaster film, Earthquake (with Charlton Heston and Ava Gardner), could have used some fleshing out. They decided to go with: “An Event.”

What about some of our bluegrass-related movies, the ones that helped generate increased interest in our music, at least temporarily?

The Coen Brothers’ Oh Brother, Where Art Thou had two taglines that weren’t bad:

“Sometimes, you have to lose your way to get back home,” and, “They have a plan, but not a clue.”

It turns out the warning, “Paddle faster . . . I hear banjos,” which you may have seen on a T-shirt at some point, is a variation of one of several taglines for the movie Deliverance. It was one of the better ones, it turns out, joined by some other entries, like “Where does the camping trip end…and the nightmare begin?” and the weak, “This is the weekend they didn’t play golf.”

A movie which had less impact on interest in bluegrass music, but which featured appearances by musicians we know well, like Rob Ickes, Bill Bryson, and Marty Stuart, was Steven Seagal’s Fire Down Below, which used this longish two-sentence one: “Beneath a land of wealth and beauty hides a secret that could kill millions. Undercover has never run so deep.” This isn’t bad, though the “land of wealth” they’re referring to is a poor community in Appalachia simply referred to as “Appalachia.”

With no offense to Steven Seagal intended, I’m not sure any tagline could have saved this movie. That’s just my opinion, of course, and if you like the concept of a badass EPA agent beating up a lot of country stars like Ed Bruce and Mark Collie all at once in a mission to punish polluters in “Appalachia,” this might be your favorite movie. Seagal travels in a vintage pickup, carrying only a guitar and about four knee-length leather jackets with him (like most EPA agents), doing battle with the chief polluter (Kris Kristofferson) and his henchmen. It’s worth it for the dance scene, though, in which Ed Dye passes out, Seagal jams with the various pickers we recognize, and all the bad guys look irritated. The band is excellent. In fact, maybe that should have been the tagline: “It’s worth it for the dance scene; the band is excellent!”

I digress here, but I recently discovered a movie which makes Fire Down Below look like Dr. Zhivago, and it too involves martial arts stars, but with a Christmas theme. It’s called Santa’s Summer House. The concept was to set a Christmas movie in Hawaii, casting ’90s B-movie martial arts/action actors. Its tag line was “Even the toughest action stars in the world … have a soft spot in their hearts for Christmas!”

Since, unlike Steven Seagal, they didn’t employee a single bluegrass musician (surely Christmas Time’s a-Comin’ could have been worked in somewhere, with a dobro for the Hawaii tie-in), I’d skip this one, unless you want to treat yourself to the warm and fuzzy feelings that can only come from watching B movie martial arts stars on a path to self discovery with the help of a vacationing Santa Claus. Spoiler alert: Mrs. Claus bakes cookies (she’s played by Cynthia Rothrock, who holds seven different black belts, none of which is in cookie-baking). There’s also the longest croquet scene in the history of the world. You’re welcome.

Where was all this going, you’d be justified in asking? Well, before I got sidetracked, I was planning to propose some movie-style taglines for some of our favorite bluegrass songs, like Matterhorn, for example: “Four men, an impossible mission, and rations they’ll never get back.”

Come back next week for more.