Welcome back to AVQ&A, where we throw out a question for discussion among the staff and readers. Consider this a prompt to compare notes on your interface with pop culture, to reveal your embarrassing tastes and experiences, and to ponder how our diverse lives all led us to convene here together. Got a question you’d like us and the readers to answer? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This one’s from reader Billy Dods:
Every movie fan is supposed to want to own Rosebud, the sled from Citizen Kane. However, if I could have one prop from a movie, it would be the Mentaculus from the Coen brothers’ A Serious Man, an object of mystery and wonder. If you could own one movie prop what would it be and why?
The prop I would most like to own is one I actually considered buying: Royal Tenenbaum’s tombstone. I saw an early screening of The Royal Tenenbaums back in late 2001, having been madly in love with Rushmore. For some reason, ABC/Disney started auctioning props from the movie on eBay before it was even in wide release (and before more people could fall in love with it), and I bid on (and won!) one of Richie Tenenbaum’s tennis trophies, a possession I still prize today. I think it cost me $80 or so. But I had my eye on Royal Tenenbaum’s actual tombstone, which was also up for auction. If memory serves, the eBay listing said two were created, and that they would actually be surprisingly inexpensive to ship, because they were made out of styrofoam, not marble. But as the price climbed and climbed, I took myself out of the running. I think it ended up going for $1,100, which was two and a half months’ rent at that point. Would I plunk down the $1,100 on it today? Why, are you selling it?
I’d pick Navin Johnson’s prized thermos from The Jerk, the one with the stripes and the built-in cup. I don’t need anything else. That’s all I need: The striped vinyl thermos—and this ashtray. Just the thermos, the ashtray, and this paddle game. That’s really all I need: The thermos, the ashtray, the paddle game—and this remote control. The thermos, the ashtray, the paddle game, and the remote control, and that’s all I need. And these matches. The thermos, the ashtray, and these matches, and the remote control, and the paddle ball—and this lamp. Thermos, the ashtray, this paddle game, and the remote control, and the lamp, and that’s all I need. And that’s all I need, too. I don’t need one other thing, not one—I need this chair. The paddle game and the chair, and the remote control, and the matches for sure. And the thermos.
It seems the things I covet most are always related to the same film—Harold And Maude. My white whale of record-collecting is the film’s soundtrack, which features only the lovely Cat Stevens, and if I could have any movie prop, it would be Harold’s car. I often find myself daydreaming about how I would customize a car to my liking and look to Harold with admiration. After receiving a Jaguar from his snooty mother, the mischievous Harold reworks it into a sort of miniature hearse, and it’s a clean and unique-looking vehicle. Sadly, the car was destroyed at the end of the film, as it’s sent over a cliff, and a replica was never made. But it’s been said that BMW’s M Coupe was inspired by the very scene in which Harold uses a blowtorch to turn his mother’s gift into something more his style. And, I mean, I would settle for a BMW… if I could get some gray tweed and black leather interior.
What’s the one object that anyone who sees will instantly covet? The Chachapoyan Fertility Idol, which anchors the greatest opening sequence in movie history, the beginning of Raiders Of The Lost Ark. The sequence in the jungle temple is the perfect introduction to our hero, our villain, and what they’re both fighting for, but also serves as a microcosm of the movie as a whole—the dumb show that would precede a play in Shakespeare’s time. Indiana Jones risks life and limb, repeatedly, and by being braver, shrewder, and tougher than anyone, he gets the prize, only to lose it immediately and barely escape with his life. It’s a formula so rock-solid that the film simply repeats it four or five times then rolls credits, and yet each time around the merry-go-round is more thrilling than the last. But that opening, which is simply one iconic moment after another, centers on that most coveted of objects, the golden idol. Who wouldn’t want that gleaming statue, dramatically lit, at the far side of your breakfast nook, just beckoning houseguests to brave pits, spikes, and gigantic rolling boulders for a taste of eternal glory?
Strangely enough, the first things that popped into my head were cassette tapes. I wouldn’t mind getting my hands on a real Peter Quill “Awesome Mix,” but the cassette I’m yearning for most is Djay’s demo tape from Hustle & Flow. The Craig Brewer drama is one of my favorite movie musicals ever—and make no mistake, it is a musical—and I would love to own a little piece of it. I memorized all of Djay’s songs when that movie first came out (I do a pretty mean “Whoop That Trick” at karaoke), and it would be very cool to hear them on grainy cassette audio, the way the characters hear them in the film. While I doubt that the actual prop cassettes had Djay’s music on them, I’m choosing to believe they do, because that would be some awesome attention to detail. (Side note: For last week’s autograph question, I could have mentioned my DVD copy of Hustle & Flow, which I got signed by Terrence Howard after seeing him in Cat On A Hot Tin Roof on Broadway. I really love that movie.)
My favorite movie is and probably always will be Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan, but I think I’d rather go in a different direction than selecting something from a film franchise that’s been merchandised within an inch of its life. The thing is, there’s just so many props I’d like to own, so I’m just going to go with something sentimental: a golden ticket from Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory. Apparently, there are still some floating around out there, most of which are either in museums or in the hands of collectors, and since one sold for something like $20,ooo at auction a few years ago, it’s clear I won’t be owning one any time soon. Still, that’s something you could easily mount, frame, and put on the wall, and you wouldn’t have to explain its origins to everyone who saw it. (I would, however, almost certainly break into song every time I walked past it.)
My favorite movie is Breakfast At Tiffany’s, which is oddly remembered as a Manic Pixie Dream Girl rom-com when it’s actually a pretty heartbreaking examination of isolation and vulnerability. There are tons of iconic props to covet, including Holly’s pearls, her cigarette holder, and her hilarious sleep mask. But the one that best encapsulates what I love about the film is the Cracker Jack ring Holly and Paul have engraved at Tiffany’s. The film has a lot to say about identities—the ones we’re born with and the ones we self-consciously adopt throughout our lives. Holly tries to escape her troubled past by treating life like one big irrelevant party and esteeming wealth over human connection. The ring is a reminder that something need not be expensive to be valuable. On its surface, the ring is just a charming token in a charming film. I would argue, however, that both have far greater depths.
This one is kind of a cheat, but it counts thanks to the 1996 movie: I would love to own one of the Crow T. Robot puppets used over the course of Mystery Science Theater 3000’s 11-year run. That’s not meant to cause any offense to Tom Servo fans out there, but Crow, with his mixture of naive innocence and withering sarcasm, was always my Bot of choice. I’m not quite enough of an MST3K superfan to know where any of the original Crows (first constructed by series creator Joel Hodgson out of Tupperware and sports equipment) have gotten to, or even if any are still intact. And it might be kind of creepy and sad to see Crow lifeless, without Bill Corbett or Trace Beaulieu to give him life. But it’d be worth it to have a constant reminder of all the fun times that plucky little robot has given me (and to have the ultimate in nerd conversation pieces).
The prop I want is absurdly impractical, since it’s enormous and my apartment is a cluttered little hovel—but I want it anyway. That lonely red phone box from Local Hero is one of the most evocative images in movie history for me, as it’s from my favorite film. When Peter Riegert’s befuddled junior oil exec falls under the spell of the tiny Scottish fishing village of Ferness, it’s his unreliable lifeline back to Texas, where he gives unnecessary updates to half-listening work acquaintances while plugging innumerable coins into the phone’s incessantly beeping slot. Later, he rallies the local pub for pockets full of change so he can drunkenly attempt to describe the wonder of the northern lights to his astronomy-obsessed boss Burt Lancaster. (“It’s red all over! It just went red all over!”) And when his mission (to buy the entire village for Knox Oil And Gas to despoil with a pipeline) falls apart in the film’s ambivalently haunting ending and he’s sent back to his sterile Houston bachelor pad, Riegert calls Ferness, only for the film to close on the sight of the solitary, empty box at dusk, ringing unheard. I hate talking on the phone in general, but I can see myself reaching out from my own phone box—even if I have to take a cell phone in there. (And if this season of Doctor Who doesn’t have Local Hero costar Peter Capaldi’s blue box make reference to this red one, I shall be very disappointed indeed.)
It’s weird—I haven’t seen the movie in years, and it’s not even my favorite David Cronenberg film, but the first thing I thought of when I read this question was “the typewriter from Naked Lunch.” The plot is too complicated to get into here—Cronenberg takes William S. Burroughs’ clusterfuck of a book (and I mean that in the best way) and shapes it into a narrative about addiction, art, and the inability of both to allow us to escape the past, plus there are a lot of really awesome monsters and freaky anal sex metaphors. It’s great stuff. But it’s not really stuff that I necessarily have the strongest emotional connection to; I love the film, but that love stems mostly from my amazement that Cronenberg was able to wring such a coherent, and oddly moving, story out of Burroughs’ work. But the typewriter is really cool. Over the course of the film, it transforms from a creepy, old-fashioned machine into a living, giant bug, and serves as an affecting symbol of the cost and pleasure of creating art. Also, it would totally freak people out if they saw it in my living room.
I’m a simple man: I’ll take anything from any Star Wars—including the prequels, which apparently I love more than the average pop culture writer and/or Internet nerd (the main stumbling block there wouldn’t be my lack of love for them, but the lack of props in general, since so much of those movies are CG). I’m not picky about what, either: Sure, I’d love the on-set version of a Gonk, or Mace Windu’s lightsaber (even understanding the blade wouldn’t be purple, or exist at all), but I’d settle for Yoda’s stew bowl, some battle-droid detritus, or even a vial of the “Tatooine” sand that Anakin so utterly despises. Whatever I’m asking for, it’s probably best that I not get it, lest it spiral into a Star Wars prop collection habit, the way I’ve slowly gone from a handful of Star Wars action figures of my very favorite characters to 30 or 40 of them overtaking my toy shelf.
Few things in this world bring me as much joy and pleasure as Joel Schumacher’s Batman movies, Batman Forever and Batman & Robin. From their pop-fueled soundtracks and cartoon scores to their Lite-Brite set design and over-the-top acting, the movies are essentially two 90-plus-minute toy commercials, so there are quite a few props to choose from. The obvious choice is a Batsuit with bat nipples, but as great of a conversation starter as that would be, I think I’d draw the eccentricity line there. I might possibly want the Bat-credit card, but that would only matter if I could also somehow manage to bottle up George Clooney’s shame at that exact moment in time. And then there’s the creepy Zoltar-like Riddler doll from Batman Forever, which would probably do more psychological harm to me than good, because I would be absolutely certain it would kill me in my sleep. There is only one prop from these movies that I would consider a necessity in my life. To those who know me, it should be obvious: Mr. Freeze’s freeze gun from Batman & Robin. If the Schumacher Batman movies in general are my happy place, all things Mr. Freeze in the second movie are my heaven. If you think I’m insufferable now, just wait until I get my hands on that gun. I would finally have an actual reason to quote Mr. Freeze on a regular basis, and everyone would just have to accept it. Yes, I would probably lose all of my friends, but who needs friends when you have Mr. Freeze’s freeze gun? “You’re not sending ME to the COOLER!”
My prop is more practical, but it’s something I have dreamed of ever since seeing Clueless as a kid. Even before I started hoarding clothing (as I do now), I have coveted Cher’s outfit-matching software. I have seen Clueless so many times I can repeat Cher’s narration from memory, yet every time I feel a pang of jealousy when I lay eyes upon her glorious closet. I would love to leisurely sit at my laptop while my closet spun around and presented me with the outfit of my choice, telling me when I look like a clown because I’ve decided that fuchsia tights go with everything. An add-on app that would similarly organize my accessories would also be most welcome. Yeah, yeah, I know that Metail came up with a version of Cher’s closet software, but I want my own clothes on there, considering the yellow plaid miniskirt set probably wouldn’t fly at the office.
Eddie Murphy perfected the microphone drop in Coming To America, appearing as unsung soul powerhouse Randy Watson, who struggles to grasp his audience’s insufficient enthusiasm for his backing band, Sexual Chocolate. After his evocative rendition of “The Greatest Love Of All,” Randy drops the mic and exits house left. It’s Sexual Chocolate, people, what more needs to be said? I want that microphone. It’s a corded mic, which logistically complicates my plan to carry it on my person at all times, dropping it for dramatic effect whenever an appropriate situation presents itself. If the gesture itself isn’t enough to disrupt the moment, I’ll provide the context. “Oh, and by the way, that’s the very mic dropped by Jackson Heights’ own Randy Watson,” I’d say, to a chorus of gasps.