SNL – “ESPN Classic: 1991 Ladies Billiards Tournament”

In 1991, Robin Bell won the second ever World Pool-Billiard Association’s Women’s World Nine-ball Championship, defeating her opponent Jo Ann Mason, in Las Vegas. Many years later, Ms. Bell would be inducted into the Billiards Congress of America (BCA) Hall of Fame.

Tampax to the MaxThat same year, a very different billiards match also occurred in Las Vegas.  Televised by ESPN Classic, that matchup was the 1991 Tampax to the Max Ladies Billiards Tournament of Champions, featuring Greta Milwaukee versus “The Soft One” Nina Wilkes Booth.

Confused yet?  Not if you’re a fan of Saturday Night Live.

In 2009, SNL cast members Jason Sudeikis and Will Forte introduced their ESPN Classic sketch, which would recur for three seasons through May, 2012. The two comedians portray on-air commentators for various ESPN Classic airings of women’s sporting events in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Sudeikis’ Pete Twinkle is an uber-bro host and kind of a douchebag.  His foil is Forte’s Greg Stink, a cheerful moron, completely uneducated about sports and incapable of even basic conversation. And though Twinkle’s attempt to engage Stink is sometimes humorous, the real heart of the sketch that earned the guffaws is the frequent references to the feminine or sexual product sponsoring the event, using rhyming jingles.

The first ESPN Classic sketch, which aired in October 2009 as part of the Saturday Night Live’s 35th season, is “1991 Ladies Billiard Tournament,” sponsored by Tampax. The full sketch is available to watch here.

Tampax to the MaxGreta Milwaukee (Kristen Wiig) and Nina Wilkes Booth (celebrity host Drew Barrymore) are introduced and subsequently engage in some over-the-top, physical comedy around chalking their cue sticks, breaking, and attempting to make shots in their game of 9-ball. Both women are pretty unmemorable, though Wiig’s billiards-themed ‘80s shirt is a real keeper.

More amusing is the repartee between Twinkle and Stink, such as:

“Where does the name billiards come from?”

“No idea.”

“Greg Stink – best color man in the business.”

But, of course, the real zing comes from Twinkle’s frequent shout-outs to the tournament’s sponsor Tampax. These jingles punctuate the commentary and get progressively more absurd as the sketch goes on, starting with the introductory slogan, “Tamp it to the max with Tampax,” and culminating with, “Helping you relax when Mother Nature attacks your slacks. Tampax.”[1]

The entire sketch is just over four minutes long, so it’s impressive the number of laughs it generates, even with its one-trick pony concept.  Saturday Night Live is also not alone in sketch-comedy shows that have leveraged billiards as source material.  It’s a future blog post to review and rank them all, but it’s worth checking out “The Hustler” (The New Show), “Van Hammersly” (Mr. Show), “Pussy on the Chain Wax” (Key & Peele), “The Hustler” (Mad TV), and “Spot Black” (The Benny Hill Show), among others.

[1]       Ironically, Tampax’s actual slogan at the time – “Outsmart Mother Nature” – also referenced Mother Nature.

Steve Davis: Snookerstar DJ

There’s no shortage of famous musicians who can shoot a mean game of pool.

Snookerstar DJ

Elvis Presley’s Billiard Room

Elvis Presley, who favored 8-ball and rotation, loved pool so much he outfitted his basement Billiard Room at Graceland with 300 yards of an elaborately printed pleated fabric covering every square inch of the floor and ceiling. [1] John Lennon was an avid player, whose properties housed gorgeous snooker tables. Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood, who counts cue ace Jimmy White as one of his friends, remarked that the one item his ex-wife could not auction off was his prized baize table. [2] Lemmy Kilmister, lead singer of Motorhead, said shortly before he passed, “I’m going to hell anyway, that’s where the pool tables are. You can’t imagine a pool table in heaven can you?” [3] Even Mozart was a pool fiend.[4]

But, identifying billiards players who are expert musicians and music buffs?  That’s a bit harder. Until you consider Steve Davis, the subject of the recent short film Steve Davis: Snookerstar DJ, which highlights Mr. Davis’ performance at the March 2016 Bloc electronic dance music festival at Butlins Resort Minehead in Somerset, England. The film is available to watch here.

Steve Davis? Sure, the Englishman was one of the best snooker players in the world, dominating the sport in the 1980s when he won the World Championship six times and was ranked number one player in the world for seven consecutive seasons.

But, a DJ? As famous as he was for snooker, Mr. Davis was equally well-known for being, well, boring, due to his lack of emotional expression and somewhat monotonous interviewing style. Mr. Davis would be the first to acknowledge his reputation, saying to his electric idol Holly Herndon in the movie, “You don’t know my history. I was the most boring snooker player on the circuit. I had no facial expressions whatsoever.” In fact, he even mocked his own demeanor by publishing a book entitled How to Be Really Interesting.

Snookerstar DJThis personality paradox, of course, is what makes the 9-minute documentary so enjoyable.  Directed by Chris Martinez for BBC Music and released in the UK in April 2016, Snookerstar DJ revels in the juxtaposition between Steve Davis, the Automaton, and Steve Davis, the Music Man.  As Barry Hearn, the man who discovered and managed Mr. Davis to global success and stardom, says in the film’s opening, “Something that doesn’t sit along his boring image is his taste in music.”[5] 

The film assumes its audience knows Mr. Davis’ snooker accomplishments, so there is little billiards shown or discussed.  But, the director correctly anticipates that most people are unaware Mr. Davis has been broadcasting his Interesting Alternative Show on Phoenix FM, a community radio station in England, since 1996. So, it’s eye-opening to see Mr. Davis at the local turntable – and this is before he heads to the Bloc Festival.

As a result of his local show, Mr. Davis, along with his co-presenter Kavus Torabi, has been invited to the Bloc Festival, a popular electronic dance music festival in England that will feature headliners, such as Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, as well as techno legends Jeff Mills and Carl Craig.

For the unflappable Mr. Davis, the upcoming concert reveals a rare moment of vulnerability. “I’m absolutely crapping myself, I really am…I’ve walked out of the Crucible of big matches, played in front of thousands of people live, millions of people on television, but that’s my job.  This isn’t my job so much…so I hope it goes well.”

Snookerstar DJSimilarly, in the days leading up to the show, Mr. Davis shares he has no idea how to act on stage. “[I was] told to be myself and enjoy it and dance around, and I can’t do that. I had a dream. It was half a nightmare. I only brought six records and I messed up.”

As the crowd shouts “Steve Davis,” obviously amped they are about to witness a crossover moment in history, Mr. Davis takes the stage. Only a few moments of his set are shown, but it’s clear he’s enjoying himself, and later declares the performance to be “brilliant.”

With Mr. Davis’ metamorphosis complete, former manager Mr. Hearn ends the film with the perfect comment, “This change in Davis is something I have great deal of difficulty coming to terms with. I spent years creating the ultimate robot. And now I find him the most unlikely disc jockey in the world. It is a frightening prospect for music lovers in this land.”

 

[1]       http://www.threadsmagazine.com/2011/12/09/elvis-fabulous-upholstered-pool-room

[2]       http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/ronnie-wood-fights-to-keep-hold-1347654

[3]       http://www.express.co.uk/celebrity-news/636971/Lemmy-Kilmister-dead-Motorhead-funeral-BBC

[4]       http://www.wqxr.org/story/mozarts-likes-eight-random-things-composer-couldnt-resist/

[5]       In fairness, there were early signs of Mr. Davis’ musical predilections. In 1986 he joined several other snooker stars to form the backup vocal group the Matchroom Mob for musical duo Chas & Dave on the novelty record “Snooker Loopy”, which was a Top 10 hit in the United Kingdom, and was #3 on my Top 10 Billiards Songs and Videos list.

Schoolhouse Rock! – “Naughty Number Nine”

Since moving to Manhattan, I’ve enjoyed shooting pool after work at Fat Cat, a subterranean pool hall located on Christopher Street in the West Village of New York City. Sprinkled among the live music stage, the ping pong and shuffleboard tables, and the here-and-there chess and scrabble games, are 10 pool tables, beckoning the casual player.

Naughty Number NineI never thought much about the venue’s name, however, until I stumbled across the “Naughty Number Nine” episode of Schoolhouse Rock! There, staring out at me amidst a billowy puff of cigar smoke, was the original fat cat pool hustler, Number Nine, in all his anthropomorphic feline glory.

If you were a child in the 1970s like me, chances are you saw more than a few episodes of Schoolhouse Rock! Airing on ABC from 1973 to 1985, Schoolhouse Rock! was a wildly inventive, colorful, musical American interstitial programming series of animated educational short films that covered grammar, science, economics, history, civics, and mathematics.

What’s the deal with “and,” “but,” and “or”? Check out “Conjunction Junction.” Interested in understanding how laws get passed? Learn from “I’m Just a Bill.” He’s “sitting here on Capitol Hill.” Wondering why flicking a switch lights up the house? It’s easy with “Electricity, Electricity!”

One of the most enjoyable Schoolhouse Rock! series was the first season’s Multiplication Rock, which featured 11 episodes, each dedicated to teaching kids their times table for the numbers 0-12. (There was no episode for 1 and 10.)  A typical Multiplication Rock episode combined a mix of snappy music and lyrics and humorous streetwise animation that incorporated visual stimuli and urban elements. Though “Three is the Magic Number” is probably the most familiar episode in the series, famously sampled by De La Soul in the chorus of their 1990 song “The Magic Number,” no study of the 9s table would be complete without “Naughty Number Nine” with its portly pool hustling pussycat. The full episode is available to watch here.

Airing in March 1973, the four-minute song about the multiplication of 9 focuses on a villainous cat putting a mouse through absolute hell on the billiards table. The dandy-looking feline is puffing on a cigar to reinforce his sinister nature, though ABC’s Standards and Practices tried to press for the removal of the cigar. While the lyrics have nothing to do with billiards, the sport provides the perfect backdrop for torturing the mouse, whether by the cat tying him to the cue bull, rocketing him into a corner pocket, chalking his head, or getting him crunched in a 15 ball pileup on the break. Meanwhile the bluesy lyrics impart the significance of some of the famous multiplication tricks for the number 9:

If you don’t know some secret way you can check on

You’ll break your neck on

Naughty number nine…

 

Now the digit sum is always equal to nine

I mean, if you add two and seven, the digits

You get nine, the digit sum

That’s true of any product of nine

If they don’t add up, you’ve made a mistake.

 

“Naughty Number Nine was written Bob Dorough and sung by Grady Tate, both Schoolhouse Rock! veteran composers and performers.  Mr. Dorough wrote all the songs for Multiplication Rock, though he is also known for performing with Miles Davis and contributing vocals on the song “Nothing Like You” from Miles Davis’ Sorcerer (1967) album.  Mr. Tate, a hard bop and soul-jazz percussionist with a distinctive baritone voice, started his career playing drums for Quincy Jones and then was a member of the New York Jazz Quarter.

Wholly original, even as it borrows the idea of teaching math through billiards from Donald in Mathmagic Land and its murine torture sequences from the Tom & Jerry episode “Cue Ball Cat,” “Naughty Number Nine” puts a fresh spin on the accessibility and usability of billiards to tell a story, teach a subject, make some music, and create a wonderful memory.

Small Wonder – “Minnesota Vicki”

In February 1989, the American comedy sitcom Small Wonder aired an episode that had me wondering how this series lasted four seasons. Entitled “Minnesota Vicki,” the 91st episode (out of 96) focused on Ted Lawson (Richard Christie) inviting his boss over for dinner and billiards on a rented table, with the hope that some friendly pool would help him land a huge promotion at United Robotronics.  Ted doesn’t make much headway until, unbeknownst to him, Vicki (Tiffany Brissette), his robotic daughter (literally) plays his boss and ultimately wins ownership of the company in the process, due to the boss’ hubris and incredulity that a child could ever play pool so well.

For the uninitiated, Small Wonder chronicles the family of Ted Lawson, a robotics engineer, who creates a robot modeled after a 10-year-old girl, and then passes the robot off as his adopted daughter, Vicky (or V.I.C.I., an acronym for Voice Input Child Identicant).  Like many robots on TV, this one has unusual abilities, including a super-strong break and such geometric precision that she can seemingly make any shot on the table, including sinking all the balls on the break.

The episode is pretty humorless, portending the end of the series.  The jokes feel forced, the script is stale, the acting is thin, and – oh god, those ‘80s wardrobes. It’s no small wonder (!!) that none of the lead actors had much commercial success after the series ended. In fact, the only silver lining to “Minnesota Vicki” is the trick shots in pool, courtesy of technical consultant Lou Butera. Aside from the standard multi-pocket shots, there are some beautiful jumps and masses.  (Fans of “Machine Gun” Lou know that he not only appeared in The Fall Guy episode “Eight Ball,” but also played pool in movies such as Racing with the Moon and Police Academy 6: City Under Siege.)  The full “Minnesota Vicki” episode is available to watch here.

But, for such a lame episode, “Minnesota Vicki” does engender two interesting questions.  First, could a robot play pool so well?  And second, could a 10-year-old child play pool so well?

I tackled the first question about three years ago when I reviewed the My Living Doll episode “Pool Shark” so I won’t rehash it here, as not much has advanced.  Suffice to say, a lot of robots are being built to shoot pool, though none can currently play like V.I.C.I. or the My Living Doll android Rhoda Miller.

The second question, however, presents new terrain for my blog, as the billiards movie/television milieu has been lacking elementary school-aged prodigies. (I’m guessing Bobby Brady was at least a teenager when he showcased his pool prowess in The Brady Bunch episode “The Hustler.”)

Fortunately, it doesn’t require much online searching to affirmatively answer that it’s not science fiction for a young child to play amazeballs pool.  Take Keith O’Dell, who set the world record for youngest billiards player at the age of 25 months.  You can watch him dazzle in this video from when he was 5 years old.  Or, there is Wang Wuka, age 4 when this video was filmed, from Eastern China, who spends several hours a day on the snooker table.

Jean Balukas

Jean Balukas, age 6

In fact, as billiards buffs and historians know, a number of the sport’s greatest started at a very young age.  As we learned in the documentary The Strickland Story, Earl “The Pearl” Strickland started playing at age 8, when his dad snuck him into a North Carolina pool hall.  Billiards Congress of America Hall of Famer Loree Jon Hasson ran her first rack at age 5 and performed her first trick shots at age 6 at a Chicago men’s World Straight Pool tournament.[1] The great Jean Balukas gained such attention at age 6 from performing in a billiards exhibition at Grand Central Station that she subsequently appeared on the show I’ve Got a Secret.  By the time she was in 2nd grade, she was being billed as the “Little Princess of Pocket Billiards.”

And, of course, there is the legend Willie Mosconi, who first learned to play pool by practicing with small potatoes from his mother’s kitchen and a broomstick. At age 6, he participated in an exhibition match against the reigning world champion Ralph Greenleaf. Mosconi lost but the game cemented his reputation as a prodigy. By the time he was 11, he was the US juvenile straight pool champion, regularly holding trick shot exhibitions.[2]

So, if you’re thinking of betting your company in a game of pool against a fifth-grade android, remember: it’s not the robotic circuitry you need to worry about.  You’ve been warned.

[1]       “BILLIARDS; A Top Player Survives That Sinking Feeling,” New York Times, August 12, 1995.

[2]       “10 Extraordinary Child Prodigies,” April 6, 2009.

Top 12 Billiards Comic Book Covers

billiards comic bookAlmost two years ago, a friend alerted me that Pool & Billiards Magazine had done a cover story on billiards comic book covers. Entitled “Comic Collection: Comics Featuring Our Favorite Sport!,” the November 2015 article focused on the 52 book collection of billiards enthusiast Gary Nelson.  Mr. Nelson’s covers ranged from Popular Comics #124 (June 6, 1946) to Grimm Fairy Tales #82D (February, 2013).

As a long-time comic book collector, whose passion for comics pre-dates his passion for billiards by almost a decade, I was instantly hooked. In fact, I was a bit downtrodden, if not even slightly jealous, that the idea of munging comic books and billiards had not occurred to me. Ironically, I had even written a blog post in June 2014 – Top 10 Cartoon Cue Stick Carriers  – that referenced a few such covers.

No matter. I jumped into the research with the energy of Firestorm and the determination of the Punisher, ultimately discovering a total of 61 comic book covers featuring billiards. But, to paraphrase the famous wall-crawler, with great research comes great responsibility, and simply sharing the covers is not a sufficient feat of billiards heroism. To take it farther, we must select the top quintile of those covers!  My choices of the Top 12 Billiards Comic Book Covers follow, though I’ve also included a gallery of all the covers at the end so you can choose for yourself.  Now, read on, enjoy and critique.  Excelsior!

 

  1. billiards comic bookArchie’s Mad House #21 (September, 1962). First published in 1959, Archie’s Mad House was designed to make no sense; by issue #19, it didn’t even feature Archie.  Instead, the title focused on monsters, space, and wacky stories, often parodying some aspect of popular culture. This particular issue came out one year after The Hustler, which may have been part of the cultural gag. Regardless, the cover illustration shows two space men heading toward a planet shaped like an 8-ball.  That’s my kind of interstellar travel destination.

 

  1. billiards comic bookFeature Comics #132 (March, 1949). Published by Quality Comics, Feature Comics ran during the Golden Age of Comics, from the late 1930s to circa 1950. While many characters were introduced, the most noteworthy was Doll Man, created by Will Eisner, who also created The Spirit. Unfortunately named, Doll Man had the power to shrink his physical size, long before there was an Atom or Ant Man. Doll Man outlived his publisher, as the character was eventually acquired by DC Comics, and Doll Man became a member of the Freedom Fighters, as well as the All-Star Squadron.   Though this particular cover is uninspiring (and specious, given the hat-wearing felon is shooting the 8-ball rather than the cue ball) I nonetheless appreciate the nostalgic value, as these super groups were part of my youth.

 

  1. billiards comic bookSpider-Man’s Tangled Web #13 (June, 2002). I’ll admit it. The appeal of this cover has less to do with the billiards and more to do with my childhood obsession both with Spider-Man and the Marvel Universe of b-rated comic book villains. The setting for this cover is the Bar With No Name, a safe haven for Marvel villains. Presumably, Spider-Man intruded on a friendly game of pool between the two gents with cue sticks, Mr. Hyde and Whirlwind. And, now the interruption has drawn the ire of a gaggle of other costumed nemeses, including Vulture, Boomerang, Matador, Stilt Man, Rocket Racer, and a couple of other gnarly fellas.

 

  1. billiards comic bookCasper the Friendly Ghost #142 (June, 1970). This amiable phantasm has been around since the 1930s, though he didn’t get his own comic until 1949 when Harvey Comics purchased the character outright. This particular cover is a delight because it not only shows Casper’s trick shot showmanship, pocketing at least three balls, with two more freakishly destined for corner pockets, but also revels in his innocence, as he floats into the table (which I’m thinking is not allowed by the BCA) and – oops – also sinks the cue in the side.

 

  1. billiards comic bookAngel & Faith #11 (February, 2015). Joss Whedon struck gold with his series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Angel & Faith is a Dark Horse title that continues the Buffy story by focusing on the stories of Angel and Faith Lehane.  Well, I never watched Buffy, so it’s all gibberish to me, but Scott Fischer’s cover is top-notch. (No surprise from the man who lent his skills and imagination to the Dungeon & Dragons: Monster Manual.) The cover features a menacing individual, gripping an 8-ball and impaled cleanly by a cue stick. A rack of skeletal billiards balls in the background. The scene looks like something out of my Top 10 Billiards Brawls.

 

  1. billiards comic bookForeskin Man #2 (2011). Circumcision has found a new enemy in Foreskin Man, aka Miles Hastwick, curator of the Museum of Genital Integrity. Created by Matthew Hess and published by Male Genital Mutilation Bill Comics, Foreskin Man, with his Herculean physique, seems to have the upper hand on the grimacing mohel, so I’m not sure why the hero feels compelled to wield an 8-ball.  And, then there’s the bigger question which makes the whole comic’s mission a bit suspect:  why is the brit malah happening on a pool table???

 

  1. billiards comic bookThe Flintstones and Pebbles #55 (December, 1969). I already knew from the 1960 Flintstones episode “At the Races” that the man from Bedrock could shoot pool. But, this cover does a great job of injecting the prehistoric scenery – in this case, a long-necked, fanged, reptilian creature – into the pool game. It is also repurposing the idea of using animals for tools and appliances, a popular Flintstones mechanism. Besides, Amazon sells more than 100 bridges of all shapes and sizes, including moose heads, bats, and spiders. Is it really so implausible that a snagglesaurus could be used for a similar purpose?

 

  1. billiards comic bookSilent Hill: Dead/Alive #3 (February, 2006). Pretty much anything in the Silent Hill franchise is disturbing, and this comic book cover by Ted McKeever and Chris Bolton is no exception. The art shows a quartet of hideous monsters gathered around a pool table, where one of them is shooting the cue ball at an ocular billiard ball drawn disproportionately large. This is certainly far more gruesome than anything from the pseudo-horror billiards shows I’ve reviewed, such as the “Pool Sharks” episode of Monsters or The Understudy: Graveyard Shift II.

 

  1. billiards comic bookNew Funnies: Woody Woodpecker #187 (September, 1952). In 1999, the “Cue the Pool Shark” episode of The New Woody Woodpecker established that this red-white-and-blue avian can shoot some stick. But, this cover takes us back 47 years. Even then, Woody could rock the baize, showing off some mean masse skills to his feathered brethren. Granted, the kiddies have no respect for the game, morphing it into something like pool roller hockey.  But, that’s cool – there are a lot of hybrid billiards sports out there (e.g., Pool Bowling with Jimmy Kimmel; Poolball – aka pool + soccer; etc.).

 

  1. billiards comic bookRichie Rich Digest Winners #11 (November, 1981). Winning the prize for most billiards comic book covers is Richie Rich, the little boy zillionaire, with six different covers from 1973 (Richie Rich Fortunes #11) to this 1981 cover. Though other covers had better puns (“This table must have cost pool-enty!”), I selected this one for its uniquely designed pool table in the shape of a dollar sign.  Too far-fetched? I think not…just take a look at these real unusually shaped tables (a coffin? a banana?).  I think Richie might have been ahead of his time.

 

  1. billiards comic bookSleepwalker #2 (July, 1991). Do you ever play pool to relieve some stress? Jeff Hagees did. But, when his stress turned into gambling debt, and he was circumstantially fired by his employer, this engineer sought revenge by becoming the criminal 8-Ball, with a pool-rack shaped hovercraft, a killer cue stick (literally), and a team of goons, including 6-Ball, 9-Ball, and 11-Ball, who wielded exploding billiards balls.  The best part: the 8-ball for a dome!

 

 

  1. billiards comic bookHouse of Secrets #127 (January, 1975). Most known for introducing the character The Swamp Thing, House of Secrets from DC Comics focused on mystery, fantasy, and horror stories, often with several anthologized in one comic. This issue includes the 36-page story “Death on Cue!,” in which a pool hall bum steals a magic cue from an old man and beats him to death with it. But, the dead man’s ghost returns and enacts revenge, first beating him, and then shrinking him, as evidenced on the cover. It’s then unlucky 13 for the killer who is ultimately crushed between two deadly rolling balls.

 

Did I omit one of your favorite covers?  Take a look at the complete collection of 61 covers and let me know which would have made your Top 12 list.  And if you come across any covers that I’ve overlooked, send me an email or leave me a comment.

Living Single – “Another Saturday Night”

Picture this television series: A group of six individuals in their 20s and 30s.  The men in the group share an apartment. So do the women. Both apartments are in the same building.  Among the individuals, there is romantic tension, sexual tension, and yes, even real relationships.  Jokes abound about living in New York City.

So, here’s my question: Were the people you pictured white or black? If they were black, chances are you may have been thinking about the Fox sitcom Living Single that aired for five seasons starting in 1993.  If they were white, then you were probably picturing Friends, the NBC sitcom that aired a year later and lasted a decade. These shows were more similar than many people wish to admit.

Living SingleBoth shows were popular, though Friends had a viewership (25-30 million) almost three times as large as Living Single.  Both shows were also pretty terrible, in my humble opinion.  But, more to the point of this blog, both shows managed to weave in some billiards, with Living Single making it far more the centerpiece of an episode than Friends.

In March 1995, Living Single aired “Another Saturday Night,” the 22nd episode in its second season.  The episode is available to watch here. The billiards plot is paper-thin.  Overton (John Henton) gets hustled out of $200 at the pool hall.  Khadijah (Queen Latifah) offers to help Overton get his money back. Along with Synclaire (Kim Coles), Overton’s girlfriend, the trio go to the pool hall and challenge the two flimflammers to a double-or-nothing game of mixed doubles against Overton and Khadijah.  Initially feigning ignorance about the game, Khadijah then turns on her skills and wins back the money with a one-hand shot.

Not satisfied to just win $200 with “the best streak of beginner’s luck [she’s] ever had,” she agrees to play again, upping the bet to $500, using her rent money.  Down five balls pretty quickly, Khadijah then slips, suffering a wrist injury that prevents her from finishing the match.  The opposing team has the option to pair Overton with another woman (or he forfeits).  They choose “Mary Tyler Poppins” (i.e., Synclaire), who, painting her nails, looks completely disinterested.  But, of course, they chose wrong, as Synclaire turns out to be the real shark, running the table and winning the game and the bet on a six-rail shot, no less.  The lesson to the hustlers: “Deceit and duplicity don’t pay…although in this case, they did pay for us,” says Synclaire.

To my knowledge, Friends never went full-tilt-billiards, but in October 1996, the episode “The One with the Flashback” (Season 3, Episode 6), did introduce some billiards humor, when Ross (David Schwimmer) and Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow) reminisced about their almost-hookup on the pool table.  The specific scene is here.

Ross and Phoebe attempt to take their passion to the baize, only to suffer multiple problems, including Ross hitting his head (twice) on the overhead light, Ross fumbling to get the balls off the table, Ross getting his foot stuck in a pocket, and Ross having trouble with the “stupid balls in the way,” which promptly kills the mood.

Get it?  As I said already, I never understood why people thought these shows were any good.

Bye Bye Baby

In theory, 85 minutes is not a significant amount of time.  After all, a typical day can be divided into almost 17 consecutive 85-minute blocks of time.

Bye Bye BabyYet, as I suffered through the 85-minute film Bye Bye Baby, I started to wonder about the power of that single chunk of time.  Unquestionably, I had ceded 85 minutes of my frenetic life for the higher purpose of ensuring the comprehensiveness of my billiards movie blog, but was the sacrifice worth it?  What else has been, or could have been, accomplished with the same amount of time?

Before entertaining that question, let’s focus on the film. Directed by Erico Oldoini, Bye Bye Baby was released in Italy in 1988 and a year later in the United States. The movie stars former supermodel Carol Alt and Luca Barbareschi respectively as Sandra and Paolo, a couple from Milan whose marital troubles lead them through a series of fights, divorce, affairs, betrayals, abandonments, trysts, some escapades on the Mauritius Islands, more fights, more betrayals, and a near fatal car accident.  Along the way, Sandra falls for a dreamy doctor, and Paolo gets involved with Lisa, a professional pool shark, played by Danish model Brigitte Nielsen.

Essentially, this movie is a vehicle for two ‘80s models, Ms. Alt and Ms. Nielsen, to act quasi-sexy, bend over pool tables, wear revealing swimsuits, and engage in B-rated lovemaking scenes that lack even the suggested nudity.  For Ms. Alt, who appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1982, and was on the cover of more than 500 magazines in the 1980s, Bye Bye Baby timed with her decision to start acting in European films around 1986.  For Ms. Nielsen, the timing was a less fortuitous. Having married Sylvester Stallone in 1985 and gained fame through her iconic tough-woman roles in Red Sonja, Rocky IV, and Cobra, by 1988 she was already divorced and starring in bottom-of-the-bucket films.

Bye Bye BabyBye Bye Baby did nothing to help these ladies’ careers. (In fact, the movie earned Ms. Nielsen a Razzie for Worst Actress in 1990.) The plot is hackneyed, the script is vapid, the acting is wooden, the attempts at humor are misguided, and the music, which includes tracks by Ms. Nielsen, is repetitive and misplaced. The critic for the Los Angeles Times said it well:

The plot is nothing more than an endless, deja vu -provoking cycle of cheating lovers; the profane and daringly banal dialogue seems almost wholly improvised…; and it seems designed as a sex comedy, though there’s not much sex and even less comedy. It might not be too egregious an example of crying “wolf” to warn at this point that Bye Bye Baby is just about as howlingly rotten as any movie ever made.[1]

But, hey, I’ve endured my share of lemons, since launching 8 Ball on the Silver Screen.  I can deal with low-budget cinema.  What I cannot tolerate is terrible on-screen billiards, and in this category, Ms. Nielsen is in a league unto herself.  Starring as a top-ranked player, who competes in a mix of regular billiards and the Italian game of 5-pins, Ms. Nielsen can barely hold a cue stick, never mind take a stroke. It is embarrassing watching her stumble her way through the various billiards sequences.  Even with the mediocre editing, and the occasional creative five-pins shot, it’s still painful viewing. (For a more engaging portrayal of 5-pins or the related game goriziana, check out the far more satisfying Italian movie The Pool Hustlers.)

Given this abomination of a film, one can appreciate the impetus for my original question about what else can be accomplished in 85 minutes.  It turns out a whole helluva lot.

Keeping with the cinematic milieu, a far better use of 85 minutes would be to watch Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead (1981); the gut-busting mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap (1984); Gary Cooper in High Noon (1952); or Fruitvale Station (2013), the racially charged film by Ryan Coogler based on the real-life subway shooting of Oscar Grant. Or, if music is your thing, spend the 85 minutes listening to Arcade Fire’s album Reflektor.

History can, in fact, be made in 85 minutes.  In 1908, the Tigers lost the final fifth game of the World Series to the Cubs in a game that lasted 85 minutes. A leatherback turtle set the world record for a marine dive by holding its breath for 85 minutes.

So, whether it’s the amount of time it takes to make an LL Bean Boot[2], the amount of time one person needs to make seven kid-friendly freezer meals[3], or the amount of time a quintet of British rotary clubs spent preparing 12,000 meals as part of a Stop Hunger campaign,[4] the evidence is everywhere that the time could have been better spent.

Bye bye Bye Bye BabyI want my 85 minutes back.

[1]       http://articles.latimes.com/1989-05-29/entertainment/ca-797_1_bye-brigitte-nielsen-film-review

[2]       https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2015/10/llbean-duck-boot-labor-shoes-maine/410863/

[3]       http://newleafwellness.biz/2015/05/20/seven-kid-friendly-freezer-meals-in-85-minutes/

[4]       http://www.actonboxboroughrotary.org/2016/02/12/stop-hunger-now-event-12000-meals-in-85-minutes/