When you think about the pre-Internet age in which we grew up, it's astonishing how comparatively media-deprived we were. Film-buffery, they say, really took off in the early days of television, when it became possible to see movies outside the week they were released or at second-run houses, art cinemas, or film clubs scattered here and there. Still, I remember how astonishing it was when we first moved from our home town to suburban Philadelphia - from four channels to an amazing seven!
The paucity of outlets meant that you knew a lot about some things, and almost nothing about others. When it came to cartoons, Looney Tunes ruled the world, given their Saturday-morning omnipresence, with MGM's Tom and Jerry, Disney's characters, and a few other offerings following on. Some, appearing at off-hours on early Sunday morning or in between late-night movies, seemed incomparably bizarre - the weird mutterings of Popeye soundtracks or the sheer anarchy of Fleischerland seemingly written in another language from the lush animation and smooth plotting of Bugs and Co. (and even then, it was odd, sometimes, to watch earlier Warners cartoons, with Elmer Fudd not quite himself and even Bugs moving, speaking, and looking so off kilter).
Mighty Mouse, Fox/Terrytoons' flagship franchise, was definitely not prime-time Saturday material. This little treasure, though, came to occupy an inordinate amount of space in my mind thanks to a combination of late 70s thrift-shopping and, it must be admitted, a certain amount of casual consumption of illicit substances.
Back in those palmy high-school days, my pal Miss Rheba and I used to love finding the strangest possible second-hand stores, and in those days, on the further fringes of the Main Line, there were some doozies. Our very favorite was located in a half-abandoned strip mall outside of Phoenixville, PA, a place that always seemed a little patch of Appalachia compared to the stultifying Tracy-Lordish atmosphere that prevailed closer in to town, in places like Haverford and Bryn Mawr.
Really, that sad, straggling row of shops had everything: a great, cheap Chinese takeout, a fab used-book and magazine emporium that offered everything from dog-eared biographies to unbelievably skeevy porn (we fondly remember a publication called Sex Freaks Quarterly that first exposed us, as it were, to the subsequently Supremely notorious Long Dong Silver - we hid it behind a pile of old Looks and pored it over most of one summer), and, especially, stuffed into an abandoned A&P, the thrift shop.
Not only did it offer an incredible range of tragic fashions and horrendous home decor; it also had a few sad, battered kiddie attractions, the better, I suppose, to allow Mom to dig through piles of old car coats and prom dresses without distraction. They included a rocking dinosaur with a broken sound-loop that made it sound like a dying hippo, a little firetruck that shook its hapless riders like popcorn on the fire,and, especially, memorably, and irresistibly - a tiny cartoon mini-theatre, with a repertoire of exactly one film.
And there, O best beloved, Miss Rheba and I discovered Krakatoa Katie. Stuffed full of pork lo mein, clutching our latest thrift finds, and more than a little buzzed, we would cram ourselves into a booth meant for perhaps three four-year-olds, and marvel, over and over again, quarter after quarter disappearing into the slot, at the wondrous thing that today, you can see at the click of a mouse. I bet that if you woke Miss Rheba up unexpectedly, she could still sing you most of the song...
I don't suppose we considered this little epic's political subtext. Made in 1945, it premiered just a few months before a population of real-life Polynesians were relocated, somewhat less heroically and for reasons far more ominous than a cartoon volcano, from Bikini Atoll. Mighty Mouse didn't save them, but I wonder if anyone then made the connection. Or were they too entranced, like Miss Rheba and me, at the dancing palm trees and rubber-limbed mice?