BUTTON, BUTTON—Who’s Got the button? 

Figure 1 - Ghostbusters
Figure 1 – Ghostbusters

Before I start, I’d like to say that when I talk about “cons,” I’m not talking about media or commercial cons. I’ve never attended one, and probably wouldn’t, given the chance. I’m talking about fan-run cons—which, IMO, includes Worldcons. I’ve never paid a “star” or “pro” for an autograph, and feel that’s an imposition on fans, who support said stars by buying their books and movies. You may feel differently, and indeed may have never gone to a fan-run con. I hope, through these columns, to persuade you—if you are one of those mentioned—to try a local con and see whether you like meeting people of a like mind to you and to connect with what I consider the “larger world” of fandom.

If you attend many cons, even local ones, you may find a “freebies” table somewhere near the registration desk; on it you may find flyers, bookmarks, free books! and other fannish goodies including… if your con committee has been diligent and contacted one or more of the movie studios (or sometimes, if the studios have been diligent and noticed that there’s a local con)… buttons and mini- or full-sized movie posters. Like the button in Figure 1 (1984), which I picked up at an early VCON, if memory serves. Usually, though, it’s only the larger cons which get the real goodies.

Here’s the thing: I’m a movie buff; I’ve been one since I was quite young. (And doubly so from the age when I was allowed to go to a regular movie theatre on my own.) So when I see a movie-linked freebie on a table, I grab it. (Sometimes a couple of ‘em, remembering that I don’t want to be a hog and spoil someone else’s weekend.) I have a bunch of posters and mini-posters from “upcoming” movies (no, I never got an original Revenge of the Jedi poster, in case you were wondering.) I missed the Ghostbusters flyswatter and other related items, except for stickers. I have a few of those left.

Figure 2 – Round Buttons
Figure 2 – Round Buttons–Meteor and The Last Action Hero

Buttons are usually round (Figure 3) or square (Figure 4); they range from the cheapest pressed (Figure 2 left)—similar to what Avis Rent-A-Car used to do with its “We try harder” buttons (and yes, I have a few of those) as in the movie Meteor (1979); to elaborate lenticular efforts (Figure 2 right), where what you see depends on the angle of your view. This particular lenticular (I have a number) shows Arnold Schwarzenegger’s face as his character Jack Slater in The Last Action Hero (1993); it shows seither the word Action? over it, or Arnold Schwarzenegger The Last Action Hero around it, depending on your angle.

Since it’s my column (okay, blog entry) and I’m allowed a lot of leeway by my editor (thanks, Steve!), I’m gonna digress for a moment here and wax enthusiastic about the last movie mentioned. The Last Action Hero, as I’ve said, came out in 1993, and promptly sank without a trace. But look what it was up against; in 1993 the following movies (among others) came out (rated in terms of box-office takes): Jurassic Park; Mrs. Doubtfire; The Fugitive; Schindler’s List; The Firm; Indecent Proposal; Cliffhanger; Sleepless in Seattle; Philadelphia; and The Pelican Brief. And this was only the top ten! Lots of other popular movies—even genre movies—came out that year, and a very decent genre movie with one of the biggest box-office draws as the hero, was for the most part ignored (Notice the Oscar-winners in that box-office list). For examples of other genre movies that year, we had Addams Family Values, Body Snatchers, The Dark Half, Evil Dead 3: Army of Darkness, Demolition Man, Fire in the Sky, Groundhog Day, Jason Goes to Hell, Leprechaun—and the list goes on. If you haven’t seen this little (?!) movie, I urge you to find it wherever you can; Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, whatever. Besides Herr Brauschweiger (an in-joke from the movie) it has Anthony Quinn, Charles Dance, Danny Devito (voice only), Mercedes Ruehl, Tom Noonan, Robert Prosky, Art Carney and F. Murray Abraham—and there are also cameos from what seems like dozens of celebrities. (Okay, I’ll admit that the main character, Danny (Austin O’Brien) makes you want to punch him out. He’s annoying.) The story involves magic, parallel film worlds and so on, with Schwarzenegger parodying his usual action character. It’s funny, it’s well done, and the effects are good. We now conclude our side look; you’re free to return to your main blog entry.

Figure 3 - Blade Runner and Slater 2
Figure 3 – Blade Runner and Slater 2

So. As I said, movie buttons come mostly in round or square sizes (all the buttons shown here are in their correct relative sizes). Occasionally (I didn’t scan the example I found, which is now buried at the bottom of the pile, and I don’t remember the name, but I think it was Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone) they’re made of paper with a plastic and/or lenticular covering. There have also been die-cut ones, like the plastic Jack Slater shown in Figure 3 (right), but that one may have come from a video store. The sumptuousness of the button sometimes—or mostly—depends on how well the movie company thinks the movie will do. For example, the original Cocoon button is a nice round lenticular, meaning there was some money put into promotion, while Cocoon: The Return is a plain round button with the same symbol as the original button. In other words, they cheaped out. (Speaking of cheaping out: the Blade Runner button shown in Figure 3 (left) is one step above the Meteor button in Figure 2.

The buttons are great memorabilia, but don’t think you’ll get rich collecting them as a hobby; a quick scan on eBay shows that original Star Wars buttons like the one in Figure 4 (top left)—which is 37 years old—goes for about $8 plus shipping. If the movie, like Star Wars, is a blockbuster, you can usually sell the pin/button for anywhere from $4 up; otherwise, forget it. I doubt my collection of a couple of hundred or so buttons is worth a whole lot. The same can be said for the movie posters—I’ll probably do a blog on them soon, or as soon as I can dig some of them out of the closet.

Figure 4 - Round Buttons 2
Figure 4 – Round Buttons 2–Star Wars, Carpenter’s The Thing, The Abyss and Poltergeist II

(Right now my office resembles that warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, only not as organized.) An original Blade Runner one-sheet can go for hundreds of dollars, although most modern film posters (and you’re unlikely to get actual one-sheets at a con) aren’t that expensive. Depending on a lot of things, like condition and whether it’s an English-language release, Blade Runner one-sheets have gone from $150 to nearly $2,000. If you’re interested in film posters, check out the weekly auctions at Heritage Auctions, which auctions original art, film posters, militaria, rare books, natural history and space memorabilia, among other things. You can sign up to be emailed auction notices. (“One-sheet” refers to the size of the poster; if you start collecting movie posters, most of which are used outside theatres for display, you’ll soon learn the terminology. A one-sheet is usually 27” x 41”; there are also reprints, made for people to pin up on their walls or made for re-releases of movies, as well as some which are made as forgeries. Yes, forgeries… if there’s money to be made on something, there will be unscrupulous people who try to make fakes of it to sell.)

Today I’m not trying to give you a complete overview of buttons (also called “pinbacks,” because they usually have a pin that you can use to pin them to your clothing; pinbacks go way back in political history, being used for Presidential campaigns, for example, as far back as George Washington’s campaign, although the first photographic ones came from Abraham Lincoln’s campaign. (The Washington ones were actually not pinbacks in that they were designed to be sewn onto clothing rather than pinned.) I’m just trying to share with you some of the ones I’ve acquired—and my wife, the Beautiful And Talented Lynne Taylor Fahnestalk—has acquired.

Some of the movies are great memories; I liked all the movies whose buttons are shown in Figure 4, but wish I had the original Poltergeist (1982) button; the second movie (Figure 4, bottom right) was creepier in some ways, but less effective than the original. Few people would argue that John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) (was somewhat of a genre masterpiece (Figure 4, top right); in some ways it put (in my opinion) the Howard Hawks version (1951)—called The Thing From Another World—with Gunsmoke’s James Arness as the “walking carrot,” to shame. (By the way, if you have never read the original “Who Goes There?” story on which these two movies were based, by John W. Campbell, Jr., I urge you to do so. (I’ve added a link to an online version; I don’t know if this violates copyright, but at this writing it’s still available.) The 2011 movie, also called The Thing, was a prequel of sorts to the Carpenter movie, but really offered nothing new, sadly. And I didn’t even get a button for it.

The Abyss, by James Cameron (1989), was surprisingly good, and the performance by Michael Biehn, as the paranoid soldier Lt. Coffey, was terrific; the “water tentacle” was one of the best CGI effects seen to that time (Figure 4, bottom left). The movie also starred Ed Harris, best known for playing real-life astronaut John Glenn in The Right Stuff (1983) to that point, and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, who had no previous genre credits I could find, but who was in two very well-regarded non-genre movies: Scarface (with Al Pacino, 1983) and The Color of Money (1986, sequel to the classic The Hustler) with Paul Newman and Tom Cruise. But I digress somewhat.

Figure 4 - Square, rectangle, round
Figure 4 – Square, rectangle, round: Needful Things (2), Wolf, Terminator II

Buttons also come in vertical as well as horizontal rectangles, rounded rectangles, and squares. (There may be oval ones, but I can’t find any.) Figure 5 shows some of the shapes; it also shows that the same movie can have multiple buttons (Needful Things, 1993. Round at bottom right, horizontal rectangle at top left.) The vertical rectangle is less often used, in my experience, as in this Wolf (1994) button. If you haven’t seen it, you should look for it; it stars Jack Nicholson, James Spader and Michelle Pfeiffer, all of whom are great genre actors. (Nicholson’s best-known genre film is probably The Shining (1980); Pfeiffer’s—I would think—was the role of Catwoman in Batman Returns (1992); and Spader was previously known for his genre role as Dr. Daniel Jackson in Stargate (1994). Yes, Virginia, there was a movie before the TV series—and I’m certainly not dissing the TV series; both have their strengths.

And, lastly for this illustration, the second entry in the popular Terminator series, called Terminator II, Judgement Day, gets a little square button. I’m guessing they figured that it didn’t need a lot of promotion; the original movie was so popular—and Ahnold’s character as the T3 so well known, that a brief reminder is all the public would need to suck them into the movie theatres.

Figure 6 - Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome and Silence of the Lambs
Figure 6 – Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome and Silence of the Lambs

Finally, we have two button shapes we’ve seen before (round and rounded rectangle); I’m including them just because these two movies are among my and my wife’s favourites. (By the way, if you’ve seen all the movies I tout in this column, please forgive me; I add movie information for the newer and/or younger fan who may not be familiar with them. One of the great things about fandom is that we continually pick up recruits—and every recruit needs Basic Training… or at least that’s what they taught us in the Navy!) The round button, Figure 6 left is, of course, for the third entry in the popular Mad Max series, Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (1985), starring a young Mel Gibson as Max Rockatansky and Tina Turner as Auntie Entity. (The original movie, Mad Max [1979] can sometimes be found with Mel’s voice, in his original Australian accent—the released VHS version [and possibly some DVD versions] was dubbed with a more generic voice, presumably because American audiences wouldn’t have understood much of what Mel was saying.) The reboot of the series is coming out soon with Tom Hardy (Batman Rises, 2013) playing Gibson’s role. I’m not a big fan of rebooting a really popular movie series while the original lead actor(s) is/are still alive; sometimes it simply has to be done—the original Michael Keaton Batman (1989) movie’s descendants became laughable after Keaton left; while I like George Clooney as an actor, that particular movie (Batman & Robin, 1997) really “jumped the shark”; the previous one (Batman Forever, 1995) with Val Kilmer had already gotten onto the motorcycle and circled the shark tank, in my opinion. So the Christian Bale (The Dark Knight, 2008) reboot was not only welcome, but overdue. I’ll reserve judgement—after all George Miller not only directed, but created the character in the first Mad Max movie—but I’m not sanguine about its chances.

The second button in Figure 6 (right) is a semi-genre movie; it’s a thriller rather than SF, fantasy or outright horror in the usual sense; I refer, of course, to The Silence of the Lambs (1991), which rebooted the waning career of Jodie Foster (best known for “child” roles previously). It also gave new life to the careers of Anthony Hopkins (previous genre movie was a TV version in 1982 of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, where he played Quasimodo as well as a role in Audrey Rose, 1977; otherwise, he was a highly-regarded actor in non-genre stuff like TV movies QB VII [1974] and War and Peace, 1972-1973) and Ted Levine, who played Jame Gumb (“Buffalo Bill”) in this film, but was previously best known for playing policemen on TV and in movies. Ironically, he went on to play Capt. Leland Stottlemeyer in Monk for seven years (2002-2009), but has appeared in other genre movies since—as well as continuing to play policemen. Hopkins has been the highest-profile actor coming out of this movie, which has spawned both sequels and prequels, as well as TV versions of the same. His line, “I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti (f-f-f-f-f)” is an oft-quoted line from the film.

I have lots of other buttons, but I’m afraid if I continue you’ll get bored and go read R. Graeme Cameron’s column instead. So let’s stop there for this week. (Actually, I’m kidding. I urge you to read Graeme’s column every week!)

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