Blackbeard’s Ghost

Last night, Arlo and I watched the 1968 Disney film Blackbeard’s Ghost, starring Peter Ustinov, Suzanne Pleshette, and Dean “the poor man’s Jimmy Stewart” Jones… After having spent about 20 minutes sorting through our options, we’d narrowed it down to two movies, and Arlo decided against Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood, having determined that a movie about pirates might have more bloodshed. [As Arlo and I may well be descended from Captain Robert Maynard, the Royal Navy officer credited with killing Blackbeard off the coast of North Carolina in 1718, I suppose it’s only natural that we’d gravitate toward such fare.]

Well, I was going to give the movie, which came out on February 8, 1968, just eight days after the start of the Tet Offensive and three days before I was born, a terrible review here on the site… but then it occurred to me that, had a high school track coach really summoned Blackbeard’s ghost to a seaside retirement home for the elderly female descendants of pirates by accident back in the mid ’60s, and explained to the world’s most violent of pirates that, in order to free himself from an eternity in limbo, he’d have to do a good deed, it’s probably not all that unlikely that said pirate would concoct a plan that involved placing a big bet on the local university’s hapless track team with a local gangster and then help the lovable team of oddball losers win an incredibly important inter-collegic meet though ghostly deceit, using his invisibility and rum-fueled, super-human strength. I mean, sure, it seems a little far-fetched to have an invisible Blackbeard throwing the scrawnier members of the track team over the bar during the high jump competition, but, really, doesn’t that sound exactly like the kind of thing that Blackbeard might have done if it meant securing his freedom so that he could once again travel the high sees aboard a ghost ship?

[Arlo’s favorite part of the movie took place during the track meet, when the invisible Blackbeard interfered with the handoff of a baton during a relay race, sliding a hotdog into the hand of one of the receivers… something the young runner didn’t realize until he was a few hundred yards away.]

At any rate, I’m enjoying thinking about the movies Disney had in production in the late ’60s, just before Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were assassinated, and the whole world went to hell. When Blackbeard’s Ghost went into production in ’66, I don’t imagine many people would have imagined what was just around the bend, and how dramatically youth culture was about to change… And, to give you an idea of just how fast this transition was happening, just two weeks after Blackbeard’s Ghost hit theaters, Easy Rider started shooting. Granted, Disney kept churning out movies like The Horse in the Gray Flannel Suit, but it seems in retrospect that they were a bit of an anachronism. But, maybe, with news coverage of the Vietnam war racing up, and America’s cities on fire, people still wanted that mindless, family-friendly escape.

[Speaking of Easy Rider, if you’re at all curious about how it came to be made, I’d suggest checking out the episode of Gilbert Gottfried’s Amazing Colossal Podcast featuring Peter Fonda.]

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  1. Posted August 12, 2018 at 8:27 pm | Permalink

    It’s hard to imagine that reviewers at the time didn’t rip it to shreds, but I guess, in the context of early ’68, it didn’t appear to be so corny or out of touch with what was happening in the world… When Blackbeard’s Ghost came out, a young Roger Ebert even called it “a pleasant surprise.”

  2. Posted August 12, 2018 at 8:51 pm | Permalink

    Easy Rider wouldn’t come out until ’69, but one of my favorite movies, the Peter Bogdanovich film Targets – the first movie about the American epidemic of mass killing – came out on August 15, 1968.

  3. Jean Henry
    Posted August 12, 2018 at 9:37 pm | Permalink

    I saw those movies in a movie theater downtown in my hometown. By 1977 it only showed pornos. I always found that confusing. Now it’s empty. My dad said it may become a brew pub.

    I saw those Disney flicks in the late 60’s early 70’s with my older sister. They showed older Disney movies too like the fantastiks (awesome) because they could still make money in theaters in re-release 30 years later (Disney video is limited re-released similarly) I saw Song of the South there, which I really liked, but which has been vaulted due to racism. My favorite movies of the kid 70’s were Smokey and the Bandit type flicks. We thought they were more grown up (PG!) but they followed the Disney caper flick formula pretty tightly, just with more T&A

    The pop culture of the late 60’s early 70’s was super, sacherine Bright colors, catchy melodies, silliness yo counter the war. Stanley Kubrick caught that in his score for full metal jacket.

  4. Jean Henry
    Posted August 12, 2018 at 9:40 pm | Permalink

    I once saw Buddy Hackett on the street in San Framcisco as a kid. He was kind of a dick. But I was really excited about it.

  5. iRobert
    Posted August 12, 2018 at 9:56 pm | Permalink

    It’s incredible how much has changed about this world and our lives in the past fifty years. People seem so different from the way they were even just 20 or 30 years ago.

    I’ve read that the average IQ of people in Western Europe and the US were gradually climbing for the first three-quarters of the twentieth century. Then, beginning from around the mid-70s that trend reversed, and IQs have been dropping since. I recall one article claiming the drop was averaging seven points per decade.

  6. Jcp2
    Posted August 13, 2018 at 5:27 am | Permalink

    I think it was more like 7 points per generation, and the IQ scores that were being studied referred to the raw scores on the tests, not the scores after analysis. It still begs the question as to whether IQ scores are a true measure of intelligence, or whether the form of intelligence that they measure reflects the form of intelligence most useful in today’s society.

  7. iRobert
    Posted August 13, 2018 at 5:59 am | Permalink

    Yeah, it’s very difficult to measure intelligence in any consistent way, especially over time. It’s a very fluid thing really. People can be very intelligent in some ways and much less so in others, and the details vary so much between individuals.

    Still, it seems there are many things we can observe in the actions and ideas expressed in more recent years that I am sure we saw much less of just a few decades back. The observable evidence can seem to suggest a dramatic decay in intelligence may be occurring.

    I wonder how many people out there have felt they’ve been observing a decline in intelligence, reasoning ability, or the like.

  8. iRobert
    Posted August 13, 2018 at 6:11 am | Permalink

    When I see anything from decades back, it always strikes me how dramatically so much has changed – the things people focus upon generally, and the things they value, what people talk about and how they talk about it, even the feelings people express. It all seems to have shifted so much.

  9. Jcp2
    Posted August 13, 2018 at 6:58 am | Permalink

    Life was never a Norman Rockwell painting for most people. The difference is now outlets of observation and expression are not just limited to a select few. For better or for worse.

  10. Jcp2
    Posted August 13, 2018 at 7:04 am | Permalink

    Maybe what you are noticing is the general decreasing amount of rote knowledge. Never memorize anything you can look up. Attribution to Albert Einstein.

  11. Concerned Michiganian
    Posted August 13, 2018 at 7:15 am | Permalink

    Life was a Norman Rockwell painting for some people.

    #Sanders2020 #Whitmer2018 #GoDemocrats

  12. Concerned Michiganian
    Posted August 13, 2018 at 7:19 am | Permalink


    #Sanders2020 #Whitmer2018 #GoDemocrats

  13. iRobert
    Posted August 13, 2018 at 7:23 am | Permalink

    Yes, I’ve certainly noticed that. Now that almost everyone carries a hand-held supercomputer, navigation system and encyclopedia around with them, few people seem to bother with developing their own knowledge of anything. It’s a bizarre thing.

    But I do feel I’m observing a dramatic increase in real-world actions and statements which I can only identify as demonstrations of poor reasoning and logic skills.

    It seems to me that artificial environments and experiences do not develop intellectual skills anywhere near as effectively as natural environments and experiences.

  14. Concerned Michiganian
    Posted August 13, 2018 at 7:51 am | Permalink

    I have seen that people like to refer to words and statements, but do not put in much effort to contextualize and interpret them. I In the 80s and 90s, we talked about soundbites, but now it is short tweets or facebook status posts taken in isolation.

    s it possible that a decline in humanities education in favor of science and math, poor teaching capacity, along with the rise of social media has compromised peoples’ ability to think critically?

    #Sanders2020 #Whitmer2018 #GoDemocrats #FreeEducation4All

  15. iRobert
    Posted August 13, 2018 at 8:19 am | Permalink

    I’m feeling guilty for bringing down the mood in the comment section, after Mark’s pleasant post about spending time with his son.

  16. site admin
    Posted August 13, 2018 at 8:33 am | Permalink

    I’m pretty sure he’ll get over it.

  17. Jean Henry
    Posted August 13, 2018 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    iRobert— I think you might want to spend more time around actual young people. My observation in my kids and others’ is that they use the internet for social purposes and as a research tool. They have a much deeper knowledge base in their areas of interest. They also seem to be more independent problem solvers as a result of all that easy automatic access to information. When my kids need to fix something they look it up on the internet. They are much less dependent on the adults in their lives to provide them with information. I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

    I’m certain that human intelligence is evolving to manage the omnipresent screens in our life. We approach that with fear and suspicion (perhaps justly) as with any transformative technological innovation, but I think the kids will be alright.

    We just don’t like being left behind. We want to think we matter more than we do so we deride youth. We all hate what replaces us. Get off my lawn!

  18. Jean Henry
    Posted August 13, 2018 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    Concerned Michiganean— if you look at the voting results, it’s pretty clear that the young think mighty critically. They have good reason to criticize our generations aporoach, including self-satisfied white liberalism. Look at the mess we’ve made!

    It’s in fact the boomers who most disappoint me in their voting habits and political perspective and sense of entitlement. They believe they are radical, but as evidenced in this comments section, are still mighty stuck in their ways and belief systems. They fall for social media propaganda like memes a lot faster than the young, so long as it confirms their narrative bias. The young are more aware of how those things mislead. The thinking of older generations doesn’t evolve; it becomes more entrenched. Sometimes it follows… Thank goodness for generational evolution. It’s the youth who will always lead us forward, kicking and screaming.

  19. iRobert
    Posted August 13, 2018 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    Jean, I spend more of my time around college students and graduate students than I do anyone else. I meet many very bright young minds.

    As far as I’m concerned, the graduate students are on average much more tolerable than any other group of people in terms of their ability to reason and think critically. But, of course, they are a select group who has chosen to focus on getting a graduate degree.

    My comments about the apparent dumbing down of our culture wasn’t meant as a criticism of young people. I think it’s possible that an individual experience deminished intelligence. I know I certainly have. But I think our culture is extremely destructive, and deninishes all of us in so many ways.

    I share your feelings about our generation being more at fault.

  20. John Brown
    Posted August 13, 2018 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

    Radical religiosity is still the greatest plague to mankind, despite being able to Google “does God exist”? The god bots justify all kinds of horrible actions on their fellow man because they still can’t tell the difference between biology and magic.

  21. Jean Henry
    Posted August 14, 2018 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    iRobert— humans are adaptive. That’s not a bad thing. We’re going to need it. You seem to have a very strongly developed sense that humans should be the architects of their own actions. I appreciate that but there is abundant evidence going back millennia that that is not the case. While I don’t believe that Gods (or even new technologies) drives our behavior , I also don’t think we are rational creatures who respond with reason to our environment, no matter the circumstance. We are emotional creatures. Our culture is no better or worse than past cultures. Science has made our lives better, especially recently . And art has always made our lives better. But, even as life spans increase and well bring improves for most overall, we are creating greater scale risk to humanity than ever seen before. We are the only creature so dumb as to be likely to extinct itself.

    Free will is not the answer. We don’t have nearly so much of it as we imagine. And where we exercise it we are more often than not wrong about impact.

  22. iRobert
    Posted August 14, 2018 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

    Jean: “I also don’t think we are rational creatures who respond with reason to our environment”

    That varies dramatically from one individual to another. Some people are very self-aware and are very thoughtful about their behavior. Those are the only ones I can stand really.

  23. Jean Henry
    Posted August 14, 2018 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

    I have met many people convinced tats how they are. Usually they are highly judgmental of others for being apparently less self-dysciplined and discerning. I have yet to meet one of those people who lived up to their own standards when given due scrutiny.

    I’m always disappointed by this revelation. For the most part, people are equally shitty.

  24. John Brown
    Posted August 15, 2018 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

    Jean I don’t disagree with your sentiment, but i think there’s definitely a bell curve of shitty people observations. Those Pennsylvania pedo preists, for example, are probably a couple standard deviations from the mean. And most of the folks at the other end of the curve we never hear about and are therefore underrepresented in our psyche. Hell, since Jesus, that end of the spectrum has been monopolized. But we have to believe they’re out there. Let’s aspire to grow that less shitty end of the curve. That’s this JBs version of faith.

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