Marooned: The Art of Being Shipwrecked

Are you sick and tired of finding yourself washed up on glitzy beaches and modern shores? Are you constantly being cast away on so-called "desert islands" that happen to come equipped with a Starbucks and a McDonalds? Well, if you're longing for the good old days, when a shipwrecked individual had to roll up his tattered sleeves and fend maniacally for his life, then we've got just the entertainment you're looking for.

"MATANGO" AKA "ATTACK OF THE MUSHROOM PEOPLE": In this 1963 Japanese film, a storm-weary yacht is shipwrecked, and the passengers (a psychologist, his girlfriend, a wealthy businessman, a famous singer, a writer, a sailor and his skipper) are forced to take refuge in a fungus-covered boat. Perhaps not coincidentally, "Gilligan's Island" premiered in America a year later. But the two aren't as similar as you might think. For instance, in "Matango", the castaways eat the boat -growing mushrooms for sustenance, and end up turning into hideous fungal monsters. For all his comic mishaps, at least Gilligan never did that.

ROBINSON CRUSOE: The granddaddy of desert-island lit, Daniel Defoe's 1719 novel is most likely based on the true story of Scottish sailor Alexander Selkirk. In 1704, Selkirk took part in a privateering expedition that included an inauspicious combination of a tyrant captain, a leaky ship, and repeated attacks by the Spanish. Sick of all the drama, Selkirk jumped ship (literally) to a tiny island 400 miles off the coast of Chile. And though he expected to be rescued quickly, he ended up stranded there for more than four years -which was bad, but still better than the alternative. Shortly after Selkirk deserted his crew, the ship sank. There were only eight survivors.

THE SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON: Adapted into more than a dozen movies and at least five TV series, the tale of The Swiss Family Robinson began life as a collection of bedtime stories in the early 19th century. Based on the late-night tales with which Swiss pastor John David Wyss lulled his sons to sleep, the fictional adventures were published as a novel in 1812 by one of his sons, Johann Rudolph Wyss. Coincidentally, the son of a preacher man also wrote the words to the Swiss National Anthem.

"NEW MOON": No relation to the Hammerstein-Romberg operetta, the 1940 film starred "America's singing sweethearts," Jeannette McDonald and Nelson Eddy. It told the story of aristocratic French mail-order brides and sexy indentured servants stranded together on a desert island -proving that even displaced, emaciated island-squatters can fall in love via musical number.

"CAST AWAY": Besides doing the impossible (that would be keeping an audience's attention for hours with just one actor on screen and no soundtrack), the 2000 Tom Hanks epic is also known for its blatant FedEx product placement. And while FedEx didn't pay for the shout-outs, the movie was shot at the company's facilities in Moscow and Memphis, Tennessee. It also included FedEx employees as extras, and an appearance by FedEx CEO Fred Smith. Fortunately, the mail giant knew to stop when it was ahead. In the sage words of FedEx's managing director of global brand management, Gayle Christensen, "adding even more promotion to that [movie] might go over the top."

"SWEPT AWAY": When this Madonna-centric remake hit theaters in 2002, it received little love. Why? Possibly because the 1974 original had a better title: "Swept Away by an Unusual Destiny in the Blue Sea of August". Amazingly, that's just one of the many long-winded titles for films by Italian director Lina Wertmüller, including "The Blue Collar Worker and the Hairdresser in the Whirl of Sex and Politics," "A Complex Plot about Women, Alleys, and Crimes," and "Summer Night, with Greek Profile, Almond Eyes, and Scent of Basil." Wertmüller's titling tendencies might have something to do with her equally long full name, Arcangela Felice Assunta Wertmüller von Elgg Spanol van Braucich. Or maybe she was just hoping the extra-wordy titles would catch critics' attention. It turned out the opposite was true; she became the first woman ever nominated for a best director Oscar in 1977, for the succinct "Seven Beauties".


The above article is reprinted with permission from the Scatterbrained section of the March-April 2006 issue of mental_floss magazine.

Be sure to visit mental_floss' entertaining website and blog for more fun stuff!

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Attack of the Mushroom People was apparently rated a WORSE vegetable-themed film than Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. I think it's BETTER. Which is high praise indeed. Highly recommended.
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