Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Eternal Sunshine of the Terrible B-Movie

In the hours before the Oscars, this odd postcard from the 1970s gave me some pause and also some inspiration. What's going on here? What is this place? And then, because this is how my mind works, I thought: "I want to see this hypothetical 1970s movie!"

I imagine it would be a great ball of schlocky fun, with terrible production values and special effects. And enough melodrama to put a U.S. presidential debate to shame. It would have choppy edits, inappropriate music, and possibly Lee Majors. To give it a little more class, it would have a cameo by Takashi Shimura and give a "Special Appearance By" credit to Scatman Crothers for the role of "Chum."

Here's what I'm thinking...

This could have been Barbara Steele's Oscar role!

Of course, these are not really irradiated, mutant children. They're just plain old, garden-variety European children.

They are frolicking (barely) at a place called Swissminiatur, an amazing attraction in Switzerland that opened around 1960 and is still in operation today. (In fact, if you're in the general neighborhood of Switzerland, you should stop by Swissminiatur this week. Admission is 50% off because they're in the midst of maintenance.)

The park is a miniature version of Switzerland, with more than 120 models of houses, castles and monuments. There are also cable cars, trains, ships and more, all on the shrink-rayed scale.

Here's a panorama look at the park. Click on the image for a better view.

And here are some tidbits about the history of the park, from the English-language version of its website:

  • He demanded a lot from his associates. But he also gave them a lot. When insurmountable disagreements occurred, he would always find all-round solutions. This identity may apply to various Swiss pioneers, but here we are referring to Pierre Vuigner who was born in Grimisuat in the canton of Valais and who 52 years ago [Note: This was written a few years ago and not updated.] had an idea that simply would not then let him rest. Based on the example of the Dutch park “Madurodam”, he wanted to create the same thing in Switzerland.
  • Then came the boom years of the golden 70s. At weekends and on public holidays, Italians would flood into Ticino. The reason for the invasion of the spend-happy southern neighbours is enlightening: 1000 Lire would get Italians seven Swiss Francs. 65% of all Swissminiatur visitors would cross the border at Chiasso and stock up on Swiss chocolate, cigarettes, storm the restaurants and department stores and accept the hour-long queues at the Swissminiatur tills.
  • But the era of the golden fat 70s was followed by crisis years. The Italian Lira suffered a crash where the Italians then only got 70 centimes for 1000 Lire instead of 7 Swiss Francs. Switzerland, which used to be a shopping paradise became too expensive for them.

If Swissminiatur ever suffers a steep decline that leads to it being put up for sale, and I also happen to win Powerball, I think I'd like to buy the place, put on a Godzilla suit and stomp all over those miniature Swiss buildings.

And we might as well film it all for posterity. I wonder if Bill Rebane is available to direct?

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