Wednesday, December 19, 2012

What Your Holiday Needs: Eccentric Southerners Obsessed with Elvis + Pretty Lights

Posted By on Wed, Dec 19, 2012 at 9:30 AM

click to enlarge SC_111_TenThousandPointsOfLight.jpg

My older brother Jim once summed up the holiday season thusly: "Christmas is overrated, but the lights sure are pretty." I couldn't agree more, and however any of us feel about the Christmastime -- I'm not a big fan, personally -- odds are we enjoy looking at the lights. In more recent years, we've all seen the YouTube videos of houses with elaborate lights timed to a song. Didja know there's one that's timed to "Gangnam Style?" Of course there is.

See Also:

The Fabulously Gay Liberace Entertained -- Unironically -- in 1954 Christmas TV Episode

Things That Really Exist: Marlo Thomas in a Second-Rate 1977 Version of It's a Wonderful Life

George King's 1991 documentary Ten Thousand Points of Light, shot on glorious VHS in 1989-1990 and recently released on DVD, looks at extravagant Christmas lights of yore -- specifically, those belonging to the Townsend family of Stone Mountain, Georgia. And while the Christmas decorations are seasonal, the house is an Elvis shrine year round.

There are actually far more than 10,000 lights in and outside of the house. Granddaughter Gloria Stevens loosely estimates it at the mid-five digit range, but in 1991 George H. W. Bush's "thousand points of light" was still in the national consciousness, hence the title.

What made the Townsend house special was that they gave free tours of the inside. Here, Gloria explains how she became a tour guide because of all the opportunities to flirt with guys. It's the late '80s in Georgia, so there are plenty of mullets on display.

Family patriarch Raymond Townsend lays down the ground rules for entering his home: No touching, no unattended children, no drinking (smoking is perfectly okay, of course), and most importantly, no smart remarks. Raymond hates those.

Visitors keep asking the same questions over and over, so Raymond and Grandmother Margaret had Gloria create a sign that answers those questions the guests will stop asking. Every time I watch this clip, I want to shout, "Say 'frequently!' Call them 'Frequently Asked Questions' already!" But they never do.

Only five visitors are let in at a time, so the line outside gets pretty long. Worse, they're forced to sing. The constant exhortations of "Louder!" remind me quite a lot of the "Faster, faster!" scene from Reefer Madness.

Though Raymond (quite reasonably) gets cranky when someone opens a jewelry box, tour groups are largely respectful of the house. Here, with Elvis looking on (as The King does for much of the movie), Raymond speaks gleefully of making a group of smart-remarkers disperse by threatening them with his gun. Did I mention that he hates smart remarks?

I'm a fan of identifying movie subgenres -- why not read my Exhibitionist articles on The Gong Show Movie and The Wizard of Speed and Time to see which one those two movies occupy? -- and Ten Thousand Points of Light joins Dancing Outlaw in the subgenre of "Documentaries About Eccentric Southerners Whose Elvis Obsession Isn't The Least Eccentric Thing About Them." (I'm sure there's a third one, but I haven't found it yet.) Just as Dancing Outlaw's Jesco White would be interesting even if one of his alternate personalities wasn't Elvis, Ten Thousand Points of Light would still make for an entertaining documentary even if Margaret wasn't so deeply enraptured with Elvis.

But she is, and it all comes to a fore in her bedroom. It's also known as The Fantasy Room, because it's where Margaret comes to ... um ... be with Elvis, in her fantasies. The look on Margaret's face at 0:41 when she's asked why it's called The Fantasy Room is priceless, and I also adore the woman with the Mary Tyler Moore bob. She knows the score.

This bit isn't directly related to Christmas or Elvis, but it's fascinating nonetheless. Y'know how you hear a lot of kvetching about how people are always distracted and not interacting with each other because of our mobile devices and Facebook and whatnot? I've never toed that particular party line, mostly because it suggests that humans were largely well-adjusted and focused and productive before the Internet came along and ruined everything. I remember what it was like back then, and quite frankly, nothing has really changed.

Here, in '89 or '90, Raymond explains how all his family needs to not get anything done is a television set. He doesn't specify, bit I'm guessing they don't even have cable.

Ten Thousand Points of Light is available on DVD brimming with extras from Dust to Digital, and probably makes a great Christmas gift.


Sherilyn Connelly is a San Francisco-based writer. She also curates and hosts Bad Movie Night at The Dark Room, every Sunday at 8pm.

Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF (follow Sherilyn Connelly on Twitter at @sherilyn) and like us on Facebook.

  • Pin It

About The Author

Sherilyn Connelly


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Popular Stories

  1. Most Popular Stories
  2. Stories You Missed

Like us on Facebook


  • Nevada City and the South Yuba River: A gold country getaway

    Nestled in the green pine-covered hills of the Northern Sierra Nevada is the Gold Rush town of Nevada City. Beautiful Victorian houses line the streets, keeping the old-time charm alive, and a vibrant downtown is home to world-class art, theater and music. The nearby South Yuba River State Park is known for its emerald swimming holes during the summer and radiant leaf colors during autumn. These days the gold panning is more for tourists than prospectors, but the gold miner spirit is still in the air.

    South Yuba River State Park and Swimming Holes:
    The park runs along and below 20 miles of the South Yuba River, offering hiking, mountain biking, gold panning and swimming. The Highway 49 bridge swimming hole is seven-miles northwest of Nevada City where Highway 49 crosses the South Yuba River. Parking is readily available and it is a short, steep hike to a stunning swimming hole beneath a footbridge. For the more intrepid, trails extend along the river with access to secluded swim spots. The Bridgeport swimming hole has calm waters and a sandy beach -- good for families and cookouts -- and is located 14 miles northwest of Nevada City. Be sure to write down directions before heading out, GPS may not be available. Most swimming holes on the South Yuba River are best from July to September, while winter and spring can bring dangerous rapids. Always know the current before jumping in!

    Downtown Nevada City
    The welcoming, walkable downtown of Nevada City is laid back, yet full of life. Start your day at the cozy South Pine Cafe (110 S Pine St.) with a lobster benedict or a spicy Jamaican tofu scramble. Then stroll the streets and stop into the shop Kitkitdizzi (423 Broad St.) for handcrafted goods unique to the region, vintage wears and local art “all with California gold rush swagger,” as stated by owners Carrie Hawthorne and Kira Westly. Surrounded by Gold Rush history, modern gold jewelry is made from locally found nuggets and is found at Utopian Stone Custom Jewelers (301 Broad St.). For a coffee shop with Victorian charm try The Curly Wolf (217 Broad St.), an espresso house and music venue with German pastries and light fare. A perfect way to cool down during the hot summer months can be found at Treats (110 York St.) , an artisan ice cream shop with flavors like pear ginger sorbet or vegan chai coconut. Nightlife is aplenty with music halls, alehouses or dive bars like the Mine Shaft Saloon (222 Broad St.).

    The Willo Steakhouse (16898 State Hwy 49, Nevada City)
    Along Highway 49, just west of Nevada City, is The Willo, a classic roadhouse and bar where you’re welcomed by the smell of steak and a dining room full of locals. In 1947 a Quonset hut (a semi-cylindrical building) was purchased from the US Army and transported to its current location, and opened as a bar, which became popular with lumberjacks and miners. The bar was passed down through the decades and a covered structure was added to enlarge the bar and create a dining area. The original Quonset beams are still visible in the bar and current owners Mike Byrne and Nancy Wilson keep the roadhouse tradition going with carefully aged New York steaks and house made ingredients. Pair your steak or fish with a local wine, such as the Rough and Ready Red, or bring your own for a small corkage fee. Check the website for specials, such as rib-eye on Fridays.

    Outside Inn (575 E Broad St.)
    A 16-room motel a short walk from downtown, each room features a unique décor, such as the Paddlers’ Suite or the Wildflower Room. A friendly staff and an office full of information about local trails, swimming and biking gets you started on your outdoor exploration. Amenities include an outdoor shower, a summer swimming pool and picnic tables and barbeques. Don’t miss the free vegetable cart just outside the motel in the mornings.

    Written and photographed by Beth LaBerge for the SF Weekly.

  • Arcade Fire at Shoreline
    Arcade Fire opened their US tour at Shoreline Amphitheater to a full house who was there in support of their album "Reflector," which was released last fall. Dan Deacon opened the show to a happily surprised early audience and got the crowd actively dancing and warmed up. DEVO was originally on the bill to support Arcade Fire but a kayak accident last week had sidelined lead singer Mark Mothersbaugh and the duration of the west coast leg of the tour. Win Butler did a homage to DEVO by performing Uncontrollable Urge.